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Saturday, October 2


Jim Forest of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship just sent to his list this quote from Herman Goering:

"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to do the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
He also sends a link explaining :the origin of the quote.

I have grave doubts about the accuracy of Mr. Goering's assessment of democratic institutions, which has an air of rationalization about it -- the fascist pig trying to drag the democratic horse into the manure and mud with him to claim they're both the same -- but I thought some of you might find it of interest.

I am somewhat worried by the tendency of anti-war activists to question their democratic systems because the majority of people are not pacifists, not least because it seems to me that the majority may have a better grasp of the questions at hand than the pacifists. Imagine what Europe would be like today had not the majority of Americans supported Roosevelt in going to war.

4:27 PM


You may want to know about a conference sponsored by Reformation and Revival Ministries, titled Jonathan Edwards and the Spirit of True Awakening, which will be held in Wheaton, Illinois on November 5th and 6th, 2004. A message from John Armstrong, president of the ministry and a good friend of Touchstone's reads:

The theme this year is “Jonathan Edwards and the Spirit of True Revival.” The speakers include Samuel T. Logan, president of Westminster Theological Seminary, George Marsden, professor of history at the University of Notre Dame and author of the very best biography of Jonathan Edwards, and myself. The location is Bethel Presbyterian Church at 1401 S. Naperville Road, Wheaton, Illinois.

If you need more information by phone please call our office during business hours at (630) 221-1817.

Please note that this year’s event is shorter than in the past but there is a minister’s pre-conference on Friday, which includes a lunch. The main conference begins Friday evening and ends at mid-day Saturday.
The description of the conference on the website says that:
We’ve heard a great deal about revival in the past generation. Sadly, much of what is called revival has little or no lasting impact upon the church. But when the ministry of the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit are united in a gracious confluence of divine mercy, the life and witness of the church is powerfully refreshed. This we need now, in times of ethical and moral confusion, more than ever.

It is not uncommon for Jonathan Edwards to be called “America’s most important religious figure.” Jonathan Schwarz, in the Atlantic Monthly, referred to Edwards, during the celebration of the tri-centennial of his birth in 2003, as a “towering figure.” In all the unresolved complexity and Christ-centered passion of his impressive life, both intellectually and spiritually, Edwards still gives us the best model of revival. For this reason we have chosen to address the subject of spiritual awakening by connecting this great theologian to our present need.

4:11 PM


Bill Luse sends another link with a picture of the baby doctors want to let die whose plight I mentioned in yesterday's "From the Inbox".

3:57 PM


Two Philip Johnson notes. First, English readers may want to know that he is making a speaking of the U.K., which you can find out about here.

Second, he sent the following to his e-mail list:

I received the message below, forwarded from from a theistic evolutionist Christian College professor (the explanations in brackets are mine, not Phil's):

The following paragraph comes from a post on the ASA list, citing information in a publication from ICR. This would tend to support John Wilson's implicit suggestion in his Christianity Today article, that Phil is moving toward a YEC [young earth creationist] position. If Phil has any comments, I'm all ears.

The latest issue of ACTS AND FACTS arrived today. I see that Phillip Johnson and Andrew Snelling (of ICR [the Institute of Creation Research, I think]) will be making a joint speaking tour in England from 10/26 to 11/13. The tour is being underwritten by Elim Churches and several "evangelical alliances."

I have consistently said that I take no position on the age of the earth, and that I regard the issue as not ripe for debate yet. I have also rejected all suggestions that I should denounce the YECs and instead have said that I regard high-quality YECs like Andrew Snelling as respected allies.

I am not upset when YECs criticize me for not embracing their position, nor am I upset when theistic evolutionists or progressive creationists criticize me for being overly friendly with YECs. For now I am standing right where I want to stand. When developments make it appropriate for me to clarify or adjust my position, I will not hesitate to do so.
You can read all of Dr. Johnson’s Leading Edge columns here.

2:30 PM


At its regular meeting at the Moscow Patriarchate Pilgrimage Center last week (Sept 22), the Interreligious Council in Russia issued a press release affirming "we must be united as never before."

The unity sought by the Interreligous Council was not, strictly speaking, a religious unity. It is better described, rather, as a union against the common enemy, the international terrorists exemplified in the recent slaughter of children in Beslan. The Council commented:

Today Russia is going through a period of hard trials. An undeclared war against our people is designed by its instigators to generate chaos and lack of faith in Russia and in her future.
The Council went on:
Twenty days have passed since the tragedy in Beslan. Our grief has not subsided. At the same time, today we can look from a distance at the developments in North Ossetia and the consequences of this tragedy for all Russia.

Hundreds of children and adults were killed in Beslan. We pray for the rest of their souls, for the healing of the injured, for the consolation of their relatives and friends. We are grieving together with them. We condemn those who planned and realized this monstrous action. Many of them have already been recompensed, and we hope that just retribution will soon find the rest.
The enemies of humanity, the Council went on to say, appealed to religion as their inspiration:

The act of terrorism in Beslan has dealt a heavy blow on our society, which, though, is still capable of withstanding trials. However, people's hearts continue to harden. Counting precisely on this, international terrorism leaders try to use the religious factor and play on the political controversies in the country and the world. We are confident that the high level of inter-ethnic relations in Russia will remain a safeguard against the continued attempts to set Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists on to fight.

This is not new, said the Council. These terrorists have been at work for a thousand years and more, making exactly the same religious appeal:

We remember how Christians and Muslims, Europeans, Arabs, Tartars and Persians united
in the Middle Ages against the common enemy - the terrorist sect of Ismailite Assassins.
There is no sense in attempting to dialogue or reason with these people, said the Council. They have placed themselves beyond the realm of rational discourse.
It was useless to try to prevail upon them by words, just as it is with today's terrorists, since there was only hatred and fear for their own life that remained in their mortified souls. The language of power was the only language they understood.
Since raw force is all these terrorists understand, insisted the Council, this is what they must receive, even if this means their annihilation. They must be hunted down and destroyed:
There must be no fear of dispensing justice to terrorists and their accomplices, and if needs be they should be annihilated whoever and wherever they may be and whatever slogans they may use as a cover. We insist that they are beyond any religion, serving the Satan and dreaming of plunging humanity into an abyss of despair and of taking over the world.
Efforts against these terrorists not only may include, but must include, preemptive strikes against them, in order to prevent their afflicting further damage:
The State is obliged to destroy the designs of terrorists long before they are realized. However, it is not only the authorities and the law-enforcement bodies who are called to fight the evil of terrorism. People in every city and village, especially in regions in difficult political and economic situations, should unite to resist the formidable threat.
Resistance to this international terrorism amounts to a war:
We must win in this war, and we will win if we are united.
Various religious groups, said the Council, must unite in order to resist and destroy the efforts of such people. Such humane efforts are not alien to a proper understanding of religion:
Religious communities can become one of the centers and organizers of such unity. We continue to consolidate the efforts of believers for keeping order, taking care of each other's security, remaining vigilant in face of common threats and helping the law-enforcement in their work. Our communities give aid to the victims, and we call upon everyone to continue these efforts. Society should not forget what has happened. Russia should become different, should come to her senses and, realizing the threats she faces, unite for the sake of her future.
The thing one most notices in this statement is its undiluted patriotism. These Russians LOVE their country, and they are putting aside their deep religious differences for the sake of their country. They are prepared to support war and extermination for the sake of their country, and they appear not to be the least bit embarrassed by such robust patriotic sentiments.

Why, oh why, can we not get a similar ecumenical statement from religious leaders here in the United States? How comes it that we have not yet heard a similar pronouncement from any major ecumenical group in America supporting the United States government's efforts against international terrorism? We would not expect such a pronouncement from the anemic National Council of Churches, of course, but why has no other ecumenical body arisen in America to say what the joint religions of Russia have affirmed so forcefully?

1:18 PM

Friday, October 1


For those interested in the recent discussion on how Orthodox Christians weight the various moral issues facing the American people:

Orthodox Christians have always viewed the willful abortion of unborn children as a heinous act of evil. The Church’s canonical tradition identifies any action intended to destroy a fetus as the crime of murder (Ancyra, Canon 21; Trullo, Canon 91; St. Basil, Canon 2). . . .

Abortion is an act of murder for which those involved, voluntarily and involuntarily, will answer to God.

. . . Orthodox Christians are to contribute to legislative processes according to their knowledge, competence, ability and influence so that laws may be enacted and enforced which protect and defend the lives of unborn children while being sensitive to the complexities and tragedies of life in contemporary society.
--From an Affirmation passed by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America and passed by delegates to the 10th All-American Council, July 1992.
It’s a pity that thiswasn’t posted on the OCA’s website instead of Peter Bouteneff’s “how to vote” article. I do it as a service to those who wish to know what the Orthodox Church has said on these moral issues.

When the OCA said, above, that we “are to contribute to legislative processes according to [our] knowledge, competence, ability and influence so that laws may be enacted and enforced which protect and defend the lives of unborn children,” I take that to include using our votes (which is one area in which we have been given an ability) to influence laws and the enforcement of those laws.

In case anyone is wondering if the above affirmation is a fluke, I cite from an Amicus Curiae filed with the U. S. Supreme Court in the Webster case, on February 21, 1989, on behalf of the Holy Orthodox Church.

Bear in mind that this statement was signed by many bishops of the Orthodox Church, including Metropolitan Theodosius, head of the OCA; and many clergy and professors, including the late John Meyendorff, dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary; and Rev. Thomas Hopko, recently retired dean of the St. Vladimir’s:
…The precepts of the Orthodox Christian faith mandate the protection of innocent human life, especially that of unborn children. The Church regards abortion as murder, and as such, takes a very active role in opposing legalized abortion.

…From its inception nearly two thousand years ago, it has never deviated from its condemnation of abortion, based on numerous scriptural references and the teaching of the Holy Fathers of the Church. The Church regards the Roe v. Wade decision as a gruesome turn on the road of judicial activism, having resulted in a holocaust which has claimed at least twenty million innocent lives…
Clearly, the decisions of the court are being blamed for a holocaust. Now, does a “holocaust” have greater moral weight that other issues? The next sentence:
In this case, the Holy Orthodox Church seeks to restore to our nation’s law the highest principle which a civilized society can espouse—the recognition that all human life is sacred.
Note: “highest principle.” The statement is quite long (and was published in Touchstone in 1992 but is not available on-line), going into some detail as it refutes various claims made in Roe v. Wade.

As to the matter of the weightiness of the issue, and the moral imperative it places on Christians to act so as to end the holocaust, it concludes:
The historic morality which forms the foundation of American constitutional thought is firmly grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition. That tradition has unambiguously recognized that life begins at conception, and that abortion is murder. The notion that abortion on demand is an inherent right which cannot be denied, is of recent origin. Samuel Adams recognized that such innovations should be resisted:

“If the liberties of America are ever completely ruined . . . it will in all probability be the consequence of a mistaken notion of prudence, which leads men to acquiesce in measures of the most destructive tendency for the sake of present ease.”

…The assembled jurisdictions of the Holy Orthodox Church in the United States speak with one voice in urging this Court to recognize the sanctity of human life…
One voice? Not anymore, it would seem at least, if the recent “guidance” given to Orthodox Christians in these matters is any indication.

But as to what the Church has officially written and approved, the issues are perfectly clear. It’s a pity that I have had to go back and dig these statements out of archives to show there is (or was) clarity, and that recent obfuscations must be resisted. (Do the bishops know these statements are being muddied? Do they need to repeat them?)

I stand by the imperative, the priority, or as the statement put it, "the mandate" to resist abortion (defined here as a holocaust), and urge Christians not to “acquiesce in measures of the most destructive tendency for the sake of present ease.”

1:47 PM


Fall always lifts my spirits. It’s hard to sit at the computer when the day is so beautiful. Anyway, a few items for today.

— From the English newspaper Daily Telegraph, a review of two books on Leonardo da Vinci. It begins:

Leonardo was bewilderingly versatile. So much so that it is hard to say exactly what he did for a living. He was of course, an artist. But he completed remarkably few paintings and even fewer sculptures.

Like Marcel Duchamp in the 20th century, he was highly influential, but abnormally unproductive. Those pictures he did more or less finish — the Mona Lisa, for example — he tended to keep rather than deliver to the clients who had originally commissioned them. Yet he was paid for doing something — the question is what.

Part of the answer is that he was, as the art historian Martin Kemp puts it, using a rather nebulous contemporary term, "a consultant". As a "master of water" Leonardo proffered expert opinions on such questions as the canalisation of rivers, and the use of pumps. In another practical capacity, he was a roving military adviser for Cesare Borgia - the aggressive Renaissance warlord who was the model for Machiavelli's Prince.

Additionally, Leonardo was adept at designing costumes and sets for theatrical spectacles - masterpieces of Renaissance performance art just as worth looking at, for their lucky audiences, as any altarpiece or portrait. In modern terms he combined the functions of David Hockney, a staff officer in the Royal Engineers, an official of the local water company - plus a touch of Professor Stephen Hawking.

— Also from the DT, Don't condemn our sick baby to death about two parents, Christians, fighting in court to their handicapped daughter’s doctors from killing her. A friend to whom I sent the article wrote back:
Interesting that the parents say she " 'really brightens up' when she sees them and her 20-month-old brother, Daniel," but the doctors say she's blind. Quite a divergence of opinion. The doctors' justification for appealing to the court is "that the chances of her surviving the next 12 months [are] virtually zero." They want to kill her now because they're certain she won't be around then, but they can't wait until 'then' gets here. It's a pure quality of life argument. Worst of all is that we live in a world in which doctors can routinely approach a court of law to ask permission to kill their patients. That old doctor-patient relationship sure has undergone a change.

Now it's true that the parents are likely to see more hope for their child's affliction than are the doctors. Surely there must come a point when the doctors can say "She's trying to die. It's time to stop prolonging this." But that's not what they're saying. They're saying that "she has no feelings other than continuing pain. Her quality of life is both terrible and permanent and they cannot see a way in which it would significantly improve."

How do they know this? If she feels pain, how do they know that's the only feeling she has? In the next sentence they actually say "quality of life," but there's no shame in it anymore.

Notice also that this does not parallel the case of Christopher Reeve, who is afflicted with a permanent inability to breathe. Apparently this little girl has breathing crises from which she temporarily recovers. Their desire to vacate use of the ventilator is motivated not by the fact that her breathing difficulty constitutes a permanently fatal condition, but by their belief that her future life will be "insensate", and that what's really keeping her alive is not a ventilator but a feeding tube. It's the tube that's bugging them.
— Two readers noted that the Diedre McCloskey quoted yesterday was once, and really, is now, Donald McCloskey. One wrote:
I think Touchstone will agree with me that there is a certain irony to a "What would Jesus do?"-type article, particularly one appealing to how God designed the world, coming from Ms. Deidre, formerly Mr. Donald, McCloskey.
I assume the transsexual who believed in God’s design of the world would say that the Fall destroyed the unity between sex and gender-identification, and that by the blessing of modern science the problem can be healed much like other birth defects. Which argument I don’t endorse, let me say before I get some annoyed letters.

— Another reader responds to the same article:
Thank you for posting the link to the What Would Jesus Spend? article. It brings to mind several things I've noticed in recent months (or years).

The first is this, I know of two priests at Orthodox parishes in my area that drive high-end automobiles. One, a Mercedes sedan, the other, a BMW SUV. I must plainly say that this does not sit well with me. Both these priests are in wealthy suburban parishes. Regardless of the fact that their parishes must pay them well, why do they feel the need to drive such expensive automobiles? Is this any different from the Roman Catholic priests of my childhood who always drove large black sedans, Crown Victorias, Cadillacs and the like?

This goes hand in hand with something else I've noticed: huge differences of income in churches. I am fortunate to now be part of an Orthodox parish where everyone is hard working and no one thumbs their nose at others who may be struggling. That was not always the case.

I remember my last very liberal Episcopal parish in Chicago's second-wealthiest neighborhood. It is a lovely area, by the lake, and I was making the sacrifice of living in a dinky studio, to be in a nicer neighborhood. There were not a few in this congregation who lived in multi-million dollar homes. What stands out in my memory is this: there was a fundraiser which included a silent auction. I believe the least expensive item was around $100. I browsed, but didn't place any bids. When asked why, I simply stated it was beyond my budget, which prompted a sneer in response.

I have heard stories of individuals or families not attending church because they couldn't afford more than one or two Sunday outfits and felt ashamed as a result. Did not James, the brother of the Lord, warn us of such things? (James 2:1-9).
To be fair to clerics with nice cars, clerics are no more resistant to the pull of worldly things than the rest of us, but we notice it more in them and tend to expect them, wrongly expect them, to be the models of public sanctity we are not.

But is it worse for a hard-working parish priest to own a nice car than it is for his wealthier parishioners to do so? Is it bad at all? After all, it is, under God, their money.

And what if the car is the one valuable possession a priest owns, and he got it because he has to do so much driving and wanted to be more comfortable doing it? And even if not, why is he to be condemned for the way he spends his salary the church freely gives him? Would anyone say boo if he spent the money on more culturally acceptable pursuits like rare books or trips to Europe?

I know how the writer feels, seeing a priest or minister tootling around in a status car, but the objection raises the troubling question: to what standards of stewardship and lifestyle should all Christians be held? It is a question that must be asked all the way down, and not just to the wealthy.

To put it another way, should we expect our wealthier friends to live as if they were solidly middle class? Should we expect the man who can easily afford a Mercedes to buy a Volvo? If you say yes, do we expect the man who can afford to buy a Volvo to buy a Ford? If you say yes to that, do we expect the man who can afford a Ford to buy a Kia?

The SUV is, by the way, to be objected to on other grounds, not least its appalling gas mileage.

11:37 AM


Here is the second batch of responses to my request for readers’ dinner time practices. Please keep sending them.

Bill Hinseley writes:

I was interested in the posted question because my wife and I confronted the same issue several years ago. As soon as our children were old enough to participate, we delegated to them the dinner prayer. We began with the standard: "God is great, God is good . . . ". Soon we noticed that the prayer was becoming routine; indeed, if the kids were particularly hungry, either of them could get through the prayer so fast only God could have understood the words.

We considered trying other form prayers, but decided to use the time instead as a teaching tool. We had some discussions with our children (then old enough to understand) about the nature and purpose of prayer and of giving thanks to God for the food. Then we banned the rote prayer and told them to bless the food in their own words.

From time to time, the result has been another rote prayer that they came up with (something along the lines of "Bless this food we are about to receive. Bless our friends and family and help us through the rest of the week. Amen."). At other times, however, the result has been gratifying, as our children have offered meaningful prayers about things that are going on in their life or ours.

Granted, the blessing of the food is not generally the time for intercessory prayer; however, our experience, for what it is worth, is that our children have benefited from the practice. My younger daughter, now 15, has told me that the experience has made her more comfortable and more regular in her private prayer time.
Matthew Lu writes in a more classic way: Dinnertime prayers, like all other prayers, are always better in Latin :)” and gives the the link for English translations. He gives these prayers:
Benedictio Ante Mensam

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.

BENEDIC, Domine, nos et haec tua dona quae de tua largitate sumus
sumpturi. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.

Ante prandium — add before lunch

Mensae caelestis participes faciat nos, Rex aeternae gloriae. Amen.

Ante cenam — add before dinner

Ad cenam vitae aeternae perducat nos, Rex aeternae gloriae. Amen.

Benedictio Post Mensam

AGIMUS tibi gratias, omnipotens Deus, pro universis beneficiis tuis, qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

V. Deus det nobis suam pacem.
R. Et vitam aeternam. Amen.
Bill Mouser writes that “Our dinnertime prayers are not exactly ancient, so this may not qualify.” I didn’t set up any criteria beyond the implicit “What a seriously Christian family does,” so it qualifies. He goes on:
We do, however, use the same one dinnertime after dinnertime: "Dear God, thank you for this lovely food."

It was volunteered by my third daughter at age four prior to dinner one evening. After her initial offering, it became a "set prayer" (as dinnertime prayers often are). The single word "lovely" is arresting, particularly coming from the mouth of a wee one.

We continued to use it while she was with us for the next five years, and still use it after she departed for heaven seven years ago (brain tumor, which ravaged her body but turned her into a saint). It is, for us, the oldest prayer we all say together with dinnertime regularity.

11:16 AM


Mere Comments reader Jacob Affolter responds to the postings on Peter Bouteneff's article on principles of voting for Orthodox Christians. (I believe he may have been following some of the discussion at that followed my first blog.)

I have followed with interest the discussion of why intellectuals can be so reluctant to come down on one side of the issue or not. In some cases, the answers given may be true.

However, I think there is another factor that people are overlooking. Consider how the mainline church beaureaucrats come up with pretentious lists of positions on complex issues. Some act as if there is a clear theological answer to such clear issues as Taiwanese independence. As Ramsey said about the Vietnam war, the purpose of theologians is to lay out the timeless principles and leave the magistrates to deal with the thorny issues of application. In most cases, the issue of application is so difficult that theologians are not qualified to make definitive pronouncements. Any sensible theologian is therefore wary of instructing the magistrate in absolute terms about his duty in particular cases. (For those of you who supported the Iraq war, think how you felt about some of the theological pronouncements.)

I suspect that Bouteneff and others are trying to extend this principle to the case of voting. As voters we are, in Ramsey’s terms, lesser magistrates. Moreover, we are faced with something more complicated than making decisions on issues. We must weigh together all of the issues, taking into account both their importance and the likelihood that this vote will influence each issue. Consequently, theologians are understandably reluctant, in their role as theologians, to pronounce on certain issues.

In short, we might chalk this up to an excessive zeal for humility. Above all, it is important to remember that Mr. Bouteneff was speaking in his capacity as a theologian at a seminary, and on an official website. Consequently, he must show more restraint in drawing practical conclusions than a private person. He may have been too restrained. But the basic motive should be respected.
All I have been pointing out, regarding Bouteneff, and the editorial that I criticized in my Touchstone editorial "First Things First", is that, yes, "we must weigh together all of the issues, taking into account their importance": and that's the issue, that's been my point, that few seem to be giving any guidance as to the weight that should be and must be given to the sanctity of human life and marriage, a weight that far outweighs, for instance, the distribution of wealth or the environment.

One can still be restrained and not tell people what to do, but one should not be restrained in at least emphasizing the importance and priority of these two issues. Without clarifying the priorities of those issues, one gives no help at all. And in the cases I cited, they claimed to be giving voters guidance. But when you fail to help people see the correct weight and priority of moral issues, you not only fail, but you mislead, or confuse, even if inadvertently.

9:21 AM


“Pardon me, Ma’am, I would like to apply for a municipal permit. Am I at the right desk?”

“Well, sir, that depends. What sort of permit do you need?”

“I am not sure what you would call it, Ma'am, but a bunch of us want to have a march around the walls of the city, and a local lady named Rahab mentioned that we need a special permit from the Greater Jericho Municipal Bureau. Is this the place where I can get it?”

“Ah, yes, I understand now. A parade permit is what you want. It covers all sorts of parades, including protest marches. I have the form right here, and I can assist you in filling it out.”

“Oh, that would be a big help, Ma'am. Thank you so much.”

“Not at all. Now, sir, what day did you say you want to hold this parade?”

“Well, we would like to start as soon as possible, but the parade will take longer than one day.”

“Oh no, sir, the parade won’t require more than one day, I can assure you. Greater Jericho simply isn’t that big.”

“Sorry, that’s not what I meant. You see, Ma'am, what we want to do is to march around the city every single day for a week.”

“Really? Everyday for a week? Sir, please understand, this is most unusual. We have never done anything like this before. You see, technically, if you want to do this, it will require you to purchase seven distinct parade permits. At 600 shekels per permit, I'm afraid we’re talking some real money here.”

“No problem there, Ma’am, we can handle that part of it. When can you schedule us?”

“For seven days in a row? You’ve got to be kidding. Have you any idea how many parades we’re going to be having around the city over the next few weeks?”

“Well, what's possible. When can you work us in?”

“Sheesh, I’m not sure. Tomorrow there’s the ‘Save The Baby Seals’ demonstration, and two days later there’s the GOBOOMN march.”

“The GOBOOMN march?”

“Yes, ‘Get Our Boys Out Of Moab Now.’ It’s a pacifist group, you see, and they’re the absolute toughest. When GOBOOMN says ‘now,’ they mean ‘now!’ In fact, GOBOOMN was pretty upset that we made them wait four days before their march. Accused us of obstructing their freedom of speech. Anyway, you don’t want to mess with those guys. I don’t dare schedule your parade until the GOBOOMN march is over.”

“Right, thank you. That makes sense. I don’t think our people want to tangle with a gang of pacifists. Does that mean we can have our march later this week?”

“I suppose so. I do need some more details, though. Do you have proper insurance for this march? We can’t issue the permit, unless your parade is fully insured against damages and liabilities.”

“Yes, Ma’am, our march is fully covered. Here is a copy of our policy with Sodom Securities.”

“Yes, everything seems to be in order. Okay, now, will you be carrying posters during this march? Jericho is a family-friendly town, you understand, and we’re pretty particular about this kind of thing. The posters have to be decent. No nudity or profane language. Nothing like that.”

“No, Ma’am. No posters in our march. We will be blowing trumpets, however.”

“Trumpets?” You’re going to be blowing trumpets. Okay, let’s see. . . . Ah, yes. Here it is, ‘Musical accompaniment.’ No problem. How about drums? Any drums to go with those trumpets? Got to have rhythm, you know, a bit of percussion. You’re going to need some drums, cymbals, that kind of thing.”

“No, Ma’am, no drums. Just trumpets.”

“Well, okay, just trumpets, then. I don’t know how you’re going to stay in step without drums. Anyway, let’s see. Trumpets . . . trumpets . . . These will be union trumpeters, I presume? The city is kinda perspikity about this, you understand. The mayor is up for re-election next year, and we don’t want any trouble from the local unions.”

“Yes, Ma’am. I think maybe we can arrange for union trumpeters. The main thing, you see, is volume. We don’t care how the trumpets sound, as long as the noise is good and loud.”

“Loud? What do you mean, loud? How loud? We recently passed a noise pollution code here in Greater Jericho, you know.”

“Yes, Ma’am, but these trumpets will have to be loud. We want to blow down the city walls.”

“What?! Blow the walls down?! Are you out of your mind?”

“No, Ma’am. Is there some problem with blowing the walls down?”

“Well, I should say there is. If you want your march to blow the city walls down with trumpets, I can’t give you a parade permit at all. The first thing you need to do is go down the hall to the third door on the left and clear this whole thing with the folks down at CEPA.”

“Third door on the left, yes, Ma’am. What is that CEPA office, please?”

“It’s the Canaanite Environmental Protection Authority. You’re going to have to fill out an environmental impact statement before I can issue you a parade permit. Sheesh, blow down the city walls! Good heavens. And I thought the crowd from GOBOOMN was bad. What next?”

1:05 AM

Thursday, September 30


Just six items this morning. The first item is taken from the always useful site Orthodoxy Today and the next three links are taken from it as well.

— Fr. Johannes Jacobse offers a review of War Against the Weakby Edwin Black , subtitled “Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race.” He notes that

America in the late 1800s and early in the last century was particularly susceptible to eugenic ideology, writes Black. The divisions between people were marked not by economic class but race and compelled social analysts to think in group terms. Crime and poverty were considered ethnic and in some cases generational rather than individual phenomena. The resistance of the eighteen million immigrants between 1890 and 1920 to quick assimilation threatened social cohesion. Regional problems like the absorption of Mexicans after the Mexican American war, the mass influx of Chinese laborers, and the numbers of emancipated slaves affirmed the fear that America was tearing itself apart.
Bat Ye’or on “Eurabia”Ye’or, an Egyptian Jew who was written extensively about “dhimmitude,” the inferior state given non-Muslims in Muslim countries, declares that
Eurabia is the future of Europe. . . .

Eurabia is not only a web of various agreements covering every field. It is essentially a political project for a total demographic and cultural symbiosis between Europe and the Arab world, where Israel will eventually dissolve. America would be isolated and challenged by an emerging Euro-Arab continent that is linked to the whole Muslim world and invested with tremendous political and economic power in international affairs. The policies of “multilateralism” and “soft diplomacy” express this deepening symbiosis. The Euro-Arab agreements are merely the tools for the creation of this new “continent.” Eurabia is also based on the vision of Christian-Muslim reconciliation and has been strongly advocated by religious Christian bodies.
Her book on the subject is coming out next year.

— Here is something decidedly Orthodox, On the Dangers of Convertitis by Andrew Damick. I post the link because some of you may find it interesting — though others may find it annoying — and because it is a good example of someone serious about his own commitments thinking about some ecumenical questions fairly but firmly, the sort of thing I discussed in The Marquis of Touchstone rules.

— From Again magazine, 20 Ways to Control Television in your family's life by Terry Mattingly.

— Brian Andrews sends the link to an interesting and cheering article from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, the economist Diedre McCloskey’s What would Jesus spend?. It begins:
Noneconomists imagine that God has so poorly designed the world that a lack of thrift, even tending to avarice, is, alas, necessary to keep the wheels of commerce turning, to "create jobs" or "keep the money circulating." They imagine that people must buy, buy, buy, or else capitalism will collapse and all of us will be impoverished. It's the alleged paradox of thrift. Thriftiness, a Good Thing in Christianity and most certainly in Buddhism and the rest, seems able to impoverish us. We will do poorly by doing good. If we do well, we are damned. Choose: God or Mammon.

So the noneconomists think. Dorothy Sayers, who was more than a writer of mysteries, though not an economist, complained in 1942 as a Christian about "the appalling squirrel cage . . . in which we have been madly turning for the last three centuries . . . a society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going." To tell the truth, many economists in the era of the Great Depression had reverted to this noneconomist's way of thinking. The theory was called "stagnationism." It was a balloon theory of capitalism, that people must keep puff-puffing or the balloon will collapse.

But since the 1940s, we economists have recovered our senses. The balloon theory has popped, and with it the paradox that sin is necessary to "keep production going."
— From the English Catholic magazine The Tablet, a review of the third volume of the biography of that odd but often powerful writer Grahame Greene.

3:29 PM


The three “teaser” articles from the October issue are now online:

— James Kushiner’s editorial First Things First;

— My Unimposing Kerry; and

— Anthony Esolen’s The Lovely Dragon of Choice, subtitled “The Freedom Not To Be Free.”

You can find the issue’s table of contents here. Subscribers should be getting their copy any day now and non-subscribers can turn themselves into subscribes by clicking on the "Store" button above.

And the articles now online from the September issue are:

— James V. Schall’s Miraculous Daily Planet;

— Leon Podles’ Literary Revelation;

— R. R. Reno’s Return to Beauty, a review of David B. Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite;

— Alan Jacobs’ The Inexpressible Apocalypse; and

— my Reorganizing Religion.

3:24 PM


Honestly, I can hardly keep up with the spreading virus of “moral egalitarianism” (all moral issues are equal) that seems to be infecting the brains of Christian thinkers and leaders.

Last week I criticized a statement posted on Beliefnet by Orthodox seminary professor Peter Bouteneff. It turns out that the statement is also posted on the website of the Orthodox Church in America.

Dr. Bouteneff received other criticisms and he posted a response at Orthodoxy Today.

After attempts to qualify his statement (too brief, not intended for a wide audience, too rushed) he writes:

Still, there is a de facto position being argued, namely that neither party in its current manifestation and context, has a monopoly on Christian values. I maintain this position without confusion or hesitation, though with regret.

Nearly everyone who has responded with objections has simply quoted the platforms of the two parties, where it’s pretty easy to make a case for the Republicans. But the platforms aren’t everything.

I believe that looking at the candidates today and not just the party lines, "abortion” as such might not the make-or-break election issue that some people think is. Bush himself has said that the hearts of Americans would need to turn before abortion was made illegal — he’s not about to overturn Roe v. Wade, and none of his Republican predecessors did either. No matter who’s been in office, from Reagan to Bush Sr. to Clinton to Bush, you look in the yellow pages and see all the clinics are open for business. To say that the lives of millions of unborn hang in the balance with this election is hyperbole.

I believe the strongest argument for voting against the Democrats has to do with late-term and partial birth abortion. That is something which may indeed be affected by who is in office. All abortion is wrong, but these are particularly horrible acts whose legalization should be resisted fiercely. The stem cell issue is another one where Republicans have the more Orthodox Christian approach, and I take that with utter seriousness as well. I completely respect people for whom these issues alone would tip the balance against the Democrats. In any case, our common objections to abortion and stem-cell use should lead to intense lobbying, regardless of who is in power.
If such legalization should be fiercely resisted, I would suggest that citizens begin by using their voice and power at the voting booth. And partial-birth abortion would have been banned in the 1990s had Christians voted pro-life in the presidential elections. Doesn’t that count for anything?
To raise questions about the effect of a given candidate’s abortion policy (and I’m sure that there are some important responses to that), as well as raising the issue of how we got into Iraq (that’s what I was hinting at, poorly, in the article by mentioning "war"), that of economic disparity (the beneficiaries of Bush’s economic and tax policies are shamefully obvious), and that of gun control, is not "making a huge mush of things.” These are life-and-death issues that need to be considered by any thinking person. To dismiss them as "secular,” "academic,” "signs of being imprisoned by the Enlightenment,” or whatever people’s preferred demonization-word might be, is simply wrong.

(BTW, to see a compelling case for sitting this election out entirely, I recommend Fr. John Garvey’s excellent piece in the current issue of Commonweal.)
A lot of fancy footwork, this.

No one thinks Bush is going to overturn Roe v. Wade. A president can’t do that. Is that what Bush goes around saying? Does Dr. Bouteneff think we don't know what Bush does say? I would wager most people have heard what Bush (and Kerry) say about abortion, and know less the wording of the party platforms. In any case, it's not relevant.

Does he also think that if, say, 70-80-90 percent of the Americans' hearts do change and favor outlawing abortion, that a Democratic president like John Kerry wouldn't block it? Certainly the hearts of that many American were tender enough to want to outlaw partial birth abortion, but an American President (Clinton) upholding the Democratic Party Platform vetoed such a ban twice. Had a Republican been president, partial-birth abortion would have been banned in the 1990s.

But then he admits that partial-birth and late-term abortions may be affected by who is in office, why doesn't he think this clear enough to be decisive? Because there aren't millions hanging in the balance, but a smaller number of the unborn aborted in this category? The millions matter, but say, tens of thousands of late-term and partial-birth, well that's another matter?

And does he not know that there is a much greater chance that pro-life Republicans will appoint pro-life judges than will Democrats (no chance)? And that more pro-abortion Democrats in Congress will enable them to keep blocking such appointments?

To raise questions about various policies in light of Christian tradition is fair game, but, again to line them all up in the context of trying to give clarity, a sense of priority, in fact confuses the issues and the voters. That was, and remains, my criticism at least, of this sort of thinking: yes, the other issues can be debated from a Christian moral perspective, but they do not take any priority over the issues of abortion and marriage.

John Kerry has said that his first executive action will be to rescind the Mexico City policy, thereby freeing up money for abortion overseas. What other sign of clarity does one need? If one just hates Bush for the War in Iraq, then perhaps, he might feel compelled to sit this one out. But on the issues that matter most, the parties are not equally problematic.

To not help people see the difference in priority between abortion and marriage --and all the other issues—is, sorry, to “make a mush” of things.

Republicans do not have a monopoly on Christian values, but the Democrats have a blatant hostility to protecting the unborn, which in biblical religion, is to take the side of Molech and Baal.

12:49 PM


Here are the first four responses to my request for suggestions for family dinnertime prayers: Frederick Watson writes with a link to traditional Orthodox mealtime prayers and another reader writes:

There was a time when I was a “Christian in the past,” so my mealtime mockery went like this: “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub, yay God, let’s eat!” Problem is, I don’t think that’s what your reader’s looking for.
I assume not, though the prayer does incorporate thanksgiving and praise, which is better than no thanksgiving and praise. Anyway, Michele Hagerman writes:
These are from the Orthodox tradition (although there shouldn’t be anything in them that a Roman Catholic or Protestant could object to). These are from the Pocket Prayerbook for Orthodox Christians published by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

Begin with “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Then say the Lord’s Prayer. Then say “Lord, have mercy” (three times).

Then: “O Christ our God, bless the food and drink of thy servants, for thou art Holy always: now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.” Or: “They that hunger shall eat and be satisfied, they that seek after the Lord shall praise him their hearts shall live forever. Amen.”

And then there is the prayer I learned, growing up as a Roman Catholic: “Bless us, O Lord, for these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

The concept of praying after the meal was finished was something that did not occur to my parents.
And Andrew Diederich writes:
As a standard we use a (I believe) common Lutheran prayer for Grace. “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let thy gifts to us be blessed.” After dinner we close with the very short family evening prayer from the Episcopal 1928 prayer book (page 593). Instead of a Bible reading we read the life of the saint for that day.

This week we’ve been practicing the Gloria from church with our five year old instead of evening prayer.

If I have to say Grace for a group of people who don’t use our standard Grace, I use “The Lord bless this food to our use and us to thy service, and multiply to the needy throughout the world. In the name of the Father . . .”.
I’m sure there’s a website with the texts from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, though I don’t know the address. I’d be grateful if other readers would describe their practices.

12:47 PM


Several years ago when Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl was running (successfully) for re-election, the conservative Milwaukee radio commentator Mark Belling asked his listeners who were going to vote for Kohl their reasons for doing so. Belling's thesis, as I recall, was that people who voted for the liberal Democrat didn't really know what he was doing in the Senate, or where he stood on particular issues--and that they were going to vote for him anyway.

One of the calls that helped prove his contention stuck firmly in my mind. The man was voting for Kohl because, he said, "I just like the guy." Belling pressed him for reasons, and even gave him options to chose from: did he like the senator's position on various economic or social issues? Was he a person who generally agreed with the platform of the Democratic Party? The man knew nothing of any of this. He was going to help return the Senator to office because he just "liked the guy."

This is an almost pristine example of something to which I am paying much more attention now than formerly: the Stupid Vote. Before my day of epiphany I thought people voted one way or another because of their convictions, or at least because of some articulable desire for what they regarded as the common good. I believe most people, liberal and conservative, do vote in accordance with their reasonings, but that there is a sizeable group who vote on the mysterious movement of their viscera either toward or away from the candidate. They don't know or care about "issues." Using their brains, whether badly or well, is overtaxing. Usually they don't bother going to the polls, but when they can be moved in that direction, they decide the outcome of elections in closely contested races.

This kind of Stupid Vote can go either way, but heavily favors the Democrats--who I believe understand this very well--because of the influence of the popular media's bias. The Stupids, I think I am safe in assuming, are helplessly absorbed in the prevailing media, television especially, which is bound to prejudice the unanchored and vaguely floating brain against conservatives--i.e., "mean people who want to take things we have a right to away from us"--you've seen the bumper stickers. If the ideological liberals can succeed at getting the Stupids registered and to the polls, they will get most of their votes. I say most because who knows whether in the privacy of the voting booth the Stupid will decide that President Bush is handsomer than Mr. Kerry--who married a rich woman, so doesn't need to be President. (This may be called "thinking," should not count as the uniquely human quality of "reasoning," understood by the founding Fathers as a necessary quality of electors in free societies.)

The Democrats understand that certain populations are more likely to contain larger numbers of Stupids than others, and are presently busy getting them registered. As a public librarian who helps them fill out their applications, I think I saw a good example of this yesterday when there was a particularly large group of women who came in to register after the Oprah Show. Several of them told me that Oprah had made a very big point of telling them to register, and they were complying. Now, I have never seen this program, but have it on good authority that it is a place in which the viscera reign untrammeled, where women in particular are encouraged to submerge their brains in their feelings, where what was undoubtably the most frequent argument for denying them suffrage plays full and unashamed. If Oprah's allies manage to get out this vote, the Republicans shouldn't expect any help from it.

My guess is that, given the present close division of the country, the outcome of the next presidential election shall depend very much on who is able to get the largest number of their Stupids registered and to the polls--the liberals their ignorant and gut-driven Stupids, and the conservatives the Stupids of their own kind--those who won't vote because politics is hopeless or ungodly, or who, in protest against the duplicitous Republicans, flush their votes down the political toilet on behalf of hopeless third parties.

12:30 PM

Wednesday, September 29


Steve Thomas writes:

Our family is looking to branch out a bit from our current dinnertime prayer routine. I'm hoping for something a little richer, theologically speaking — something from Christians in the past, perhaps? I was wondering if your readers might have any suggestions.

I also posed this same question on my weblog and am hoping for some comments.
I would be grateful for readers’ reports of their own practices, which I’ll post as they come in. Please use the button at the top of the column to the left.

2:30 PM


— An older reader writes:

I finally gave in to peer pressure and installed the Mozilla Firefox browser. (Free download at It is touted as being free of the many security holes in the most popular browser. It’s pretty slick — has a built in popup stopper that even blocks Drudge’s; but the coolest thing is that the “increase font” function enlarges beyond what MS Internet Explorer does. A boon to my tired old eyes.
This is not a commercial endorsement, I should note, but merely a way to facilitate our readers’ interaction.

— Steve Breitenbach writes:
Today [he wrote on Tuesday] on there is a story titled, “‘Da Vinci Code’ tourists hunt for clues in Paris”, on the main web page, and “Hunt for ‘Code’ clues in France” in the article itself . In part it says,

“Jacque le Roux, an art historian and Louvre tour guide, happily sets straight the implausibilities in the murder mystery -- including one in the first paragraph, where the victim is described as a 76-year-old curator. Everyone knows the mandatory retirement age in France is 65, he says.”


“What is clear is that the passions of the “Code-heads,” as they are called, run deep.”
— In A fundamental flaw in divining Bush’s faith Paul Kengor of Grove City College argues that
The fact is that George W. Bush is not a fundamentalist by any definition. Those who level the charge undermine their own credibility in discussing the president’s faith. Worse, they stereotype with the broadest brush, and demonstrate an alarming ignorance of basic Christianity.

As someone who studies the faith of our presidents, I can say with complete confidence that I’ve never encountered a president with a faith as ecumenical as Bush’s. His faith is so ecumenical, and so touchy-feely, that it is at times, frankly, kind of sappy.
— Here is a related article, sent in by the blogger “Mr. Thorne”:Who does God want?. In the debates, he writes,
let’s have the candidates share their beliefs with us. More correctly — since they’ve given us some little snippets of what they believe — let’s have them fill in the blanks. They both talk about God; by golly, let’s ask them about God.
He goes on to take what both major candidates have said about God and suggest further questions they ought to answer.

— In yesterday’s New York Times, Solving a Riddle Written in Silver announces that
An archaeological discovery in 1979 revealed that the Priestly Benediction, as the verse from Numbers 6:24-26 is called, appeared to be the earliest biblical passage ever found in ancient artifacts. Two tiny strips of silver, each wound tightly like a miniature scroll and bearing the inscribed words, were uncovered in a tomb outside Jerusalem and initially dated from the late seventh or early sixth century B.C. — some 400 years before the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. . . .

So researchers at the University of Southern California have now re-examined the inscriptions using new photographic and computer imaging techniques. The words still do not exactly leap off the silver. But the researchers said they could finally be “read fully and analyzed with far greater precision,” and that they were indeed the earliest.
— Mark Sides sends his comments on the “Orthodox Confusion” string. The string began last Wednesday with James Kushiner’s Orthodox Confusion (read up for the responses to it).

— Something useful from the Daily Telegraph: its Zimbabwe Factfile, a set of stories, information, and links about that troubled country. I assume, but haven’t checked, that the newspaper offers these for other countries as well.

the Fall issue of Southwestern News, the magazine of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, is dedicated to church planting.

— Something else of use from the Southern Baptists: Albert Mohler’s Examine the “news”. In it he offers “10 principles for responsible evangelical engagement with the news media” (“evangelical” in this sentence means “Christian in general”).

— According to Francesco Zannini, a professor at the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies interviewed in Expert Warns of “Ideological Leap” in Muslim Fundamentalism,
Including in cases like the slaughter of Beslan, Russia, or the recent kidnapping of two Italian volunteers, Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, the terrorists are “going against every traditional rule.”

Zannini clarified that the “killing of women is explicitly condemned by Islamic texts. The most accredited hadith say that women, children, clergy and even farmers cannot be killed, nor can young men of military age who are not in the military.”

“But these terrorists have taken an ideological leap: they have redefined the figure of the ‘enemy,’“ he warned. “For fundamentalism, for extremist groups and terrorists, the enemy has become the whole of the West as such,” so that every Westerner, even if a child, is someone who ‘attacks Islam”“ and who, therefore, “must be annihilated,” he explained.

According to Zannini, it “is an ideological framework that justifies total Jihad,” although it is true that in Iraq, those who kill might be Muslims, but “there are also atheists that hide behind Islam, or some secret service or another.”
— And today’s fix of Mark Steyn, this one from the Daily Telegraph: EUtopia is over — join the real world. After a few tart but accurate comments on the Church of England, he writes:
In the current issue of The Spectator, Niall Ferguson argues that the Anglo-American "special relationship" is doomed.

"The typical British family," he writes, "looks much more like the typical German family than the typical American family. We eat Italian food. We watch Spanish soccer. We drive German cars. We work Belgian hours. And we buy second homes in France. Above all, we bow before central government as only true Europeans can." . . .

If embracing Europe meant pasta, Mercedeses and flaunting one's wedding tackle on the Cote d'Azur, who could object?

Unfortunately, embracing Europe means embracing German corporatism, French public-service ethics, Belgian foreign policy, Swedish tax rates and Greek state pension liabilities which, by the year 2040, will account for 24 per cent of GDP.

So, if Britons are becoming more European, they ought to stop, because it's a death cult. Fifty million Frenchmen can be wrong, and 50 million Britons joining them in their fantasy won't make it come true.
— Our contributing editor writes in response to myThe Marquis of Touchstone Rules and Steven Hutchens’Fighting Catholic Idolatry:
I enjoyed Steve's blog, and was glad that someone blew the whistle on this sort of thing, even though I would never expect the average Touchstone reader to fall prey to such a deception as the book he describes. Nonetheless, it reminds me of the fact that the whistle was blown on Dan Rather and CBS by responsible people who cared about honesty in news. Caring about honesty in apologetics is certainly at least as important.

It was a surprise, however, that a self designated Evangelical claiming to be a former Roman Catholic priest (perhaps verified by an ordination certificate he can produce that was typed in 1971, on a typewriter with a format and font only possible in a Word program from the 90s?) not only did not understand the numbering of the Ten Commandments from the old Latin translations by which the Church of Rome has always divided them; he did not know that the Lutherans use the exact same division in their numbering. His ignorance spans both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, a common problem of many contemporary would be apologists, who know as little about their Reformation heritage as they do about the Catholic Tradition.
— Finally, yesterday I passed on a message from a reader on Wired magazine’s article on the Intelligent Design movement, and another reader sent me the link: The Crusade Against Evolution by Evan Ratliff. It’s an instructive article, not least for the way in which the writer tries to dismiss the ID arguments as if they were absurdities popularized by a bunch of secret religious zealots adept at marketing to the gullible.

2:27 PM

Tuesday, September 28


At the risk of appearing too cynical, I would say that some major figures in American culture are such in great part because they serve an ideological purpose. These people do not actually contribute much to the public understanding of the issues, and their writings and speeches will rarely survive a close reading (one that holds them to the normal standards of logic and evidence), but you will nevertheless find them reliably featured on the television news and quoted in the major newspapers when such a figure is needed.

The figures chosen must a) have a status in society that guarantees them an audience and makes some claim for their authority as serious thinkers, and b) present a position generally compatible with liberalism on the crucial matters (a few qualifications and nuances are allowed, as long as they aren’t substantive), which is to say those matters on which they will be presented as a major figure. For example: a) a politically or otherwise successful Catholic who b) dissents, with at least the appearance of reasoned argument, from the (to liberalism) objectionable teachings of the Catholic Church.

They must also be able to speak well, though “well” means passionately and eloquently, if you separate eloquence from logical coherence. An element of having struggling with the alleged conflict between his church and his responsibilities as a public servant (meaning: his desire to advance sexual liberalism while in office) helps, as suggesting sincerity.

The major, liberal media — the media, like the network news, Time and Newsweek, newspapers like The New York Times, that grant a widely-recognized imprimatur — easily recognize this kind of figure. I don’t mean to suggest any sort of conspiracy among them, or even conscious effort at all in the style of William Randolph Hearst’s famous “Puff Graham.”

As any number of studies have shown, this group shares an ideology or worldview, so they look for the same ideological commitments (qualification b). They also share, with every other human involved in such debates (witness the conservatives who love Christopher Hitchens’ writing), the desire to find a representative of the other side who will undermine its arguments (qualification a). It is no more surprising that CBS News, The Washington Post, and Time would hit upon the same man to use as an ideological leader than that basketball scouts from ten different NBA teams would have hit upon the collegiate Shaquille Oneal as a future superstar.

Such a figure, I think, is the former governor of New York, Mario Cuomo. He was an obvious choice: he was the two-time governor of a large northeastern state, had an Italian last name, looked good on camera, spoke with great passion and conviction, and was on the controverted issues of life and sexuality reliably liberal but appeared to be struggling, or have struggled, with the conflict between his liberalism and his faith.

Cuomo gave his famous speeches with a great deal of passion, which set the the ideological faithful cheering and the commentators solemnly nodding at his wisdom, but they (the speeches) did not actually make a great deal of sense. They were extraordinarily eloquent if, as I said, you do not include logical coherence as an element of eloquence. And if you aren’t too picky about the proper use of evidence.

And yet, Cuomo is reliably described in the major media as if he were a deep thinker who offers an alternative view of Catholic morals to that of the pope and the American bishops, and a view just as well thought out as theirs. And so I was very pleased to find in the September 24th issue of the Catholic magazine Commonweal, Catholics, Politics & Abortion, in which Newsweek’s Kenneth Woodward gives “My argument with Mario Cuomo.”

He calls Cuomo’s famous speech at Notre Dame “ancient sophistry,” and after summarizing the speech, says:

At this point it is worth noting what Cuomo did not say, as well as what he did. Never once did he say that abortion was evil, intrinsically or otherwise. Never once did he say-as the bishops had, as he himself could have-that opposition to abortion as a matter of public morality is a defense of the human rights of the unborn. Never once did he say the abortion dispute is a disagreement over the scope of social justice. He did not say these things, and never has, I believe, because doing so would make his position difficult if not impossible to defend. He did not say these things, and never has, because, as I think his record makes clear, he does not believe them to be true.
I won’t try to summarize the rest of the argument, because I think it is one very much worth reading in whole.

4:42 PM


The Chesterton Institute, which describes itself as “a foundation for cultural renewal in the Christian humanist tradition,” has announced the good news that

Among the Chestertonian memorabilia acquired by the Institute in the last few years for its Oxford library, Aidan Mackey discovered several pages that turned out to be on Aquinas, but were not either a distinct article or a draft of the book which Chesterton published on the same subject in 1933.

That book had been praised by the great French Thomist, Etienne Gilson, in the following terms: “I consider it as being without possible comparison the best book ever written on St. Thomas. Nothing short of genius can account for such an achievement.” Yet it had been written in the space of a few weeks, with a minimum of research.

Until now, apart from a brief article in The Spectator, it was thought that Chesterton had written nothing else on Aquinas. The new writings appear in The Chesterton Review (Spring and Summer 2004) with commentary and notes by Dr Mark Armitage. This discovery will be of enormous interest to the many readers of Chesterton around the world, whose numbers are growing as more and more of his books are reprinted, as well as to students of St Thomas Aquinas.
The press release also includes a description of
he vision of the Institute for a ‘new kind of liberalism’. For there are two kinds of liberalism, and the wrong kind is winning.

The wrong kind of liberalism is individualistic, selfish, utilitarian. It separates economy from nature, culture and ethics, treating economic man as a machine or a bundle of desires, a machine for producing and consuming in ever-greater quantities regardless of long-term cost to the environment or to man himself.

But there is an alternative liberalism founded in a different vision of human nature, a personalist liberalism that respects community, that regards man as fundamentally cooperative rather than competitive, and sees examples of that cooperation in the cultures he creates in freedom — cultures of which an economic system is just one expression. This is the liberalism that is rooted in Christian teaching about human dignity.
English readers will want to know about the 30th anniversary celebration, being held in the Crypt of St Etheldreda’s Church in Ely Place, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday, 10 November 2004. The speakers will include Newman’s biographer Ian Ker, Russell Sparkes, and the editors.

The director of the Institute, Stratford Caldecott, has written for us, as has his wife Leonie.

4:35 PM


I am grateful to those of you who send me interesting articles, but if you can remember, please include the link to the article as well as the text. Sometimes I just don’t have time to track down the link to an article I’d like to put up in “From the Inbox.” Here are a few items.

— David Brooks on Another triumph for the UN (the title is sarcastic).

— From Christianity Today, Mark Stricherz’s John Kerry’s Open Mind, which argues that “The candidate has roots in liberal Catholicism, establishment Protestantism, and secular idealism,” and his Not Far From the Brahmin Tree, which argues that “Kerry’s morals have been shaped by an old Protestant establishment.”

Sinner Take All by Matthew Price from the October/November issue of Book Forum offers both a critical review of the third volume of Norman Sherry’s biography of Graham Greene and a short overview of his life and work.

— The Institute for Religion and Democracy has put their new report Human Rights Advocacy in the Mainline Protestant Churches (2000-2003) online. The press release says:

The report examines statements and resolutions made by four prominent Protestant denominations, as well as both the National and World Council of Churches, on the issue of human rights worldwide.

The results of the IRD study show that over one-third of all church criticisms of human rights abuses were aimed at a single small nation: Israel. Slightly less than one-third were aimed at the United States, and the rest were distributed among twenty other nations. Many of the most oppressive nations have not been criticized even once by these bodies.
— In Do Journalists Take Sides, Jonathan Tobin examines the debate over Reuters’ policy of not using the “emotive” word “terrorist” when writing about terrorists, and the decision of a Canadian newspaper chain to use it when publishing Reuter’s stories.

The examples he gives offer useful evidence on the impossibility of the objectivity journalists always claim to practice, if not to embody. Someone writing on any subject is going to have to make all sorts of practical choices — where's the drama that he can put in the lead? what are the different sides in the dispute? who should he talk to on each side? etc. — and his choices will express his own point of view/bias/take/worldview/etc.

— In an article from the same source, the Jewish World Report, Paul Greenberg answers the question of why Iraqi Islamic terrorists are terrorizing Iraq’s good friends the French with the answer, Because the West dares to exist. It's a short article and does not develop the argument at any depth, but it makes the point well.

— The Daily Telegraph offers a review of an apparently quite saddening book, Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier by Alexandra Fuller.

— From the New York Times, A Graphic Film of Protest, and Cries of Blasphemy. The movie, Submission, made by a Somali immigrant who has become a Muslim member of the Netherlands’ Parliament,

— Michael Poore of the Humanitas Institute: A center for bioethical education writes to tell us that
In case you haven’t heard: The technophiles at Wired Magazine have come to the aid of Darwinianism in their October issue. The cover story is titled “The Plot to Kill Evolution: Inside the Crusade to Bring Creationism 2.0 to America’s Classrooms.” “In the beginning there was Darwin. And then there was intelligent design.” etc.

My issue just came in the mail, and I’m not sure if it is available on the newsstands. None of this is up on (their web site ).

With the Touchstone’s commitment in this topic, I thought you’d find this interesting. The Discovery Institute (Meyer, Wells) is front-and-center as the major proponents of ID, “the most highly evolved form of creationism to date.”
I know someone in their editorial department thought that “highly evolved form of creationism” really clever, but they really should understand the difference between arguing that life itself shows evidence of design and believing that human knowledge can grow and develop.

3:27 PM


In response to my blog of Sept. 23, Skeptic's Golden Rule, a reader responds:

The fact that evolutionary biologists have figured out a way to explain the Golden Rule as the outcome of evolution's stochastic procedures should not threaten Christians at all. On the contrary. For if it were to be found that the Golden Rule is not among the basic rules of successful societies - i.e., societies which have survived - that would be a very great stumbling block to Christian belief. If God creates and sustains the universe, would we not expect that the Golden Rule, and the other fundamental social goods, should be prevalent in the great preponderance of societies? How would societies manage to coordinate the activities of individuals at all, if the Golden Rule were not at work in them prevalently? Certainly tyranny can use pain or the threat thereof to coerce, but tyrants generally end up assassinated. As they sow, so they reap. This is the statement in agricultural terms of the Golden Rule. When you think about it, the Golden Rule is implicit in the world, not just in society. In data processing, it is stated as Garbage In, Garbage Out. Alternative versions: Who lives by the sword, dies by the sword; For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In a logical, orderly world, how could it be otherwise? And how is a logical, orderly world a threat to Christian belief?

God makes for orderliness, logical coherence, and thus beauty in the world. If it were not for the Logos, chaos could not produce anything but chaos. Thanks to the Logos (tiny bits of which we begin a little to understand as the Laws of Nature, Math and Game Theory constraining stochastic evolution), chaos reverts repeatedly to order and coherence. That is a way of saying, "order is created out of chaos," and "death is conquered," and "the Covenant is Kept," and "sin is redeemed," and, "Behold I make all things new." Nevertheless, the world is fallen, or rather fails and falls again and again - but not completely, or it would have devolved already back into sheer chaos, without form and void, tohu wabohu. Such order and goodness as the world reproduces from one moment to the next is evidence of God working in and through each moment of creation. So evolution instantiates divine values. It must; how could it be otherwise?

CS Lewis makes much the same point about all the parallels and precursors in Paganism to the ritual death and rebirth of the God King that is at the core of Christianity. So does the Doctrine of General Revelation. The Heavens are telling the Glory of God; and, of course, Earth is an element of the sky. We are a precinct of the Heavens.
It's all very fair to make some of these points and I can go along with much of it. Still, the very first point is really a serious problem: Evolutionary biologist have "figured out a way" to explain the Golden Rule? And where is the empirical evidence for this? Nancy Pearcey in her new book, "Total Truth," deals with some of these arguments, listing the many products of evolution.

The argument goes: If all causes are material and if such an evolution is true, then necessarily every single human trait, endeavor, belief, superstition, fear and so on can be explained by material evolutionary processes. There are now books explaining rape, infanticide, as well as mating, using eoluvtionary schemes. Therefore even music has a basis in natural selection.

The problem is that there is no scientific evidence at all for these schemes: it's just speculation based on the Dogma that everything is explained by random material processes and natural selection.

Pearcey quotes geneticist H. Allen Orr: "The ugly fact is that we haven't a shred of evidence that morality in humans did or did not evolve by matural selection." Pearcey writes that "Evolutionary psychologists have constructed a host of hypothetical scenarios on questions like "What would happen if we had a gene that said be nice to strangers?" Orr says: "But in the end, a thought experiment is not an experiment." "We have no data." Indeed, I am not threatened.

2:47 PM


Some people complain that Catholic-Orthodox dialogue hasn't really gone anywhere in 30 years. Well, it just sunk to a new low. According to the Associated Press, 9/27/04, Franciscan and Greek Orthodox priests engage in fisticuffs over whether or not a chapel door should be closed during a procession in Jerusalem (which Hebrew word means, I believe, the possession of peace.)

But the fight, which slightly injured dozens, including Israeli police officers, didn't occur just anywhere in Jerusalem but in the Church of Holy Sepulcher, the traditional place of Our Lord's burial and resurrection.

The Orthodox were in the church, which is shared by Catholics, Orthodox, and I believe Armenians, and perhaps some others, to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Cross, Sept. 14 (Old Calendar on Sept. 27). When the procession passed a Roman Catholic chapel, priests from both sides started arguing over whether the door to the chapel should be open or closed. (Did the Orthdox think the chapel door should be closed? Was this offensive? I can't imagine that they for some reason thought it should be open, if it had been closed.)

After riot police with clubs broke up the fight, witnesses said they continued the procession. The report doesn't say whether there were any apologies offered or reconciliation made. Isn't there something that the Person whose Cross they were celebrating said about being reconciled to your brother before going to lay your gift on the altar?

I have for a long time had a notion that the more one of our Lord's teaching is repeated in the Gospels, the more likely it is that it will be routinely violated through the history of the Church. The one thing that stands out to me, at least, in the Gospels, especially in the Passion accounts, is how the disciples were often debating who was the greatest and angling for prominence, even after being warned by our Lord to be at peace, to be the servants of all, to not seek to lord it over others, to be humble and meek. I don't recall any fistfights that he cheered on, not that he was somehow above driving out the moneychangers from the temple.

But is that the attitude of the Christians in this church--that the others, like the moneychangers, are an unwelcome presence, that they don't belong there? That they aren't really brothers in Christ, even if divided over issues?

The AP reports says that "Any perceived encroachment on one group's turf can lead to vicious feuds, sometimes lasting hundreds of years." Well, in the Gospels the Jews requested and Pilate agreed to set a guard over the Lord's tomb so that it would not be violated and cause a disturbance among the people. Apparently the Jewish police are still needed since the Christians won't stop fighting.

The report says that as the procession emerged from the church into a courtyard and down a narrow stone alley, Orthodox Christians clapped and cheered. It doesn't say that they saw what was going on inside the church. But if they did, they rather should have wept and beat their breasts for such a humiliating and fleshly display, all in the shadow of the Cross of the Suffering Servant.

12:37 PM

Monday, September 27


One of our readers, a professor at an Evangelical college, wrote in response to Steven Hutchens’ Fighting Catholic Idolatry, posted on Saturday:

I found “Fighting Catholic Idolatry” a totally unecessary posting. If we are going to start responding to unbalanced Protestants or Catholics it will be the end of this great blog.
I understood his concern, having seen enough weblogs that go into these matters at horrifying length, when there are much more pressing matters to write about, but I think this kind of post expresses one part of our work as a magazine. I wrote him a response Steve said “almost perfectly” represented him on this point, which some of you may find of interest.

I wrote that the subject “is not a subject we address very often, but I think I know why Dr. Hutchens chose to address it, beyond a sense of annoyance at someone on his side who didn’t fight fair. We (the editors) see as part of our mission not just gathering together divided Christians but helping them see more clearly where they are divided and where they are united, and to take these differences with the appropriate intellectual and emotional seriousness.

“The latter in particular distinguishes us to some extent from similar enterprises, which tend to the look-deeply-into-each-other’s-eyes type of ecumenical discussion. We expect our Catholics to be partisanly papal, our Baptists to be fiercely Baptist, etc. We expect them to go into the ring against each other as well as talk over a beer or a Coke (depending), when most ecumenical enterprises, even the conservative ones, try to keep everyone out of the ring and in the pub.

“But if people are going to fight about their differences, they have to fight fair. It’s very tempting and very easy for anyone to fight dirty — in the ring, even St. Francis of Assisi or Billy Graham might punch below the belt. What Steve was doing in this weblog item, and what we try to do from time to time in the magazine, is umpire the fight and hold everyone to the rules. Which to some extent we have to articulate because the typical alternatives in ecumenical apologetics and conversations are total war and group hugs. The apologists tend to the first and the conversationalists to the second, of course.

“And, if I understand Steve correctly, he also thought a Protestant chiding another Protestant would be by itself an irenic gesture to Catholics.” He wrote the reader directly:
David Mills, in his response to your lettter, has expressed my mind on the matter almost perfectly.

This I will add: I regard the blog as a freer form than, say, the magazine, and so take more opportunity of saying in them what’s on my mind, or letting people who might be interested know what I have been dealing with lately. This means not only that I range farther than I might in other places, but I risk that more of what I say will be helpful (or regarded as necessary) by fewer people. It’s the nature of the beast.

This does not mean, of course, that we will agree on whether the piece was necessary. I am not sure whether it was or not, but think it may have been useful to some degree for some readers. I will claim no more for it than that.

5:50 PM


My apologies to those of you who look for “From the Inbox” every weekday. I was buried under deadlines on Thursday and away all day Friday at the first day of the annual meeting of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.

Which was quite good and to be commended, to non-Catholics as well as Catholics. Among the papers of general interest were one of “The global war against baby girls” by Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute and one on how social science has shown the practical truth of traditional Christian moral teaching by Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia, and another on the history of feminism by Sr. Prudence Allen, and others by Austin Ruse of the Culture of Life Foundation and William Saunders of the Family Research Council. Some of these will be appearing in Touchstone, including a short talk on raising Christian children by William Thierfelder, the new president of Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina.

The conference ran till noonish on Sunday, and as we try to keep Sunday as the Lord’s and the family’s day, I didn’t do much web reading and have only a few items for today. (Next year’s conference, held at the same of the year, will probably be held in Charlotte, North Carolina.)

— William Needham sends this bit of pop Darwinism from the January 2004 issue (of all places) Better Homes and Gardens:

The next time the kids are fussing about eating anything other than mac and cheese, bear in mind that they may be hardwired to be picky. British scientists recently theorized that young children shun many vegetables and strange meats because of an evolutionary safeguard that protected them from toxic plants and food poisoning. Knowing this won’t convince them to eat broccoli, but you can at least take comfort in the fact that it’s not your cooking.
I assume Scottish children once ate haggis, so there are limits to the theory. Or else Nature is trying to rid the world of Scottish children and therefore of Scots.

I have no idea whether or not there is anything to this theory, beyond my general skepticism about Darwinian thinking. But what has struck me about this kind of thing, and many people have written books explaining various human behaviors as the result of evolutionary adaptations, is that it represents an entirely post hoc kind of thinking. It assumes that any behavior must be the product of evolutionary processes and then finds a plausible process to explain the behavior, which simply assumes what still must be proven and then effectively uses it as proof of what still needs to be proven.

— Some time ago a reader wrote with links to two Islamic articles on the intelligent design theory. I make no claims for these but post them because some of you may find them of interest: the first our reader describes as “heavy stuff” and the second, which he calls “a strange but very scientific read”.

— A Canadian reader wrote today to commend to my (or our) attention a new book titled Divorcing Marriage. It is edited by a Catholic, Dan Cere, and an Anglican, Douglas Farrow, and subtitled “Unveiling the Dangers in Canada’s New Social Experiment.” Jean Bethke Elshtain, David Novak, and Mary Ann Glendon all praise it, which is a good sign.

The reader, an Anglican, also commends Prof. Farrow’s Ecclesial Existence Today. The endnotes of this article include another Anglican readers might want to see, a response to the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod titled Different Gods.

Violence at the Altars, from the English Catholic magazine The Tablet, begins:
Might the numbing acts of terror of recent years – not least the horrifying executions this week in Iraq — cure us of our “holophobia”? The word is used by Terry Eagleton, professor of cultural theory at Manchester University, to describe the contemporary fear of “grand narratives” — a resistance to standing back and seeing things whole. “At just the point that we have begun to think small, history has begun to act big,” he writes in After Theory (2003). Cultural theory, he says, “must start thinking ambitiously once again . . . so that it can seek to make sense of the grand narratives in which it is now embroiled.”

This “holophobic” reticence is, from one point of view, perfectly understandable. Too much theorising about violence and religion – from 11 September to Beslan – has been superficial and sensationally reactive. But Rene Girard, possibly the most compelling Christian thinker of our time, offers insights about religion and violence on an appropriately grand scale.
“Holophobia” is useful word. The article goes on to give a short summary of Girard’s thought. Readers may also want to read our interview of Girard, Violence and the Slain Lamb.

— Two articles on the future of the Catholic Church in increasingly pluralistic countries: Poland’s ruling party takes on Church from The Tablet (scroll down) and Funding for church to be slashed by Spanish. According to the latter, the new Spanish prime minister
plans an entire programme of social reform, including equality for homosexuals, allowing women to inherit the Spanish throne, liberalising abortion laws, lifting restrictions on embryo research and cracking down on domestic violence.
— From the Daily Telegraph, Spare us from jolly Germans and a society without class by Tom Utley. The German government is
the German government was urging its people to adopt a whole new national temperament in preparation for hosting the 2006 World Cup. “We have to stop viewing our country as the vale of tears,” said Otto Schily, the sports minister. “We could do with more jollity and lightness, a sprinkling of Viennese or Mediterranean flair. We, too, are capable of light-footedly hovering two centimetres above the ground.”
He goes from there to an entertaining defense of national and class stereotypes.

5:45 PM


A couple of days ago, in Still more on Orthodox confusion, Patrick Reardon posted a response from Fr. Hans Jacobse of the "Orthodoxy Today" site to Jim Kushiner’s Orthodox Confusion.

I wanted to commend Fr. Jacobse's site to your attention. Orthodoxy Today offers a lot of very useful links to a wide range of articles that should interest every Touchstone reader, Catholic and Protestant as well as Orthodox. And he also offes a lot of Orthodox material for those of you who want to read up on that subject.

4:41 PM


While posting the previous blog on Christianity (Orthodox) in North Korea and China, I was reminded about this touching story that I read in a small Orthodox journal, Road to Emmaus: A Journal of Orthodox Faith and Culture, published in the United States, with editorial offices in Moscow, Russia.

This is the excerpt From Albanian Diary, Ten Days in Shqiperia by Mother Nectaria McLees. (Road to Emmaus, Winter, 2004):

During the horrific persecutions under Hoxha’s communist Albania, where every church, mosque or synagogue was closed, and all foreign contact forbidden, Metropolitan Sebastianos of Dhriinoupolis (an ancient Christian diocese, now divided by the Greek-Albanian border), devised his own means to reach out to his unseen flock.

Each Pascha, the Metropolitan served liturgy, not in his episcopal cathedral in Konitsa, but at Molivdoskepaste Monastery near the border, accompanied by the cathedral choir and many of the town’s residents. The ground often covered with snow, he and his flock celebrated the Resurrection matins and liturgy out-of-doors, loudspeakers aimed into southern Albania so that Christians miles across the border could hear the forbidden midnight services. Years before, he had begun printing Orthodox texts in Albanian. Making up hundreds of little waterproof packets of New Testaments, crosses and icons, he floated them down the Sarantaporos River into Albania, to be found when they washed ashore.

Decades of 24-hour broadcasts from the diocesan radio station also had their effect. Later, when reforms were forced by the fall of eastern block communism, Ramiz Alia, Hoxha’s successor was asked if Orthodox from Greece would be able to visit Albania. He replied, “Anyone can come except him,” referring to Metropolitan Sebastianos. When the comment was relayed to him by journalists, Metropolitan Sebastianos replied, “Alia, I am always in Albania.”
I can only imagine what it must have seemed like to a Christian in Albania, where all religious services were forbidden, to hear the hymns of the Easter liturgy from just over the border in Greece. But you shine light wherever you can, and in a dark place, even a tiny light can bring hope.

3:41 PM


The latest posting from Forum 18 News Service, Oslo, Norway, which monitors religious liberty around the world. Their wesbite is here.

Monday 27 September 2004

Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, has two Protestant and one Catholic church, which are suspected of being "show churches" for display to foreigners, so it remains unclear whether any North Koreans will be able to or will dare to regularly attend an Orthodox church under construction.

The building is funded by the North Korean state, and Forum 18 News Service has learnt that it is "65 per cent finished". By the early 1900's, about 10,000 Koreans had converted to Orthodoxy due to Russian missionaries in the now divided Korean peninsula. Dmitry Petrovsky, of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations, expressed the hope to Forum 18 that links with this past missionary activity remain, as is the case with Orthodox churches in South Korea. Four North Koreans are studying at the Moscow Theological Seminary, and Petrovsky remarked to Forum 18 that they are displaying "zeal and a genuine interest in Orthodoxy.”
And then there is this, from Ecumenical News International’s Daily News Service / 23 September 2004:
Orthodox Christians in China said to be more optimistic about future

Bangkok, 23 September (ENI)--China's small community of Orthodox Christians are cautiously hopeful for a rejuvenation within their church with 15 seminarians studying in Russia since 2003 with the approval of China's State Administration of Religious Affairs.

There are only two Chinese Orthodox priests left in the country after Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution four decades ago almost wiped out religion.

[Forum 18] said in a 21 September statement that a notable improvement in the situation for China's Orthodox may be traced to the installation of Hu Jintao as the country's president in 2002 and who consolidated his power further this year.

"Things are opening up gradually under the new younger leadership," Russian Orthodox priest Dionisy Pozdnyayev, based at the Institute for Sino-Christian Studies in Hong Kong, was quoted as saying.

However, it is not certain that the Chinese seminarians will be allowed to minister within China after their ordination. "They could also serve in the Chinese diaspora in the Russian Far East," Pozdnyayev told Forum 18. "The main thing is to have them ready."

Pozdnyayev said there were about 3000, mostly elderly, Orthodox followers in China, including 200 in Beijing.

2:24 PM

Sunday, September 26


It was clear from the start to many members of the elite mainstream media that the CBS News "Rathergate" debacle could end up affecting them all. That fact explains both the initial feigned indifference to the story---it took nearly a week before Poynter Online's influential Jim Romenesko even deigned to cover the controversy---and also the now-emerging line, which is that it gave us all a black eye (though what "it" is remains vague and undefined), that we must earnestly resolve to do better, and that we'll get over it. But all this posturing and shifting around fails to acknowledge the fact that something has changed decisively.

We all have known for a long time how shows like "60 Minutes" operate, and the degree to which their effectiveness depended on the sheer volume and scope of the networks' megaphones, the absence of any similarly equipped opposition, and the inability of their targets to expose CBS's manipulations, dishonest editing, and prosecutorial one-sidedness. I recall a wonderful New Yorker cartoon that made this point beautifully. A man is leaning out from the balcony of his high-rise apartment, which is surrounded by several other high-rise apartment buildings, all with similar but empty balconies. He bellows into a megaphone, "The following is an opposing point of view on a CBS editorial!" It's funny, but the humor derives from the man's utter impotence. In that sense, it was all too accurate.

In Dan Rather's case, the coverup was far more damaging than the crime. But he had every reason to think that when he brazenly presented the source of documentary evidence for his slander of President Bush as an "unimpeachable" source, no one would be able to challenge him. He offered a naked argument from authority. And he did it with all the confidence of an experienced riverboat gambler, secure in the knowledge that no one would ever check his sleeves. After all, this tactic has worked wonderfully well in the past. And what a glorious way to end his career, breaking a story that would bring down a loathed Republican president!

But philosophers have often remarked that the argument from authority is the weakest of all arguments. It is especially reckless when one's authority is already shaky. And, as we all know, Rather's sleeves were thoroughly checked this time, and the corrupt nature of his game has been exposed. It's now apparent to all fair-minded Americans, and not merely the folks on the fringes, that the elite media can no longer be relied upon even for fundamental rationality, let alone fairness. Even the wire services---first the egregious Reuters, and now the formerly vanilla Associated Press---have been caught cheating on the facts. What makes all the difference is that the alternative media (talk radio, the internet, and Fox News) have finally come of age, and now have sufficient scope and power and organization to challenge an organization like CBS effectively. It's a new day. A lot of people are now thinking back on "60 Minutes" hit pieces of the past, and saying to themselves, "I wonder...."

No doubt there will be earnest declarations from the likes of CBS, and there might even be some small efforts at greater balance in news coverage. But that is irrelevant. (Ask yourself: how much has changed at the New York Times since the Jayson Blair fiasco?) What matters is that there are now other players in the game, whose countervailing force will do what the big networks will not do themselves. Those new players are here to stay.

As a consequence, it will be much harder for organs like the Washington Post to get away with the publication of silly, surreal, tendentious, and unconvincing "human interest" stories like the series they began this morning, on the tribulations of gay youth in Oklahoma. The article is an utter clinker, full of moldy journalistic cliches about Oklahoma, glaring factual inaccuracies, and literally incredible scenes, which belie the reporter's claim to have spent "hundreds of hours" taking in this exotic milieu. (A few examples. Her description of "the wind knifing down the plains" might work for someone whose knowledge of Oklahoma was restricted to The Grapes of Wrath. But Tulsa is known locally as "Green Country," and has a gently rolling landscape, as befits a city that grazes up against the foothills of the Ozarks. And, as anyone who had actually been there would know, Sand Springs has for at least two decades been an increasingly upscale Tulsa suburb, not a rural town.)

The two most striking defects of the article are, I submit, features that the Rathergate episode will have made much more salient to many more Americans. First, the very idea that this reporter traipsed around, following this family through various tribulations, conflicts, intimate conversations, and the like, and through it all was as unnoticed as a fly on the wall, is simply not credible. Even a relatively unsophisticated reader will understand that this reporter is conflating a few (very few) things she actually observed with things she was told, or heard about, or perhaps read about in the collected works of H. L. Mencken, and pawning off the whole concoction as "reporting."

Second, the genuine human interest of the story cannot conceal the fact that, at the heart of this tragic situation is a divorce, and an absent father who (in the name of libertarian indifference) does not really give a damn what becomes of his confused teenage son. That is the single most important analytical fact here, and it is mentioned only in passing. Interesting that the liberal mind, always attuned to "root causes," is so uninterested in them in this case. One feels some initial sympathy for the pathetic mother, who seems to be trying her best to make the situation right. But readers who are becoming increasingly wise to the sausage-making techniques of feature-page journalism will, thanks to Rathergate, be more likely to ask themselves: "What kind of mother lets a Washington Post reporter invade her troubled family's life, and use it as grist for the journalistic mill? How much shame does she really feel about her son's condition, if she is willing to allow others to exploit it? What is really going on here?" And dozens of other like questions.

None of which is to say that there is no story here. But do we really need a multi-part series in a major national daily to know that high-school kids are mean, and pick on one another? And as for the anti-gay dimension of it, if Anne Hull of the Washington Post wanted to find examples, she didn't need to go to Oklahoma. She could have gone to any public high school in her own city, and found many far more disturbing examples. The difference, of course, is that the District of Columbia (unlike the state of Oklahoma) is not passing statutes opposing same-sex marriage. Which tells you all you need to know about the motives behind this series.

9:17 AM


A friend gave me a book by a Protestant evangelist who claims once to have been a Catholic priest. Its aim is to impress Catholics with the truth of the Bible as over against the errors of their Church, separate them from it, and win them to the Lord through Bible truths the Catholics abuse or ignore.

He gets off to a bad start. So bad, in fact, that I didn't bother to read past the first few pages Here is his second (!!) paragraph:

"In all Catholic catechisms and theology books, this fifth commandment to honor your father and mother is the fourth. They took away the second commandment which says: "You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them . . . . In order to come up with ten, they divided the last commandment, which in the Bible is one, into two commands."

Readers, I give you here the exact wording of the 1891 Baltimore Catechism, a standard and widely-used U.S. pre-Vatican II catechism:

313. Q. Which are the Commandments of God?

A. The Commandments of God are these ten.

I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. Remember thou keep holy the Sabbath day. Honor thy father and thy mother. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods.
Yep, those sneaky Catholics divided the last one into two all right--because they combine the first two into one. And not a word of the Second Commandment is missed. Same thing in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2051, 2083, and 2084.

Now, Catholic dogmatics texts (I have Herve and Ott) may or may not put down the Ten Commandments and comment on them--just like Protestant dogmatics texts (although Heinzel lays them out neatly in his Summa Theologiae Moralis, II, pp.140f.). But I have before me as I write the greatest of them all, St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae (2.2., q. 94), where he cites the Second Commandment and classifies idolatry as "gravissimum peccatorum" (the gravest of sins)--in fact, he says "idololatria esse causa, initium, et finis omnis peccati"--idolatry is the cause, beginning, and consequence of all sins." Heinzel gives what amounts to a digest of the Summa: "Idololatria est superstitio, qua cultus divinus exhibetur creaturae, sive haec est res animata sive inanimata sive tandem ipse daemon. . . .Omnis idololatria est peccatum grave . . . . " All I can says is that those Catholics are pretty weak on this stuff.

So, our evangelist can't even get through his first page without lying. All for a good cause, no doubt. And if perchance he really believes what he is saying, he must have combined, as a priest, the kind of ignorance and audacity that a good many Protestants expect of Roman priests, and which Catholics would expect of a convert to Protestantism, thus in his person neatly justifying the suspicions of both parties.

The woods are full of people like this--sincere to a fault, with piety to spare, all out trying to win the deluded to their version of Christ. What they make me want to do is have a serious and open-minded look at whatever it is they are opposing. The Catholics have their problems, all right--plenty of them. But no more than the Protestants do. This evangelist is, in the meanwhile, applying himself seriously to rending the Body of Christ by fortifying sectarian bias.

I wonder if when he dies he will be ushered to the room that contains all the sincere, pious Catholics who lied about Protestants to win people to the True Faith. He'll be in the company he deserves. It will be Purgatory, come to think of it, and he won't get out until he is far less "loving" and far more truthful.

1:38 AM

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