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Friday, October 8

MY CHILD MISSED SCHOOL AGAIN

Yesterday I posted a sample of the sort of excuse notes I used to compose for the Pennsylvania public school system nearly twenty years ago, when my children were obliged to miss a school day.

A number of folks have written to this web page to inquire how the principals and the teachers received those notes of mine. Did they take them seriously? Did I get into any trouble? Indeed, correspondents from California and Indiana suggested that I might go to jail if I were to do such a thing today.

Such inquiries from our readers presuppose, I think, that my compositions in those days were fictional. Let me say that I have never admitted to such a thing. If the Pennsylvania public school system wanted to challenge the veracity of my assertions, they were always free to do so. I mean, if the principal of the Quaker Valley Junior High entertained some lingering doubt that my daughter really had contracted leprosy while on an African safari, he was certainly free to make an inquiry on the matter. He never did, however. Again, if my son’s first grade teacher was skeptical about the child’s suffering from frostbite and lacerations while engaged in hand-to-paw combat with a polar bear in the great Arctic wastes, she certainly could have challenged the claim. Nonetheless, she never did so.

Indeed, what is all this sudden skepticism? I mean to say, if the perhaps exotic stories of my children’s afflictions were convincing to the official representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, just who are these Touchstone readers to call them into question? Goodness, can’t the simple word of an eminent Touchstone editor be trusted anymore? Humph.

A year or so after I started writing them, I learned that the principals and teachers at the schools began to look forward to the absentee notes I wrote to explain my children’s absences. They xeroxed the things and passed them around in the faculty lounge. I was lionized at PTA meetings. My notes, that is to say, were a big success.

I recall sending one such note to an English teacher composed entirely as a sonnet in pentameter. I wrote several of them in Latin for my daughter’s teacher of that language. I had it on good authority (not only down at the barber shop but also at the beer depot) that all these efforts were widely appreciated.

I very much miss those days. Indeed, among the sorrows attendant on the growing up of our children, the loss of further opportunity to write such absentee notes is among the more grievous. I would love to do the same for my grandchildren, but those of them old enough to attend school live far away in Georgia.

Ah, sic fugit gloria mundi.


2:16 PM


FROM THE INBOX 8 OCTOBER 2004:

I am afraid that those of you who expect “From the Inbox” each weekday will be seeing it irregularly for a while, as I'm working on several pressing projects and even finding and writing up the Inbox items takes a lot of time. Ken Tanner will be posting an occasional “Web Update” to fill in. Several things for today:

— Grimly amusing is Sound of Music for 100 days, or death? You choose, which announces that

In the event of a nuclear holocaust, according to a top-secret “doomsday schedule” leaked to the paper, a network of underground BBC bunkers will broadcast Hancock’s Half Hour and The Sound of Music for 100 days, or until there are no more survivors.
The writer ends his comment:
Really, one tries to make light of it, but it is completely insane. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a wimple.
— Grimly unamusing is The baby Charlotte judgment has put us on a slippery slope by Tom Utley. He writes:
I see great dangers in the judge’s decision to overrule Charlotte’s parents and allow her doctors to let her die. Rightly or wrongly, it will be seen to have established the principle in English law that some lives are worth saving, and others aren’t.

However carefully Mr Justice Hedley might have qualified his judgment, insisting that it applied only to Charlotte’s particular case, the damage has been done. The idea has been sown in the minds of money-conscious NHS trusts that it is up to them to decide who should live or die, according to a doctor’s assessment of his patient’s “quality of life”.
He comments on Hollands’ law letting doctors kill patients:
Another effect of the Dutch legislation has been the decline of palliative medicine in Holland. Far less effort is made now than before to keep old people alive and comfortable. Meanwhile, it has become practically a rule that no attempt should be made to revive babies born after only 23 or 24 weeks of gestation - even though medical science offers more and more of them a good chance of survival.

The Dutch law, framed with the noble intention of relieving the suffering of the terminally ill, has had the effect of devaluing human life for everyone in Holland.

And this happens even when the law is written to let doctors only kill patients who want to be killed, because doctors inevitably begin to make that decision for their patients. Dutch doctors, he says, regularly let very premature babies die even when today’s medicine could save them.
— A friend responding to the preceding story wrote:
When I say, therefore, that the trust was wrong to seek legal permission to let Charlotte die,...

and:

The Portsmouth trust applied to the court for permission to allow her to die...

I point these out because, though the author is sympathetic to Charlotte and her parents, his choice of words lets the docs off the hook for any imputation that what they’re up to might be murder. Allowing someone to die incurs no guilt by omission if the person is indeed in the process of dying, if his condition is judged to be medically irretrievable, and if all attempts at treatment and palliative care are further judged to be losing skirmishes in a much larger battle of attrition, thereby increasing the patient’s misery in this life without hope of betterment. All three conditions must be met; otherwise the withholding of treatment is an act aimed at achieving death, and cannot be termed letting die.

The devil and the angels are in the medical details. I have not, from the articles, been able to form a certain opinion as to whether or not Charlotte is dying. Until I am, I go with the parents.

The article mentions the example of Holland, which I wouldn’t be surprised to find is like a hibernating virus, or a noxious gas, a cloud of radioactive ideas spreading across the channel, the continent, the world, insinuating itself by osmosis, traveling on the wind to poison the deliberations of the mind and to infect the spirit of the law in other lands.
— TheDiscovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture announces that:
Dr. Stephen Meyer, senior fellow and director of the Center for Science & Culture at the Discovery Institute and co-editor of Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, will defend the theory of intelligent design and its theistic implications against Darwinian evolutionist Dr. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine and author of The Science of Good and Evil in a televised debate on the PAX TV show Faith Under Fire, hosted by Lee Strobel. The program airs at 10pm PST/EST (9pm CST) on Saturday evening, October 16. Check your local listings to find out what cable station PAX is on in your area, or visit www.faithunderfire.com to find a station.
— Roger William Bennett writes:
I did a double-take at what I thought I heard on All Things Considered tonight as I drove homeward, half-distracted by other matters. Since radio doesn’t have instant replay, I had to go on the web later to confirm it.

Yup, they said what I thought. In a story on the deployment to Iraq of a reserve unit, they talked about the Morales family, Tony and Michelle, and their "four children under ten":

“The holidays are coming, and that represents its own unique challenges. In the Morales family, it’s Tony who transforms the walkway into a haunted graveyard, Tony who turns pumpkins into works of art.”

(Rochester’s Reserves Head for Iraq, NPR’s All Things Considered, Thursday October 7, 2004.)

That was all that was said about how Tony will be missed during “the holidays.” Sigh.
— And in Moore: Christians must think theologically about politics our contributing editor Russell Moore reflects on the nature of the Christian responsibility in political life.

— The Italian journalist Sandro Magister’s report Islamist Terrorism: What the Vatican Really Thinks. See especially Islam’s 'Apocalypse Now.' A Commentary by Pietro De Marco, which comes at the end.


11:53 AM


CORRECTION SENT IN:

I must confess that I didn’t read the blog referred to here (Oct. 4, 6:05 AM), but I simply post this response without further comment.

I wish to make a small correction to part of your post on the article from "The Daily Telegraph" regarding Bob Geldorf.

Your contributor's comment that "Geldort (sic) - whom the article says is living with his girlfriend and has a first wife about somewhere - also attacked the "soap-opera culture" for inflating peoples' expectations of marriage."

I do not expect an American magazine to be au fait with the ins and outs of the lives of Irish/British celebrities, but I feel I should offer a correction, for the sake of a fellow-countryman of mine. It might be taken, from the above comment, that Bob Geldorf walked out on his wife and is now shacked up with a younger girlfriend, thus negating his comments about marriage. I do not wish to go into the details of a family tragedy, even if it is the family of a celebrity. However, I regret to inform you that Mr Geldorf does not have "a first wife about someplace".

A couple of years ago, his wife, who had left him, died of an overdose. It was not Mr Geldorf who inititated their separation, nor was he involved with his current partner at the time. Indeed, I believe the consensus of opinion is that Bob Geldorf behaved well during and after that sad period of separation and bereavement, and he is continuing to behave so with regard to the young daughter of his deceased wife and her lover, whom he is raising with his own daughters from his marriage.

I do not accuse you of malice, and I believe it was just unfamiliarity with the facts and hastiness which prompted the quick, throwaway comment, but in justice to Bob Geldorf - who I am proud to say, is an Irishman - I thought I should offer this opportunity to get the facts straight.

Thank you for your attention.

R. Daly


11:45 AM


ID UNDER FIRE: TV DEBATE

If you are interested in Intelligent Design (ID), and if you get cable (I don’t), you might want to check out this debate on ID.

Dr. Stephen Meyer, senior fellow and director of the Center for Science & Culture at the Discovery Institute and co-editor of "Darwinism, Design, and Public Education," will defend the theory of intelligent design and its theistic implications against Darwinian evolutionist Dr. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine and author of "The Science of Good and Evil" in a televised debate on the PAX TV show Faith Under Fire, hosted by Lee Strobel. The program airs at 10pm PST/EST (9pm CST) on Saturday evening, October 16. Check your local listings to find out what cable station PAX is on in your area, or visit www.faithunderfire.com to find a station.
I am sure it will be stimulating. Shermer loves a fight, and Meyer is always glad to defend ID. Shermer was one of the panelists on the recent PBS program on C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud.


10:16 AM


PLEASE LEAVE, IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE

The United Methodist Action Committee, to which correspondent Mark Tooely belongs, has issued a statement “on the future of the United Methodist Church, which calls for the exit of those who cannot accept traditional church teaching on homosexuality. But there is a difference in the “exit strategy” from what has been (or not) offered to conservatives seeking to leave, say the Episcopal Church, who cannot accept that “church’s teaching that ordaining gay bishops is just fine:

Irreconcilable differences on essentials are dividing the culture-conforming liberals-–who want to rewrite the Bible, the traditional Christian faith, and God’s plan for man, woman, and sex-–from the faithful United Methodists who affirm the authority of Scripture and the essential Christian doctrines handed down to us from Jesus and the apostles.

The recent “amicable separation” discussion has helped United Methodists to see the irreconcilable differences and to recognize that some have already separated themselves by refusing to live within our Discipline.

We recommend allowing a gracious exit for those who cannot or will not accept the essential beliefs on which the UMC is founded. The UMC should adopt a fair plan to permit their voluntary, peaceful departure, taking with them their local church property (if the congregation votes to leave) and pension rights. Their beliefs are strong and sincere. They have a Constitutional right to believe and worship as they choose, but they do not have the right to divide a Christian Church by undermining its basic beliefs. Some of the unfaithful are now talking about leaving; the UMC should aid their departure.
The background to this: the UMC General Convention has repeatedly reaffirmed traditional teaching on homosexuality and the majority of congregations accept it. In its official teaching it seems that the UMC will not take the Episcopal Church’s path, although currently there is the matter of whether the church’s highest courts will enforce their teaching.

Also, UM Action obviously doesn’t have the authority to implement this strategy—allowing congregations that wish to leave to keep their buildings.

There would be few, I suspect, congregations that would vote to leave so that they could be free of United Methodism’s official teachings against homosexuality. But if they did under this proposal, they would be thereby fare a bit better than conservative congregations in other liberalizing denominations in the past which have had to give up their buildings.

(Of course, if the Pearl of Great Price is worth everything, then giving up a building to keep the faith isn't a bad deal, as much as it is galling to leave it behind for the unorthodox.) Of course, it’s not about buildings, really.

Having spent a good many hours last night fighting computer viruses (so far unsuccessfully) at home, I am tempted to compare them to those who have designs to undermine a church from within and refuse to leave, even when they no longer believe what that church has taught. But that would be a bit impersonal.


9:21 AM


Thursday, October 7

ON BIBLE READING

I don't read the Bible much. There are several reasons. One is that I read it a great deal when I was younger--as I was constantly urged to do--and the inevitable result of this was that I know what it says without opening the book itself. Because of this I find the command to "open your Bibles," in the churches that do this, with the expectation that everyone will find the passage and follow along, an irritation. Chances are very good that I know it, and I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't trust the reader to deliver it accurately. Better to close the eyes, compose the mind, and listen carefully.

Another reason is that I find the words of scripture more powerful and more disturbing as I grow older. I have great difficulty letting them blow lightly over me, as was my habit when I saw them more but understood them less. When these words are in the head, they arise constantly, unbidden, to the mind and its meditations, and so one truly does find them a constant study, whether he will or not. The occasions of life, once the habit of thought is formed, call inexorably for meditation on dominical and apostolic authority.

I am also less inhibited than I was in my younger days by sectarian theologies that didn't allow me to consider whether certain things I read might be true. (The magisterium I was taught to cower under when I was younger no longer impresses me, for I have been among them, and find only a few of its members worthy of high respect. Wisdom is where you find it.) I now feel free to believe what scripture says, and once again frequently find it disturbing. For churches deny or ignore or rationalize or explain away what they do not like, what is unfriendly to their traditions--what makes them uncomfortable. But when one gains release from these traditions through knowledge of them, one is also released to the disturbances from they once protected him, and so, once again less goes farther.

It may well be that in the pattern of the natural rising and falling of life I shall return to reading the Bible as often as I did when I was young, for there is no doubt whatever that there is much there I haven't yet seen with the inner eye, much that I have missed precisely because I thought I knew it. If so, it will be a sign that my spirit is stronger than it was in my middle years, a good thing when a man is facing death straight-on.


11:34 PM


KERRY AND THE CATHOLIC VOTE:

Senator John Kerry appears to be in trouble with voters of even modest faith commitment, particularly Catholics, according to a just-released Pew Study and a report in today’s New York Times. Two-thirds of Americans surveyed want a president who demonstrates “strong religious faith.”

In the New York Times report, President Bush’s stance on embryonic stem cell research, in which issues of faith and natural philosophy are melded with concern about the boundaries of biomedical research, is compared with Senator Kerry’s strictly scientific approach to the questions.

David Mills sees other reasons why voters ought to be concerned about Kerry (and other Catholic politicians of his sentiment, be they Democrat or Republican) in his editorial in the October issue of Touchstone, Unimposing Kerry.


2:12 PM


MY CHILD MISSED SCHOOL YESTERDAY

Back when my children were in grammar school in Pennsylvania, the educational system of that noble commonwealth required that a parent submit some form of explanation for each occasion on which his or her child missed a day of school. We were given to understand that these explanations were kept on file at the Board of Education in Harrisburg. I do not know for sure if that is the case, but that is what we were given to understand.

I wrote quite a number of these explanations. I used to sit there at the table after breakfast, composing these notes to be taken to the principals of their schools. I would just write away, to my heart’s content. They were always a joy to compose.

My children missed school no more nor less than other children, I suppose, but it happened often enough, over the years, to keep me on my toes. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was to bore the Board of Education to death, so I tried to make my explanations interesting.

The following note represents the sorts of things I would tell the Pennsylvania educational system on these instances:

I regret that my daughter Constance, age ten, [or sometimes my son Jeremy, a year younger] was not in school yesterday, but it could not be helped. She suffers, you see, from occasional sweats and fevers resultant from a bite she received, several years ago, from the feared scrorange (rhymes with “orange”) spider of Bolivia, where she was taking part in a kindergarten outing and field trip to discover the sources of the Amazon. (The children were unable to discover the sources of the Amazon, let me point out, on that particular outing. Actually, they had gotten lost because of the rank stupidity of the kindergarten teacher, who stayed across the wrong border.)

These sweats and fevers come suddenly, especially when my daughter has bad dreams. The bad dreams seem to be inspired by various dark memories of hers, such as the time she saw her Uncle Ralph killed in a shootout with the Milwaukee police, following a high speed car chase ending in front of an X-rated theater where his car plowed into a crowd of anti-war protesters who had gotten themselves lost in the course of the rather circuitous route that they were obliged to take by the hawkish Milwaukee city council.

These sweats and fevers are sometimes accompanied by an inflammation of the wound originally inflicted by the scorange spider herself (the male scorange, according to the best opinions, does not bite). This inflammation can also result in a green bile slowing forming at the mouth of the wound, which must be washed out every fifteen minutes with a combination of borax and battery acid. My daughter finds this process very disagreeable, but you already know, I suppose, how testy she can be when she gets her back up. She is a stubborn child sometimes.

This is a trait that she inherited from my grandfather, who settled his family in Tennessee back around the turn of the last century, when he took up rat hunting. He won all sorts of badges and awards for killing the largest rats in Tennessee, where, as you perhaps know, the competition is fierce in this sort of thing. He won quite a name for himself, and the family has always been proud.

My daughter is feeling much better today, so she is coming back to school. I can tell she is getting well, because of the substantial breakfast she put away this morning. It consisted of cow brains ground up and fried along with some scrambled eggs and jowl bacon, very much like Aunt Sue used to cook for Uncle Ralph before the Milwaukee police shot him down in cold blood in front of that X-rated theater.


1:55 PM


TOUCHSTONE ON THE NEWSSTANDS:

We are very pleased to announce that Touchstone is now being sold on the newsstands of places like Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Walden Books. Each store orders the magazines it wants, so your local branch may or may not have it on the shelves.

Please look, and if it does, um, buy whatever you find. You can always give the extra copies to friends. We would like the first few months to sell very well, to encourage the stores to keep carrying Touchstone and to encourage others to add it.

Our nearest Barnes & Noble store keeps the few religious magazines it sells on a bottom shelf labeled “Health and Spirituality.” Since two of the three layers of magazines on it are hidden from anyone standing up by the second shelf, you actually have to squat down to see what’s on them. Compare this with the “men’s magazines,” whose shelf, and therefore the undraped anatomy of several young women, is at eye level.

About three-quarters of the space is taken up with health books and the remaining space is taken up with ten New Age or Buddhist magazines, a few general “spirituality” magazines like Parabola, and three Christian magazines. (And this is in a fairly conservative area like suburban Pittsburgh.) I haven’t been there in the last week or so to find out if Touchstone has made a fourth.

Please do buy the copies if you see them. We think the magazine is something many patrons of such stores will want to read, but we have to make sure that the stores keep carrying it and that as many stores as possible order it.


11:39 AM


TOTAL TRUTH IN D.C.

Nancy Pearcey, the author of a very fine book I am reading to and from work each day (Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity), will be speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., on October 19, Noon.

I am planning to be there, since I will be in town on business. If you are able to come, I would be pleased to meet any of our readers. If you would like to come, you may RSVP Online here or call (202) 675-1752.

From this morning’s reading I enjoyed Mrs. Pearcey’s quotation from the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher of Common Sense, Thomas Reid: “When a man suffers himself to be reasoned out of the principles of common sense, by metaphysical arguments, we may call this metaphysical lunacy.” (You have to picture the moderate Presbyterian saying this with a Scottish brogue to get the full effect.)

I can’t help but think that oftentimes our college students pay good money (and go into debt) in order to be argued out of common sense and into metaphysical lunacy. The list of topics from the American Academy of Religion meeting that we posted a few days ago is evidence enough of high lunacy, and that’s a polite term for it.

Anyway, perhaps I will meet some readers in D.C.


9:50 AM


SINGLE ISSUE VOTER

From contributing editor Robert Hart:

A recent convert to Orthodoxy wrote in response to Orthodox Confusion and Clarity: "I have been accused of being a 'single-issue voter,' but I firmly believe that a politician's stand on abortion and the sanctity of life can predict that politician's other values and is an indicator of how that State Rep. or Senator will vote or how that President will lead."

This is a good issue on which to be "single issue" in voting. Our Lord said that "he who is unfaithful in that which is least is unfaithful in much." I believe that it is perfectly logical, therefore, to assume that the opposite is true. He who is unfaithful in that which is greatest, namely the sanctity of human life made in the image of God, will be unfaithful in every lesser issue. I cannot trust a pro-abortion politician to care about poverty, healthcare, or the just and wise handling of military power, just as I could not trust a doctor who performs abortions to care enough to operate on someone with all due diligence. That which is least, that which is greatest, either one shows someone's true character and trustworthiness, or the lack of both. Go ahead and be single issue on life; so am I.

--Robert H. Hart:


9:26 AM


Wednesday, October 6

ONE SWEET MESS WE’RE IN, FELLINI

Before (and partly during) last night’s vice-presidential debates, I watched the second reel of Frederico Fellini’s 1960 film, La Dolce Vita. I had not seen the film in its entirety before this. I found it very moving, provocative, and in some ways an interesting commentary on our present cultural descent into the nether regions.

For those not familiar with the film, Marcello, the protagonist, played by Marcello Mastroianni, is a journalist for tabloids. While he has a mistress (who wants him to marry her), he wanders through Roman nightlife, the lives and homes of the rich and the famous, having several sexual encounters (portrayals of which, by today’s standards, would rate nothing more than PG).

The film ends at the beach house of one of the Roman sophisticates, where the night before a party descended into even further decadence than portrayed earlier in the film (PG-13 this time, very briefly). At dawn, a commotion on the beach draws the revelers outside. One, a homosexual, who had dressed as a woman earlier, says to Marcello: “Ah, nature! Dawn has a strange enough effect on me.” He continues, with pauses in between the following remarks, as they make their way to the ocean:

“I was so well-made up. Now I feel ghastly!
“I’d really like to retire and do penance.
“But then new ones would take my place.
“For each one who gives up, there are ten newcomers.
“Someday, we’ll all be homosexuals.
“What a mess that will be!”

Throughout, Marcello says nothing. It’s interesting that it is “nature” that brings on a bit of reality to the scene and the revellers, while “nature” is what the modern homosexual claims as his reason for being.

In the context of the themes of the film, the homosexual stands for another step down on the descent into the bestial. Some of the women, in the beginning, are referred to as floating angels. (A tie-in to the opening floating image of Christ, the statue being carried by helicopter.) At one point, one of the women places a kitten on her head; later women dressed like cats perform in a creepy night-club act. At the final party, Marcello sticks feathers on a women who has stripped, who crawls along on the ground. It sounds so obvious, but it is all very subtly done over the course of the 3-hour film.

Now why did I mention the vice presidential debates? Because when I finished the film, I tuned in and heard Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards talk about “gay marriage.” It’s a mess that we are currently heading into, only one part of the mess Fellini’s character saw, I think.

As I see it, the acceptance of homosexuality, first, as normal sexual activity, and second, as something worthy of being blessed by the church and recognized by the state as equal to true marriage between man and woman falls on one side of a great divide explored in La Dolce Vita (or if not explored, it was there in relief).

In perhaps the most violent and emotional scene in the movie, Marcello fights with his girlfriend Emma. It is a violent quarrel in which she berates him for living like an animal, refusing to commit himself to her love. In a thoroughly modern response, Marcello declares his repulsion toward a life of “bedroom and kitchen” and, most tellingly, accuses her of wanting an animal existence.

I have always found it strange that modern sexual liberationists accuse Christian and other traditionally moral believers in what could be called traditional family sexuality of something similar: a brutish animal existence, pairing off like animals who build nests, have babies, nurse and rear their young. You have heard of the “gay's” common description of such traditionalists as we as “breeders.” I think that gets at what I am talking about. Sort of dumb, brute beasts with little or no imagination.

In a certain sense (bear with me), there is a truth to this. I believe, after all, that at bottom, we are designed by nature to want children, to nurture, raise, and love them. To want fidelity to one spouse, that this is natural and what nature teaches.

Going along with this, there is something unnatural about perverted sex, and it often requires unnatural interventions that could only be cooked up by the imaginations of men: Pills, condoms, devices, abortions, and then all the strange paraphernalia used by devotees of S & M and those needing to constantly break new barriers to experience sex as liberating.

You don’t see animals doing S & M and leather; this sort of sex is only possible by humans. Those who engage in it, thus, see more tame humans as limiting themselves and not engaging their full human imaginations in pursuing sexual pleasure. We are viewed by such people as peasants when it comes to sexual life, and akin to simple beasts, who breed and can’t imagine doing the liberating things that they do.

I think Marcello meant this when he told Emma he couldn’t stand her desire for a domestic love. But because man’s imagination is corruptible, simply because something is done by a human doesn’t mean it is humane. In this sense, on the other side of the sexual divide, the “liberated” one, you find a more powerful human imagination (and thus, to them, unlike the lowly beasts) that becomes nevertheless increasingly bestial because it becomes entirely mastered and overtaken by the sexual desires. A whip and chain is a sign of enslavement of the human to the bestialized human, not an elevation of our lower nature to something more human.

The traditionalist’s desire is shaped, limited, by something transcendent, higher, not accessible to either animals or those who give themselves over to the natural desires for sexual expressions. In this sense, those who give themselves over and reject the transcendent limits are more like animals. And that is what Emma was telling (yelling at) Marcello.

Who is more “human,” then: the man who divorces his wife because she develops a debilitating disease which renders her sexually impotent, or the man who remains with her and takes care of her and gives up and masters his sexual impulses?

Traditional family structures and commitment to lifelong monogamy, premarital abstinence, and so on, are viewed as suffocating, as they were by a key character in the film, who aspired to spiritual liberation but ended up killing his two children and himself. Marcello, seeing the result of the man’s “suffocation,” took the final step away from Emma, family, children, indeed, life, and into debauchery and “freedom.”

The homosexual at the end of the film saw that when homosexuality, (which is part of this rejection of Emma’s desire for family and Marcello's embrace of bestial decadence,) becomes the end, we will be in a mess. St. Paul said pretty much the same things, I think, that I have tried to say in a rough draft response to this film, in Romans chapter 1. We are, yes, creatures, and when the creature remains in submission to his Creator and His wisdom, he becomes a godly creature. But when the creature follows animal instinct alone, rejecting the Creator’s design and intentions, he becomes more and more like the beasts, actually worse.

I realize this is nothing new, but it was rather poignantly suggested by the story of the film. (The ending scenes are quite haunting.)

In the election and the debates, whenever “gay marriage” and even abortion comes up, we are walking along a very great divide, one that cannot be papered over. Two ways, one leads to death, the other to life. Marcello made his choice. We have ours.


6:18 PM


THEORY, IMAGINATION, AND SCRIPTURE


One of the saddest things to behold is a sane, solid man who loses his bearings later in his career, drifting off into some kind of foolishness. This is, I think, easy to do, especially if one of the successfully met goals of earlier labors is the ability to isolate one's self from criticism that would help prevent it. I am thinking now of a scholar who earlier in life produced some of the most brilliant surveys of his field, but made the mistake of thinking that the rules of observation and analysis that applied to the whole could be applied in the same way to particular instances. They could not. The obvious silliness of his results did not deter him from publishing them, for, he apparently reasoned, they were the product of a tested method that had been earlier used to general acclaim.

This mistake in deductive reasoning is an example of a larger class of errors in theorizing in which constructs of the imagination based upon accurate observation of reality are mistaken for reality itself. (It was Kierkegaard's critique of Hegel that impressed this most strongly upon me. Though he accused Hegel of having a theoretical beginning point in pure abstraction, his critique also applies to those who begin more empirically.) They are most dangerous to society when they incarnate themselves in philosophies like Marxism or Darwinism, and it is the intellectual who is particularly addicted to the opiate in this form.

Theorizing is something we must all do, but its products must be clearly and in all their parts labeled as theory, and not given any more force in the real world than a theory merits. If the man to whom I referred in the first paragraph had followed this rule, it is unlikely he would have published his results, and so made the sad spectacle of himself that he did. He would have understood that the theory, even if he thought it true, did not carry enough "force in the real world" to support publication.

The same phenomenon asserts itself in the Christian faith, the articles of which are based upon the accounts of eyewitnesses to historical events. It is this witness upon which all the doctrines of the faith rest. But there is always the temptation to extrapolate from this witness--to theorize, if you will--to what, if it is true, must also be true besides. This, then, is all too often identified as something to which assent is required. It is not treated as "theory," as something that may be so, but upon which no Christian is bound to depend. A crude example would be some of the narratives of the childhood of Christ found in the apocryphal gospels. The reasoning behind them would have been that if Jesus was who the Church said he was, then surely he had the power to work miracles in his youth, and that if he could, he did. But these accounts are not in the canon, that is, the body of writings the early church certified as representing the historical reality of the life of Christ

The importance of the canon of scripture in the life of the church is that these writings are constitutional--they cannot be "gone beyond" by or as authority, precisely because they are the narration of a history, agreed upon by those who uniquely qualified to agree (that is, those who were closest to it) that the imagination cannot supervene without the identification of the addition as theory. A theory may be true, but no assent may be required of it; it carries no weight of authority. It remains in the realm of imagination until shown to be historical, the agreement of eyewitnesses to singular and unrepeatable events, however, producing a kind of history that is also irreproducible, and so stands alone not what may be believed by Christians, but what must be.


4:19 PM


INTERNET ROUNDUP (A.M. EDITION):

— The Supreme Court yesterday rejected an appeal by Catholic Charities of Sacramento, letting stand a ruling by the California Supreme Court forcing the Catholic relief agency to pay for contraceptives as part of their employees’ health benefits. Ted Olsen of Christianity Today does his usual comprehensive job of covering the story here.

— Less than three weeks after 78% of Louisiana voters approved an amendment to their state’s constitution banning gay marriage, a state judge there threw out the amendment. According to the judge (king? dictator?), the duly-enacted amendment is “flawed.”

— In Surprise! Gallup wants to probe faith, public life, Terry Mattingly of GetReligion.org takes down recent efforts by activists at Moveon.org to brand George Gallup, Jr., and, by implication, the polling organization he founded (but no longer runs) as biased in favor of “the theocrats in the Republican party.”

— Beliefnet.com is hosting an e-mail debate on the moral implications of embryonic stem cell research featuring two leading ethicists in the field, Nigel Cameron (Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future) and Ronald M. Green (Dartmouth College).


1:48 PM


FIDELITY & SEX & SPIN

I am sometimes amused, I confess, by statements by liberal church leaders, such as this by Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA), Frank Girswold, as contained in a report from Episcopal News Service (9/27). Sometimes you just have to scratch your head or roll your eyes:

Faithfulness amid struggles confronting the Episcopal Church is essential for "any authentic expression of Christian life," Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold told worshippers who packed the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist during Sunday morning services here September 26.

"At the end of the day all that really matters is not who wins or loses but faithfulness," Griswold said in a sermon preached during the House of Bishops' meeting now underway through September 28.
Well, faithfulness to what? Apparently faithfulness dosen’t require one to teach what Christians have always taught:
"And faithfulness is required of us all, wherever we stand on any number of questions, none of which admit easy answers and can only be lived patiently and in a spirit of mutual respect..."
On the matter of gay marriage, or ordaining gays, which is what most of the tensions in the Episcopal are all about, then, there is no “yes” or “no,” apparently. And people who decide “no” appear to be forcing easy answers on the others.
Gathered here with the goal to deepen reconciliation and communion across the church and the Anglican Communion, more than 130 bishops are studying ways to build relationships that surpass theological and political differences underscored by the consecration last year of an openly gay bishop.
I dobut that 13,000 such bishops could study their way into building any communion that surpasses such “differences.”
He added: "Sexuality, that fearsome, awesome, unruly dimension of what it means to be truly human appears to have trumped the Creeds in determining the fundamentals of our faith."

Griswold asked: "Is it not possible that what may be perceived by many as sexual otherness is in some way revelatory of the fullness of Christ in us -- the hope of glory? This is a question we are presently living -- a question that contains within itself many other questions, each of which contributes to an answer that has yet to be revealed."
He is, obviously referring to homosexuality, and thinks its acceptance just might reveal “the fullness of Christ in us.” Of course, he seems to have forgotten that there really is sexual “otherness” in the world, and it is simply [hetero]sexual: the male, the female, are the ones who are truly “other” to each other.
The other “sexuality” being accepted by the bishop and his cohorts is, after all, called “same-sex.”

In the meantime, the bishop is waiting for an “answer that has yet to be revealed” about this issue. And when it is finally revealed I suspect that he will be the recipient of the revelation and he will let us know the answer. I can hardly wait.


1:24 PM


Tuesday, October 5

CAN YOU FEEL OUR PAIN?:

The American Academy of Religion (AAR) is pumping the cisterns of American sexual thought and expression for a planned seminar entitled “Power and Submission, Pain and Pleasure: The Religious Dynamics of Sadomasochism.”

According to its official program book, at the upcoming AAR annual gathering in San Antonio, Texas (November 20-23) the Gay Men’s Issues in Religion Group will host the following talks:

Justin Tanis, Metropolitan Community Church
Ecstatic Communion: The Spiritual Dimensions of Leathersexuality

Thomas V. Peterson, Alfred University
S/M Rituals in Gay Men's Leather Communities: Initiation, Power Exchange, and Subversion

Ken Stone, Chicago Theological Seminary
“You Seduced Me, You Overpowered Me, and You Prevailed”: Religious Experience and Homoerotic Sadomasochism in Jeremiah

Timothy R. Koch, New Life Metropolitan Community Church
Choice, Shame, and Power in the Construction of Sadomasochistic Theologies

Julianne Buenting, Chicago Theological Seminary
Oh, Daddy! God, Dominance/Submission, and Christian Sacramentality and Spirituality

Kent Brintnall, Emory University
Rend(er)ing God's Flesh: The Body of Christ, Spectacles of Pain, and Trajectories of Desire
If you don’t believe your eyes, the AAR program is available here (search the program page for “gay men’s”).

It seems our nation’s premier body of religious scholars can’t find anything more uplifting to dwell on.

Last year this same group of scholars chose “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing: Varied Views on Polyamory” for its learned mediation.

Our thanks to David Virtue of Virtuosity and Dr. Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary for bringing this to our attention.


5:31 PM


WARS, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE:

For our readers interested in such things, the good scholars at the Ethics and Public Policy Center announce the publication of War, Lies, and Videotape: A
Viewer's Guide to Fahrenheit 9/11
, timed to coincide with today’s release
on DVD of Michael Moore’s movie.

According to an EPPC press release,

”Wars, Lies, and Videotape” is a long, serious, and factual analysis of every step in Fahrenheit 9/11. It moves through the movie sequentially, analyzing Moore's deceptions claim-by-claim and examining his directorial decisions. It is reader-friendly, and includes hyperlinks for anyone who wishes to further investigate the facts.
Did we mention that this 59-page guide is free?


4:16 PM


MOVIES AND BOOKS:

It was nearly a year ago that Russell Crowe introduced moviegoers to his remarkably correct rendering of Captain “Lucky Jack” Aubrey in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Although some scenes of Peter Weir’s fine film were drawn from various other volumes of Patrick O’Brian’s massive corpus, most of the story was loosely based on volume 10, which also provided the film’s subtitle.

I liked that movie, I must say, and when it came out in video form, my wife bought it for a Father’s Day present. As I have already suggested, I especially appreciated Crowe’s performance as Jack Aubrey. Less fortunate, I’m afraid, was the movie’s diminished character of Stephen Maturin, Aubrey’s companion and the physician of the good ship Surprise. Maturin, who is arguably one of the most complex characters in all of literature, however, would be difficult to reproduce in a single film, so I did not hold this treatment against the enterprise as a whole.

There were other changes, as well. One of these, the tragic character of Midshipman Hollom, was a bit surprising, I suppose. In the book Hollom is a much older man, who is carrying on a semi-public affair with the wife of another officer. As someone long accustomed to Hollywood’s gratuitous insertions of improper sexual liaisons into story plots where none existed in the originals, I was taken back by the film’s failure to exploit such theme in a place where it already existed. Still, the movie’s version of Hollom was effective and convincing.

Likewise, whereas in the film Captain Aubrey’s crew is engaged in fighting Napoleon’s navy, in the book the Americans are the enemy. I wonder if that geopolitical switch had something to do with the Anglo-American disdain for the French in the context of the war in Iraq. I rather hope so. Indeed, I would be disappointed to learn otherwise.

One of the book’s scenes forced out of the film by constraints of time was a conversation between Dr. Stephen Maturin and an officer named James Mowett. It was a brief discussion of Homer, part of which I will append below.

That passage about Homer in O’Brian rises especially to remembrance because of another movie, Troy, which appeared just a few months ago. This second movie was so bad, so misleading, so profoundly corrosive of a great and classical story that one reviewer remarked, “Homer’s estate should sue.” Although once in a while I could detect some distant resemblance to certain corresponding scenes in Homer and Vergil, this movie really had nothing to do with the drama of Troy. Brad Pitt as Achilles? Please, let us be reasonable. It was a form of Homer especially adapted for those insufficiently thoughtful to appreciate the comic book version. Even Peter O’Toole’s rendering of Priam could not redeem so egregious an offense. I left the theater feeling that I had been slapped around for two hours by a bunch of terrorists.

Yes, truly, Homer’s estate should sue. But then, aren’t WE ourselves Homer’s heirs?

Anyway, let's return to Stephen Maturin’s comments on Homer. He begins by mentioning the deviations of much of what passes for Homeric scholarship and then goes on:

But as far as I know not one of the inky boobies ever saw what is as clear as the sun at midday—that as well as being the great epic of the world, the Iliad is a continued outcry against adultery. Hundreds, nay thousands of heroical young men killed, Troy town in blood and flames, Andromache’s child dashed from the battlements and she led away to carry water for Greek women, the great city razed and depopulated, all, all from mere adultery. And she did not even like the worthless fellow in the end. James Mowett, there is nothing to be said for adultery.
I confess that no one ever told me this when they obliged me to read Homer in my youth. I would like to suppose that they thought me smart enough to figure it out on my own. I wasn’t, however. Some things are just too obvious to be noticed.


11:07 AM


RESPONSES TO ORTHODOX CONFUSION & CLARITY:

Several readers and one contributing editor respond to recent posts on voting and Christian principles. One wrote:

I have been very interested in the posts regarding the Orthodox opinion about voting. I am a fairly recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy (3 1/2 years) and attend an OCA church. Regarding the post by Mr. Kushiner (Oct. 1, 1:47 p.m.), is there a way that Orthodox members could petition the leadership to reaffirm those statements? This is especially of interest to me because my church is full of well-intentioned, God-loving liberals. I think the main reason they are liberals is because of the emphasis by the Church on caring for the poor (although even there, I think there are problems [not with the Church's stand]) and I know many of them have a hard time with the abortion issue. The article by Peter Bouteneff was linked to in our email church newsletter, as were some of the Touchstone blogs.

Anyway, I think the point the Mr. Kushiner made is something that needs a wider audience than the readers of the Touchstone web blog. I have been accused of being a "single-issue voter," but I firmly believe that a politician's stand on abortion and the sanctity of life can predict that politician's other values and is an indicator of how that State Rep. or Senator will vote or how that President will lead. Would you please post some suggestions for reminding our brethren (in all traditions) that some things really are just more important than redistribution of wealth and even war?

Thanks for your wonderful magazine and web site!
The discussion, I hope, is reminder enough. See also our lead editorial in the October issue.

As to the leadership reminding parishioners of what they have said in the past, the fact that the OCA website put up Dr. Bouteneff’s article instead of what the church has said is disappointing.

I would ask my pastor to take a stand, and to ask the bishops what they believe and uphold and ask them to make a public statement. Laity need to speak out.

The next response:
Mr. Kushiner makes a decent point: he says that if an Orthodox Christian has a problem with Bush over "the War in Iraq, then perhaps, he might feel compelled to sit this one out." That is exactly what I am doing, because I cannot in good conscience accept a "lesser of two evils" mentality—-that which appears to be precisely what Mr. Kushiner is advocating. While I respect Mr. Kushiner's point of view with respect to abortion and family, I do not agree that it is possible to relativize the issue of sanctity of life. Unfortunately, in a political environment where if one is pro-life they are likely also to be pro-death penalty and if one is pro-choice they are likely also to be anti-death penalty, one can do nothing but relativize the sanctity of life when choosing a candidate. Mr. Kerry is pro-choice and would likely work towards making homosexual marriage a reality; on the other hand, Mr. Bush is responsible, both directly and indirectly, for taking the lives of people who had already been born.

Thinking in terms of the lesser of two evils still leaves evil with a
victory, at the end of the day.

Richard Barrett
I fail to see Mr. Barrett’s point that by thinking in these terms that evil wins. Certainly when good men do nothing [sit this one out] “evil triumphs.” I only mean someone might feel compelled, not that he should sit this one out. Not when life is at stake.

In the case of capital punishment, I can only say, without arguing we should have it, that it is a biblically plausible position to support, as there is a logic to it in Scripture. There is no logic in Scripture for slaughtering unborn children.

Another response from contributing editor Robert H. Hart:
I believe that looking at the candidates today and not just the party lines, "abortion as such might not be 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.

Jim Kushiner did a good job of answering this remark by Dr. Bouteneff. I would add only that this argument by Dr. Bouteneff gives me reason to vote not only for the Republican President, but for the Republican running for the U.S. Senate from my state this year. In the next four years Supreme Court appointments are likely to be made, and only there can anything be accomplished regarding Roe vs. Wade. I am not a Republican or a Democrat; but I am realistic about what it would take to overturn that horrible 1973 echo of the old Dred Scott decision of over a century earlier. Since the Democrats (once the party of slavery) are now the party of abortion, it is clear to me that their moral standing has become no better than the Nazi party. It is not that the Republicans are good; they are not always morally right either, and many of them are just as bad as the Democrats (e.g. Arlen Specter). But, the reality is that Republicans will be more likely to approve this pro-life President’s appointments if he is re-elected. This is something that must be taken seriously.

--Robert Hart


9:57 AM


Monday, October 4

“WHOSE GOD IS THEIR APPETITE”

From Senior Editor Robert P. George:
I try to make it a point not to read the New York Times, but yesterday morning I had a look at its Book Review. Among the offerings was an entirely respectful review of a new book by some ex-ballet dancer about how she found her personal salvation in anal intercourse. I’m not kidding.

I thought to myself, how amazing that it has come to the point at which such a book is treated as respectable, and, indeed, worthy of a review in the New York Times Book Review. Then I realized that it is not amazing at all. Perverted sex is the apotheosis of a certain form of liberalism now prominent in elite sectors of the culture. For people in the grip of this ideology, sex has displaced religious faith and taken on its functions. People seek spiritual healing, consolation, justification, meaning, and even transcendence in sexual pleasure.

Perversion is regarded as the key to salvation. I went on-line to see if there was a review in Publishers Weekly. Sure enough, there was. It begins by quoting from the book, then makes a comment:

“I am sitting on the threshold. Perhaps this is the final paradox of God’s paradoxical machinations: my ass is my very own back door to heaven. The Pearly Gates are closer than you think.” Bentley is writing of her rhapsodic experience with sodomy. So some will call this memoir blasphemous, others spiritual; some pornographic, others erotic. What it is, is wonderfully smart and sexy and witty and moving, a tale of unbounded passion that leads to transcendence.
Got that? “God’s paradoxical machinations.” “Back door to heaven.” “Leads to transcendence.” All “wonderfully smart,” even “moving.”

This is where things have been heading since liberalism embraced the sexual revolution in the 1960s and made it the centerpiece of its cultural-political agenda. Sodomy is at the core of a gospel preached with evangelical fervor in a book reviewed respectfully in the New York Times: “Sister, have you accepted anal sex as your personal savior?”

—Robert P. George


6:12 PM


THE APPEARANCE OF GOOD

One of the reasons, I believe, our Lord had the hardest of words for external shows of piety was, beyond its pure ugliness, that it both mocks and offends goodness itself, which does not cry in the street, but works as quietly as it may, concentrating upon the business of doing good. The show of it, while often unavoidable, is incidental to the doing.

Some of the people who are hardest for the church to reach are those who are so offended by spectacles of piety that they--wrongly, to be sure, but understandably--interpret the appearance of goodness in the faithful, when they see it, as Pharisaical posturing, so go out of their way to appear worse than they are and distance themselves from Church People, whom, as such, they find nauseating. I am thinking now of a man I came to know well whose heart was full of charity, and who selflessly did a great deal of good for others, but was regarded by most Christians who knew him as a hardened and belligerent atheist. I am not at all sure he was, for I saw evidence in his life of both knowledge and love of God--and who knows what the end of such men will be, for whom the Master works outside regular channels?

There is much that passes in the churches for good that, when soberly considered, is in fact merely the claptrap of religion that the Lord hates. His opinion is shared by a good many non-Christians and ignored by a good many believers. Here is the reason: Much of this show is so well-engrained into our religious languages and cultures that it is nearly impossible to distinguish from their good, and so impossible to eradicate apart from an extraordinary infusion of grace.


10:41 AM


CHRISTMAS OFFER:

This year, as always, we are offering readers — you, to be precise — a chance to order discount Christmas gift subscriptions. They cost only $19.95, a savings of $10.00 off the regular price, which itself is comparatively cheap.

We do this for the obvious reason: we need more subscribers. And for a less obvious reason: we want more subscribers. Don’t roll your eyes. I have a serious point.

Every magazine ever published needs new subscribers just to stay even, much less to grow. Every magazine wants to grow because growth in subscribers lets the editors improve the magazine in all sorts of ways. This is the reality of publishing and why you get direct mail pieces from us, First Things, and Bubba’s Journal of Biblical Barbecue Recipes.

But not all magazines see their work as a ministry. We do. We try to offer, and think we usually succeed in giving, the reader something useful, edifying, instructive, something both conservative and liberal in the proper senses of those words, doctrinally sound and culturally engaged, which is also readable and even entertaining.

We think of our typical reader as someone who wants to know more about his faith and about living that faith with integrity — intellectual and behavioral — in the confusing world he lives in. We assume that he is also very busy, between his church, family, work, and ministry, and that he probably gets several magazines which he often has to read over breakfast or on the commuter train or late at night after putting the children to bed.

This reader may be a scholar famous for his knowledge of ancient Sumerian or a widget manufacturer who knows widgets inside and out but is a little less clear on the non-widget world, but both readers want to learn and (this is true even of the scholar) don't want to suffer too much in doing so. I feel this myself. Time is short, the demands on one's time and mental energy great, the needs pressing, so please tell it to me as straight as you can.

We want more subscribers because with more subscribers (= more money) we can do more to serve this kind of reader. We can get some new writers in new subjects who can convey important knowledge in ways the average reader can follow, and we can add more sidebars (the short articles that appear within the feature articles), timelines, and other helpful features, to name two things we could do. (In case you're wondering, finding good sidebars takes a surprising lot of time: you have to search for them or assign them, and both of those can eat up hours of an editor's time, edit them and double-check their facts, which can eat up yet more hours, and negotiate with the writers or the people who own the information we want to use, etc.)

So I commend to you the gift subscription offer. Your gift subscriptions will help improve Touchstone — and also, while I'm preaching, sustain Mere Comments and the online article archive — and is for you a way of giving friends a genuinely useful Christmas present and one they will continue to get regularly until the next Christmas.


6:10 AM


FROM THE INBOX 4 OCTOBER 2004:

Several items for today. I should say that I include the link to everything we use to give credit to the source, but I don't always think the link worth following, when I've quoted what I think is the really interesting stuff in the article. Some writers do go on a while before they say something that makes you say "aha" or "hm" adn then they go on a while longer after they've said it. Anyway, if you sometimes click on a link and then wonder why I put you on to the article, that's the reason.

— An interesting review from The New York Times of a new book on Osama bin Laden. It includes the revealing story:

The reporter Edward Girardet was covering the last days of the Soviet withdrawal when he was approached at the front line by a tall, bearded Arab, one of the many foreign jihadis who flocked to Afghanistan from across the Muslim world to join the mujahedeen cause. In theory, the Western journalist and the Arab fighter should have been on the same, anti-Soviet side. Instead, the armed Arab told Girardet, in perfect English, ‘‘If you do not leave immediately, I will shoot you.’’ A decade later, after the embassy bombings in East Africa, Girardet saw photographs of the Al Qaeda leader; only then did he realize the aggressive Arab fighter had been Osama bin Laden. Even before the Soviets had gone, Osama was picking his next fight, with the West.
— Steve Westfall sends this amusing item: on praying at meetings. He writes:
You’ve got to see this, if you haven’t already. Here we have a Virginia town’s legal council advising local ministers not to pray to “any specific deity” when they open the town council meeting with a prayer. Sure sounds like theological advice to me! Here’s an excerpt:

“In the letter, Bendall [the lawyer] requested that prayers at council meetings “be nonsectarian in nature.”

Bendall continued, “Avoid references to ‘Jesus,’ ‘Christ,’ or any other variation on those names or the names of other specific deities. A prayer is ‘addressed’ to Jesus if it contains the phrase, ‘in Jesus’ name we pray’ or anything similar.”

He recommended the use of “neutral, ‘civil religion’ terms such as ‘God,’ ‘Almighty God,’ ‘Creator,’ ‘Providence,’ and ‘Heaven.’” Bendall also suggested that pastors “consider praying for wisdom, unity and/or blessings of peace and prosperity.
— Our contributing editor Robert Hart responds to the quote from Herman Goering posted on Saturday:
The problem with quoting Goring in such a way, as to imply a point for an argument against U.S. military action (which I perceive as being the motivation for Jim Forest sending the quotation), is that it gives credibility to Goering; it says that he spoke the truth, a truth we should take seriously, as if it were the oracle of a sage or prophet.

It says that he spoke the truth despite the bad character of the regime he represented, and despite the Big Lie that was its source of power. It makes his words into something profound, the insight of a philosopher; but his words were the cynicism of a man steeped in lies, so cynical that he no longer believed that truth exists.

With all due respect for Jim Forest and the sincerity of his conscientious objections, I have never agreed with his views on the Iraq phase of the war on terror; in fact I believe that the need for the Iraq phase cannot be understood by most modern Western minds, and that President Bush had the insight that it takes to understand the mind of the enemy. He knew that the enemy attacked the U.S. because the terrorists were convinced that any country that would not enforce its cease fire conditions on Saddam Hussein was a country that would not fight back, that would even knuckle under if attacked. They were emboldened because the Iraqi dictator stayed in power and paid no price for defying the U.S.

The President was every bit as conscientious in his decision as the pacificsts are in their concept of the moral imperative of peace (a moral imperative that, under realistic circumstances, I do not regard as either moral or imperative).
— From the Friday Fax of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute:
Financial documents reveal that the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) pays many of its executives hundreds of thousands of dollars, even though IPPF Director-General Steven Sinding has claimed that IPPF’s loss of funding from the United States has damaged the organization and even cost women in the developing world their lives.

For instance, the President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Gloria Feldt, earned $460,277 in 2003. George Stokes, the organization’ Chief Operating Officer, earned $204,846. The Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of New York City, Michael Momtaz, was paid $310,064, plus $72,617 in benefits, in 2002. The Regional Director of IPPF/Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF/WHR), Carmen Barroso, earned $197,000, plus over $20,000 in benefits, in 2003.
— A couple of interesting articles from the Daily Telegraph. First, [Afghan] Warlords turn to spin doctors for a softer, cuddlier image.

— Second, Bob Geldof — from the angry young man to grumpy old moralist. The article quotes some of the statements the rock star in a documentary on him like this:
Geldof seizes on the statistics that show that women initiate 70 per cent of marriage break-ups. This, he suggests, means not that men are failing to understand women, as most females would think, but the opposite.

Instead of seeking to persuade men to change, he continues, women should simply accept them as they are. “If girls don’t like masculine characteristics, then it’s pretty much too bad because 50 per cent of the planet are men,” he says.

“Men don’t feel the need or the compulsion to talk in general; to articulate what it is that they are. I feel no need to talk. Men and women are very different and we always have been very different. That is precisely why we find each other so attractive.

“Why is it suddenly that the very differences that once attracted us are now driving us apart? Men have never felt the need to talk, so why is it now that ‘he doesn’t talk to me anymore’ is enough to end a relationship?
Geldort — whom the article says is living with his girlfriend and has a first wife about somewhere — also attacked the “soap-opera culture” for inflating peoples’ expectations of marriage.
If our expectation of married life were more realistic, then the everyday reality would not be thought of as difficult, limiting or mundane, but rather as comforting and supportive. We seem to have lost the ability to compromise. We’ve bought into the myth and we’re sold a childlike and naive view of marriage. When it turns out that it’s not quite like the soap operas, we feel cheated.”

He added: “Have we devalued domestic life and its culture of companionship, warmth and nurture and safety and calm to the point of it almost being irrelevant?

“Have we completely lost the idea of the home being important, almost an emotional nerve centre? Home, after all, is where the head is.”
Readers may find of interest another DT article linked to with this one: Married ‘til 30 us do part about the rising English divorce rate.

— Those interested in the future of Anglicanism may find of interest the Episcopal priest “Pontificator’s” Looking into the Crystal Ball, a series of articles on what he sees as the future for orthodox Anglicanism.

— Those of you still interested in arguing over the ordination of women — a small group, I suspect — may want to read the argument for the practice and the long ensuing discussion contained in Hugh B. McCullum: The Experience of Women’s Ordination in Anglicanism.

— The latest issue of The Weekly Standard offers an interesting and cheering article on The Rise of the Values Voter. It begins:
If you had to pick a single reason why the Democratic party is weaker at all levels than at any time in the last 50 years, it is the transformation of moral-values issues into an overwhelming Republican asset.

In recent presidential cycles, post-election polling found that social issues like abortion, while invariably a mild plus for Republicans, were cited by a relatively small segment of the electorate as a prime motive for voting one way or the other. Moreover, social conservatism was seen as good in the South and heartland and bad on the coasts, making it dubious as a national theme or as a subject of campaign commercials. Conventional wisdom among GOP political consultants has been to mobilize socially conservative voters by a stealth strategy of quietly “passing the word” to “our people.”

New polling by Time and MSNBC/Knight-Ridder suggests that all this has changed. The proportion of voters who say they are keying their vote on “moral values issues like gay marriage and abortion” has gone up sharply--to a level of 15 to 18 percent, according to five national polls commissioned by Time and conducted by Schulman, Ronca, and Bucuvalas since July. More important, the profile of such voters is no longer definable in the vocabulary of polarization and divisiveness. The most recent Time poll (taken September 21-23) has George W. Bush winning socially driven voters by a lopsided 70 to 18 percent. If not for these voters, according to the poll, Bush would be trailing John Kerry by 5 points instead of leading by 4.
— The Baptist Press last Friday offered a good selection of quotes from the House of Represetntative’s debate on the marriage amendment. Among them is one from Barney Frank.
Frank, an open homosexual and a supporter of same-sex “marriage,” called the amendment an “undemocratic effort.”

“Please do not impose your views on the people of Massachusetts,” he said.

Frank added: “What is it your are protecting yourselves against? How do we threaten you? . . . Let the people of Massachusetts make their own choices, and let loving men and loving women live in peace.”
One would just notice that the people of Massachusetts are not making their own choices but having a policy imposed upon them by a narrow majority of their highest court, who have refused to delay implementation of their ruling to let the legislature deal with the question. Frank has not been heard to call this kind of judicial imperialism “undemocratic.”

— Also from the Baptist Press, a short piece by Kelly Boggs, The incremental acceptance of homosexuality , which begins:
”Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable,” wrote G.K. Chesterton. A recent societal survey supports the sage social critic’s observation.

A poll conducted by The Gallup Organization found that 91 percent of Americans agreed polygamy is wrong. The survey, taken in May, also discovered that 54 percent of respondents believed homosexual behavior to be morally unacceptable.

While homosexual conduct is still frowned on by a majority, it has never been more accepted in the United States. One survey from 1970 found that 84 percent of Americans believed homosexuality to be a “social corruption.” A 30-point favorable shift in just over three decades is significant, perhaps even revolutionary.
— The Vatican news service Zenit.org has offered several articles lately of ecumenical interest. Among them is Expert Warns of “Ideological Leap” in Muslim Fundamentalism. In it, Francesco Zannini of the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies describes the Iraqi terrorists’ beheading of captives as an innovation in Islam without precedent in the Koran or the Hadith. 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.
— A second article from Zenit.org is Men Not Immune to Marriage, which describes the desire of the average young man to marry a woman and have a family even though “the young husband has virtually disappeared as a cultural figure or a social type,” and the social, physical, economic, and psychological benefits to young men of being married.

— And third, A Religious-Freedom Blacklist Grows, a good short summary of the State Department’s Report on Religious Freedom, with which you’re probably already familiar.


6:05 AM


READING NOTES 4 OCTOBER 2004:

Note 1. I just picked up at the bag sale at a nearby private school (to which our children do not go, let me say, the tuition being as much as many liberal arts colleges, I kid you not), a book I’d never heard of but have enjoyed skimming through: Lively Oracle: A Centennial Celebration of P. L. Travers, who wrote . . .

— This is a test of your children’s literature IQ — . . .

A famous series of books . . .

With a slightly satirical tone . . .

Set in London . . .

Starring two children somewhat abandoned by their parents and . . .

A talented nanny . . .

Named Mary Poppins. It is edited by two friends of Travers’, Ellen Dooling Draper (former editor of Parabola) and Jenny Koralek (an English children’s writer) and published in 1999 by Larson Publications in Burdett, New York. It includes two biographical essays, ten essays on her work, three interviews with her, and three essays of her own, titled “I never wrote for children,” “Myth, Symbol, and Tradition,” and “The Fairy Tale as Teacher.”

Note 2.Those of you interested in the movies might enjoy some of the essays in the latest issue of Granta (# 86) titled “Film.” It includes a rather too long story by Thomas Keneally of how he happened to meet two of the people Oskar Schindler’s and came to write the story that became the movie, a bizarre story of the German director Werner Herzog’s use of rats in remaking Nosferatu (humane Herzog was not, either to the rats or to humans), and several other articles of sharply varying quality, most written in the first person. I wouldn’t go looking for it, were I you, unlike you’re a fanatical studier of movies, but if you see it and like movies you may enjoy parts.


6:00 AM




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