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

E-mail your comments

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


Saturday, November 13


Last week I listened to the new CD-recording of our recent Touchstone conference on the family, specifically to the breakout session with David Mills and Rod Dreher on films. (You can order this set on our site.) Rod recommended "Triumph of the Will." I knew that I had seen bits of it from time to time, but I suspected I had never seen the whole thing through. It’s the film Adolph Hitler arranged to be made of the 1934 Nuremburg Nazi Rally.

As a piece of propaganda, it’s a classic, of course. I watched it with my 14-year-old son, Paul. He said it must have taken a lot of money to make this film. But I pointed out to him they needed only to pay the cameramen, the filmmaker, editor, and for the film, mostly. These were no actors. The rally was going to happen anyway and they decided to film it. You are watching real history, I told him, in the sense that this rally occurred, although the whole thing, was of course a staged event, like a movie, and powerful event. The "Triumph of the Will" was something that could be shown throughout Germany. Nowadays, some films become cultural events in themselves; where is the line between filming the real and staging reality?

It is sobering to watch hundreds of thousands people, including civilian men and women and children, giving the Nazi salute. For days and nights, the spectacle went on, a secular show of force and determination. One must, of course, understand the circumstances in which such a turn of affairs took place, though that was hard for my son to understand, and there is nothing in it that I really want to see as "understandable." What turned out to be Chapter Two in an insane and horrific European World War is still not rational, though one can explain the forces that gave rise to it.

Paul wanted to situate this within his own context, so he asked what year it was, and how much later did the Nazis start the war, and what year did grandma and grandpa get married. He was startled when I said grandpa was 13 when the film was made and that by the time he was 21 he started his tour of duty against Hitler: after training in the U. S., through North Africa, Sicily, then to Monte Cassino, then Anzio, Rome, the Po Valley, and St. Tropez on the south coast of France.

Toward the end of the my father was at Lanenburg (I am uncertain of the spelling as I write) a small town in southern Germany, where he shot down a Nazi flag off a building and scooped it up ahead of his slower buddies. A couple of years ago that very flag was brought down from Dad’s attic in Michigan and spread out for Paul to look at. He remembers the flag well, and when he saw a multitude of Nazi flags in the film he wondered if grandpa should have burned it. I told him it was of historical significance. I remember opening a box in the attic of my home in Detroit when I was Paul’s age and younger and seeing the flag, along with a few other souvenirs of Dad’s European vacation, including a Nazi armband.

I think of the many veterans who are still alive, and the many who have passed on; they were brought to our national attention a couple of days ago on Veterans Day. I meant no disrespect in calling Dad’s service a vacation: it was hardly anything like that, of course. He saw plenty of blood and guts on the beach at Anzio and elsewhere. He was unable to return home to see his wife from the time he set foot in North Africa until after V-J Day. The only leave he ever got was after V-E Day. On V-E Day, when he heard the news of Germany’s surrender, he told me, he was loading German prisoners of war on to a truck about 11 miles from the Austrian border.

He said that there was an opportunity then to visit a nearby German concentration camp, and some of his buddies went; he didn’t. He still wonders if he should have, just to see with his own eyes something that nobody would want their eyes to see. What he would have seen, and what his buddies told him about, was the final diabolic fruit of the devouring triumph of the will, grown from seeds sown on bright days and dark nights in open fields and in the streets of Nuremburg in 1934.

7:57 AM


Reader Michael Polinski responds to yesterday's "Can I Explain?":

This recent article shows how the homosexual agenda is already working its way into schools. If "gay" marriage is legal, Texas won't be able to do what they did.

One reason, and a big reason, why churches haven't been forced to yield to the legislative and judicial decisions listed by your correspondent is that freedom of religion and association are specifically protected in the 1st amendment to the Constitution and in, I believe, all state constitutions.

However, we saw four years ago how precarious the right of association is when the Boy Scouts barely won their Supreme Court case not to allow homosexual scout masters in a 5-4 decision.

Second, most of the activities your correspondent mentions takes place within the body of the church, which has the aforementioned protections, at least, for now.

The public school has no such standing. It is the creation of the state and it is open to all and therefore must be welcoming to all, including homosexual students, staff, and parents.

If "gay" marriage becomes legal, not teaching what the state officially approves and awards with benefits as good, normal, etc. would be seen by much of the public and certainly most of our courts as blatantly discriminatory and illogical. It would also be, in the lingo of the day, oh so very intolerant and un-inclusive.

Third, many in education support the homosexual agenda, and the Supreme Court has ruled that neither students nor teachers lose their freedom of speech at school. For evidence of this look at the spread of the gay-straight alliances. They're in high schools and even middle schools, moving soon to an elementary school near you and me and your correspondent.

This is all done with the aid of teachers and administrators and appears to be receiving no visible or successful resistance. For another example, at the Chicago Lab School, children are forced to review a homosexual children's book called King and King. According to this column (only abstract available online), no opt-out or alternative books were allowed. If I remember the column correctly, little to no parental notice was given. So, I agree with you and Touchstone that if "gay" marriage becomes legal, schools will become the main inculcator forcing acceptance of this new dogma on us through our children. And for those who resist . . . perhaps they'll be the main enforcer. Much is at risk.

5:59 AM

Friday, November 12


Two high-level Presbyterian Church (USA) employees have been fired in the aftermath of their taking part in a controversial meeting with a representative of Hezbollah, a group blamed for murdering hundreds of Americans and Israelis.
The full article can be found at The Layman Online.

4:33 PM


A number of Evangelicals have been carrying on dialogues with the leaders of the Mormon Church and senior religion faculty at Brigham Young University on a range of doctrinal issues

According to Craig Hazen, director of the Master of Arts program at Biola University, this Sunday evening (November 14) Ravi Zacharias, Christian teacher and evangelist, will be speaking in the Mormon Tabernacle in Temple Square in Salt Lake City. This is the first time that a non-Mormon has spoken in this building since D.L. Moody did over 100 years ago.

Also included in the program are:
Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Seminary
David Neff, Editor of Christianity Today Magazine
Craig Blomberg, Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary
Joseph Tkach, Pastor General of the World Wide Church of God
Greg Johnson, Director of Standing Together Ministries in Utah
And Craig Hazen.

The Salt Lake City Tribune, according to Dr. Hazen, has reported that 9,000 tickets to the event are all but gone.

2:42 PM


Contributing Editor Russell Moore writes about an interesting discovery of
real "Hobbits"

I was forced to rub my eyes, shake my head, and check once again that I was reading the Associated Press, and not a supermarket tabloid. But there it was, originally announced in Nature magazine and soon likewise plastered across the pages of newspapers and magazines around the world.

Archaeologists discovered the remains of these little people on the Indonesian island of Flores. They named them Homo floresiensis, but they were quickly nicknamed "Hobbits." on an Indonesian island.
There are two things that interest me about this story. The first is that, once again, ideas about human origins and development of civilization have to be reconsidered.

But secondly, more fascinating to me, is this: “For hundreds of years local Indonesian legends have told of cave-dwelling little people on the islands, legends scientists ignored as ignorant superstition.” And this: scientists claim these “hobbits” died out 13,000 years ago. So two things: oral tradition has much more staying power than moderns like to admit, and might just be right oftentimes. And if you don't buy that, then you have to consider that maybe the dating is just way off, and then you have to reconsider the scenarios, once again.

This reminds of the NOVA program aired on PBS this week that reported the DNA evidence that the Objiway Indians of the Great Lakes region (sometimes called Chippewa) have genetic markers from European, in addition to Asian, populations. The European DNA is not from French trappers. Based on the rate that DNA/genetic markers develop, the European DNA came to North America about 15,000 years ago. That should set some anthropologists redrawing their maps and rewriting chapters in textbooks.

1:27 PM


In you live in New York City, you might be interested in this:

November 16 webcast set at Trinty Church to examine role of religion in 2004 election

[ENS, New York] “God is not a Republican--or a Democrat” is the theme for a forum and live webcast set for 7pm Eastern Time on Tuesday, November 16, at Trinity Church, Broadway at Wall Street, New York City. Presented by both Trinity Church and New York's Riverside Church, the forum will be webcast at

Set to examine the role of religion in the 2004 presidential election, the forum will pose the question “Are we a nation divided by religion?”

Trinity Church -- led by rector James H. Cooper and one of the nation's most historic Episcopal parishes -- will welcome five speakers for the forum, to be moderated by Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine. Speakers also include the Rev. Dr. Jim Forbes of the Riverside Church, the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson of the Reformed Church in America, Rev. Bryan Hehir of Catholic Charities, and Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“American voters revealed moral values to be the deciding factor in this year's election, and the result may be a nation dangerously divided,” a forum brochure states. “This unique interdenominational discussion will explore the extraordinary role played by religion in presidential politics this year.”

To reserve a seat or obtain additional information contact Trinity Church at 212.602.0871.
God is not an American, either. I think the “deeply divided” and “dangerously divided” rhetoric a bit overblown. For a long time in this country there have substantial portions of the population pro-life and pro-abortion, for example.

I am wondering if, just like it seems to have happened in the Episcopal Church and other mainline churches, (which has faced the same cultural divisions), that whenever conservatives flex a bit of muscle, the charge of divisiveness becomes louder.

In the country as a whole, who is being divisive: those who refuse to give in to pressure from a minority to redefine marriage, an institution with the deepest of roots in human culture, tradition, and psychology-or those insisting that the views of the traditional majority be ignored?

Like parents who draw a line and say, this is too far, conservatives on these issues of abortion and homosexuality will always be called divisive, hateful, mean, and uncaring for not letting the others get their way. It's the attitude one gets from his teenage children when they want the rules to change. Sometimes love means having to say to an appeal, “Sorry.” Particular when it's on a very important matter, and marriage itself and human life in the womb are not matters that admit to a variety of interpretations, all equally valid. Sometimes division over issues is legitimate, and compromise wrong, immoral.

(This all reminds me that our cover article for our December issue is called “The Divine Divider.” It's written by Addison Hart, and it's a biblical exposition of the portrait of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew. You really should subscribe or get someone a gift subscription if you haven't already done so.)

10:35 AM


Going back before the election, I find response to something I had written on October 28 (My Big Fat Single-Issue Vote). One of the things at stake, I wrote, in our voting choices was the "defense of marriage as a man-woman institution. With the acceptance of gay-marriage as a constitutional right, public schools eventually will have to accept this redefinition of marriage and teach it. The traditional view will be termed “religious doctrine” and ruled as unsuitable for public schools, and perhaps considered as “hate speech.”

A reader responded:

Can you explain how the legalization of gay marriage will force "public schools [to have] to accept this redefinition of marriage and teach it" and how "[t]he traditional view will be ... considered as 'hate speech'" in light of the following facts?:

- Currently, we have laws that forbid discrimination based on race and creed, yet religious denominations are free to forbid interracial and interfaith marriages with no fear of legal reprisals.

- Divorce has been legal for years, and I don't see any schools "teaching" that marrying someone and divorcing them but 51 hours later (ala Britney Spears) is the ideal manner of behavior.

- Christians are free to preach that there is no path to salvation except through Christ and that those who don't accept him are doomed to eternal damnation, yet find themselves in no legal hot water from those within the Jewish faith.
I am tempted to not comment and leave it as is, since I simply lack the time to unpack everything here and deal with it point by point in a manner I would prefer: with quotations, based on doing some research right now.

But a few comments. I would think sex-ed classes in public schools will even further legitimize homosexuality and mention gay marriage, and should the topic ever come up in social studies, sociology, or other classes, a teacher will not be free to teach that marriage is between a man and woman. The ACLU will be all over any assertions against "gay marriage" as a religious intrusion into the public sphere. This seems to me to be obvious.

With regard to what religions may forbid, I agree; I think churches will remain free to enforce their own standards of discipline, as now, refusing to marry "gays" or someone divorced under certain circumstance, (e.g., without obtaining an annulment). Membership standards of such "private organizations" and rules and disciplines should remain intact, we hope.

However, there is precedent now in countries such as Sweden and Canada which lead one to be concerned that a "hate speech" law, designed to protect minorities--based on race, ethnicity, religion, and "sexual orientation"--could threaten the right of clergy in churches, synagogues, and mosques to say that homosexual acts are immoral, based on their scriptures.

No, public schools do not teach that a 51-hour marriage is ideal behavior, but I am uncertain of the point and also note that it's unlikely many bother to teach that it isn't ideal behavior.

As to preaching the gospel, I didn't address that directly. So far it's legal. A lot will depend on how the courts turn out over the next few years in many of these matters.

9:45 AM

Thursday, November 11


One of the most puzzling, albeit clinically interesting, liberal reactions to President Bush’s re-election, has been the accusation, reported ad nauseum from places like Hollywood and New York City, that those who voted for him are stupid.

This is, of course, unreasonable, for at least two reasons. First, intelligent people, as our detractors claim to be, should be able to understand that differing convictions about the nature of reality. beginning with belief in the existence or non-existence of God, give rise to differing opinions on political issues. Unless they are willing to assert tout court that religion makes one stupid, which few of them are, then our belief in God and our traditional understanding of divine law shouldn't mark us as such. Second, and similarly, they should be able to understand and acknowledge that the disagreements historically dividing Republican from Democrat are not in themselves the product of stupidity, but reasoned differences in worldview and philosophy. This being the case, the accusation that we are stupid because of either our religion or our politics is unnecessary, hence irrational.

So why are we hearing this indictment, so often repeated in fusillades of acetic sarcasm and blasts of vitriolic fury? The hatred in it has been so strong and undisguised that those against whom it is directed feel embarrassed not for themselves, but on behalf of the exploding liberal--who after all, has always congratulated himself for his wideness of view against our bigotry and his cool use of intellect against our mindless enthusiasm. The poor chap is loosing control of his bowels in public, and this is a pitiable sight even to those at whom his rancor is directed. Why should he be so indecently exercised over our stupidity?

The modern liberal is a highly moral creature at war with morality, hence with himself and all those who re-present to him this part of himself. He suffers greatly from the charge of his opponents that he believes as he believes and votes as he votes because he is immoral. He knows the conservative accuses him, and with entire plausibility from a traditional standpoint, of transgressing two of the greatest moral laws--with fornication in the name of sexual freedom and murder in the name of reproductive rights. It is not an exaggeration to say that the liberal, who is committed to both of these but wishes to believe himself good, is tortured by these accusations, which form an armed camp around his beleaguered conscience, and take their highest iconic form in the President elected by the “red states.”

He cannot, however, plausibly accuse his accusers of immorality themselves, for this would bring him immediately into a forum where he must tilt not only against universal moral law, but his own conscience, advancing the claim that people who oppose free sex and abortion are for that reason bad, and those who support them are for that reason good. He does not believe it himself. When moral engagement appears unpromising, the only transcendental ground remaining is the realm of intellect, and the only return of the conservative’s accusation is indictment for immorality of the mind, that is, willful stupidity. This accusation is the tu quoque, the precise liberal analog of the conservative claim that the liberal is immoral. Stupidity is the only form of immorality the modern liberal can recognize.

This is why he will make much of any evidence he can find that conservatives are basically rabble, even in the face of his official confession of belief in the inestimable value of every person, the wonder of diversity, and the goodness of simplicity--especially that of black folk, country people, and the laboring man, all of whom he has a history of patronizing. Damn those rednecks! (Even if they teach at Princeton.)

At the end, this indictment for stupidity is nothing more than a slavering howl from a spiritual abyss, void of goodness, sense, and understanding. Yet, still we must caution ourselves not to be tempted to cower or capitulate when this great, empty noise puts on its doctoral gowns and struts about declaiming on our mental incapacity. No good man is overly confident of any of his virtues, and bears a conscience that is always ready to accuse him of being just what the thwarted liberal says he is--the willingness to indict himself being the principal sign of his goodness. In cases like this he must constantly remind himself to consider the source.

3:17 PM


A loyal and steady correspondent of this web site sends the following comments respecting the statistical evidence of greater generosity among Bush supporters over Kerry supporters.

Thank you for the thought-provoking comment, Generous Democrats.

I would like to point out first that the index is easily located on the web by doing a Google search on "generosity index". This allows one to investigate how meaningful the index is. I quickly found that the math used to generate the index is rather crude and unscientific, as its authors freely admit, but I agree with them also that it is useful as a very rough indicator of generosity.

But I am not sure it would impress critics such as Fr. Reardon's interlocutor at Penn State, for one reason: it includes gifts to one's church in the donations that count towards generosity. I don't have figures in front of me but I'm reasonably sure that donations to churches account for a very high percentage of all charitable giving. Active church members will typically be found to have larger amounts of charitable donations on their tax returns than non-churchgoers with similar incomes. So at one level Reardon's observations about red states and blue states tell us something we already knew: people who are active in churches are much more likely to vote for Bush than people who are not.

Let me say it was my presumption all along that the correct word to explain those statistics was "tithing." I took that fact as too obvious to be menioned. Evangelicals tihe, and Evangelicals overwhelmingly voted for Bush.

The "Generosity Index" does a nice job of refuting the claim that Republicans (or more accurately Bush voters) "cling to their money." Clearly they tend to be quite fond of giving it away. But I don't know if those who oppose Bush would be persuaded that conservatives who give money to their conservative churches are thereby exhibiting "compassion and charity". For that one would have to persuade such skeptics that conservative churches are by their nature compassionate and charitable
organizations - which bring the argument right back to its starting point.

This is doubtless true. When obliged to deal with skeptics, however, we must be modest in our hopes. Failing to convince them, we may have to settle for putting them to confusion.

7:42 AM

Wednesday, November 10


The friend to whom I wrote this will not, I am sure, mind if I post the thought here:

I am convinced, quite contrary to a great deal of pious wisdom on the subject, that the possession of certain gifts, even in abundance, is not necessarily a sign that one will have the opportunity to employ them in this life, or the blessing of God in their attempted use. This is because I, and many others I know, have certain powers whose use I firmly believe we have been forbidden-- which must apparently remain latent indefinitely, at least in this life. There are other gifts I regard as far smaller and less important I have been forced to exercise, much to my irritation and chagrin, consistently. It would appear, if not from our lives, then those of the martyrs, that from a strictly pragmatic point of view God is a great waster of his best resources.

We don't, however, have access to the Grand Scheme of Things, don't know precisely what we've been made for, don't know what God values most in us, or what we shall become in glory. We are like Jane Studdock, who wanted to be admired and valued for her intellect, but finally had to come to grips with the fact that those whose valuations she really cared about in the end valued her for other qualities. In evaluating our own gifts and callings we need to take this consideration into proper account. While lack of aptitude provides adequate reason to forego some ambitions (a pig gains no glory from the attempt to fly), its possession, alas, does not necessarily demand its exercise--although, of course, it might.

7:44 PM


On the way to work today I saw another one of those billboards that have been bothering me of late. This one merely showed the buttocks of a woman, slightly, ever so slightly covered with the barest of a bikini bottom, backside facing the viewer. I have no idea what they were selling. May a radio station or low mortgage rates.

I am not sure I understand why, other than the money motive, it is acceptable to treat women's bodies as objects in public, why it's ok to reinforce this degrading message to 13 and 14-year old boys as they speed down the highway sitting in their parents cars.

Through these public displays and through the movie rating system now in place, our society is telling teenage (and younger) boys that women are essentially sex objects and that's not only ok, but it's how we want them to think of women. Just look at the billboards and the sexual content of so-called “PG-13” movies.

How did we come to this mainstreaming of what used to be pornography? And, we may as well throw in the mainstreaming of what is even nowadays considered pornography. I don't think I have been in any hotel in the past decade that doesn't provide “adult” movies for pay, and these are (otherwise) respectable hotels.

Of course most of it comes down to money that can be made by catering to “mature” clientele (a misnomer if ever there was one). The money can be made by CEOs and their companies from a distance, and that's what is all the more appealing. They can sell trash, indeed, toxins, without having to look at what they're doing.

Think of it this way: how comfortable would any of these hotel CEOs be selling Hustler in the lobbies of their hotels? Let them stand behind the registration desk and say, "Would you like Debbie Does Dallas" or a copy of Hustler to take with you, sir?" It's not only the modern porn user have the comfort of anonymity while surfing porn sites on his computer at home or watching a porn movie in a hotel room, but also the executives of these same hotels can stand behind the scenes and not be personally involved in the porn sales, but later can still count the money in the bank.

Then consider what is censored: Christmas religious messages in public schools (we now have “Jingle Elf parades” and “Winter Funfest Concerts.”) So I have to ask, what kind of country removes Nativity scenes from public parks but allows for freedom of porn such that any 13-year-old riding in a car with his parents has to either close his eyes or look at deliberately provocative billboards that tell him that essentially women are sex objects and that sex is not exclusively for marriage? Our kids dare not be exposed to the “Babe Lying in a Manger” in a public place, but naked babes must be viewed by kids wherever and whenever some man seeking to enlarge his bank account wants them to?

2:16 PM


I have argued several times in the pages of Touchstone that politics is downstream from culture. I know that some folks are obliged, by vocation, to deal directly with political questions, but normally I don't have to do so. I enjoy the luxury of addressing cultural concerns without getting into the nitty-gritty of partisan politics.

Consequently, when I spoke as a guest lecturer at Penn State last week, I endeavored to refrain from political comment, even though we had just held the national elections two days earlier, and the minds of my listeners were still filled with political considerations. Although the theme of my talk, "Tradition and Culture," was perhaps not without political interest, I did not touch on political concerns as such.

Nonetheless, what I had to say about culture apparently prompted political questions in the minds of some of the audience, and politics certainly came up in the Q & A session after the lecture.

One of the students, for example, apparently reacting to my remarks on abortion (with respect to which he correctly gathered that I did not approve), spoke of the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties on this subject. He went on to lament that the Republican Party, though correct in its opposition to abortion, was otherwise a group lacking in compassion, charity, and generosity. Republicans, he declared, cling to their money and, though they would never admit it, are deeply selfish. They refuse to share their wealth. Republicans do not care for the poor, show no concern for the homeless, fail to feed the hungry, and manifest insouciance to the needs of widows and orphans.

This student's views on the matter seemed to me somewhat extreme. In my answer to him, I suggested that he was identifying the political and economic philosophies of Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises with the policies of the Republican Party. I also suggested to him that this identification is massively unwarranted.

You know, I wish I had held in my hands last week the report that came out today from The Catalogue for Philanthropy's 2004 Generosity Index. This index, reported by Associated Press and carried in today's Chicago Tribune (section 1, page 18), surveys and grades each of the fifty states according to the generosity of its charitable donations.

This survey is based on the citizens' average adjusted income and itemized charitable donations reported on the federal income tax reports. The index for this year is based on the tax reports of 2002, the latest year available for scrutiny.

The results of this survey and gradation are most interesting and informative, and, as I remarked, I wish I had held the report in my hand when I was questioned by that student at Penn State last week.

According to this report from the Catalogue for Philanthropy, the five most generous states in this country are (in rank) Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Alabama. The Associated Press's article on the report notes that this is the eighth year in a row that Mississippi ranks first.

A picture takes shape here. We observe, for example, that all five of those states are in the South. (These are also five states in which church attendance is very high, but we may leave that thought for another time.) We also note that all five of them voted heavily for Republican candidates, and that President Bush carried all five of them last week. Indeed, according to the "county-by-county" map published in the most recent Newsweek, Senator Kerry did not win even a single county in Oklahoma; as a former citizen of that wonderful state, I took great pride and satisfaction in the fact.

Let's look at the next five (6-10) most generous states in the country: Tennessee, South Dakota, Utah, South Carolina, and and Idaho. Once again, we observe that all five of these states voted for Bush.

So far, none of the generous states voted for Kerry. Let's try the next five states (11-15): Wyoming, Texas, West Virginia, Nebraska, and North Dakota. Hmm, here again all five went for Bush, none of them for Kerry.

It doesn't look like the generous people in America have been voting Democrat. Maybe we'll find something in the next five states (15-20): North Carolina, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky. Gulp! We're still in Bush country.

So let's go to the next five (21-25): Montana, Missouri, New Mexico, Alaska, and Indiana. Sorry, folks. We haven't found a Kerry state yet. The top 25 most generous states in the country — the top half — all voted for Bush.

There is something else we may note about these 25 most generous states — their locations. None of them are in the northeast of the country, none of them on the west coast, and only one of them bordering the Great Lakes. (This was Indiana, a special case worth examining in more detail. Only 4 counties in Indiana voted for Kerry. Two were on Lake Michigan and are virtual suburbs of Chicago; one has Indianapolis, and the other is on the Ohio River, not far from Louisville, which also went for Kerry.)

As countless commentators have observed, those three outlying regions of the country —the northeast, the west coast, and the Great Lakes region — went for Kerry. (In general, those Americans who lived closest to the metropolitan centers of Canada tended to vote for Kerry. There may be a lesson in this.)

Indeed, we do not find a Kerry state until #26 in the generosity ratings. This is New York.

So how generous, compassionate, and solicitous for the poor are the Kerry states?

Well, let's look at the list again. This time, let's start from the bottom and go up. We commence with the bottom five (50-46): New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. These, the least generous states in the country, all voted for Kerry. Four of them, we observe, are in the northeast, three of them in New England, and one of them bordering the Great Lakes.

Let try the next five from the bottom (45-41): Minnesota, Connecticut, Colorado, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Aha, at last a Bush state that is relatively ungenerous — Colorado. The other four are still in Kerry country.

Do we detect a trend in these statistics? I think so. It is true, as that student at Penn State suggested last week, that there really is a difference between the folks who voted for Bush and the folks who voted for Kerry. Indeed, he was also correct that this difference is spelled out in terms of generosity.

The problem, of course, is that the terms of this difference appear to be the very opposite of what he supposed.

One last point is worth mentioning, I believe. This report of the Catalogue for Philanthropy is published in Hartford, Connecticut, which is Kerry country.

11:05 AM

In response to yesterday's item on the “evolution” textbook controversy in Georgia, a reader from Georgia gives us an update:

I appreciate the blog regarding the lawsuit in Georgia. Note that, with respect to the suggestion that the textbook might need to be changed, the state attempted that over the summer. They backed down from the evolutionist outcry and compromised by placing the sticker in the front of the books. It is a fairly innocuous sticker, and I hope that it passes muster.

10:47 AM

Tuesday, November 9


Our friends at the American Civil Liberties Union have discovered another nest of uncivil liberty-stealers in a school district in Georgia. It seems, according to a press release from the Discovery Institute that certain Georgians are trying to undermine evolution as “fact” by calling it a “theory,” and that the civil liberties of students are being violated by a textbook sticker:

The courts should not prevent educators from encouraging students to approach the study of evolution with an open mind according to over 30 scientists, including 25 from Georgia, who have submitted a legal brief to the US District Court in the Northern District of Georgia.

The court begins hearing testimony today in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU challenging the Cobb Co. school district's right to insert a sticker into high school biology textbooks which states: “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”

Cooper points out that the textbook sticker does not deal with creationism or even alternative scientific theories to evolution: “It merely encourages students to avoid dogmatism when studying evolution by carefully and critically examining the evidence with an open mind,” explains Cooper. “That sort of critical inquiry is the heart of what science is supposed to be about.”
I will admit it seems odd to have to put a sticker in a textbook. But that said, perhaps it's the book itself that needs to be replaced. The ACLU will, or has, no doubt, argued that the sticker somehow violates the separation of church and state.

5:48 PM

WEB ROUNDUP 11/09/04

— Far fewer of our readers watch (or even own a) television than do average Americans, and even less of you subscribe to cable, but MSNBC's Scarborough Country, hosted by Joe Scarborough, a former congressman and newspaper editor, is usually quite, well, fair and balanced. The host is a straight shooter (he was the first conservative to admit President Bush flat out lost the first debate with Senator Kerry). Last night's opening commentary skewered the elite media's religious intolerance, especially their open contempt for Christian social conservatives. (Scarborough's commentary links prime examples of such intolerance from Garry Wills, Maureen Dowd, E. J. Dionne, and Thomas Friedman.)

National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg blazes a comic trail through these same hyperventilating commentators. The crux for our readers comes toward the end, so skip past the litany of bewildered and angry liberal writers at the beginning if you don't have the time or don't care.

— Tim Cavanaugh of The Rake praises EWTN's G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense, calling it “the best literary television show nobody's ever seen.” Cavanaugh spins his review of the show, now beginning its third season, into a helpful essay on Chesterton's standing among literary giants of the twentieth century. Our friend, Chuck Chalberg, who plays Chesterton on the stage (and did so at our last conference in October), has a recurring role on the program.

5:38 PM


I just wanted to thank readers for a number of enthusiastic messages I've received in response to the Tom Wolfe posting that I made on Sunday, which seems to have struck a chord. In particular, I want to acknowledge Susanna Smith, who writes to remind me of the existence of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, which was found by former Virginia Lieutenant Governor Michael Farris, who is best known as the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Fund. The college, she notes, was founded in response to the very issues I raised. Thanks for that reminder, Susanna, and I hope that readers of Mere Comments will check out the website, and that PHC will continue to prosper!

I also have had some mail about my criticisms of the notorious Jemila Monroe article in Christianity Today. Most of it has been favorable, but one reader, David Rennie, was upset by my larger claim that the stance taken by this article---i.e., moral self-aggrandizement through the act of conspicuously apologizing for other people's sins---was all too common in that magazine, and that the bestselling writer Philip Yancey epitomized it. On the contrary, Mr. Rennie contends that I have committed the very sin I decry, by "bashing" a blameless man and fine writer who believes that God's grace is "the only answer in a sinful world." Since I completely share that belief, and have in fact been reliably told that it is central to the Christian faith, I trust that is not the issue at stake. So let me be clear. What concerns me is the pattern of disservice that Christianity Today does, and continues to do, to the cause of Christianity, particularly the wing of Christianity (evangelical Protestantism) that it exists to represent. It has become the merest shadow of the magazine it was founded to be. That's the important point here. Mr. Rennie says that, "given the choice between the grace that Philip Yancey advocates and the attacks of Mr. McClay, I would choose to walk with Mr. Yancey." Well, chacun a son gout. I don't blame him. Like everyone, I have my pet peeves and rough edges, and sometimes speak uncharitably. In fact, I have often thought that nothing short of the doctrine of total depravity would do for me. Whether that makes me a better or worse "advocate for grace" is for others to determine. And whether God's grace needs my advocacy, or anyone else's, is a question for another time.

I would like, however, to quote a message I received from Roger Wm. Bennett in response to this same posting, which may make the point about CT better than I did:

Wilfred McClay's November 4 posting....rang powerfully true from beginning to end. I left generic evangelicalism and dropped CT decades ago....In fact, CT has indulged soft-headednesss for decades. I know that because they published the only article...I've ever had published in a national magazine---a little sidebar article, my shame for which McClay's posting brought back to mind. I defended what I called in the title "The New Propriety" (it was the era when evangelicalism was abuzz over "The New Morality")---for instance, even Christian kids in the early Seventies lounging around in one another's dorm rooms across gender lines. My flawed analogy was that there was nothing more immoral about that than about aboriginal women routinely going topless in the tropical heat.

I was wrong. Apart from my likely motivation (defending my own unchaste thoughts and flirtations with fornication), thinking like mine back then fed the sexual revolution and has led to a disastrous increase in unchastity among Christian adolescents and young adults. My elders who knew the power of the adolescent sex drive were right about the need to draw a line well away from the precipice.

What's more, my article, in a very few short paragraphs, exhibited the sort of defiant "intellectual honesty" McClay decries. I knew full well I was tweaking noses. Nose-tweaking was a habit I cultivated and which has taken its revenge by becoming a besetting sin.

Indeed, such is the infirmity of the human condition that I may now by this very response be repeating a similar sin against charity, transposed into an Orthodox-versus-evangelical key from the lower evangelical-versus-fundie key. For that reason, I am not eager to see it published unless you think it consummately helpful to do so.

Well, I do think it helpful, and consummately so---and not only because it takes a more favorable view of what I wrote. It is helpful because one cannot mistake the genuine honesty and admirably self-aware spirit behind it. I hope it can induce readers like Mr. Rennie to put aside any passing antagonism I may have stirred in them, and to consider the larger issue I have tried to raise.

Incidentally, this is a good opportunity for me to say that I don't extend the above criticisms to the lively and valuable journal Books and Culture, which is part of the CT empire but is edited with catholicity and high intelligence by John Wilson. That is a horse of a different color entirely, and is one of the best magazines of its kind anywhere.

1:04 PM


William Luse, author of “The End of Sex As We Know It” in last January's issue, writes in response to Bill McClay's Sunday posting:

My compliments not to Tom Wolfe but to Mr. McClay for his insight into the dangers presented to both soul and pocketbook by the modern university. One daughter emerged safely from the University of Mississippi, and it appears the other will do the same from Indiana U., but this is due only to the faith they were raised in, their own strength of character, and their good fortune in finding a few good friends. Indiana, you might recall, is famous for the "dorm-porn" scandal, during which the administration, in its handling of the affair, displayed the moral backbone of your average invertebrate. Institutions no longer embody the values of their patrons, and yet we keep sending them our children. Maybe we think that, like the biblical physician, they will heal themselves. But they won't. They will have to be forced, and the withholding of our money is the only weapon we have. Yet we fail to use it. Maybe first we need to heal ourselves.

9:49 AM


Once in a while my wife and son and I try to repair to a little piece of nature, something larger than we find anywhere on our urban block. In the best of times, this might mean a few days spent in Michigan at the monastery or with my parents in their home on a small private lake. When vacation days are not available, we do what we can now and then for a couple of hours or so in and around Chicago.

This past Sunday, the temperature in Chicago was mild for November 7, and was also the last day of the season that the Old Graue Mill would be open. It is located in (now suburban) Hinsdale/Oak Brook, along Salt Creek, and was at one time a stop on the Underground Railroad. The mill still has a water wheel, (run by electricity, actually), and grinds corn meal for sale. A small bag of meal goes a long way in our house, as my wife makes fresh cornbread, especially in the upcoming Advent season. (For us Orthodox, it starts November 15.)

Rains in the Midwest this summer have raised water levels all around much above what they were last year, so the creek was wider and deeper, and the waterfall more than ample. We purchased our corn meal, and my son and I walked downstairs to see the mill's wooden gears and visit the small Underground Railway exhibit. A poster from the 1850s hung on the wall, announcing the sale of slaves at market. A picture of black Union soldiers told how 186,000 of them took up arms against the Confederacy, and that 38,000 of them gave their lives for this country. No doubt some of their descendants are with us today.

All of the artifacts in the mill museum on the upper two floors speak of a simpler time, one easy to make into a Golden Era, forgetting the problems of most societies, especially slavery in our case. But there are aspects to modern urban life, and modern culture, that one does find grating. Perhaps this would have happened a hundred years ago, too, but we watched a man come into the mill museum and store to make a donation. He had three old quilting books he wanted to drop off, but the clerk wouldn't let him go until he had filled out a long form that was required to accompany the donation. He protested, said he was in a hurry, but the clerk prevailed upon his civic duty to fill out the form.

I suppose there is some good reason for this, but I couldn't see it. I wonder had I been in this situation if I would have just left the books on the counter and walked out, leaving the staff to figure out what to do.

Our family, actually my son John, had made a donation some years ago to another favorite nature-escape of ours (especially when the kids were young). It is a Nature Center three or so miles from our house, a preserve of forest and wetland, with deer, old oaks, maples, and in the fall as many colors of fallen leaves a young kid could want for a school nature assignment, such as a scrapbook of leaf varieties.

A friend of ours, who is now a missionary in Albania, shot a moose in Wyoming, and gave our son John the bottom portion of the moose leg. Well, what do you do with that? The Nature Center seemed a perfect place for it, with their display of animals skulls, antlers, fur and so on, all from animals that were native to the area at one time, and may still be. They were delighted to have a moose leg to show kids who came in for various classes or just to take a look around.

For a number of years our kids would come into the center and see the moose leg we donated. Until last year. We came back, but by now the kids, except for Paul (14), are grown up, and we have carried on by bringing a couple of grandchildren. But the moose leg was gone. We inquired about it, and the staff said that someone had stolen it! Granted, it's not a major loss, but still, why would someone steal a moose leg?

Between the mill and moose leg, my forays away from the grim urban grit have of late only reminded me of what's wrong. Thievery and excessive government regulation. Of course, sometimes those things go hand in hand, when government officials are on the take, as has been known to happen once or twice here in Illinois and Chicago.

But at least when we first donated the moose leg, we didn't have to fill out any forms and inform them, say, who was the moose's next of kin.

9:27 AM

Monday, November 8


The timestamps which appear at the end of each blog, and that are supposed to give our readers a weblink they can use to point their colleagues, friends, and family to specific posts on our blogsite, are not working. We're aware and working on the problem.

6:06 PM


— In his Dallas Morning News column, Touchstone contributing editor Rod Dreher takes a moment to politely and cogently explain, to those astonished by the outcome of last week's election, why over 59 million Americans who voted for President Bush are not the "Shi'ite Baptists" nor "Taliban Catholics" the Left conjure in their strange daydreams, but quite normal folks who voted to buttress the tested institutions and ideas of our Republic:

You love to blame us and the Republican leadership for being "divisive." Yet it wasn't our side that cheered when the Massachusetts Supreme Court overturned the ancient and settled definition of marriage in a single moment, and we were not the partisans who staged illegal and intentionally provocative gay wedding ceremonies on the steps of city halls.

Well, last week Middle America was provoked, and provoked right back. What did you expect?

This may come as a shock to liberals who don't peer outside their cultural cocoon, but believing that marriage is something exclusively between one man and one woman is ... normal. In fact, the opposite is radical by any historical or social measure.

It is also not a bizarre and reactionary act to vote for the presidential candidate who believes it is immoral to allow a form of abortion that sucks the brains out of partially born babies, instead of the presidential candidate who voted to keep that kind of thing legal.

On embryonic stem-cell research, liberals can cry to the heavens about how anti-scientific cultural conservatives are, as if science and its claims were obviously self-justifying. We fear the cavalier way human life and human nature are coming to be seen in the biotech age.
And this isn't just social conservatives piling on: The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi also finds the fingerprints of the Massachusetts Supreme Court all over Senator Kerry and the Democrat's failure at the polls.

To Rod's credit, he makes it clear that many, like him, wish for a pro-life Democratic Party that could speak to needs Republicans too often ignore, but he's not holding his breath:
If you want to matter again, liberal Democratic friends, you should ask yourselves in all honesty why most Americans don't want what you have to offer. Frankly, as a social conservative who worries about what GOP stewardship of the economy is doing to families and communities, I long for the day when the Democratic Party speaks to the concerns of people like me without derision and condescension. You need a Harry S. Truman, an old-style populist Democrat in sincere touch with small-town values.

Unfortunately for you - and for America - if Harry S. Truman were alive today, y'all wouldn't give him the time of day. For that matter, if the 1971 version of Teddy Kennedy walked in the door, those pro-life convictions would end his career as a Democrat before it got started. Think about that.
Rod's latest Dallas Morning News column and his earlier Touchstone work on God and the Democrats is highlighted out on today's edition of Get Religion, which has chronicled and commented on the best and worst of post-election religion and politics coverage. Get Religion is worth a look.

— Frederica Mathewes-Green sings the praises of the patriarch-friendly Pixar Animation Studios and says its latest film, The Incredibles, features pro-marriage superheroes. I took my kids to see it on Saturday. Frederica understands the picture's — and the studio's — worth.

4:53 PM


It is dismaying to receive such messages as below, not because I wish all men to think highly of us, but because I would hope most people would think highly period and not descend into irrationality:

Interesting isn't it that Manhattanites, who experienced 9/11 in a more intense way than anyone out there in the Heartless Land and surrounded by hideous, predatory homosexuals dedicated to corrupting our children and destroying the sanctity of man/woman marriage, voted by a percentage of 85-15 against this tiny man in the big cowboy boots. Boy George.

As a Protestant seminarian, father, grandfather, I pray nightly to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to enlighten you, to give you some small wisdom into His example and teachings. He came to save us, not to establish a religion or a set of beliefs that would separate us from each other, declare some of us more fit or worthy than others.

Now that Boy George has his "mandate" I hope you get what you wish for, the killings of more civilians in Iraq in the name of freedom, more persecution of minorites in this country and finally, the demonization of abortion which will create jobs for prison guards in the incarceration of abortionists, girls seeking abortion and women, who leave the country for safe abortions from returning. Then what will be the distinction between a Christian theocracy and an Islamic one. Is this what you really want?
Jesus, of course, said that his coming would indeed bring division, such are his teachings. As far as theocracy goes, Christians in general have been very pleased with their lot in this country from the time of its founding, without a theocracy ever having been in place.

If some folks think those who believe our nation has strayed far from the ideals of our founding are advocating theocracy, it only shows how little they know our country's history, or how little confidence they have in our democratic institutions.

Why is it theocratic to insist that laws governing a universal human institution such as marriage should only be changed with the consent of the people, rather than by an activist judge who thinks he has a special new insight into our Constitution, one shared by only a small minority? Sounds like an oligarchy to me.

3:25 PM


We get weird faxes here at that office. We get the usual ones offering us vacation getaways for $2 on a Carribean Isle and mortgage rates that pay you interest just for signing up. Then there are the self-published books, usually an 800-page tome in need of a ruthless editor who could boil the thesis and evidence down into three pages. Thesis: Henry Kissinger is..., well I don't want to spoil the surprise.

Today's entry is a press release, "Woman to Give Birth to Twins Three Days Shy of Her 57th Birthday." It seems that "internationally acclaimed life coach and motivational speaker, Aleta St. James will achieve her greatest accomplishment when she becomes a single mother of twins on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2004, just three days before her 57th birthday."

St. James, whose website is (no, I am not going to provide the link and make anyone interested type it out if they must), has used "Energy Transformation techniques," along with Eastern philosophy and Western medicine, to successfully achieve a full-term pregnancy after only two attempts at in vitro fertilization."

"Having a baby in menopausal years is a viable option," say pregnancy expert, Dr. Johnathan Scher, M.D.

Besides the tone of this release that publicizes the conception and imminent birth of two human beings in the same way one would publicize winning a Nobel Prize or pitching a no-hitter at age 42, the number of things wrong with this "event" and the description of it are too many to mention. But a few:

1) She is a single mother. Would you choose to be born to a single-mother? Would you like to be someone else's project, who didn't want you to have a father? It's a blatant rejection of marriage, and of parenthood for children.

2) She is 57. When the kid is 13, she will be 70. Such a thing might happen, but why choose to make it happen?

3) In vitro fertilization meant that some embryoes were created, only to be discarded, frozen, or die (in the case of the failed attempt, I would assume.)

4) St. James will not become a single mother of twins; she already is the single mother of twins, in utero.

5) The annoucement also assumes that the birth will take place tomorrow, so it is a "scheduled" birth--which does happen, especially in the case of C-Sections, which I assume is what is taking place. But one never knows the future, and whether the births will happen without complications. One should only say, if at all, "God willing." I have known too many women who have had stillborns. There is no acknowledgement of the sovereingty of God. Her website only speaks of self-discovery and self-fulfillment.

6) To assume that the female menopausal body can carry a child (or two, or why not three?) to term in the same manner as a woman in her 30s (which the doctor says) seems to me very bad medical science. We have just "found out" that the hormone replacement therapies confidently given to women have been very bad for many of them. Science is discovering that the children born of IVF, also, have higher incidences of abnormalities.

Scripture says that there is a time and a season for every thing. There is a time not only to be born and to die, but also a time to give birth and to cease from giving birth. The latter is written into the design of the body. But modernity seems intent on transgressing any and all limits that it can, and boldly announcing it whenever we do so. It is in such small steps that the Brave New World comes to be born, even if unannounced.

10:07 AM

Sunday, November 7


It is hard to think of a social observer whose writing has been more timely, and who has been more skillful in hitting the ever-moving target of American culture, than Tom Wolfe. His accounts of Sixties culture and the inanities of the Upper West Side intelligentsia, and his critiques of the American arts and architectural establishments, were wonderfully fresh and penetrating in their time, and still well worth reading today. His novel Bonfire of the Vanities, with its arrogant Manhattan stockbroker protagonist brought low by the organized hatreds animating the modern political and judicial system, spoke plain truth about the painful hypocrisies of race and wealth in the America of the 80s and 90s. And one could go on. But the point is that Wolfe always seems to have the ability to put his finger on the control point, the center of gravity in the social mechanism of the moment.

So I think it is enormously significant that his latest book, I Am Charlotte Simmons, is about the social landscape of the contemporary American elite university. He clearly has found the right focal point for so much that is wrong with today's elite culture. Suffice it to say that the picture is not a pretty one, and that, as this interviewer suggests to Wolfe, college today, at the very "best" institutions, is "about sex, booze, and status," a social whirl in a moral vacuum. Wolfe himself, being allergic to the role of Jeremiah (bad for sales, no doubt), is studiedly agnostic about what is to be done about all this. But the picture is devastating, and it should cause the rest of us, particularly those of us with children, to think much more deeply about what we are doing in this country when we subject our children, and ourselves, to the universal regimen of college--particularly astronomically priced (but status-promising) elite college.

Wendy Shalit's article in the August 1995 Commentary entitled "A Ladies' Room of One's Own," describing her own experiences with the regime of coercive immodesty at Williams College, made quite an impression on me at the time. I was then a tenured faculty member at an elite university much like Tom Wolfe's fictional "Dupont," and it echoed my misgivings on those rare occasions when I ventured into the dorms on campus, an often unsettling experience. I remember that, at the time Shalit's article appeared, other Williams students howled that it was not true, she'd made it all up. But I suspected otherwise. And when I had occasion to reread the article recently (alas, it's not available for free online) it seemed truer than ever. I was especially impressed by the statement of a sympathetic faculty member who offered the odd pseudo-wise reassurance that four years of this nonsense probably wouldn't do any "lasting damage."

I would beg to differ. But even if one doesn't think (as I do) that this sort of milieu does lasting damage to the morals of young people, and even if one doesn't care about the intellectual opportunities lost by four years of sanctioned indulgence, we should pause to think for a minute about some more mundane material considerations. It now costs about $40,000 a year for tuition, room, and board at the standard private college or university. This amount will continue to increase without limit, so long as parents are willing to pay it, in the firm and foolish belief that without a prestige sheepskin attached to their child's name, he or she will be permanently penalized in life's race. My own observation is that even in families with strongly conservative and/or strongly traditional Christian orientations, the lure is just as great, and the pride and satisfaction in the fact that one's son or daughter is going to Stanford or Amherst or William and Mary is exactly the same as that felt by secular and liberal parents---and for most of the same reasons.

We need to step back and think clearly about this madness. Consider the material distortions that this mindless imperative introduces into the lives of middle-class Americans, when the chief goal, from age 3 onward, is getting Junior into a "good" college. Consider, looking at Tom Wolfe's book, and Wendy Shalit's article, what that "good" college is really worth. And consider what a difference it would make in the lives of countless Americans, were that imperative to cease to hold power over them. Where your treasure is.....

Quite a number of Americans have decided to reject the educational lockstep, and make the shocking decision to school their children at home. This has been a remarkably successful movement, and perhaps it is time to be thinking seriously about the next step. To be sure, most of us would pay the outrageous tuitions gladly, could we be sure that our children would get anything of real and enduring value out of their college. But it is a double outrage when one pays merely for the privilege of praying that it does no "lasting damage" (other than the lasting damage to one's finances, which is no small matter, spiritually as well as materially). This is a case in which both piety and thrift proclaim, nay shout, the need to change course.

1:21 PM

For previous blogs, click here.

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

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