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.)


Friday, September 17


Our business manager, Geoff Battersby, has asked me to post this.

Layout & Design Editor
The Fellowship of St. James
Publisher of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity

Tasks & Qualifications

I. Tasks

A. Primary: Under the supervision of the managing editor, lay out Touchstone (10 issues per year) including covers & insert card

1. Lay out text per specs
2. Choose, obtain & insert graphics, pull-quotes, etc.
3. Obtain & set outside ads; design & set internal ones & insert card
4. Design front cover in consultation with executive editor
5. Perform pre-press work; liaison with printer (IPC)

B. Assist managing editor with preparation of manuscripts for Touchstone and with closing out each issue

C. Design & lay out various brochures, flyers, mass mailing materials, etc. for all The Fellowship of St. James publications (Touchstone, Devotional Guide, Calendar) and activities (conferences, lectures)

D. Design and lay out St. James Calendar

E. Maintain & update The Fellowship of St. James website

F. Assist with various office/secretarial tasks: mailings, correspondence, filing/archiving, etc.

II. Qualifications

A. Technical skills

1. Mac environment
2. Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, etc.
3. Some ability to troubleshoot technical problems with files
4. Basic office machines: scanner, copier, fax, etc.

B. Excellent design and layout skills

C. Excellent language skills

D. General qualities: meet deadlines, attentive to detail and instructions, well-organized, etc.

If interested, please send a resume and cover letter to:

James M. Kushiner, Executive Director
PO Box 410788, Chicago, IL 60641
P: 773-481-1090; F: 773-481-1095

Full-time. Salaried with benefits. Available immediately. Posted 9/16/2004.

4:41 PM


Some quite random items for today. My thanks as always to the readers who sent in suggestions. Please continue doing so, especially of good but obscure items that most of us wouldn’t see otherwise.

— Reflecting on CBS news’ current struggle to maintain its credibility — which strikes me as a losing, if not long lost, struggle — our contributing editor Wilfred McClay describes The triumph of political pornography in the land of Oz on the Democracy Project’s weblog. He begins:

Whenever a cultural elite is on its way down, there is a Wizard of Oz moment, when the curtain is parted, and the stern claims of authority that have always been heeded in the past are revealed to be the empty, self-protective posturing of an old liar. . . .

What we’re seeing is the bitter fruit of an unchecked taste for false but emotionally satisfying (and politically useful) extremism on the left.
Christianity Today offers four articles on the “top ten movies” from various parts of the world: Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and (this is the latest) everywhere else. I should note that the site’s titles are not accurate: the two critics give not their top ten list but simply ten movies they think readers should know about. Among the movies they list in their list of European movies I would particularly commend Ponette, a very moving movie about a four-year-old girl whose mother has died in a car crash. No Man’s Land, a story of the Bosnian war, with a satirical view of the U.N., is also very good. Most of the other movies they list are better known than these. I don’t think as highly as they do about the German movie Wings of Desire, directed by Wim Wenders, who I’ve read is a Christian, which I thought a little tedious.

— Something else from CT, a little more provocative than the previous item: The Roots of Pentecostal Scandal — Romanticism Gone to Seed .

— From John Piper, How the Archbishop Got It Wrong: Humane Confidence vs. Destructive Doubt. Speaking of the Beslan massacre, the Archbishop of Canterbury told a BBC interviewer
“When you see the depth of energy that people can put into such evil, then . . . there is a flicker, there is a doubt. It would be inhuman, I think, not to react in that way.”
Piper responds:
I find that statement, coming from the shepherd of millions of Anglicans, to be incredible. . . . Many would indeed say what the Archbishop implied: To be humane in the face of great suffering one must at least have a flicker of doubt toward God! This statement is symptomatic not of deep compassion, but of deep confusion—or worse, unbelief. Against this fragile vision of God’s goodness and power, may there rise from millions of Christ’s people a sad and sorrowing, “Not so, Reverend Williams! Not so.”

It does not belittle people or make light of their pain when we hold fast to God’s power and goodness while we hold out our hand to the suffering in help and prayer. I would venture to say that the most compassionate and merciful saints in history have sacrificed themselves for the suffering, precisely because their faith in God’s sovereign goodness was unshakable. They would have found the Archbishop’s final comment unintelligible.
He goes on to describe the Christian view of such events, which is not the one the Archbishop articulated.

He hopes that the Archbishop’s words were “a slip,” and I would hope that too, but I don’t think they were. Observers of liberal Christianity will recognize the required expression of doubt in response to any widely publicized disaster. Do such Christians actually doubt every time they open their newspaper and find the news or a terrorist attack or a devastating hurricane or an epidemic? Or do they think expressing doubt will make them look sensitive and deep, and open and non-dogmatic and not like those over-certain fundamentalists?

I have never, even in my secular youth, understood this. If you can walk into the hospital room of a child wasting away from cancer, surrounded by his grieving family, if you can visit a family who have just lost their father, if you can visit the grave of someone killed by a drunk driver, and believe in God, which presumably such people have done all their pastoral careers, why should a terrorist act however bestial cause “a flicker of doubt”? Why is it “inhuman” not to doubt at the news from Beslan, when it isn’t inhuman not to doubt at every other instance of evil in the world?

This is quite silly, and as Piper points out, quite destructive of the Christian faith, which rests upon the confidence, the perfectly rational confidence, that what we see is not the whole story. You simply can’t imagine St. John sitting down with the man from the BBC and explaining that the sack of Jerusalem caused him “a flicker of doubt.”

— As some of you may know, a scientific journal recently printed an article on Intelligent Design, which has got the Darwinist establishment howling. Our contributing editor Phillip Johnson writes:
There is a cloud of semi-facts (half-truths) and outright falsehoods obscuring the publication of Steve Meyer's paper in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. To help dispel that cloud, editor Rick Sternberg has kindly provided his own webpage with details of the story. Please assist in the cloud-clearing by making this link available around the web.
— A friend sends the story of actress Ellen Barkin’s choice. Ms. Barkin said at a press conference for the new movie Palindromes that
”I am the mother of a 12-year-old girl and I can tell you unequivocally that if my daughter was pregnant, I would take her kicking and screaming to have an abortion.”
Apparently she plays such a mother in the movie, though the story does not clearly say whether the girl is forced to have an abortion or escapes.

— The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has just appointed William Dembski, now at Baylor, to direct its new Center for Science and Theology and serve as the Carl F.H. Henry Professor of Theology and Science. According to the press release:
“[The center will be] a representation of our commitment to be very serious about the task of the Christian worldview, it’s development, it’s application, and arming this generation of Christian leaders and ministers with all that will be necessary, given the challenges of a technological and scientific age to be ready to confront those issues with Christian truth and the undiluted resources of the Christian worldview,” Mohler [Albert Mohler, president of the seminary] said.
Dr. Dembski helped edit the first of our Intelligent Design issues, which became the book Signs of Intelligence, and contributed “Winning by Design” to our second ID issue, Darwin’s Last Stand?. He joins at the seminary our contributing editor Russell Moore.

— Those of you interested in biblical translation may find of interest Peter Toon’s thoughts on “dynamic equivalence”. My thanks to CaNNet for the link.

— From the English broadsheet Daily Telegraph, a review of a biographer of Edward Lear, the limerick king.

The term “broadsheet,” by the way, means printed on big sheets of paper, not on smaller tabloid-sized sheets of paper, which means in England a serious newspaper. Although some of the tabloids are very well done in their way. And some are appalling in a way Americans have never seen. One, which you can find on the newsstands right next to the serious papers, is fond of running on the cover big pictures revealing famous women’s underwear.

— Also from the DT, Put away the pushchair, what babies really need is their mother's touch.
Cherry Bond, a children's nurse at Queen Charlotte's Hospital, London, who has a master's degree in behavioural sciences, said: "Babies spend much more time in chairs and seats than they used to, at a time when the sensory brain is being established and needs input.

"There's much better sensory information if the parent carries the child in a sling yet babies are in a bit of equipment rather than with a human being.
— And here is a third article from the same newspaper, TV Hunt for Parish Priest. It begins:
A vicar is to be given a year to turn around the dwindling congregation of a rural church for a new television reality show, Channel 4 said yesterday.

The producers of the series, provisionally titled Priest Idol, are looking for prospective clergymen willing to take on the challenge of a congregation in single figures and the constant scrutiny of the camera. . . .

The church has a regular congregation of only nine people, most of them elderly and is threatened with losing its own vicar, said Channel 4.

The new incumbent, chosen by the diocese from respondents to an advert in the Church Times, will have a small panel of advisers and some financial support from the broadcaster to spend on anything he or she thinks will appeal to parishioners.

— From the latest issue of The Tablet, Your mother should know. It begins:
A LETTER from her doctor has just dropped on Maureen Smith's doormat in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. It is asking for her consent to give her 15-year-old daughter, Melissa, a diphtheria inoculation. Maureen can't decide whether to laugh about it or be furious. Three months ago, a health worker on her estate arranged for Melissa, then 14, to have an abortion. She did so without consulting Maureen. "What do they want?" she asks, brandishing the letter. "Do they want me to act like a parent, or don't they? I don't think they know, and frankly at the moment neither do I."
I think the answer is that they want her to be a parent all the time, except when unrestricted sexuality is being advanced. The contradiction, and it’s one we find in this country as well, should tip us off to what these people really want.

1:36 PM


Catholic Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, New Jersey has written an article for The Wall Street Journal addressing the apparent confusion that resulted from the press’s reporting of Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement on Catholics and politicians. A Catholic must not vote for a pro-abortion candidate, otherwise he participates in the evil. But in some cases one could vote for such a candidate, given the choices, for “proportionate reasons.” This seemed to open to the door to those who argue that abortion might be only one issue among many, and that other concerns—welfare, health care, capital punishment, the environment, etc.—might outweigh abortion Myers replies:

What are "proportionate reasons"? To consider that question, we must first repeat the teaching of the church: The direct killing of innocent human beings at any stage of development, including the embryonic and fetal, is homicidal, gravely sinful and always profoundly wrong. Then we must consider the scope of the evil of abortion today in our country. America suffers 1.3 million abortions each year--a tragedy of epic proportions. Moreover, many supporters of abortion propose making the situation even worse by creating a publicly funded industry in which tens of thousands of human lives are produced each year for the purpose of being "sacrificed" in biomedical research.

Thus for a Catholic citizen to vote for a candidate who supports abortion and embryo-destructive research, one of the following circumstances would have to obtain: either (a) both candidates would have to be in favor of embryo killing on roughly an equal scale or (b) the candidate with the superior position on abortion and embryo-destructive research would have to be a supporter of objective evils of a gravity and magnitude beyond that of 1.3 million yearly abortions plus the killing that would take place if public funds were made available for embryo-destructive research.

Frankly, it is hard to imagine circumstance (b) in a society such as ours. No candidate advocating the removal of legal protection against killing for any vulnerable group of innocent people other than unborn children would have a chance of winning a major office in our country. Even those who support the death penalty for first-degree murderers are not advocating policies that result in more than a million killings annually.

As Mother Teresa reminded us on all of her visits to the U.S., abortion tears at our national soul. It is a betrayal of our nation's founding principle that recognizes all human beings as "created equal" and "endowed with unalienable rights." What evil could be so grave and widespread as to constitute a "proportionate reason" to support candidates who would preserve and protect the abortion license and even extend it to publicly funded embryo-killing in our nation's labs?

Certainly policies on welfare, national security, the war in Iraq, Social Security or taxes, taken singly or in any combination, do not provide a proportionate reason to vote for a pro-abortion candidate.
The good archbishop explains more in detail in the full article.

Of course, I assume that the press will make sure that his clarification is widely reported.

11:15 AM


One of the surprising pleasures of publishing Touchstone is finding out about other ministries and conferences and, yes, even periodicals. The latest entry in that last category is a small but Orthodox journal, Road to Emmaus: A Journal of Orthodox Faith and Culture, published in the United States, with editorial offices in Moscow, Russia.

I enjoy the journal, as it takes me places that I wouldn’t normally be able to go, to meet interesting and thoughtful Christians living behind what used to be the Iron Curtain (and elsewhere). The stories and eyewitness accounts of life in the 20th century under Communism are fascinating. You might read an article about Orthodox Christians in China, a visit to a monastery in the Middle East, an interview with a Russian Orthodox psychiatrist on faith and healing in the new Russia. It’s a bit of history, culture, firsthand reporting and interviewing that you won’t get elsewhere. Mother Nectaria McLees, an American nun living in Moscow, has a journalist’s eye for detail (and photographs) that I find informative and enriching.

While of interest to Orthodox Christians, I think anyone interested in broadening their knowledge of Christianity, particularly Orthodoxy, outside of the West will be rewarded by subscribing to The Road to Emmaus. It's quarterly, so you will have plenty of time to read and savor each issue, if you are interested in "pilgrimage, tradition, contemporary Christians, and spiritual conversation" as the journal "explores Orthodoxy, past and present, around the word."

While you can’t subscribe on-line, you can find out more information about how to do it, as well as check out back issues and excerpts at their website: (We also have 2-page ads for the journal in the September and October issues of Touchstone.)

Here is an excerpt from "Out of Samizdat: G.K. Chesterton in Soviet Russia," an interview with Dr. Natalia Trauberg, Russian samizdat translator of Chesterton during the Soviet era.

In the early ’20’s cinema people and some left-wing writers took a liking to Chesterton. Some of them were soon disappointed, but those were the “clever” ones. Everyone else loved him as a modern English eccentric. Eisenstein, the best known Russian film-director of the first half of the 20th century, marked the passages in Chesterton’s writings which seemed interesting to him. For example, Chesterton writes: “Why do we say ‘a white man’ when in reality he is pinkish-yellowish-beige? Why do we say, ‘white wine,’ when it is yellowish?” He is trying to awaken our vision, but to what? To make us humbly rejoice at having been given such a world as a gift, to be grateful for it, and to understand that we often think in cliches…

Eisenstein understood only this idea about cliches. They thought in the ’20’s that Chesterton’s writings would help them to blow up the old cliches and replace them with their own inventions. Young eccentrics thought that he was the farthest left of the whole left-wing, absolutely wild, and existing only to be wild. Many years later when some of them found out that he was Christian, and not just Christian, but a very gospel-like one, they were disgusted. One of them said to me about one of his religious works, “I don’t know why he wrote this or why you translated it.”

The reaction of such people can be explained like this. In his book, “Heretics,” Chesterton writes: “The secret of life is in laughter and humility.” These people understood very well about the laughter but had no idea of humility. They had formed a cult of self-satisfied might, which Chesterton hated. This was not the horrible force we had in the 1930’s, but some idiotic teenage strength. It all looked like teenage psychological problems: belief in unfailing strength, a freedom in which everything is permitted... “I am original and free, and more clever than anyone.” They thought that Chesterton was something like this.

These writers of the ’20’s who so admired Chesterton thought that it was their duty to savor these cruel things, but Chesterton would have wept over them and prayed for them. And they all had to pay for their idiocy afterwards…. Chesterton did not like this thinking, and he has a remarkable essay entitled, “The Futurist,” where he speaks about just this - people who invariably sing the praises of cruelty but are themselves pitifully small, avoiding every danger. He disliked them almost as much as he disliked cruel worldly ladies…but they did not know this, as his poems and essays could not reach Russia. His English fiction was available, but only “Father Brown” was translated then, and about him they thought : how funny that a priest should be so eccentric. Chesterton’s role here was very strange. For twenty or even thirty years, until 1958 he was a half-hidden treasure (not altogether forbidden, but not entirely permitted) of the ’20’s culture. (Road to Emmaus, Spring, 2002)

10:28 AM

Thursday, September 16


Yesterday I gave the contents of the October issue, now at the printer, and mentioned that today was the last day you could subscribe and get that issue as the first issue of your subscription. I’m just reminding you.

To subscribe, click here.

As I’ve written before from time to time — this being one of those messages one thinks worth repeating — your subscriptions and gifts sustain the magazine. Which means that your subscriptions and gifts pay for Mere Comments and the Archives, by which we make available, free to the world, much of the work we’ve published. Without them, no magazine, no Mere Comments, no Archive.

We have admirably loyal subscribers, but a portion drop out every month as their subscriptions expire, which means we have to work to replace them, much less to grow. Growth in the number of subscribers will help us improve the magazine in all sorts of ways, as well as get the message to more and new readers.

Magazines have to work at getting readers, and not just small religious magazines. I read somewhere that Penthouse magazine was going under and Playboy’s readership declining, and I would have thought that the lust-ridden moron readership would have kept them in clover. (My sincere apologies to those of you who read the magazine for the articles.)

We publish as a ministry, but ministries need money to survive. (If we just liked publishing magazines, we’d publish something like The Christian Man, with articles like “Burning With Passion: Why St. Paul would want you to take viagra” and “Golf Tips from Galatians” and “Lazarus’ lessons for retirement planning,” and make money on it.)

We have the advantage over other ministries in that your supporting the work gets you something rather good in return. So do please subscribe.

4:21 PM


Just five items today.

— An amusing item on the pop signer Madonna’s trip to Israel: Opponents united in protest against ‘pilgrim’ Madonna. Miss Madonna is now a devotee of Kabbalah, for which see an earlier item, Give 'em that old time religion. While I'm at it, here is another item describing her, um, work: How much AIDS?.

— Here is a very useful link: Christianity Today’s list of links to a fantastically extensive list of articles. They break up the link into subjects, which helps, but I must admit that I find the amount of information provided a bit overwhelming.

— From today’s Wall Street Journal, Can’t We All Just Get Along?, subtitled “Are European Muslims Islam's best hope?”. He frames the question this way:

As Islamic countries struggle to find a place in the modern world--or to resist it--sizable numbers of Muslims now live in multicultural democracies, especially in Europe, having emigrated from Turkey and North Africa over several decades. Will they be the vanguard of a Muslim intellectual renaissance, pioneering ways for Islam to adapt to secular forms of government? Or will ideas flow the other way, with Islamist visions of society coming to dominate immigrant communities and redefine the societies of which they are now a part?
In the rest of the article, he describes the views of the scholar Gilles Kepel in his new book The War for Muslim Minds, who concludes that
Although he sees worrying signs — the growth of Salafism, for example, which calls for a kind of internal exile from non-Muslim societies — Mr. Kepel claims that a new generation of Muslims in the West is embracing democracy and pluralism. . . .

the decisive battle for Islam's hearts and minds may take place far from the battlefield itself and far from Islam's traditional home--in offices, meeting rooms and voting booths in the West, thousands of miles away.
This is a tentative conclusion and doesn’t answer his opening question. Kepel and the writer both seem to assume that greater involvement in the political life of a country will integrate Muslims into the society. That may be true, but I wonder about it, given what many people who know Islam have said, that Muslims believe in pluralism and democracy until they achieve a majority?

— Those intrigued by the story of the Economides family given in Monday’s “From the Inbox” may want to look at the page from the family’s website giving the HomeEconomizer back issues.

— Here is a useful site for those of you concerned with homosexuality, especially “ex-gay” issues, David Morrison’s Sed Contra. He is the author of Beyond Gay and has written one article for us a few years ago, . I don’t always agree with him, but he covers and comments upon a world outside the experience of most of us, and does so with sense and compassion.

4:16 PM


In response to the first item for today, posted early this morning, James Redden writes:

In “Countries of Particular Concern, Old and New,” David Mills writes:

"I would like to know why Saudi Arabia, Eritrea and Vietnam , all notorious violators of religious freedom and persecutors of religious minorities have had to be added to the list of countries of particular concern"

I think it's very apparent why the U.S. and other countries have looked the other way when it comes to Saudi violations of religious freedom. Saudi Arabia is the # 1 producer of oil in the world, and it is willing to trade this oil for relatively affordable prices to Western nations like the U.S. and the EU. In other words, the Saudi's are willing to play ball with us, so who cares if they oppress religious minorities.

Fortunately, the U.S. State department is waking up to the reality that violations of religious freedom and persecution of religious minorities are the essence of terrorism. Hopefully our confrontation with terror on 9/11 will lead us to a foreign policy of empathy for the victims of terror rather than a self-centered pursuit for economic and strategic dominance.
This certainly makes sense, and one can imagine some official at the State Department crying “Don’t mention the Saudis! Are you guys nuts? Do you know how angry they’ll be?” and explaining that in the real world such idealistic concern for human rights must be tempered (by which he will mean “controlled”) by the consideration of economic realities.

But this doesn’t explain why Viet Nam and Eritrea have just been added to the list. The first at least has been reported for years now to be persecuting religious believers.

3:53 PM


Tuesday, a primary election day, a very large lady in a wheelchair of custom width motored into the library where I work—a new library, by the way, carefully designed for “accessibility”--and treated the librarians to a recital of how difficult it was for people like her when libraries like this one weren’t designed to accommodate them. Most of the books weren’t within her reach. The doors and aisles were too narrow. Libraries not made with three hundred pound people in extra wide wheelchairs in mind were, in her estimation, niggardly, thoughtless, and cruel. I have little doubt that when she was done with us she rolled over to the room where the voting was done and cast her ballot for the candidates who most convincingly proposed making the taxpayers share her pain.

Huge people confined to wheelchairs should excite pity, even when they irritate by being fretful, for they are indeed in a sad condition. What made us want to push this woman into the lake, however, was her sick presumption that the world was obliged to form itself around her, that she had the right to be treated as a physical norm, that her neighbors should be bound by justice rather than charity to tax their labors so as to shape the commonwealth into an enduring reflection of her deformity.

There are people, we all know them, who cannot see the reason, other than perhaps sheer impracticability, why she should not be granted what she requires, for justice’s sake, if the public purse could be expanded so far. Who, they would argue, has the right to dictate what is normal, and therefore what should be the standard to which public buildings, or indeed, any aspect of the res publica should conform? The woman, they insist, is to be described not as handicapped, but “differently abled,” not by way of euphemism, but as a valuation of equality. Humankind is comprised, they say, of a rainbow aggregate of equal parts, and any attempt to elevate one trait or denigrate another, particularly if they have been come by naturally or without the fault of the possessor (and in this system, fault is practically impossible to assign), is at base arbitrary.

Might I suggest that one of the principal differences between the liberal and the conservative minds in their modern manifestations is that the latter, whether pagan or Judeo-Christian, is formed by the intuition of an archetype: the perfect Man, the Whole and Original Man, who is the measure of all things, and to whom the world is to bound to conform. All beauty and functionality are to be referred to him as their standard; all design is to answer to his pleasure and to the healthy proportions of his body and mind. The woman in the library does not answer to this archetype because she is physically defective. Her defect may be morally innocent—until the moment she proposes that the archetypal qualities of the Divine Man are fungible with her own deviations, thus (to the Christian mind, which can never be liberal in the sense described above) assaulting the Son of Man, to whose honor the proportions of the Southwest Library still very largely conform.

5:59 AM


From the Institute on Religion and Public Policy comes a press release announcing that

Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, and Vietnam Added to List of Countries of Particular Concern for Severe Violations of Religious Freedom

Washington, D.C. – The United States Department of State today re-designated Burma, China, Iran, North Korea and Sudan as Countries of Particular Concern for Severe Violations of Religious Freedom (CPC), and added Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam to the list.

“The addition of Eritrea, Vietnam and especially Saudi Arabia to the list of Countries of Particular Concern is a solid recognition of the tremendous persecution of religious minorities and believers in these states,” commented Institute President Joseph K. Grieboski. “Religious freedom of any kind does not exist in Saudi Arabia. For far too long has Saudi Arabia gone unchecked in its blatant disregard for fundamental human rights and international conventions to which it is a signatory.”

According to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, “the President shall review the status of religious freedom in each foreign country to determine whether the government of that country has engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom in that country during the preceding 12 months or since the date of the last review of that country under this subparagraph, whichever period is longer. The President shall designate each country the government of which has engaged in or tolerated violations described in this subparagraph as a country of particular concern for religious freedom.”

“I welcome the State Department’s designations today of Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Eritrea as ‘countries of particular concern,’” commented Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ). “It indicates that we will not turn a blind eye to some of the most egregious violators of the inalienable right of religious freedom and underscores the absolute significance of religious freedom in the war on terrorism. As a nation that was rooted by the very principle of freedom of religion, we must never forget our duty to preserve it.”

Mr. Grieboski continued, “While the designation of these governments as CPCs is undeniably important, it is in fact only a first step. We have not yet seen a significant improvement in any country designated as a CPC since the introduction of the list in 1999 without strong and decisive involvement of the United States Government. Simply putting a name of a country on a list is not enough to guarantee free belief, expression, and practice of one’s most fundamental beliefs.”
The Institute is directed by Joseph Grieboski, who wrote “The French Model” in the March issue (not available online). Their website provides a useful news page.

I would like to know why Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, and Vietnam, all notorious violators of religious freedom and persecutors of religious minorities, have had to be added to the list of countries of particular concern. This is like warning people about Hurricane Ivan a day after it hit the coast.

4:32 AM

Wednesday, September 15


The first episode of “The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud” airs tonight on PBS at 9:00 EST. The press release I just received reads:

All over the world, people are asking the same questions: Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? What does it mean to be happy? Is there such a thing as evil? Does God really exist? This September, through the brilliant minds and personal struggles of two of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century, PBS presents an emotional and intellectual journey into the meaning of life.

Based on a popular Harvard course taught by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, author of the book The Question of God, the series illustrates the lives and insights of Sigmund Freud, a lifelong critic of religious belief, and C.S. Lewis, a celebrated Oxford don, literary critic and perhaps this century’s most influential and popular proponent of faith based on reason. Through dramatic storytelling and compelling visual recreations, as well as interviews with biographers and historians and lively discussion, Freud and Lewis are brought together in a great debate.
The show has an official website and offers a downloadable discussion guide.

7:42 PM


The October issue is now at the printer. If you subscribe today or tomorrow you will receive it as the first issue of your subscription. To subscribe, click here or on the "Store" button at the top of the page.

The issue will include:


— James Kushiner, “First Things First”, on separating the essential grounds for voting from the prudential, a matter many serious Christians can't get straight
— David Mills, “Unimposing Kerry”, on the incoherent Catholicism of Kerry et al, and the irrational fear of "Imposing My Values on Others"


— Phillip Johnson, “Auditing African AIDS,” on the over-estimation of the number of people who suffer from AIDS and the possible reasons for doing so
— Patrick Henry Reardon, “Esther & the Hidden God”, on trusting the God not bound by fate
— Robert Hart, “Bach’s Three-fold Chords,” on the implicit apologetic argument for the Trinity in one of Bach’s fugues
— Sharon Dever, “Jump into bed-time stories,” on the corruptions of the new “realistic” youth lit
— Graeme Hunter, “Hope of the Hopeless,” on the lessons of the life of a boy scientists tried to make into a girl, but failed
— William Murchison, “Show Me!” on what “personally opposed” politicians could do if they were sincere


— James Kushiner on his visit with the president and what the president said about abortion, marriage, and other subjects
— Robert George, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Pleasure,” on how the courts have taken over the legislatures’ role in defining marriage
— Anne Barbeau Gardiner, “From Iniquity and Apostasy to the Great Tribulation,” on the Christian meaning of Gulliver’s Travels
— Anthony Esolen, “Choice, the Dragon,” on our age’s devouring love of choice, even of choices we do not really have


— Addison Hart reviews Solrun Nes’ explanation of how to look at icons, The Uncreated Light
— Peter Leithart reviews J. M. Coetzee’s novel Elizabeth Costello


— George Conger, “Graceless Body Broken?” on Anglicanism’s troubles, understood through an examination of Rowan Williams’ theology

The issue will include as well the usual news of the church and world at large, Book Notices, shorter items from the editors and others in the Quodlibet department, and other useful and interesting items.
I think this is a very good issue — I know, if I say so myself — but I am particularly proud to be running Anne Gardiner's article on Gulliver's Travels, in which she opposes the consensus of critical opinion in arguing that it is a profoundly Christian work. She offers a very illuminating reading of the book.

So, those of you who don't yet subscribe, please do so before Friday.

3:04 PM


Daniel Crandall writes in response to Monday’s Defeats for Which Humanity?:

Your great analogy made me think of another that is often sited by Dennis Prager.

A fight breaks out between two children. One child is a known bully and the other has been harrassed by this bully for some time. An adult steps in to stop the fight and takes both children to the principle’s office, all the while telling these two fighting children, “I don’t care who started it! There will be no fighting here!”

The adult, in this story, does not care about justice. It matters tremendously who started the fight, and justice demands that the bully be punished while his (and it usually is always a he) victim receives solace. The most empowering thing one can do is respond directly to stop a bully. Sometimes that response requires a sharp punch in the nose.

In this war against the Islamofascists we are finally responding to a bunch of bullies, and the regimes that support them. All those who are telling us that this is the wrong solution are showing us, by their behavior, that they do care about justice.

That’s my 2 cents, anyway.

11:37 AM


Five items for today.

— Ari Goldman, a former New York Times reporter now dean of students at Columbia Journalism School, says Thank Heaven for the simple, spiritual life. He is an Orthodox Jew looking forward to the three three-day fasts (which occur when two day holy days fall on the Thursday and Friday before the Sabbath) coming up in the next few weeks.

It’s not a deep article, but a cheering one. It does leave me thinking to myself, "Go ye and do likewise," though we never watch television, so we're ahead of him there, but I find it a struggle to give up e-mail on a Sunday.

— The Archbishop of Pamplona offers good advice in 4 Ways to Respond to “Secularist Confessionalism”. Explaining the second way,

Archbishop Sebastian said that “the strength of the Church is in the faith, piety and exemplariness of Christians. If we really live our faith, the testimony of our life will clarify many misunderstandings and, sooner or later, will convince men and women who are seeking the truth.” . . .

“The stable and fecund Christian family is an eloquent sign of the humanizing and sanctifying force of the love of God, present and acting at the roots of human love,” the archbishop said.

“Starting from here, we can offer the testimony of a sober, joyful, just, generous life, loving and defending life itself and the world, without faltering, really seeking the Kingdom of God and the good of brothers, without opting for deceitful appearances or opportunistic interests,” he said.
Note that “fecund Christian family.” I am not being ribald or rude when I say that large families are a great witness — perhaps the most visible witness — to the fact that “Those Christians love one another.”

And a great witness Christians in the West are no longer making. Large families are the product not only of the love of husband and wife, a love that naturally tries to express itself in bearing the fruit of children — which means more than one or two in twenty or more years of marital fertility — but of their love of creation and their trust in Providence and indeed their belief in the possibility of happiness in this world.

Imagine what the worldly would think if the churches were marked out by large and lively families. Some would hate it, of course, but their hatred would be a judgment upon themselves. But those whose instincts and desires were still human, who wanted what man is created to want, would find it a sign that something good is going on here, something good that is not offered by the world. They would see that Christians love each other in the most incarnational way.

— Something else from, Gluten-free hosts, which explains why Christians must use wheat bread for the Eucharist. We must use the materials Jesus told us to use, which obedience will have unexpected fruits, writes Fr. Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome:
In a certain way the submission to these limitations is also a recognition and an affirmation of the reality of the Incarnation in which the second person of the Blessed Trinity submitted himself to the limits of space and time by becoming man.

By continuing to use only those elements used by Christ, the Church in a way joins herself to his act of self-limitation and to the concrete historical reality of the Incarnation.

If it were possible for the Church to change the essential elements of the sacraments with every historical epoch and every cultural context, then this connection with the Incarnation, and indeed the reality of the sacraments as prolongation of the Incarnation, would become rather tenuous.

In the end, as has happened at times with other Christian groups that weakened the sacraments, the faith in the very reality of God become man is often undermined in favor of a creeping Docetism or a nebulous manifestation of the Divinity.

Thus one can understand why the Church pays such very great attention to the elements of the sacraments in spite of at times appearing excessively attentive to details such as alcohol and gluten levels.
Fr. MacNamara is apparently a liturgist to whom the liturgist jokes don’t apply. I hope he’s not the only one.

— From a press release from the newsletter Visions (please note that the link goes to a pdf file, which needs Adobe Acrobat to open):
The youngest group of adults is severely lagging in religious attendance.

But the reason appears not to be the loss of faith by people born from 1966 to 1974, or even changes in generational culture. The low attendance appears to be the result of what social scientists are now calling prolonged young adulthood.

According to a new article in "Visions," a newsletter published for religious leaders, religious attendance of these newest adults is well below what it was for previous generations. In the 2002 General Social Survey, 32% of these GenXers said they attended religious services at least twice a month. When Baby Boomers born from 1946 to 1955 were the same age -- 27 to 36 years old -- about 42% went to services that often.

Recent academic research of young adults has found that marriage and child-bearing are being postponed more and more because of the demands of higher education, and the inability of less educated young to achieve the financial security necessary for family life.

Religious attendance is tied to marriage and child-bearing. Numerous studies have found that many people — after a youthful respite — return to a regular pattern of religious attendance after they marry and have children. Delays in marriage and child-bearing are pushing back the date at which people return to religious attendance, and lengthening the time that the young spend away from regular attendance.

Other findings in an analysis of General Social Survey data indicate:

One in six persons born from 1966 to 1976 claims no religious affiliation, a figure which is higher than for previous generations. Though still apparently religious, young adults who have defected from religious bodies disproportionately grew up as Protestants. These young defectors are as likely to grow up as Protestant conservatives as Protestant liberals. In the past, liberals were disproportionately defectors.
— A friend sends the link to a discussion of the latest in Scottish apostasy, Richard Holloway’s new book, Looking in the Distance. Holloway is the retired primus, or head bishop, of the Episcopal Church in Scotland. I don’t find Anglican heretics very interesting, but some of you might.

11:30 AM


Because the state of the economy has been much to the front of our national awareness during this year of political decision, Touchstone watched with great interest the recent appearance of Allen Greenspan, the US Federal Reserve Chairman, before the Senate Banking Committee last week. Remarking that the Reserve is likely to keep interest rates at historical lows for now amid worries about weakening demand for electronics goods in the second half, the Chairman was moderately upbeat in his remarks about the country’s strengthened economic state.

The question still unanswered, however, is whether or not the Federal Reserve will raise its benchmark interest rates at its coming meeting on September 21.

It has come to our attention, however, that the entire verbatim of the Reserve Chairman’s recent appearance before the Senate Banking Committee has not yet been made available to the public. Because of a printing error in the Congressional Printing Office, several comments in Mr Greenspan’s testimony were inadvertently left out of the official Senate record.

Fortunately, Touchstone was able to procure a copy of those comments, and we make those comments available here for the exclusive use of our readers:

Senator McConnell: “Mr Chairman, we appreciate hearing your optimistic view of the nation’s economy. We wonder, however, if we are getting the full story. Are there no areas of concern at the Federal Reserve with respect to the immediate future of banking?”

Mr Greenspan: “Well, Senator, since you press me on the point, I must confess that there is one dark cloud on the horizon, a delicate matter which I would otherwise be disinclined to mention.”

Senator McConnell: “And what would that be, sir?”

Mr Greenspan: “Tithing.”

Senator Kennedy: “Tithing? I don’t think I understand. What is this tithing?”

Mr Greenspan: “Well, Senator, it is a new thing catching on lately. When people belong to a church, they give ten percent of their income to the missions and ministries of that church. These funds are thus removed from monetary circulation. This means that investments are down, and the banking industry suffers accordingly.”

Senator Santorum: “Is tithing really this serious a problem in the United States?”

Mr Greenspan: “Indeed, it is, Senator. If we don’t do something about it, the custom of tithing will very soon drive this country to rack and ruin.”

Senator Lugar: “Gosh, I had no idea. Why haven’t we heard about this before?”

Mr Greenspan: “Well, Senator, to be frank, the problem is already being addressed in the literature. For example, I call your attention to a recent syndicated column on this problem by Steve Hutchens. It was an article carried in Ebony, Playboy, and Touchstone. This article referred to a Gallup poll of thousands of citizens who have recently been forced to go on welfare and food stamps. Over 83% of them blamed their grinding poverty on the habit of tithing.”

Senator Kennedy: “I appreciate your bringing us up to date on this, Mr Chairman. Although I do subscribe to Touchstone, I usually only have time for the sports section, so I missed this important study.”

Mr Greenspan: “As a point of fact, Senator, that study only touches the fringe of the problem, I believe. I am surprised that neither presidential candidate has made tithing a campaign issue. Right now we can trace most of the financial problems in this country to the habit of tithing. People can no longer afford to make their home and auto payments. Both of these industries are on the skids. Cosmetics are down. Dog food futures are off by ten points. The bread and soup lines are lengthening. Everything is bleak.”

Senator Rockefeller: “Mr Chairman, this is dreadful. Is there nothing we can do?”

Mr Greenspan: “We will be discussing this at the next meeting of the Federal Reserve, Senator. My advice for now, however, is that you consider a really stiff tax on pledge cards.”

4:10 AM

Tuesday, September 14


From the Wall Street Journal’s always enjoyable OpinionJournal comes a demonstration of journalistic blindness, which one suspects of being willful:

Reuterville Is His Kind of Town

Don Wycliff, the Chicago Tribune’s “public editor,” defends (rightly, in our view) the paper’s decision to publish a gruesome photo of a victim of the Beslan massacre. But he then goes on to defend the paper’s sensitivity to the perpetrators:

*** QUOTE ***

One other facet of the Russian hostage story also provoked considerable reader response: It was the Tribune’s use of the words “militant” or “rebel,” but not “terrorist,” to refer to the hostage-takers in news stories.

“How can you . . . describe these folks as anything but ‘terrorists’?” asked Jim Ihlenfeld of Aurora, in one of the more temperate such messages.

Our eschewal of the word “terrorist” was in keeping with a stylebook policy adopted several years ago, a policy that is in keeping with the journalistic purpose of the news pages: to provide as complete, thorough and unbiased an account as possible of the important news of the day.

No intellectually honest person can deny that “terrorist” is a word freighted with negative judgment and bias. So we sought terms that carried no such judgment.

*** END QUOTE ***

All they did was murder children, after all. Why would anyone want to judge them? That wouldn’t be intellectually honest!
You realize, of course, that this man’s rule makes it impossible to speak of lots of things of which his paper speaks freely. “Paedophile,” for example, is a word freighted with negative judgment and bias, if he wants to put it that way, but I’m sure it was a word his paper used a lot when reporting the Catholic sexual scandals.

And "murder" is another one. What does the newspaper call someone who beats an old lady to death to steal her purse? Greedy? Needy? A socialist in a hurry?

What Mr. Wycliff, who is so willing to smear his opponents in advance with that “no intellectually honest person” bit, ignores — I’m rather sure he understands the point — is that some words become “freighted with negative judgment and bias” not because some people use them to express their prejudices but because some actions have to be judged negatively. Torturing and murdering children, for example. The word is "negative" because the act he denotes is evil.

If in this case “terrorist” is a word “freighted with bias,” it is so only because the normal human being is biased against such evil as the terrorists in Beslan committed. Which is to say, the normal man recognizes real evil and wants to call it by its real name. This is in fact a perfectly objective judgment, not a bias in Mr. Wycliff’s sense of the word.

And “terrorist” is not only morally objective, but an accurate term for the terrorists’ actions. For what reason did they take the hostages, but to cause terror, to make people afraid? What was the point of their action, but to scare people, and particularly the Russian government, into submission? Isn’t this, simply as a matter of fact, terrorism, and therefore the people who did it terrorists?

But okay, let’s drop the word “terrorist.” Would Mr. Wycliff accept some other term that summarizes the facts at least as well as “militants” or “rebels”? Would he accept, say, the perfectly accurate and objective term “child killers”? And if not, why not?

6:17 PM


A few items for today.

— Our contributing editor Robert Hart sends, this link with a quote from the story and his own comment:

Research indicates that violence against women escalates during pregnancy, often in connection with a woman’s refusal to have an abortion.

This is an interesting story in itself, about how Mel Gibson’s The Passion convicted a man’s conscience to the point where he confessed to a double murder. But, the line I have quoted above brings up another issue.

For a long time we have seen the burden of caring for the woman and the child shift from the man, who was supposed to do the decent thing if he got a girl pregnant, to the woman (and I mentioned this in Her Mother’s Glory as one of the pressures brought to bear upon Diane by social workers when she had been raped and was pregnant.). It is now “the decent thing” for the pregnant woman to assume all risk and “responsibility” so that the poor helpless man — helpless in the face of that irresistable urge to fornicate with impunity — can live a carefree life of reckless abandon, while women become more and more the servile objects of pleasure.

This is called, of course, liberation for women. And, according to this report, women who will not do the new “decent thing” are in danger of retribution from violent boyfriends. I suppose it is fitting that we call such fellows the “boyfriends” of these women; after all, grown men do not behave this way.
To read his “Her Mother’s Glory” from the last January/February issue, click here

— From New a sad report: Global suicide toll exceeds war and murder.
The death toll from suicide – at almost one million people per year – accounts for half of all violent deaths worldwide, says the WHO [the World Health Organization]. “Estimates suggest fatalities could rise to 1.5 million by 2020,” the agency warned on Wednesday. . . .

And an estimated 10 to 20 million people survive failed suicide attempts each year, resulting in injury, hospitalisation and trauma, says the agency. However, the ultimate extent of the problem is unknown as full reliable data is unavailable.
Not surprisingly, perhaps,
The highest suicide rates are found in Eastern Europe, says WHO, whereas people in Latin America, Muslim countries and a few Asian nations are least likely to die by their own hand.
— Also from the, its “Last Word” department, where all sorts of odd but interesting questions are answered, like this "How is the Olympic torch carried on airplanes?" and “If I plotted the weight of all known walking animals against the total area of their feet, would I find that they all exert more or less the same pressure on the ground?” and “Does beheading hurt?” This page gives the categories for the questions.

— This is written by a Catholic for Catholics, but I think readers from other bodies would find it interesting and helpful: Janine Langan’s Notes on the Lay Vocation. She is Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, where she founded the Christian Culture Program. She gave a paper at one of our conferences several years ago, which I’ve just discovered is not yet up on the website.

— The comedian Jackie Mason and Raoul Feder insist that American Jews should consider emulating the eagle, rather than the ostrich, examining Jewish support for the Democratic party. Likely Jewish voters, they report, prefer Kerry 75 to 22%. They report an important bit of history, which should be remembered with FDR is invoked as a sort of secular saint:
Roosevelt was a canny politician who believed he had the Jews in his pocket they having voted for him in each of three elections from eighty-three to ninety per cent. Therefore he had to do little for them. He ordered the Saint Louis with its 909 Jewish passengers sent back to their fate of ending up in Hitler’s ovens. . . .

Roosevelt, notwithstanding Churchill’s plea, would not order the bombing of the Nazi’s transportation web which would slow the delivery of Jews to the concentration camps — even after Churchill’s prophecy to him that history would condemn both of them for his refusal.

Churchill instructed his Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden “Get everything out the Air Force you can, and invoke me if necessary. . . . There is no doubt that this is probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world . . .” But only the American Air Force had the capacity to do this and Roosevelt refused to give the order.
I have read, but do not know if the story is true, that American bombers could have dropped their extra bombs on the tracks leading to the camps but were ordered not to. In Modern Times, Paul Johnson repeatedly refers to Roosevelt as “frivolous,” which seems not inaccurate.

— Those of you interested in Orthodoxy might want to look at Again magazine. Our senior editor Patrick Henry Reardon writes for it frequently, as does our contributing editor Frederica Mathewes-Green (for whose Touchstone articles, click here).

— According to Christianity Today's site, Mel Gibson Produces “Immoral” Film. The movie is called Paparazzi and is about a celebrity who gets tired of being annoyed by these people and starts killing them. The story includes links to its panning by the critics, who called “immoral.”

It is hard to judge a story like this, without seeing the movie, and perhaps even then. It is often hard to draw out from a story, whether told in a book or a movie, the author's intended moral. Telling the story by itself doesn't necessarily mean that the writer approves. That said, I'll still give the movie a miss.

My thanks to Godspy for this and the next two links.

— For those of your interested in Christianity and the media, here is an article from the Columbia Journalism Review on the World Journalism Institute, titled God is My Co-Author. The writer is clearly uncomfortable with the Institute’s attempt to train Christian journalists, or as some of them prefer to put it, to train journalists who are Christians.

— On the Godspy site itself is an interview with Gregory Wolfe, biographer of Malcolm Muggeridge and editor of Image magazine.

— From the International Herald Tribune, The spectacular rise of the female terrorist by Alexis B. Delaney and Peter R. Neumann. They note that many of the recent terrorist acts have used women and write:
All this amounts to a major shift in the operational modus operandi of Islamic terrorists. The events in Russia suggest that women are now the preferred tool with which to carry out "martyrdom operations." If sustained, this would be a truly remarkable development. After all, Islamic terrorists propagate a vision of society in which women are consistently portrayed as weak, inferior and sinful. Women, they believe, have no role to play in public life, never mind that of "heroic martyr." The question, therefore, is obvious: Why have Islamic extremists suddenly embraced the use of women as high-level operatives?

Symbolically, their participation sends a powerful message, blurring the distinction between perpetrator and victim. Even among progressive Westerners, the notion that women are the "weaker sex," and that their inclination is to create and protect life rather than destroy it, remains widespread. If women decide to violate all established norms about the sanctity of human life, they do so only as a last resort. The scholar Clara Beyler, who analyzed public reactions to suicide bombings, found that "female kamikazes" tended to be portrayed as "the symbols of utter despair ... rather than the cold-blooded murderers of civilians." If a woman was involved, the media focused on "what made her do it," not on the carnage that she had created. In other words, if the attacker was a woman, it was the bomber who became the victim, and whose grievances needed to be addressed.

4:07 PM


For those of you who care, "From the Inbox" will appear later this afternoon. Please check back.

3:50 PM


This is a heading I just thought up for those times when I want to pass on something interesting from my reading. I would be grateful to you if you would such items yourselves.

— I picked up a yard sale held at a local church a copy of Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis. The book contains the amusing letters, published in the teens and early twenties, of a cockroach named Archy who typed them by diving headfirst into the typewriter keys. (He couldn’t use the shift key, obviously, hence the lower case.) The letter “Certain maxims of Archy” contains, for example,

the servant problem
wouldn t hurt the u s a
if it could settle
its public
servant problem

if you get gloomy just
take an hour off and sit
and think how
much better this world
is than hell
of course it won t cheer
you up much if
you expect to go there

if monkey glands
did restore your youth
what would you do
with it
question mark
just what you did before
interrogation point

yes I thought so
exclamation point

procrastination is the
art of keeping
up with yesterday

every cloud
has it silver
lining but it is
sometimes a little
difficult to get it to
the mint

that stern and
rockbound coast felt
like an amateur
when it saw how grim
the puritans that
landed on it were
I realize that last one is unfair to the Puritans but it was too good a line to leave out. You will find these letters praised by critics and literary historians, and they are quite clever, and Marquis did get Archy’s voice down perfectly, but they’re not that good. I had never read them before, and I think part of their continued appeal is that Archy is an existentialist and a skeptic, and Maquis’ satirical targets include those beliefs secular readers like to see satirized. Take just one of the maxims:
i once heard the survivors
of a colony of ants
that had been partially
obliterated by a cow s foot
seriously debating
the intention of the gods
towards their civilization
I could be wrong about this, not knowing any more about the letters than I have picked up from reading this book, but this kind of satire does run through it.

On the other hand, Archy is a cockroach.

— For those of you with children between about five and thirteen, I recommend the Hank the Cowdog series, written by a cowboy named John R. Erickson. Hank lives on a ranch in Texas and believes himself “the head of ranch security,” and is generally oblivious to the way he looks to others.

He narrates the books in kind of a hard-boiled-detective-novel style, which can be quite verbally inventive. They include some very funny crosstalk routines with his dim pal Drover, as well as his always futile battle with his arch-enemy, Pete the Barncat, and comic encounters with various creatures, such as a perpetually starving father and son team of buzzards.

Anyway, I love them, as do all of our children, who range in age for six to eighteen. Erickson wrote thirty-some books, and like most such series the earlier ones are the best. He recorded some of the best scenes on tape, and these can be quite funny.

3:45 PM


I just received a post card announcing the broadcast of a PBS special this Wednesday and next Wednesday: The Question of God: Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis with Dr. Armand Nicholi. It is based on the book by Harvard professor Nicholi, The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. I may check it out.

The top line on the front of the large postcard reads: “How each of us understands the meaning of life comes down to how we answer one ultimate question: Does God really exist?”

God was dead in the 60s, but He won’t go away, will He?

1:58 PM


There has been a bit of controversy over a reported statement from Cardinal Ratzinger about voting for pro-choice candidates. A number of us had wondered what the real story was behind this. I think this piece helps brings some clarity to the issue.

CULTURE & COSMOS September 14, 2004 Volume 2, Number 6

Vatican Document Misused by Kerry Supporters in the Church and Media

A memo released privately two months ago by the Vatican's leading theologian, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is being portrayed by the media and liberal Catholics as giving Catholic voters permission to vote for the pro-abortion Democratic candidate for President.

So far, a moral theologian and a high-ranking official of the Detroit Archdiocese, where the story first broke, say the document's precise language is being distorted.

Ratzinger issued a private memo in the spring that explored whether pro-abortion politicians ought to be denied communion. He concluded that they must be denied communion if, after consistent teaching by the bishop, they persist in their error regarding abortion.

It is the final and separate paragraph to his memo that is causing all the confusion and controversy. In a short “nota bene,” Ratzinger answers the question whether a voter may receive communion if he has voted for a pro-abortion politician. He concludes that any vote for a pro-abortion politician is cooperation in “evil.” He goes on to say that a person who votes for a pro-abortion politician may receive communion but only if he voted that way for “proportionate” reasons. And this is the phrase that the media and liberal Catholics have used to give permission to vote for the pro-abortion John Kerry. Some are claiming that “proportionate” reasons may be any serious issue that the voter cares about, the war in Iraq, for instance.

Father Stephen Torraco, chairman of the theology department at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, says this interpretation of “proportionate” is wrong. Taracco says the term “proportionate” has a very specific meaning within Catholic moral theology and that “proportionate reasons” for voting for a pro-abortion candidate would have to be limited to stopping other intrinsically evil acts similar to abortion. Even a candidate's support for capital punishment or war could not be used to justify voting for a pro-abortion candidate, he said, because neither of those things are intrinsically immoral according to Catholic teaching.

Besides Taracco's, a response was issued by the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Detroit, where the story first broke. Presumably writing for the Archbishop of Detroit, Cardinal Adam Maida, Father Robert J. McClory, wrote that the issue was “much more nuanced than was reported in the Free Press article . . .” He said that Ratzinger's note did not clear the way to vote for a pro-abortion candidates. “The distribution of this text has led to much debate over what might be 'proportionate reasons' in the context of the moral evil of abortion, including how this might apply when all the candidates for a given office support abortion to varying degrees. Suffice it to say that 'proportionate reasons' go far beyond simply 'agreeing with the candidate's other stands.'“

Many other news outlets including The Washington Post have reported on the note but have omitted an adequate explanation of the term “proportionate reasons.” Culture and Cosmos has learned that at least one, possibly more, prominent bishops are planning to address the problem in the coming days.

Copyright, 2004 --- Culture of Life Foundation. Permission granted for unlimited use. Credit required. Culture of Life Foundation/Washington DC 20005 Website:
It all seems to hinge on what “proportionate” means. I suspect this analysis to be correct, since I also suspect that certain people are willing to create and maintain confusion on this important issue.

1:48 PM


This past weekend, my eldest son and I rented a car (a compact, but, they gave me, gasp, an SUV--the rental company had way too many of them and were desperate to rent them, even at the cheaper rate), I rented a car, as I was saying, for a unusual trip: a Notre Dame football game in South Bend, Indiana, against the University of Michigan, where I attended school at the beginning of the decade of polyester (70s).

While I didn’t share the same enthusiasm as most of the 80,000 fans for “the Irish” team, I have to admit it was a very fine athletic competition. I do like football, though professional sports leave me uneasy, with their millionaire athletes and all the money that goes into hyping the events, the commercials, and so on.

When I was a kid, we played sports, not to be “like Mike” or anybody else (yes, we did have our local heroes) but because the game was simply fun. Football, after all, is simply a game, moving a ball down into the end zone by various means against an opponent to prove your superiority in doing so.

The game itself was slightly marred by turnovers, as both teams early in the season seemed to be working out cobwebs. Michigan, with its freshman quarterback owned the first half, while Notre Dame spanked them, coming from behind and winning (28-20), in the second, all to the delight of the non-Michigan fans.

What I most enjoyed, beyond the offensive and defensive plays (including two successful goal-line stands by both teams) was the fact that the game was, to me, pure sport. No millionaire players on the fields. Just students. There was also no alcohol in the stadium, so fans were decent (though beer flowed freely in the parking lots during the daylong tailgating period). Well, I suppose the lack of beer doesn’t make it sport, but I think it removed another distraction.

Anyway, there were no billboards, Viagra signs, sponsoring logos anywhere to be seen. In the stadium it was just fans and players. During half-time there was no rock concert, or gimmicky promotions, just two college marching bands.

The one flaw were the regular interruptions in the flow of the game, timeouts that neither team had called, during which players and referees seemed be standing around, maybe checking their e-mail on their cell phones. But I appreciated the fact that they didn’t blare rock music during these “commercial breaks” imposed on the game, in turns out, for the sake of the network TV audience.

During one breaks I had no doubt whatsoever that while I was talking with my son about the last goal line stance, other people who saw the game up close on their TVs were being treated to one of those boring ads for an SUV, probably the very model we had driven to the game.

Anyway, no ads, no rock music, just sport. Of course, I know that for the better players on the field, there may be a million-dollar contract down the road, and maybe some are playing it with that in mind. But most of the players will never make it to the NFL, and they know it, but they are there anyway, playing the game because that’s what human beings do, at least when they are young. Why they do it, is perhaps a topic for another time.

11:20 AM

Monday, September 13


We received the sad news on the weekend that on Saturday, 9/11/04, four of the eight Orthodox Bishops of Africa were killed in a helicopter crash in Greece. Included was Petros VII, the Patriarch of Alexandria, the spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians in Africa, who number around 300,000.

A Greek Army helicopter, carrying 12 passengers and a four-member crew, disappeared from radar screens en route to Mt. Athos, an important Orthodox monastic enclave. The three other bishops who died were Metropolitan Bishop of Carthage Chrysostomos, Metropolitan Bishop of Pelusim Ireneus, and Bishop of Magadascar Nectarios.

Bishop Nectarios is especially known to some of the staff at Touchstone, having corresponded with us several times and having ordered all the available back issues of Touchstone when he became a subscriber several years ago. We offer our prayers on behalf of all who are affected by this tragedy, especially our fellow Christians in Africa in the Orthodox Church.

5:42 PM


Fr. James Schall, now I’m happy to say one of our writers, has taken part in an exchange you may find of interest. He has written 9/11: The Logic of This War and Deacon Keith Fournier disagrees with him rather sharply in a much longer article appearing right after it.

Deacon Fournier raises some very good questions, but he did weaken my confidence in his argument with the declaration, set apart as a one-sentence paragraph, “War is a defeat for humanity.” This is one of those slogans to which the only answer is “Well, yes and no,” which means that it falls apart once one asks what it actually means. Who is this “humanity” of which he speaks? Is it a useful category when trying to understand how we should act in a fallen world? In which, not to put too fine a point on it, when some humans act inhumanly and must be opposed by others, precisely in defense of humanity and human values.

It is a defeat for humanity when a man steals an watch from a jewelry store, but it is not in the same sense a defeat for humanity when a policeman catches him doing it. Indeed, the arrest is completely the opposite, because the policeman has helped reassert the moral order in a world in which that order is always in danger. The arrest is, in fact, a victory for humanity over the forces of inhumanity.

So, I think, with war. It’s not particularly helpful to declare war “a defeat for humanity” without distinguishing the humans involved. Once one set of humans have launched a war on others, the others must respond. The defeat upon humanity has already been inflicted and treating their response as necessarily part of this defeat only confuses the matter.

5:36 PM


A few fairly random items for today. I’m sorry for the late posting, but our blogging software went into extreme slow motion every time I hit the “post” button.

— A reader sends the link to A Holy City Hootennany from The American Spectator by Patrick O’Hannigan. He warns that it may download slowly because the magazine’s servers will be busy with people looking at its coverage of the alleged National Guard memos. The article begins:

SAN DIEGO -- Ever wonder why the mainstream media so consistently apply the adjective "holy" to places like Najaf and Karbala? The Associated Press Style Guide says nothing about holy cities, preferring to let reporters decide for themselves whether they're filing stories from sacred ground. Reporters, for their part, typically defer to local sensibilities, unless those sensibilities are Christian, Jewish, or unlikely to impress America's self-styled cultural gatekeepers, many of whom are discomfited by religious faith any stronger than the Unitarian or agnostic brews to which they've been conditioned (good luck looking for "holy" in a byline from Rome, Hebron, or Salt Lake City). That approach has combined with the fighting in Iraq to make a handful of Muslim shrines household names, and people in the "blogosphere" have noticed.
— A friend wrote me in response to William Dalrymple’s article “Land of the Byzantines,” an article about some of the ancient churches in the Peloponnese and the city that had been the last outpost of the Byzantine empire:
The icons he mentions remind me of those in Hosios Lukas, a wonderful monastery off the beaten path between Delphi and Athens. The icons are unlike any I’ve seen and the place itself is one of the holiest. It helps to have accessible to visitors the undecomposed body of St. Luke Stiris, the local saint to whom the monastery is dedicated who died in 953. This website has a couple of the icons, though they are not done justice. And here’s a bit about the church and some pictures of its buildings and surroundings.
The article appeared in the August 28th issue of the English newspaper The Independent, but the friend who sent it to me didn’t include the link.

— In The Elephant in the Room: Ground Zero, Three Years Later, Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete tells the story of a dinner held last year on September 11th, at which various people were supposed to come to some deeper understanding of 9/11. They didn’t. Albacete was asked to summarize the evening’s discussion and concluded:
The human vocation to the Infinite had been effectively suppressed by modern criticism and, instead of disappearing, it had struck back with a deadly force. The proper response, I suggested, was not further suppression of the religious instinct, but its adequate education by insistence on the requirements of reason and a humble respect for a non-syncretistic pluralism based on true religious liberty.

Salman Rushdie exclaimed: “We have all failed tonight to see the elephant in the room. Only the Monsignor has described it adequately. In the end, our future depends on the encounter between religion, critical reasoning, and humility.”
A “non-syncretisic pluralism based on true religious liberty” is something that, so far, only Christians have been able to manage. It is not something the alternatives among the major religions have managed, nor something that the alternatives among the major anti-religions (Marxism, positivism, secularism in its myriad forms) have been able to manage when they got the power to rework society to their ideal.

For all the sins of Christians throughout the ages, which our critics bring up time after time after time, we are beginning to see not only that the Christian’s history is no more blood-stained than anyone else’s, but that he is now the only one who can get along with everyone and listen to them with sympathy and interest.

— Here is an article, appearing in the New York Times, that seems slightly insulting to women: What Women Voters Want. The writers argue that Bush has pulled ahead of Kerry because he (Bush) has pulled even with him among women voters, whom they call “the true swing voters.”
Mr. Bush’s popularity among women would hinge on three critical elements: his building an emotional connection, humanizing himself and portraying himself as the candidate who can keep America safe.
He did this, they said, in his speech at the Republican Convention.

The argument is more or less the same one made four yeas ago about the votes of “soccer moms,” and just as disturbing. For note: two of these three elements have nothing to do with his ability to govern, and may in fact have nothing to do with the reality at all, at a time when image consultants are so good at giving people what they want to see, and the third reflects his ability to govern only if it reflects a reality.

In other words, according to these pollsters, and perhaps the editors of the Times as well, women choose the candidate to vote for based on how the choices make them feel about himself. They don’t judge him by his competence or his knowledge or his record or his policies, but by how well he has built an emotional connection with them and how “human” (= vulnerable, etc.) he has shown himself to be, as well as by how convincingly he makes his claim to be the one who can defend the country most effectively.

Which is to say, that according to these pollsters and perhaps the editors too, the old stereotype of the emotional, subjective, effectively irrational female is correct. They are arguing that the typical woman voter is a Marilyn Monroe character. I would find insulting, myself.

— Another article from the Times, which will be of interest to readers interested in the Jewish experience: The Citizen Stranger by Jonathan Rosen. He discusses the history of the Jews in America through several Jewish writers, and reflects upon the effect of their religion.
I think Jewish writers have sometimes felt that to reclaim the actual elements of their religious history, and return them to their Jewish context, would be to challenge the universalism of their adopted country. . . .
Are Jews in America hopelessly influenced by Christian culture, feeling at home only as they become more assimilated? Or was Christian culture so informed by Jewish ideas that American Jews are breathing in their former exhalations even when they mistake them for the fresh air of freedom? Is it possible to transcend religion in this deeply religious country, or is democracy itself bound up with the monotheistic idea — articulated by Jews so long ago — that all people are created in the image of a unitary God and therefore potentially equal?
— A third article from the Times: David Brooks’ latest column Ruling Class War. It begins:
here are two sorts of people in the information-age elite, spreadsheet people and paragraph people. Spreadsheet people work with numbers, wear loafers and support Republicans. Paragraph people work with prose, don't shine their shoes as often as they should and back Democrats. . . .

Professors, on the other hand, are classic paragraph people and lean Democratic. Eleven academics gave to the Kerry campaign for every 1 who gave to Bush's. Actors like paragraphs, too, albeit short ones. Almost 18 actors gave to Kerry for every 1 who gave to Bush. For self-described authors, the ratio was about 36 to 1. Among journalists, there were 93 Kerry donors for every Bush donor. For librarians, who must like Faulknerian, sprawling paragraphs, the ratio of Kerry to Bush donations was a whopping 223 to 1.
— Two related stories. First, from the Daily Telegraph: Gangsta rap culture ‘is a deadly virus’, reporting on the comments of Garth Brooks, a sports reporter for the BBC.
“Street culture will become a deadly virus ripping indiscriminately through our next generation, robbing millions of their potential,” he said.

“As for the youngsters in our community who think they are gangsters, grow up. You are pathetic. You are not gangsters or clever. You are kids and it’s time to impose zero tolerance.” . . .

“Our girls and especially boys face exclusion, denigration, they face failure, they face destruction. For every boy from our community at a university there are two in jail. That is the measure of the crisis we face.”
The epidemic he describes is a disease of the imagination, of what these children are taught to imagine to be the good life and the true end of man. This imagination may flourish among the poor — though not only there, as a survey of the sort of “music” and the videogames popular among white American middle class adolescent males will show — and as a result of their poverty, meaning that they are themselves victims of it, but still, it is an imagination that kills.

Which leads me to the second article, this one from the New York Times: Unorthodox Publisher Animates Hip-Hop Lit, about an ex-prostitute and drug dealer who self-published a novel about her life and has now founded a publisher for such works.

The story focuses on her entrepreneurial drive and the new market for this kind of book, without telling you what the books actually say, but the one description does not encourage. She seems, reading between the lines of a not entirely helpful report, to be publishing the sorts of books that feed the sort of imagination Brooks denies. Which does make one a lot of money and get the New York Times to celebrate one’s work.

— An entertaining article from the Daily Telegraph: Thriftiest family in US explains how to run an economy. The family, whose name is Economides — really — spends just $350 a month to feed seven.
Their monthly food budget for seven mouths compares favourably — if not from a gourmet's point of view — with the Department of Agriculture's official estimate that on average it costs $709 a month to feed an American family of four. Revelling in their Scrooge-like status, the Economides dispense tips on frugal living on a website,, and in homeeconomiser, their monthly newsletter — but you have to pay for the service via a subscription.
Quite cheeringly, the articles explains the reason for their thriftiness: “Their thriftiness began early. He didn't earn much, and she wanted babies.” How often do you read in the major media about people who wanted to have lots of children?

After describing some of the family’s techniques, the article concludes:
"It's a way of life," Mr Economides says. "In this society we are told to consume, that the consumer lifestyle is freedom. You are free to get it now — just use the credit card. And then be chained by debt.
"We have found freedom from the consumer society and from debt. And doing it our way, we have everything we want.”
He’s right, as we all know, but I suspect that for most of us the idea doesn’t feel right. What’s the matter with a little credit card debt, if we can handle it? Why can’t we have something now, when we’ll enjoy it?

It is perhaps surprising how sensible such a counter-cultural life looks from the inside, when the world has trained you to see it as really weird. The same applies to home schooling your children, giving up television, living by the Church’s teaching against contraception (or more accurately, the Church’s enthusiasm for fruitful marriages), even (in many circles) simply insisting that everyone be home for dinner.

The fruits of such lives become more and more obvious the longer you live them. The extra children, should you be blessed with them, for example, are joys you cannot now imagine living without. Their life shapes your life in a new way, which is quite different from the shape you would imposed upon it had the fruitfulness of your marriage been completely left to you to regulate. It’s less controlled, and economically less comfortable, but it’s much richer.

— A curiosity for those of you who enjoy this sort of thing: Cromwell's sailor had torso of Superman but bow legs. An archaeologist has studied the bones of a sailor in a ship sunk off the Isle of Mull in 1563 and found that
"when he joined Cromwell's navy he was in good health, with a very strong upper body. The best modern equivalent would be a trapeze artist," said Dr Martin.

"It seems he was engaging in rhythmic balancing work such as hauling on ropes and setting sails," said Dr Martin. The man also suffered from malformation of the hip, damage that appeared to have been caused by jumping off the equivalent of a six-foot wall several times a day.

It was normal for seaman after coming down the ratlines to jump six feet on to the deck to avoid scrambling over the bulwark and risking a tumble into the sea. The man was almost certainly an able seaman, Dr Martin said.

Although he was fit, he would have suffered problems later in life. His molars had been ground almost flat by grit from the stone-ground flour in his diet. A few more years of cheap bread could have left his mouth in agony. He suffered from spine damage that could have left him disabled.
I sent the article to Anne Gardiner, one of one writers — her article on the Christian meaning of Gulliver’s Travels is appearing in the October issue — and she replied:
I remember reading the complaint of Anthony Wood, the famed Oxford historian, that his teeth were being gradually ground down by the coarse diet in the Oxford college commons. So it wasn't only the sailors who had that problem of vanishing teeth.

5:30 PM


For those of you who have just started reading our senior editor Patrick Henry Reardon’s Daily Reflections and would like to read the older reflections, click here. They’re listed by week. He writes the reflections to help you read the day’s passage with more understanding, and he has a gift for accurately summarizing things. As for example in the following entry, which came up as I was looking for something for a friend:

Friday, July 26

Acts 17:16-34: Standing not very many yards from the spot where Socrates defended his philosophy to the citizens of Athens, the apostle Paul now delivers his own defense of the Gospel to the philosophers. Luke notes two philosophical schools in particular, the Stoics and the Epicureans (verse 18). These two philosophical schools interpret the world in radically different ways. The Epicureans believe themselves to be living in an entirely meaningless cosmos, completely subject to chance, a world (to use Spengler’s helpful distinction) of “incident” but not “destiny.” While the Epicurean world is devoid of either purpose or direction, it does give man a great deal of room for freedom, not only in the sense of his being able, by his choices, to escape the constraints of external forces, but also in the sense of not being answerable to an eternal moral law backed up by divine sanctions. The Epicurean’s happiness depends on how he uses this vast freedom, and he chooses to do so by living for pleasure. Not the base pleasures of the flesh, but the higher enjoyments of the mind and the refined senses. Epicureanism, then, is the philosophy of cultivated, refined pleasure. The ethics of the Epicurean is thus an ethics of self-discipline and restraint. The Stoic world, on the other hand, is far from meaningless. Indeed, it is utterly suffused with meaning (logos). Existence, for the Stoic, has so much intrinsic meaning, that man is really quite unable to add to it. So what dimensions of existence are left to man’s freedom? If human existence is already determined by a profound meaning that man does not put there, and to which man is unable to make a personal contribution, how is man to live? The Stoics answer, by inwardly accepting the way things are, by purging his heart and mind from those passions and desires that would cause him to depart from the meaning at the heart of existence. The world is already under control; man must learn to control himself. The ethics of the Stoic, then, is also an ethics of self-discipline and restraint. To these two groups Paul preaches a theology of history, in which the deeds of men will be judged, not by themselves in accord with their varying moral theories, but by God who “has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained” (verse 31). In this earliest encounter of the Gospel with pagan philosophy, we observe especially the difficulty experienced by the latter in dealing with the material world (the Resurrection!) and the moral structure of history. Paul can barely begin this discussion, so great is the opposition (verses 32-33). His converts in Athens appear to be few, but they include a woman philosopher named Damaris (verse 34).
These, as I said, tend to put the passage in context to help you read it more intelligently. For Fr. Reardon’s more devotional writing on Scripture — something he does very well, by the way — you should subscribe to the Daily Devotional Guide.

4:30 PM


The church we attend is honoring its pastors with a banquet in appreciation of their ministries. Those who come are invited to write down their own articles of appreciation, as it were. Here are mine. This will help explain, for those who have asked, why we go there.

When we first came to Racine I visited several Evangelical churches, including Calvary Memorial Church. My first visit ruled it out immediately. It was summer, the pastor was on vacation, and communion was served. At that service the Words of Institution (“This is my Body . . . ." ) were entirely omitted, and nobody seemed to notice. I put the cracker in my pocket, had a snack on the way home, and reported to my wife that this and the other “Bible Church” in town, which had done the same in my hearing, were out on the far left-wing of the Reformation, and had serious problems with the Bible. Like the liberal churches, they apparently just chopped out what they didn’t like. We settled into an Episcopal church that had a fine, godly priest with strong orthodox opinions.

Later, a mutual friend introduced me to Pr. James when we bumped into him at a restaurant. I was impressed with him, and he assured me that the words of institution were not omitted when he was there. When our pastor retired and the church we were attending became typically Episcopalian, we tried Calvary again and stayed.

Calvary had, in our view, three major strengths, which followed the ministries of Pastors James and Wratney. The first and most important was Pr. James’ preaching. The sermons, which lasted about forty minutes, were thoughtful, and clearly came from close study of and meditation upon scripture. It was also clear that he found, or was—almost miraculously, given—adequate time to prepare them, for there was nothing facile, rote, or boilerplate about them. He had actually thought carefully about everything he was saying before he said it.

The result was remarkably sure-footed biblical preaching--preaching that would serve any orthodox Christian church--a commodity far rarer than many Evangelicals realize, since the tendency everywhere in Christendom is to confuse the real Bible, which stands in judgment on every church and its traditions, with the Altered Bible—the Bible with some things added and some things removed--that is in fact at the foundation of each separated tradition. The gulf between these two attitudes toward the Bible may appear narrow, especially in churches that profess special loyalty to the scriptures, but it is infinitely deep, and the good pastor must be willing to hold his tradition’s favored treatment of the Bible to the Bible as it Is--the Bible as an honest man knows it to be, and will preach as such if he finds the courage to do it.

The second strength was the church’s ability to resist cultural pressures—and by this I mean not only the culture of modern America, but the church’s own evangelical subculture--to indulge in fads in worship and theology. This was clearly the work of the pastor combined with the elders, and kept the church closer to what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity” than most churches of its kind—than most churches of any kind, in fact. In particular, it was successfully resisting the feminist heresy, of turning the Christian faith into a unisex distortion of itself, and it was resisting the temptation to turn the worship service into a religious entertainment, ostensibly to attract and save souls, but in fact something a good deal more ambiguous and questionable than that. And it had paid dearly for exercising this wisdom in the coin of members departed for the local megachurch. This could be a much larger church if it were willing to be a much stupider church.

The third strength was in its youth program. The children were taught to memorize scripture and shown how to do good works in Christ’s name. The culture of this program, developed by Pr. Wratney, the Sunday School teachers and the AWANA leaders, seemed to be clean, vigorous, and healthy. This is also something that is by no means to be taken for granted. It is, in fact, miraculous.

All this shows the peculiar favor of God resting upon this congregation. May it be preserved in holy wisdom and go from strength to strength.

9:25 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?