Copyright © 2005
by the Fellowship of St. James.
All rights reserved.
FEAR & VOTING ON A SINGLE-ISSUE
In Why Bush Opposes Dred Scott: It's code for Roe v. Wade.
by Timothy Noah (Monday, Oct. 11, 2004) on the Slate.msn.com website, the author did some “googling” of Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade together and came up with the discovery that conservatives often link the two decisions together:
Sometimes it's used to inspire fear. Here's an editorial
in Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity:”Some, recalling that the Dred Scott ruling itself set the stage for the Civil War, may wonder—if it was true in yesteryear that ‘every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword’—whether some yet worse retribution will be exacted of our country by a righteous God righteously stirred at the murder of unborn children in their millions. And wonder they should.” [Patrick Henry Reardon, Jan. 2003]
Bush has a history of addressing the Christian right in code. In the Sept. 17 Washington Post, Alan Cooperman pointed out many phrases Bush has used to deliver a religious message over the heads of plodding secular humanists like me. "Culture of life," Cooperman reported, means "abortion is murder."
And when liberals say, “A woman’s right to choose,” they’re talking about shopping at Saks for shoes, right?
...Now, don't get me wrong. Religious faith can be a very fine thing. Some of my best friends believe in God, and some of their best qualities derive, at least in part, from their faith. But let's not forget that Bush actually believes that God told him to become president. In an age less prone to religious hysteria than our own, this would be judged impious. Even now, it's pretty frightening to a significant minority, and Bush is going to need every last vote he can get. Hence the use of code phrases and jargon.
It's a basic principle of politics that you dance with the one that brung ya. The Big Guy has apparently made clear to Bush that he doesn't want any Roe-lovers, or even Roe-wafflers, on the Supreme Court. If Bush is elected, don't expect any. And if you happen to believe that abortion should remain legal in the United States, don't even think about giving Bush your vote.
Not that he is advocating being a “single-issue voter,” mind you. When conservatives do it, it’s because they’re scared and intolerant. When liberals do it, they’re being savvy, or fair, or smart.
FROM THE INBOX 15 OCTOBER 2004:
I have a goodly number of items, saved up from a week spent not blogging. Ken Tanner has already provided a few links for today in his “Web Roundup.”
— In Terrorists’ candidates?, Charles Krauthammer examines, in his usual clear-headed way, the significance of certain dangerous characters’ choices in the presidential election. The Kerry-supporting media assert that others shouldn’t point out that the terrorists would prefer John Kerry as president because that is clearly an argument for Americans preferring George Bush.
— In his latest column for Jewish World Review, Krauthammer examines Edwards' loathsome display of demagoguery. It begins:
After the second presidential debate, in which John Kerry used the word "plan" 24 times, I said on television that Kerry has a plan for everything except curing psoriasis. I should have known there is no parodying Kerry's pandering. It turned out days later that the Kerry campaign has a plan — nay, a promise — to cure paralysis. What is the plan? Vote for Kerry.
This is John Edwards on Monday at a rally in Newton, Iowa: "If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."
In my 25 years in Washington, I have never seen a more loathsome display of demagoguery. Hope is good. False hope is bad. Deliberately, for personal gain, raising false hope in the catastrophically afflicted is despicable.
Krauthammer, the editor notes, is himself confined to a wheelchair.
— From the same source, the Jewish World Report
, comes The unnerving ‘Plot’
by Diane West, an analysis of Philip Roth’s new novel and the hate-driven left it has excited.
— And a last article from the same newspaper, Serpents of desire: Good and evil in the Garden of Eden
, the beginning of a series by Rabbi David Fohrman on the book of Genesis
— Yet another article to raise your paranoia level: Makers 'ghost' drugs reviews
from the English newspaper The Daily Telegraph
. A professor testifying to a House of Commons committee said that drug companies frequently ghost articles on their drugs in major journals and pay doctors to put their names to them.
The article includes the grimly amusing line from the sleazeball representing the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry who
said there was "nothing wrong" with articles in major medical journals being written up for a clinician by a company "as long as the person has seen the article and signed it off".
"It is quite wrong if people are putting their names to something they haven't read."
It’s all right to lie about writing something if you’ve read it, but not if you haven’t. And people say p.r. is an dishonorable occupation.
— Albert Mohler declares The floodgates open: columnist promotes polygamy
, offering some useful quotes from a USA Today
article in which a bolder than usual writer draws the obvious conclusions from the sexual liberationists' assumptions.
— An article by our contributing editor Robert Hart on Tradition and the Jerusalem Council
, with responses.
— A little technical but helpful: Depression in the Elderly with Emphasis on Terminal Illness
by Drs. Samuel and Elizabeth Hensley, fellows of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. They argue for considering the treatment of old people’s depression as part of palliative care. The alternative is either letting them stay depressed or (this being the increasingly popular answer) killing them or helping them kill themselves.
— Something from June a friend just brought to my attention: the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Oxford University Commemoration Day Sermon, University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford
. I thought it rather good as a description of what higher education should be, though typically British in one aspect, his declaration that no one wants the churches running universities.
I think this claim reflects the Church of England’s retreat from confident public status and its working belief that whatever religion has to do in this world, it should not take a dominant stand in public affairs, except when some bishop wants to criticize the ruling party.
I thought that assertion somewhat ironic, since the sort of mind he praised in the rest of the article is the sort of mind the churches, when they are confidently orthodox, form. They are indeed more likely to form it than the people now in charge of most higher education, who are often hopelessly “practical” or hopelessly trendy, or else unwilling or unable to articulate that vision of education because they have to balance the diverse political and ideological demands of a faculty that includes the hopelessly practical and the hopelessly trendy both.
— A reader sends in this notice about The Times misquoting Archbishop Chaput
. I think the article and the archbishop protest too much, because the only implication one can draw from his principles is that a faithful Catholic cannot vote for Kerry, which leaves Bush. This doesn’t mean, as the writer and the archbishop seem to fear, that he is being partisan, but that one candidate has chosen to take a position a Catholic cannot support with his vote.
— Dawn Eden, whose weblog I’ve recommended many times before, offers another expose of Planned Parenthood in ‘Plan’ Your Parenthood — at 14!
. It begins:
Planned Parenthood’s article “Having a Healthy Baby - Planning Your Pregnancy”, which is currently a featured link on the front page of the organization’s Web site, recommends “preconception visits” for would-be moms who have one of 11 risk factors.
Want to know what’s the number-one risk factor that would require a preconception visit?
“Be sure to have a preconception visit if you are younger than 15, or older than 35.”
WHOA! Wait a minute. Backtrack a sec. Rewind.
“...if you are younger than 15...”
You can read it for yourself. Planned Parenthood is inviting GIRLS AGE 14 AND UNDER to walk right in and “plan” their pregnancy.
She includes all the links.
— And here is a link Dawn is offering giving a funny and accurate description of John Kerry: Kerry’s a ‘Slaughterhouse Fave’
— Oh, and here is one in which she describes her work for Touchstone
. We're very happy to have her help. She's astonishingly good at headlines.
— Some readers may enjoy To live as God’s people
, a reflection on the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland by the Bishop of Limerick. It is a long statement, and written in the episcopal genre, but surprisingly good.
— In The Meaninglessness of Meaning
, the New Criterion's
Roger Kimball reflects on the work of the late Jacques Derrida. He notes:
What is deconstruction? Mr. Derrida would never say. It was a question certain to spark his contempt and ire. He denied that deconstruction could be meaningfully defined. I think he was right about that, though not necessarily for the reasons he believed.
But even if deconstruction cannot be defined, it can be described. For one thing, deconstruction comes with a lifetime guarantee to render discussion of any subject completely unintelligible. It does this by linguistic subterfuge. One of the central slogans of deconstruction is il n’y a pas de hors-texte, i.e., “there is nothing outside the text.” (It sounds better in French.) In other words, deconstruction is an updated version of nominalism, the view that the meanings of words are completely arbitrary and that, at bottom, reality is unknowable.
He continues with a judicious explanation of what deconstructionist nominalism means and does.
— And here is Derrida’s obituary
from the Daily Telegraph
— Also from the DT
comes the story of someone more humanistic, or humane, than Derrida’s philosophy: Woman jumps on 13ft crocodile to save camper
. It’s a cheering story.
— Described as “possibly the most religious holder of the post since William Gladstone” in the late 19th century, [Tony] Blair is ready to convert, says Catholic priest
. A parish priest he knows well
indicated, however, that he did not believe that Mr Blair would take such a step while Prime Minister and suggested that he had “some way to go” on important moral issues.
He is, alas, pro-gay and pro-choice, which I assume is what the priest means by his tactful "some way to go."
On the other hand, I remember reading a long interview with him before he became prime minister that revealed a man who took his faith seriously and tried to think through its social teachings. In sharp contrast to, say, Mrs. Thatcher.
— Yet another story from the DT
: Our reaction to Mr Bigley's death is immature, dishonest and decadent
. In it Anthony Daniels writes about the English response to the murder of Kenneth Bigley:
The very fact that we so often seem compelled nowadays to spell out the obvious, by means of public gestures and protestations, by breast-beating and generalised mawkishness, suggests that, far from having deep feelings for one another, we live in a world without any genuine feeling. Mawkishness is the tribute that indifference pays to solidarity. . . .
What was done to Mr Bigley was not wrong, nor was it even made worse, because he might have been an exceptionally good man; it was wrong because it was barbaric, because no one should be treated in this fashion, and it would have been wrong to do so even if Mr Bigley had been a very bad man.
To dwell on his good qualities in public is therefore not merely beside the point and grossly sentimental, it is morally very wrong: for it is to imply that, had he been (for example) a drunken embezzler, it might have been morally justified to treat him in such a way. He was an innocent man, we were told ad nauseam: if he had been guilty, then, should he have had his head sawn off with a knife by a group of heartless psychopaths?
This is provocative, but I think quite true, and I commend the whole article.
— Earlier today Patrick Reardon discussed David Klinghoffer’s most recent column. I’d point you to another very good one, We Are All Pagans Now
from the Jewish newspaper Forward
— And finally, Touchstone
is quoted as evidence in When He Says Dred Scott, He Means Roe v. Wade
from Slate.com. The writer declares that president Bush is speaking in code to his rightwing supporters when he attacks the Dred Scot decision. To the article our contributing editor Anthony Esolen
Absolutely amazing. Who was it who first made theconnection between Dred Scott and Roe vs. Wade? Germain Grisez? James Burtchaell? It’s been at least 25 years, maybe closer to 30.
It’s been a staple of the anti-abortion argument for three decades. I knew about it in high school, the place where nobody ever hears about anything. What code? It’s only a CODE for people who haven’t been listening. It’s as if a person were to say, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” and the tireless reporter for Slate were to look it up and find out, sure, somebody named Patrick Henry said it, and he was an anti-federalist, don’t you know. It’s a conspiracy!
The folks on the left have never even bothered to engage the conservative argument against abortion. Must be nice, to be above argument.
LUTHERANS & CATHOLICS, ORTHODOX & EVANGELICAL GERMANS:
For those of you who keep up with such things, here is part of a press release from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America on the fifth anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation.
The — a significant document for Lutherans and Catholics signed in 1999 in Augsburg, Germany — “should not remain a paper and a ‘dead’ letter,” said Cardinal Walter Kasper [president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity]. The document “must become known, lived out and become a reality in the body of the church,” he said. . . .
With the Joint Declaration, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and The Vatican agreed to a common understanding of the doctrine of justification and declared that certain 16th century condemnations of each other no longer apply. . . .
Pope John Paul II described the Joint Declaration as a “milestone,” Kasper said. “The image fits the situation exactly,” he said. “We have reached an important staging post but are not yet at the final goal. The Joint Declaration is important even though it has limits. Its greatness lies in the fact that we can now give joint witness to what is at the heart of our faith, and with this common witness we enter together a new century and a new millennium.”
The increasingly secularized world “needs such common witness,” Kasper declared.
Kasper pointed out that the Joint Declaration does not address other “problems” that remain between Protestants and Catholics. Those questions include understandings of “simul iustus et peccator,” a Lutheran doctrine that enables a believer to be justified and sinner at the same time; cooperation; how to speak about “merits”; and the central “normativity” of the doctrine of justification, he said. The Joint Declaration represents what Kasper called “differentiated consensus rather than total agreement.” Lutherans and Catholics are continuing in an international theological dialogue on many questions.
Kasper was upbeat about the meaning of the signing of the Joint Declaration, saying that the relationship between Catholics and Lutherans “reached a new quality and intensity.”
“We held out hands to each other as churches, and we do not wish to let go ever again,” he said.
The googoo Ecumenical Talk makes me ill — the wittle teeowogians say “hi!” and give each other bigggggggg hugs — but the statement itself does mark something important.
In a related story, the Ecumenical News Service reports that the Ecumenical Patriarch (Orthodoxy’s head) and the Evangelical Church in Germany have agreed to recognize each other’s baptisms, so converts from one to the other will not be re-baptized. The Orthodox, whose 400,000 members make them the third largest religious body in Germany, but way behind the Evangelical Church and the Catholic Church, have not re-baptized anyone in years but wanted to make sure people knew that.
An Orthodox priest to whom I sent the article wrote back:
This agreement matches what has long been the discipline of the Patriarchate of Antioch. It is possible that Moscow too may come to accept it. I can’t imagine that Mount Athos would ever agree.
WEB ROUNDUP October 15 2004:
Nina Shea writing for National Review Online warns that ChaldoAssyrian Christians in Iraq, a minority culture that extends back to the ancient city of Nineveh, are an endangered people. In Canary in a Coal Mine Shea says the protection of these Christians and their society is critical to the future of a free and united Iraq.
Following the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence and the Goodridge ruling in Massachusetts, many pro-marriage leaders predicted that laws banning polygamy would fall next, while at the time many same-sex marriage activists called this “fear-mongering.” In Seven Brides for Two Brothers Chuck Colson of Breakpoint uses Jonathan Turley's pro-polygamy article in the October 4 USA Today to underscore the need for a constitutional amendment.
Many Catholics took issue with Senator John Kerry's remarks during Wednesday night's presidential debate on Catholic faith and how that faith informs and instructs his public service. Out at National Review Online Mark Brumley asks, if faith affects his position on some issues, why not abortion? GetReligion's Jeremy Lott has fun imagining the conundrum two fictional Washington Post reporters have parsing Kerry's statements and fitting them into the larger election story. Amy Welborn quotes the debate's transcript on abortion and the Supreme Court with minimal comment (the quotes are that good).
Mark Brumley (mentioned once already above) has published on the weblog of Ignatius Press (he is its president) a more sustained commentary on the need for Catholics to privilege issues of life in this election.
Julia Duin reports that two liberal organizations, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Interfaith Alliance, want Kerry and the Democrats to stop using church services to stage political rallies (requires registration).
Finally, on a whimsical note (sort of), Eric Scheske of Godspy ponders contemporary America's penchant for multi-tasking, his own temptation to juggle phone calls, e-mails, and web downloads, and the need to pay attention to our loss of attention to one task (and one person) at a time.
JEWS & REPUBLICANS
I always look forward to and enjoy the regular “Forward” articles of David Klinghoffer. His most recent one, The Disputation: Voting Against Our Own Interests, examines a Pew study on the voting habits of American Jews, which shows that between “2000 and 2004, Jewish support for the Democratic Party has solidified dramatically, rising by 21%. That's up from 47% percent when Bush was elected, to 68% percent this year.”
Klinghoffer admits, “I was bewildered by these facts until I noticed another set of statistics in the Pew study, reporting the results when respondents were asked if religion is important to their political thinking.”
According to that same set of Pew statistics,
Between 1992 and 2004, on the question of religion's relevance to politics, the members of every religious affiliation either became more convinced that faith illuminates the way society should govern itself, or stayed static (up or down by one or two percentage points). That is, every group but Jews. In 1992, 48% of Jewish respondents felt that Judaism has something important to say about politics. By 2004, the figure had dropped by 15 percentage points, to 33%.
Klinghoffer’s prediction on the basis of this trend?
If Judaism is a deeply conservative religion, then the trajectory of American Jews means they are in full flight from the obvious political ramifications of their own heritage.
If Jews are running from the political meaning of Judaism, this likely has to do with the widening philosophic gap between the two major political parties. This election year nobody is saying, as they did in the past, that a Republican is a Democratic is a Republican is a Democratic. Probably the discomfort of religiously identified Jews in looking their religion in the face is a constant of modern times. But as it becomes more obvious that the Republican Party does the better job of embodying Jewish values, the Jews will gravitate increasingly to the Democrats.
Klinghoffer correctly regards this trend as a bitter irony and comments that “Jewish history is full of such ironies, as anyone who knows the Bible will tell you.”
It is not only an irony, however. Let me reluctantly suggest that it is also a tragedy. There is a real culture war in progress in this country, and the Democratic Party, being on the wrong side of it, continues to endanger its own future. If American Jews also end up on the wrong side, they may lose more than their past.
NYT REPORT ON ABP. CHAPUT MISLEADING:
It appears a recent story in the New York Times truncated quotes from Abp. Charles J. Chaput of Denver, making him appear a Republican partisan. A Mere Comments reader points us to a Catholic News Agency story where Abp. Chaput's statements to the NYT(which a diocesan official helpfully recorded) are given better care. A complete transcript of the Chaput/NYT interview has been posted on the weblog of Ignatius Press.
MORE ON REAL LIFE
A response to Mr. Wiley's comment as well as the earlier post:
My Grandmother passed about four years ago. She was old Italian lady who, as a child of that era rarely spoke the language until later in life. When she became a great grandmother and her health began to deteriorate we all came to know a whole new woman.
Sure the Grandmother I knew was there being led around by a toddler who was her Great Grandchild, but there was so much more. As her health declined she turned outward. She now sang to her Great Grand kids the old traditional Italian Hymns and would light up in their presence.
Her eyesight was nearly gone and as she got older, her legs failed her, and she couldn't do stairs as a result her male grandsons would gather round and carry her wheelchair up and down the stairs as if a queen on her throne when traveled to family functions (which she insisted on).
We were so very fortunate that my Aunt and Uncle kept her in her own home until the end, all of us grand kids and her great grand kids got to share her twilight and the way she left this life...as she lived it on her terms. We saw her several times a week from the days when she was strong and healthy to the days she was strong but not so healthy.
The great Maryknoll missionary Rev. William Cummings who ministered to the dying in Japanese P.O.W. camps, where he himself died, said that when someone nears the end they are closer to God than we can ever be until we reach that point. He considered it a privilege as should we.
WENDELL BERRY ON “ECONOMIC WMDs”:
If you’ve never been unsettled by the writing of Wendell Berry, the agarian prophet’s latest essay for Orion, Compromise, Hell!, will do the trick.
NORTH KOREAN MARTYRS
This is just in from the Forum 18 News Service:
Thursday 14 October 2004
NORTH KOREA: CHRISTIANS MURDERED, SOURCES STATE
A North Korean army general who become a Christian was, after he had begun to evangelize in his unit, shot dead by another senior army officer in 2003, Protestant sources have told Forum 18 News Service. Other known Christians are in some cases martyred by being shot, or are imprisoned. The sentence is dependent upon the situation. Forum 18 knows of the execution and torture of Christians continuing, but has not been able to establish if followers of other religions have suffered similarly. North Korean Protestants are said to be "very, very strong believers", resisting material inducements in prison to recant their faith, but when they stubbornly refuse to recant they are then shot. The state is said to be watching the increase in contacts between North Korea and the rest of the world "very carefully", and "false believers" may be used by the authorities to contact missionaries in humanitarian aid initiatives. Details of sources cannot be revealed by Forum 18, for fear of reprisals against them.
Earlier this year I heard testimony in Washington DC from a North Korean woman, a former government employee, about the persecution of Christians in that country. She had been in prison herself. A Fact Sheet from that meeting notes, among other things:
--At least 200,000 North Korean citizens, including children—are being held in prison camps.
--When Christians are discovered, they and their families (often to the fourth generation) are killed outright or sent to prison camp.
--In camps, Christians are constantly pressured to renounce their faith, even as they are worked to death. Forced to do particularly dangerous work, they are subject to frequent torture and abuse.
--Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of North Koreans have fled and are hiding in China, often in caves and constantly on the move, China puts a price on the refugee’s heads—penalizing Chinese citizens who offer food, shelter, or any sort of aid to North Korean refugees and rewarding those who give information leading to their capture.
--Although China knows that returning these poor refugees to North Korea guarantees their imprisonment, torture, and possible death, it continues to repatriate them in violation of the international agreements that it has signed.
--North Korean refugees caught in China are led back across the border with wire cables through their noses or hands.
Let us not forget to remember daily our brothers and sisters throughout the world who bear the cross.
Some recommended Websites for North Korea:
Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights
Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights
US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
WEB ROUNDUP October 13, 2004:
The Weekly Standard’s Rachel DiCarlo tells us that “despite what he said in last week’s debate, John Kerry’s record shows that he is for partial-birth abortion, and against parental notification.” Surprise, surprise.
Everything you ever wanted to know about the Supreme Court and the pair of Ten Commandments cases they accepted yesterday (including links to every article and comment under the internet sun) can be found out at Christianity Today’s weblog.
Harvard wants to be the first to clone humans in the U.S., applying to its ethical review board for permission to use the cloned people’s body parts in biomedical research.
African-American pastors, concerned about the rise of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and elsewhere, are taking steps away from the Democratic Party, if ever so gradually. Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson and John Kerry pled with black church members to ignore the political party that shares their traditional convictions.
A group of Protestant ethicists oppose President Bush’s alleged convergence of God, church, and nation and what they call his “theology of war”. Richard Hays of Duke, George Hunsinger of Princeton, Glen Stassen of Fuller, and Jim Wallis of Sojourners have published Confessing Christ in a World of Violence.
A committee of the European Parliament has rejected Rocco Buttiglione, an Italian philosophy professor, to be its Commissioner on Justice and Home Affairs. It seems Mr. Buttiglione has traditional views on homosexual marriage and is rumored to be a friend of the pope. He is the first commissioner nominee ever to be rejected. Go here to read The Wall Street Journal Europe’s insights on the matter.
Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Roger Kimball has more on the death of Jacques Derrida.
REAL LIFE: RESPONSE TO MIRACULOUS LIFE
Don Wiley, husband of Julie Loesch Wiley (who is coming to speak at our conference on the family next week, responds to my post yesterday about my sister:
Yes, life is not a television show. Can't wrap it up in 30 or 60 minute blocks. Thirty some years for Janice. My family has some living experience with a 90-year-old paterfamilias here. (Julianne's Father, Edward.)
He's blind, having lost his sight when he was 60 something. His mind is not what it once was, but he still has some amazing moments of lucidity – even wit. A lifelong lover of using the right word, though he struggles sometimes, if we take time to listen, he can get it said.
He needs a lot of care - move from bed to chair to toilet, diapers and all that. It's 24/7.
He bears all this with unfailing grace and good cheer. He never complains and is grateful for even the smallest kindnesses; a plate of fresh baked cookies or a hot cup of fresh brewed coffee. He delights in giving - the other morning he fished out a granola bar from his treat drawer and asked me to give it to his daughter.
But, before we married, my wife and I agreed that this is how we would do the last years of our parents. We also committed to home school.
So, we have two good boys plus two adults here 24/7 to care for the old man. (Well, I do work outside, but we have a helper who visits daily.) There are so many blessings off this - not the least of which is having my boys get the chance to exercise the virtues of compassion and charity on their Grandy 24/7.
It's not a lot of fun, being waked up at 3 a.m. by Grandy bellowing for a cup of Sanka, but it becomes a thread of the tapestry.
And my sons get hands on about real life at it's end; about serving, because it is the right thing to do. I think I could leave no better inheritance.
This is real life, real family life and love. If I may add a bit more to a personal “tapestry,” as Don put it:
One of my boyhood memories is of the adult men in our extended family carrying my great-grandmother Helen in a chair up the stairs of one of her daughter's houses. She died quietly one evening sitting in a chair in my grandmother's living room.
It was a living room in which I spent nearly every Sunday afternoon of my youth, one crawling with noisy cousins and a grandmother who spoke 268 words a minute in nearly undecipherable pure Scotch brogue. (I think for that reason I decided to study Latin in high school, rather than add a third
living language.) Grandma Meg always smiled, and talked, and laughed—and knit.
She could knit in her sleep. Every time a friend, a daughter, a cousin, a fourth cousin, the milkman, the mayor, and so on had a baby, it seems she produced a sweater, a blanket, or something. My two grandsons, Thomas and Andrew, who are now living downstairs in our first floor apartment, have been wearing two sweaters that Meg knit for my oldest son and daughter back in 1974. Handmade things like this (sometimes even meals) are rare.
Meg died early for her family (84), and she passed away in a hospital bed in her own living room, the same one I just mentioned. The day before she died (in March 1979), my wife and I and our first three kids went to pay her a visit. She was, obviously, ill and dying, but you would hardly have known it. She certainly didn’t seem to fear death.
What I most remember about the visit was how she asked that we put our son John, who was nearly 18 months but still on the small side (premature birth), on the bed with her so she could hold him. She not only held him, while reclining on her back (the bed slightly elevated), she picked him up with both her arms and with those same ever-knitting hands lifted him up in the air, looking in his smiling face while broadly smiling herself and repeating, “Hi, John! Hi, John!” It was as if he was her own child—which he was in a very real sense.
Meg always welcomed new life with gifts, and joy. Here, near her end, she saw the future in the young baby and took pleasure in his presence. Now that I think about it, and my sister Janice, I have to add that Meg was particularly protective even welcoming of the ailing Janice.
My own immediate family had to face a particularly daunting task several years ago, when our daughter-in-law Jennifer was advised to abort her baby, her fourth, because of a severe, life-threatening birth defect. That is a whole new story, which I won’t go into, but I will say that that baby, Abigail, will be celebrating her 5th birthday next month, and she is doing just fine.
Finally, I couldn’t help but being struck by something while we drove to the cemetery two days ago. We traveled the same road up through central Michigan that our family took every summer to vacation up North. I remember looking from time to time at the back of Dad’s head during those 5-hour trips, with him sitting there in the driver’s seat taking us North.
I don’t know what the word is for what I felt two days ago, but there I was, now driving my 83-year-old dad up North along the very same roads, passing farms, fields, and the forests that were already turning gold, red, orange, and brown in the bright October sun. He asked me from time to time if I remembered the name of a particular small town that we were passing. Sometimes I did and I said so. I wonder what it felt like for him to be looking at the back of my head while I sat in the driver’s seat.
KERRY IN LATIN:
Here is something for your Latinists. Latinizers. Latin snobs. Whatever. Michael Foley, author of an exegesis of Groundhog Day titled Phil's Shadow, responding to my October editorial Unimposing Kerry, writes:
I was thinking that your tag, "Values I Cannot Impose on Others," deserves to take on a life of its own. It could be called VICIO for short, which, interestingly enough, makes it resemble a Latin verb in the first person singular. Though there is no such verb as "Vicio" in Latin, "Vicis" does mean change or alteration (hence our word, "vicissitude"), so perhaps "vicio" could be translated as "I flip-flop." Coincidence?
IT’S A MIRACULOUS LIFE
When I heard about the passing of Christopher Reeve yesterday at 52, I thought about my sister Janice. She died at 35 and I had just returned yesterday from a visit to her grave in central Michigan. I had not been to the cemetery since the funeral nine years ago.
While in Michigan visiting my parents with my wife and son, I drove us all to the cemetery, about 2 hours from my parent’s home. They aren’t able to go there very often, but try to go near my sister’s birthday, which is today.
Janice was born with a congenital heart condition that was supposed to have killed her before her fifth birthday. The doctors told my mother not to expect her to live. A specialist in downtown Detroit instructed her not to hope for a miracle, because miracles do not happen.
Our family practitioner, who paid house calls, on the other hand, said he had seen many miracles of healing in his many years of practicing medicine, so “don’t give up hope.” She grew slowly as a girl, one side of her body a little less developed than the other. I remember a few times she would pass out, grow limp and begin to turn blue after a hard fall as a toddler, and my mother would cradle her and press her and shake her to get her to wake up.
Janice was never healed, but she was a fighter. She attended public school, graduated high school, went to college and earned a degree in social work. She chose social work because the head of the nursing program told her she couldn’t physically handle nursing. After she ended up working in a nursing home as a aide, she decided she could handle nursing, went back to school and received her R.N. some time later.
In her teens she had surgery, and again in her twenties and thirties. She was told by well-meaning people that she would never marry, and certainly never bear children. But she did marry in 1990, though she and her loving husband did not have children. In a sense, she did not need children, for she was without question the favorite aunt of her many nephews and nieces.
She was loved by them greatly, and by her siblings, and cousins, because she had the gift of the joy of life. While she did struggle with depression at times, underneath she seemed to have an unlimited solicitude for the welfare of her family and friends. Each person felt as if Janice was a special friend. You simply felt that she was happy to be with you and alive.
Mom stood at Janice’s grave yesterday and reminded me that no one thought Janice would make it at all, and that we were all blessed to have her for as long as we did. I think she can be proud of Janice despite the handicaps and the many anxieties we faced along the way as she entered hospitals for her various surgeries.
Her attitude and especially Janice’s seem to me to be in stark contrast to the politically motivated remarks made of late about the imperative of killing more embryos so that Christopher Reeve would walk again.
Perhaps in the future some procedure may be developed that might have prolonged my sister’s life, but that’s not the point. Her life was rich and full because she knew each day was a gift, and she found, through her own struggles and searching, a supreme joy in something that all the sick need, and something not needed by those who consider themselves healthy. Spiritually, that is.
In her later years she developed a piety that centered itself on the gift of our Lord in the Holy Communion, something that brought her deeper and deeper into the catholic faith. She understood something stronger than all the diseases of man and mightier than the mortality that claims the young and the old. She knew the truth the Lord spoke about: how those who would partake of the Body and Blood of Christ would be raised up at the last day and have eternal life.
In the early Church, the Lord’s Supper was called the “medicine of immortality” (Ignatius of Antioch, in the first century). This is the healing that the Old Testament prophets promised would come to man, a healing of man's mortality, not simply his diseases. The physical healings Jesus performed were, after all, signs of the true healing. Those whom he healed still, in the end, died, but in the hope of the resurrection.
It is sad when any one, such as Christopher Reeve, fails to avail himself of Christ’s gift of eternal life, and places all his hope in the advances of medical science at any cost. Janice knew this, and because of it, her life was as full as it could be. She was dedicated to the healing arts (and a scholarship for nursing was established by her husband in her name), as a Christian, who also respected the moral limitations under which we must operate, and respected the sanctity of human life. While it is right for Christians to advance in the medical sciences and seek to heal, it is not right to heal by killing new life.
Janice's life was a miracle, all the more, because she accepted an even greater miracle by which we shall be raised to life everlasting. Happy birthday, Janice.
CATHOLICS & KERRY:
It seems the dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame, Mark W. Roche, while acknowledging Republican superiority on abortion and embryo-destructive research, believes “Democrats are close to the Catholic position on the death penalty, universal health care, and environmental protection,” and argues that a President Kerry will reduce abortion more effectively than a second Bush Administration. Touchstone senior editor, Robert George, and Gerald Bradley of the Notre Dame law school think not and tell readers of National Review Online why.
Meanwhile, the New York Times tattles on a Group of Bishops Using Influence to Oppose Kerry. Some comments on this story by sometime Touchstone contributor Terry Mattingly out at his GetReligion.
WEB ROUNDUP October 11, 2004:
— In an article for National Review Online, Robert George, a senior editor of Touchstone, writes about Senator Kerry’s cruelly misleading statements on embryo-destructive stem cell research. And, from The Washington Post, Leon Kass of the University of Chicago details President Bush’s pro-embryo (i.e., pro-human) policies and dispels the president’s obfuscating opponents with the facts.
— Attorney General John Ashcroft has challenged recent rulings by two federal judges overturning the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. The Weekly Standard reports on three late-term abortionists and their donations to the presidential campaign of John Kerry. Also, Christian Today has more on a troubling development in Britain: that government's support of late-term abortions for its young expectant mothers via a back-alley clinic in Spain.
— The Family Research Council (FRC) has published a report on the current Congress, which documents its legislative record on the family. The free FRC report is available for download (.pdf format), or in html, or via e-mail or regular mail.
— Finally, If Death Means Anything, Scrappleface’s amusing take on the demise of Jacques Derrida, the French father of Deconstruction.
DO COME TO PRAY AND STAY:
Here is another reason to come to our conference, Praying and Staying Together, which starts on the evening of Thursday, October 21st, two Thursdays hence. You will have a chance to talk more intimately with some of the speakers in the two breakout sessions:
1) Juli Loesch Wiley and J. Budziszewski, “Human Fertility and Christian Identity”
2) Thomas Howard and Frederica Mathewes-Green, “The Liturgical Home”
3) Vigen Guroian and Kevin Offner, “In Loco Parentis: College for Christians”
4) “Rod Dreher and David Mills, “How to Discern Gold on the Silver Screen”
1) Thomas Howard and Kevin Offner, “Choosing and ‘Dating’: Courting Disaster?”
2) Frederica Mathewes-Green and Rod Dreher, “Minding the Media”
3) J. Budziszewski and Vigen Guroian, “Bedtime Reading for Parent and Child”
4) Juli Loesch Wiley and Leon Podles, “The Christian in the Home School”
You’ll notice that we’ve added some speakers to the five people who are giving the major addresses. They’ll both be offering two breakout sessions.
— Juli Loesch Wiley is a writer, a home-schooling mother, and a longtime pro-life activist. She wrote The Delightful Secrets of Sex for the January/Feburary 2004 issue. Some of her writing can be found at the Caelum et Terra site. She is Catholic.
— Kevin Offner, who is a contributing editor, works for InterVarsity Fellowship among graduate students in Washington, D.C., while working on a doctorate at Catholic University. His articles for us — he has one in the hopper now — include “Neanderthals Aren't Cool.” Kevin is a Presbyterian.
To balance out the numbers, Leon Podles and I will both be helping with one session. Leon Podles is a senior editor of Touchstone and David Mills is the editor (I would say “I” but we need something long enough here to make a visible link).
As I have written, I think you will find this a very good conference: edifying and enjoyable, encouraging and . . . sorry, ran out of e words. Do come.
CHRISTOPHER REEVE, in pace requiescat
This morning, when I learned of his passing away, I prayed the De Profundis for Christopher Reeve, claimed at last by that Final Enemy, the eschatos echthros (1 Corinthians 15:26) that all of us must, in due course, confront one way or another.
Mr. Reeve had been on my mind more than usual over the past few days. In the presidential debate last Friday night, Senator Kerry appealed to "my friend Chris Reeve" by way of arguing his own case for the governmental support of human embryonic stell stem research. Reeve's name came up again the following evening when Cal Thomas spoke of both him and Michael J. Fox, who has also recently contributed his own support for Senator Kerry, likewise seeking governmental support for human embryonic stem cell research.
Cal Thomas asked what I think is the question most prejudicial to the efforts of these two men in this respect: What makes the life of Christopher Reeve or Michael J. Fox more important than other human lives? What is there so special about these two actors that renders their existence, even their well-being, of greater worth than the lives of the embryos that they want to be created and exploited on their behalf? What justifies the killing of very small and helpless human beings so that the tissue of their flesh can be used to improve the lot of men like Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox?
Indeed, if a society can be persuaded to place so diminished a value on helpless human lives, why should such a society care one whit for the reduced existence of Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox? Why should they receive a preference that the Florida Supreme Court recently denied to Terri Schiavo? Putting it plainly, wherein is the life of Terri Schiavo found wanting except that she somehow failed to be a movie star?
These are the questions on my mind today, as I consider the passing away of Christopher Reeve. His nefarious political activism causes me to think of him very differently from those who recall him chiefly as an actor and movie director, or even as a man of great courage and dedication.
Christopher Reeve's desperate, Promethean striving for renewed strength during the final decade of his life, when his relentless brain remained as the only fully functioning organ of his wasted body, resembled nothing so much as the supreme trial of an Ubermensch far superior to the rest of men. He became a very strange and ironic embodiment of the Superman part for which he is most readily recalled. Perhaps, the title of his best known book sums it up, Still Me.
My prayer for Christopher Reeve today is sincere: "Despise not, O Lord, the work of Thy hands."
DECEMBER 28, 1953
While rummaging through an antique store in Holly, Michigan, I found (and purchased) a copy of Life magazine (dated above). What drew me to the cover was a color mosaic of Virgin and Child (appropriate for the time of year), from the interior of a dome of the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice.
The headline on the cover reads: Four Great Protestant and Catholic Churches, which turn out to be the Cathedral of Ulm (Lutheran), the second largest church in Germany, St. Mark’s, the Cathedral of Wells (Church of England), and the Cathedral of Bourges. An interior 16-page color spread takes the 1953-reader inside these churches. All this in a secular magazine.
The editorial is on “The Uses of Piety.” “All men share it, Christians should practice it with confidence and care.” It begins:
Many a sermon this month has deplored the kidnapping of Christmas. It has been stolen in broad daylight from the churches by the stores, from private joy by public revelry and commerce. To ransom Christmas, wash its face and nurse it back to its rightful significance in the church calendar is of course a task for Christians alone. Their faith, and only theirs, can make Christmas a religious holiday again. And by faith we mean not special altar cloths, nor seasonal feeling of community brotherhood, but a nearly incredulous gratitude and amazement that God could so love this world that He sent us His only begotten Son.
It goes on to shift into making Christmas into something that can be appreciated by all, threading its way through comments on general piety, even the “piety we should all like to feel toward the United Nations” (!)
You can see the roots and blossoms of secularism all over here, in the golden 50s. It’s especially there right in the first paragraph: “private joy.” Religion, you see, is supposed to be private. The public square is for the rest. Even then, the removal of the Nativity from the public park was beginning. The public cleansing continues.
PAYING FOR YOUR MEAL
Recently I asked the president of a conservative Protestant theological seminary how much support his school received from the churches pastored by its graduates. He seemed a bit embarrassed by what he had to tell me--the figure was very low. As I recall, the school received support from about twenty percent of them--the very places that reap the heaviest fruit of their labor and from which one would expect the most grateful response.
Let me say at the outset of these remarks that this is far from universal among conservative Protestants, but my experience indicates it is very common. The Evangelical churches I have attended all supported a great many missionaries, but not a single one had any kind of programmed giving to seminaries or seminarians. If you decided to go into that kind of work, you were pretty much on your own, which usually meant letting the wife work (during her prime child-bearing years), and taking out student loans which upon graduation one began to repay from a salary upon which a family could barely live, even without the subtraction.
Is this a scandal? Perhaps, but there are mitigating considerations. For one thing, nearly all these churches had distant roots in others with a learned ministry, and from which they had learned to be suspicious of theological academies. (By a "learned ministry" I mean one that can read the scriptures in the original languages, and whose own discourse and judgments are informed by a level of knowledge, and tempered by the mental discipline, recognizable as such by learned people in other fields.) One need only observe how many schools were founded and endowed to support a well-educated, orthodox ministry, and how many of those are doing that today. People are rightly suspicious of throwing good money after bad, and missionaries give, as the seminary president observed, quick results.
This must also be said: few of the churches I have attended were, despite their professions to the contrary, interested in learned pastors. If the minister had managed to get himself educated it wasn't held against him unless he talked over people's heads. What was desired was a popular preacher who called on people and "grew the church." The Doctor of Ministry degree was a godsend that boiled everybody's pot. It gave the church a pastor it could call doctor without a major change in the difficulty of the sermons. The minister got the title without the labor and terror of an academic degree or the shame of a diploma from a school that gives credit for Life Experience. The school got the money.
In such churches it became clear to the brightest young men that the pastorate was not where the first-rate men went. The most respected man (and the richest) in the congregation was the medical doctor, if it happened to have one. The pastor was hired by the board principally to be the most religious man in a congregation, and of course, for this one doesn't need much training. If one wished to get educated as a sort of hobby, like model railroading or horseshoe pitching, that was fine, but there was no reason to expect the church to pay for it. People who wish to be pastors of churches like this should be forewarned: it's probably not a good idea to put your future in hock for this kind of congregation. Go to a cheap little Bible school, get out of it as fast as you can, and do your learning on the side. Don't worry, the people in your congregation don't know the difference between a diploma from Westminster or West Minister's, and don't care. When you reach your forties, you can go back for a D. Min., and everybody will stay happy.
I am not at all excited about the idea of the theological seminary in the first place, principally because the seminaries have a strong tendency--I am tempted to say "invariable" tendency--to operate above and independent of the churches they are supposed to serve, developing non-pastoral academic magisteriums that have time and again shown themselves to be anchorless in the changing seas of scholarly opinion. Eventually these schools kill or abandon their churches. Here, however, I am speaking of churches that have abandoned their seminaries, that is, which gladly receive the men they have trained, profit from that training, and give little or nothing in return.
Here are some suggestions for those that have the decency to feel at least a little guilty about it:
1) Start thinking about the raising up and supporting of men in training for ministry the same way you think about missionaries. The difference is this: the prospective pastors should be men who first prove their worth in your congregation--they should be your own sons, and they should be the best of the lot. They should be much closer to your heart than the missionary who is supported by many congregations, for the cost of their training will be high, and most of it will be borne by you. Do not think the missionary is giving you "more for your money," for the missionaries cannot survive without strong local ministries, to which the pastor is the key.
2) You are skeptical about theological seminaries? You have good reason to be, but that is no excuse for cultivating a ministry that, in a culture that respects learning, cannot gain a respectful hearing from all its members. (The desideratum of a learned ministry should not be based on a yearning for status, but in the fact that the deeper and wider a man becomes, the more people he can speak to. A learned man can think the thoughts and speak the tongue of the simple, but the reverse is not true.) Support only the schools whose faculties guard their faith--they deserve your support, and are crying for it.
This means you must be constantly vigilant--that your official board must actively interest itself in the schools you support. Apostasizing academies are run by very clever people who are notoriously skilled at hiding their defections from their supporters--at making them think they are teaching what the school was founded to teach, when they aren't. So the leaders of the churches must be willing to go behind public-relations appearances, pay unannounced visits to the classes, test the administration's transparency, in short, make regular, serious, close-up studies on these schools, report problems, and be willing to cut back or eliminate support when necessary. A great many seminaries won't like this. Dump them. It's time the tail quit wagging the dog. No school should expect, as a kind of Divine Right of Smart People, the support of churches whose beliefs they have abandoned because something in the wind has given them to know better. Remember that other Smart People share your convictions. Switch your support over to them and don't feel guilty about it.
3) Meditate on what changes in ministry would have to take place among you to develop pastors for whom the apostolic dictum, "Obey those who have rule over you, and submit to them, for they watch for your souls as those who must give an account . . . " doesn't sound like a bit of a joke as applied to your incumbent. What sort of man can credibly carry the burden, if not the title, of Father? God's grace often gives us better than we deserve in this regard, but also animates proverbs like "You get what you pay for."