Copyright © 2005
by the Fellowship of St. James.
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KELTS, CELTS, KELTOMANIA
Ken Tanner's previous note on the article by Marcus Tanner (no relation, I assume) caused me to read the full article (linked in Ken's blog). I highlighted this:
But this is what the modern, manufactured, Celtic revivalists have insisted on. A ceaseless flow of books spreads the idea that "the Celts" -- usually taken as a homogenised lump -- once professed a superior brand of Christianity that conveniently anticipated modern Western society's relaxed attitudes to sex and its interest in alternative medicine, wildlife, conservation, gender equality, and so on. The Celtic churches, so this narrative runs, were in touch with nature, proto-feminist and anti-hierarchical.
Actually, one of the first “celtic churches,” most likely, was the church of the Galatians, located in an area of Asia Minor settled by Celts long before Paul got there. (Note “Galatians” and the word “Gaul”-the place Caesar conquered, which was full of “Celtic” tribes, a remnant of which survives today in Brittany. Galatians, Gauls, Gaels, Gaelic-the Celts, who by some accounts originated in central Europe. Not having a written language, they also were an ill-defined people or peoples often on the move, sometimes pillaging, and at one time were spread out over much of Europe: Turkey, parts of Greece, Lombardy, Spain, Switzerland, France, then “Britain” from the “Britons” (remember Celtic “Brittany”).
My own maternal ancestral home is Dun Breaton (Fortress of the Britons) “Dumbarton,” the oldest continuously occupied fortress in Great Britain. So, yes, I have a personal interest in things “Celtic.” So I ended up like the author of the article, on Iona, not once, but thrice.
And he's right: whatever is called Celtic there, especially in the restored Abbey, wouldn't be recognized by Paul's Galatians, or maybe only (though even then not likely) by the “foolish and bewitched” ones”--or by St. Columba himself.
While there is an older ecumenical-evangelical layer to it, its newer greeno-enviro-femo-peacenik-spirituality has more kinship with your standard religious studies departments in western universities than with genuine Celtic Christianity. By which I mean simply what you can glean from the written fragments of Celtic Christians, particularly the rules of the monasteries. They were no friends of sexual libertinism. And their “connectedness with the earth and creation” was a natural one, not hard to understand, and has more to do with pre-industrial agricultural and liturgical life than it does with neo-pagan Gaia fantasies.
Like most of Christendom for most of Christian history--if you want real “Celtic Christianity,” when the sun sets, pray the proper psalms at vespers. When you retire pray the compline pslams. If you rise during the night, rather than raid the refrigerator and watch Conan, pray a brief midnight office; when the first light of day appears, pray the psalms of matins. After dawn pray the first hour as you begin your working day. Pause at the third hour to remember the hour of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and the birth of the church. At the sixth hour, noon, remember the crucifixion of Our Saviour for our sins. At the ninth hour, His death upon the Cross and His promise of paradise to the Good Thief. The life of prayer is connected to the daily life of creation as we experience it. It's not all that new, or profound, or exclusively “Celtic.” But it's what Columba and the others did.
And work out your salvation, as did, we hope, the Galatians, with fear and trembling, keeping yourself pure and unstained by the corruption that is in the world. And especially stay away from neo-Celtic spirituality.
APPLICANTS FOR THE FANATICS CLUB
I think this response to the question of what is a fanatic pretty good:
From George Santayana ("The Life of Reason"):
"Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim."
I also like this one from Finley Peter Dunne:
"A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks th' Lord wud do if He knew th' facts iv th' case."
--Brad Hansen, United Presbyterian Church, Jetmore, KS
And another, similar to others I have seen:
A fanatic is someone who can't understand how someone can have a different opinion without being either stupid or evil. --Mark B. Hanson
THE REAL CELTS?
Some may enjoy Mark Tanner's travels among scatterbrained neo-Celtic seekers, narrated in today's The Tablet. He finishes the article by mocking the contemporary image of the Celts as sexually casual:
"What traditional Irish Catholicism, the Calvinism of the Highlands and the Calvinist Methodism of Wales shared, at least until recently, was a set of values that would have most modern Celtic revivalists shuddering, namely a keen interest in theological nitpicking, spiritual severity, and a fairly hard and unforgiving attitude towards the flesh."
DARWIN BY THE NUMBERS
Not that any scientific “truth” is determined by vote, the numbers from The Gallup Organization are interesting.
Some 145 years after the publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species, controversy about the validity and implications of his theory still rages. Darwin personally encountered much resistance after his book was published in 1859. Seventy-nine years ago, the famous Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee brought the issue of exactly where human beings came from into sharp public focus in the United States. Indeed, as recently as this month, a court case in Cobb County, Ga., dealing with the treatment of evolution and creationism in school textbooks received nationwide publicity. November's National Geographic Magazine asked on its cover: "Was Darwin Wrong?" and then proceeded to devote 33 pages to answering that question.
Darwin might be surprised to find such debate still raging nearly a century and a half after he published his book. He might also be surprised to find that even today there is significantly less than majority agreement from the American public that his theory of evolution is supported by the evidence.
Gallup has asked Americans twice in the last three years to respond to the following question about Darwin's theory:
Just your opinion, do you think that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is - [ROTATED: a scientific theory that has been well-supported by evidence, (or) just one of many theories and one that has not been well-supported by evidence], or don't you know enough about it to say?
Well-supported by evidence: 35 %
Not supported by evidence: 35%
Don't know enough to say: 29%
The full article at the link above has more, on opinions about creation, Genesis, the Bible, and a figure showing that “Almost half of Americans believe God created humans 10,000 years ago.”
This reminds my of the surprise I got when, years ago, at the opening lecture of an anthropology course at the University of Michigan, I heard the elderly professor tell a very large audience that man as we know him just suddenly appeared on the scene, maybe 50,000 years ago. What struck me was that he was not willing to talk about a gradual evolution of mankind, but its sudden appearance. Even that I take as a reasonable, debatable, statement, based on both what we do know and what we really don't know.
I noted in the July/August issue how Richard Leakey, son of the famous paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, “acknowledged his father's tendency to alter criteria to make his fossils Homo,
and said the Homo habilis
category was grab bag mix of fossils; almost anything around two million years that doesn't fit the robust [ape] definition has been tossed into it.” There's been a lot of fog, and there is a high level of pressure to make what one can of any bones that are dug up. The press eagerly awaits the opportunity to run a new headline that talks about Lucy's uncle George and cousin Bubba.
Anyway, Darwin remains controversial because his claims are still controvertible.
THE (SECULAR) BEAT GOES ON
Dawn Eden, whom we at Touchstone have gotten to know via e-mail, and who now helps us out with titling and subtitling, notes that her first-ever op-ed piece has been published in the New York Post: The Grinch Who Stole “Messiah”
THE people of South Orange and Maplewood, N.J., where I went to high school, are going to find some thing missing from their towns next month - the sound of schoolchildren performing holiday music. The district has banned students from performing music related to any religious holiday - defeating the purpose of the schools' traditional "holiday concerts."
What makes it all the more interesting is that Dawn relates her experience in school learning and performing Christian music-Handel's Messiah-as a Jewish
student. (She is now a Christian).
The anti-religious virus continues to eat its way through the school operating systems, where there often is little if any resistance. The current interpretation of the separation of church and state notion needs to be challenged, and the ACLU--our perennial friends for a secularist state-needs to be more seriously challenged for much of their recent activity.
At my second son's eighth grade public-school graduation, his class sang John Lennon's Imagine. Yeah, “no religion,” too. What a world. Go ahead, remove all the world's literature, art, poetry, music, songs, architecture-every single scrap of cultural expression rooted even remotely in “cult” or inspired in any way by belief in the transcendent-and see what you have left. And I insist that you also remove literature inspired by reaction against religion as well, for the utopia wouldn't need such literature, now, would it?
RESPONSES, ONE & THREE
In reply to my rhetorical question about what makes one a fanatic in “Fanatics One and All (Nov. 17) a reader sends this:
“A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." --Winston Churchill
In reply to today's “Three Strikes” Ann Church writes:
All three examples speak powerfully of something that is unquestionably going on in our culture. It is all about hypocrisy and double standards. (I guess these, like the poor, we will always have with us!)
Here is my sum up: first we have those who claim they are for inclusion and tolerance openly saying they are against public opinion and democracy, next we have those who claim to be pro-choice, railing against an availability of more choices, and last we have a group which claims to be for minority and unpopular people's rights, going out of its way to eliminate all signs of religion and as a result causing a widely diverse and popular protest. Ironic!
A NOTE FROM THE BAD PROTESTANT
On occasion we receive the complaint that Touchstone gives short shrift to Protestants. Recently a growling correspondent noted that that there wasn’t a single Protestant at the upper part of the masthead except the present writer--that blighter Hutchens, who, if he is a Protestant at all, is a bad one, and clearly isn’t representing the family interests. Let me respond:
While Touchstone is a cooperative enterprise of Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox, it is the common faith that is our concern, not the ecumenicity of the venture. “Ecumenical” is the adjective commonly applied to what we regard as a mere concomitance.
We could take pleasure from the mere fact that here we have various kinds of Christians working together-- if we saw any value in the existence of various genera of Christian. We don’t. We all believe that when we come to see clearly, “denominational” differences will be gone-and this means quite simply that in the end, some of us will be shown to have been right in certain of our opinions, and others wrong. We regard our divisions as a scandal and an impediment to Christ’s labors in the world, a blot on the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church in which we believe, and against which our Lord prayed for the unity of his disciples. We have no interest in stagnant, self-satisfied, ecumenical diversity, but attempt to speak together with the single voice we believe we discern in the scriptures and the Church, as far as our present agreement extends.
Let me note, however, that it extends very far. This is the principal value of Touchstone, and what makes it unique: the depth and power of the combined witness. On this point I will make an excursis:
I was once asked by a friend to speak on Christian education at a large Catholic Church where he was the director of the catechetical program. This is a subject upon which I discern no foundational differences between Catholic and Protestant, and it was very easy to use as my central text the newly issued (and new to my hearers because not yet in English) Catechism of the Catholic Church. I, a Protestant with a doctorate in theology, was a strange bird indeed to these lay Catholics, and they were far more interested in questioning me about certain problems in the Catholic Church than they were in the subject at hand. What they found, some to their disappointment, was a Protestant who (despite temptation) preferred not to speak about why he was not a Catholic, or about what was wrong with the Catholic Church, but the truth of mere Christianity in both doctrinal and ethical matters of which their faithful priest had been trying to convince them for years. Here was a Protestant, of all people, backing up Father O’Reilly. Who knows, then, Father might be a little deeper than the Party Line.
That is what Touchstone is for--a unified witness to the truth of the Christian faith. Our disagreements will crop up from time to time; that is inevitable, and polemics has its rightful place. But when a person is writing something we all recognize as “mere Christianity,” then his church affiliation, and the amount of space he takes in the magazine, is a secondary concern. I say “secondary,” for it is not of “no concern.” In the unlikely event that Unitarian, Sabellian, or impenitent feminist or homosexual, might submit something otherwise publishable, the symbolism of his affiliation would give us serious pause, for the writer and the writing are part of a single, complex symbolic identity.
As far as my own complex symbolic identity is concerned--to which more than one irritated correspondent has referred--I am regarded by my Touchstone colleagues, and regard myself, as a Protestant. While I am very close in many respects to both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, I am also far removed from them, particularly in my typically Protestant understanding of the nature and identity of the Church, which is the principal locus of our disagreement. (If this matter were settled, all else would fall into place.) And I am regarded among my collaborators, rightly I think, as one of the least likely Protestants ever to convert, my fundamental difference with both Rome and Orthodoxy always having been the simple and highly intractable doubt that either of these great churches is what it believes itself to be, the Catholic Church of the Creed.
The reason there are no other perhaps more certifiably Protestant senior editors is that those we have selected and asked are at present too busy elsewhere to do what the job requires of them. We are confident that although they are delayed, they will be along presently, and my Catholic and Orthodox colleagues, whom I trust, have given me no reason whatever to believe that they are trying to suppress us Protestants.
In the end, it is not a matter of a single rather bad and ineffectual Protestant at the top of the masthead, holding the fort against a pack of ravening Catholics and Orthodox, charged with making sure that in the ecumenical scramble his constituency (to change the metaphor) gets its rightful cut of the ecumenical pie. If we thought that way we would soon have the cutting utensils at each other’s throats. Nor is it a matter of getting a maximum of highly qualified Protestant contributing editors, such as we have, to balance out the lightness at the top-while, to be sure, each group needs a sort of critical mass of representation to keep the project on an even keel. “Mere Christianity,” as far as we can discern it together, is the thing, and please God you shall get it for many years in Touchstone.
Three stories from earlier this week follow. First, from the Alliance for Marriage:
Gay Activists Mull Amendment Challenges
Family News in Focus--November 15, 2004
Homosexual advocacy groups are studying the thumping they took in the Nov. 2 election, and some are considering backing off on lawsuits challenging state marriage amendments.
The leery among the homosexual activists fear that continuing to press their case in the courts could create a backlash and increase support for the federal marriage amendment.
Matt Foreman, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, put it this way when reflecting on the 11 states that passed constitutional amendments affirming marriage as solely between a man and a woman: "There is no putting lipstick on this pig."
Patrick Guerriero, a spokesman for the pro-gay Log Cabin Republicans, said the group erred in pledging before the election to drive evangelicals out of the GOP.
"We have failed to have a civil dialogue with folks who we may have some disagreements with," Guerriero said.
The New York Times has theorized that pro-homosexual groups will move cautiously because of public reaction and adopt a measured pace in filing lawsuits. But that does not change their ultimate goal of legalizing homosexual marriage, according to Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage.
"Make no mistake, they are going to continue to use courts to overcome public opinion and democracy," he explained.
He said only passage of the federal marriage amendment, now known officially as the Marriage Protection Amendment, would protect marriage nationwide.
I believe very much that he is correct on this point.
Then there is this from the Culture of Life Foundation, which could be titled, “You Have No Choice”:
CULTURE & COSMOS November 16, 2004
Choice In Health Plan Condemned By "Pro-Choice" Leaders
Beginning this month some federal employees in Illinois have more choices when deciding on a health care plan, and one of the world's leading advocates for "choice" is unhappy about it.
OSF Health Care Systems, which is owned and operated by the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, now offers federal employees who live or work in some 27 counties in Illinois the chance to enroll in a faith based Catholic health plan that does not cover abortion, contraceptives, sterilization or in vitro fertilization. The plan is part of President George Bush's larger goal of ending the exclusion of faith-based organizations from participating in government programs. Employees are in no way obligated to participate in the OSF plan yet Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the nation's largest abortion provider, is opposed to it.
In an unsigned article on their website, Planned Parenthood describes contraception as "basic health care" and says the Catholic health care plan is "taking away (employees') right to choose." The article says that offering more choices to federal employees "is a new move in the administration's effort to shape federal programs to match its own narrow anti-choice ideological agenda." In an Associated Press interview Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood, expressed anger that faithful Catholics will be allowed to belong to a health care plan that matches with their beliefs. "It's inappropriate for federal dollars to subsidize a plan that is blatantly designed to foster one religious point of view."
Planned Parenthood was joined by the typical litany of "pro-choice" groups in opposing the increase in health care options. Representatives from "Catholics" for a Free Choice, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and the Illinois chapter of American Civil Liberties Union all have come out against the plan. CFFC president Frances Kissling refers to the Catholic-compatible plan as "substandard medical care." Ferrell said his organization has a simple response to the organizations that speak out against faith based health care. "They aren't really pro-choice." (Copyright, 2004 --- Culture of Life Foundation. Permission granted for unlimited use.)
Silly, really. How can you take away my right to choose if I choose
to not have or exercise that so-called right? They just hate
to see traditional morality acknowledged or supported in any practical way.
Then, finally, in this story, Dennis Prager,
a Jew, relates the controversy over the removal of a tiny cross from the seal of Los Angeles County.
For the overwhelming majority of millions of citizens of Los Angeles County over the past 50 years, this seal has aroused no opposition. But a few months ago, someone with a magnifying glass at the American Civil Liberties Union discovered that the smallest item on the seal was a cross.
And in its aim to expunge any trace of Christianity and God from American public life, the ACLU brought this fact to the attention of the five Los Angeles County supervisors. The three liberals on the board were equally horrified, and voted within days to erase the cross and redesign the seal, which now depicts a building with no Christian symbol in place of the cross.
On his radio show, Prager called for a protest.
About 2,000 people showed up on a workday morning, many of them non-Christians, including atheists, Buddhists, and a fair number of Jews, including non-Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Jews wearing yarmulkes. It was probably the first time in history that Jews have banded to protect the Christian cross.
The cross, of course, was there as a symbol of part of the region's history, the founding of a mission there by Spanish missionaries. (They may as well change “Los Angeles” while they're at it, if it really bothers them.) Prager gives several reasons why he, though a Jew, protested the removal of a Christian cross, the first of which is this:
First, I fear those who rewrite history.
As I noted in a previous column on this subject, when I was a graduate student at Columbia University's Russian Institute, I learned that a major characteristic of totalitarian regimes is their rewriting of history. As a famous Soviet dissident joke put it: "In the Soviet Union, the future is known; it's the past which is always changing."
The other reasons you can read at the site. The ACLU is not your friend. Hasn't been for a long time.
THE RISE OF NYC CONSERVATIVES?
In working-class neighborhoods of the city, Hispanic and Black Christians are voting on the basis of moral issues in increasing numbers, according to this report in the The New York Times:
Perhaps no single event better captures the group's presence than a same-sex marriage protest on March 14 in the South Bronx.
Led by State Senator Rubén Diaz, 150 Bronx churches closed for the day. They sent their congregants to the steps of the State Supreme Court on the Grand Concourse where thousands of people - estimated at 8,000 by Mr. Carnes, who used two methods to count the crowd - filled the streets. A large banner hung between two pillars, reading, "No to Homosexual Marriage."
"We said, 'Sunday nobody goes to church; we'll go to the street,' " said Mr. Diaz, one of the most noted of the city's Hispanic evangelicals. Mr. Diaz, whose South Bronx district includes about 250,000 people, is both an evangelical pastor and a registered Democrat.
"I am a conservative Democrat," Mr. Diaz, 61, said in a telephone interview from Puerto Rico. "When it comes to education, when it comes to health, when it comes to jobs, I'm a Democrat. When it comes to moral issues - marriage, abortion - I'm not a Democrat."
FREE FALL SERIES AT THE CATHEDRAL
I wrote a few weeks ago about viewing the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. As just a bit of an update, I put together two recent news items from the Cathedral.
Thursday, November 11, 2004: Boston priest named dean of Washington National Cathedral
[ENS, Source: Washington National Cathedral] The Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, an Episcopal priest now serving as rector of Trinity Church, Copley Square, in Boston, Massachusetts, has been nominated as the new Dean of Washington National Cathedral, Bishop John Bryson Chane of Washington announced at a meeting of the Cathedral Chapter November 10.
Lloyd's name will now be presented to the Board of Trustees of the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation for approval. If confirmed, Lloyd is expected to assume his position early in 2005, overseeing an operating budget in excess of $16 million, a staff of nearly 200, more than 1,100 volunteers and the National Cathedral Association with 14,000 members from around the country.
Washington National Cathedral attracts prominent visitors and is the site of many nationally significant events and religious services, also playing host to well-attended forums on vital public issues.
And the second item will give you an idea of what's on offer at the Cathedral, a talk by the notorious Jesus Seminar "scholar" Marcus Borg.
November 16, 2004 - National Cathedral continues series on "Wholehearted Faith in Time of Factions"
[Episcopal News Service] The free Fall series “Wholehearted Faith in a Time of Factions” continues at the Washington National Cathedral on November 17 with Marcus Borg.
Borg, a best-selling author who has spent a lifetime critiquing the vision of Christianity that many people grew up with: its literal understanding of the Bible, absolute adherence to particular ethical teachings, and exclusive belief that Christianity is the only saving faith, will be speaking on the topic “A Thinking Person's Take on Christianity with a Mystical Twist.”
Borg now advocates for what he calls an “emerging” vision of “wholehearted” Christianity, one that involves loving God and loving what God loves, and letting go of self-preoccupation in favor of a life centered in the sacred.
Wholehearted Christianity? Is Marcus Borg becoming a fanatic? No, not likely, especially since he will be critiquing anyone, it would seem, who espouses a literal understanding, absolute adherence, and exclusive beliefs. Can we call anyone who has a literal understanding, an absolute adherence, and exclusive approach to his wedding vows a fanatic?
Perhaps they should rename the series “Free-fall Christianity in a Time of Fanatics.” I sincerely hope The Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III will spend some of that $16 million on some housecleaning, please.
BIOETHICS WATCH: WESLEY J. SMITH EDITION
Wesley J. Smith reports for National Review Online that euthanasia activists continue their drive to make suicide easier (and legal), lowering the bar (and, in the Netherlands, lowering the age of consent to 12!) as they try to convince the public to accept “the noxious notion that killing is an acceptable answer to the problem of human suffering.”
Reader Brian Andrews sends along this link to another article by Smith, this time in The Weekly Standard, showing how new and pending laws in New Jersey, Illinois, Delaware, and California move the goal posts of the old stem-cell research debate, in some cases allowing gestation of cloned embryos up to the moment of birth (birth, of course, is prohibited). As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger recently noted, "Man is capable of producing another man in the laboratory who therefore is no longer a gift from God or of nature....Just as he can be fabricated, he can be destroyed."
FANATICS ONE AND ALL
We read about religious “fanaticism” in the mainstream press, now and then, don't we? Often it's Islamic fanatics, but lately, after the election, there are no doubt some who think of the “values voters” as fanatics. This article by Colleen McCain Nelson of the Dallas Morning News notes:
"There is no future for moderate and progressive Republicans in the Republican Party," said Jim Scarantino, president of the centrist GOP group Mainstream 2004. "The far right wing and the fanatics have seized control."
This must be why, indeed, the GOP featured pro-choice Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Rudolph Guiliani during prime time at their convention, both fanatics.
Just what is a fanatic? It's a good question. One that was asked very pointedly more than 200 years ago. William Bush in To Quell the Terror
writes about one of the Carmelite sisters who was guillotined during the Reign of Terror:
Certainly Madame Pelras [Sr. Marie Henriette] herself showed a great deal of character in the courtroom of the Revolutionary Tribunal on the day of the martyrdom. In order to force the Revolutionary Tribunal's notorious Public Prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville, into defining what he meant in applying the word “fanatic” to them [the sisters], she dared feign ignorance of its meaning. Faced with his initial attempt to brush her question aside, she proved unrelenting. In the name of her rights as a French citizen, she demanded that she be given his definition. Thus she obtained, from the lips of the Public Prosecutor of the Revolutionary Tribunal himself, a candid statement that it was because of the “attachment to their religion” that they were regarded as criminals and annihilators of public freedom.
Today, I would wager for many those who are “attached” to the Creed and the Gospels qualify as “religious fanatics.” If so, then count me in.
But the more important point is to question what people mean when they say you are “extreme,” a “fanatic,” “right-wing” and so on. Just what do these words mean, other than “bad guy”? Am I an extremist for not supporting gay marriage, when I agree with 70 percent of the population in various states that has voted for making the traditional definition the legal definition? A fanatic is someone, it seems, who won't shut up and think as they're told.
THE KINKY REPORT
Al Mohler correctly takes on the new film (starring Liam Neeson) about the sex “research” pervert Alfred Kinsey, author of the Kinsey Report.
Unbeknownst to the general public, Kinsey also was involved in sex acts with his staff and in the filming of hundreds of persons involved in sexual activity -- including footage taken of his own masochistic sex acts. He and his colleagues paid adolescent boys to perform sex acts on film and turned the Kinsey house into a studio for pornographic documentation.
There's more, and it's worse. No one likes to be called a “prude,” but I point out that the new Kinsey film is essentially from the same folks who brought you the film about the heroic Larry Flynt, lauded the Last Temptation of Christ, howled at Mel Gibson's Passion, and are comfortable with PG-13 ratings that assume it's ok for 13 year-old-boys and girls to see people perform sex acts as long as they are not quite as explicit (more clothing) as in R-rated films. Well, call me a prude, please. I doubt Al Mohler would object, either. Kinsey was a very bad man, who should have been jailed for a long time.
HATE IMITATES ART?
For something completely different, here is an interesting look at what some of the folks in Manhattan have been thinking: Shut Up and Paint, by Steven Vincent, author of In the Red Zone: A Journey into the Soul of Iraq. One of the things that caught my attention in the article:
It was the same phenomenon I encounter all too often in my benighted corner of the world: artists who proudly show their latest "work" created with the explicit intention of assisting Kerry's election (long ago, people called art like this "propaganda," but never mind), while expressing anti-GOP, anti-war views as unvaried as pledges of solidarity at an old-style workers' soviet. Weary of this uni-thought, I asked the panelists why, in a social milieu presumably known for its creativity, there existed such an unrelieved similarity of opinion? "Good question," a gallery owner replied, and then proceeded to take a question from another audience member about the dire state of government funding for the arts.
Okay, I know I wrote something “completely different.” And this, I suppose, is not surprising. But the tour the author takes one through some of the art galleries reminds us why we are not to pay too much attention to the recent analyses of our culture from those in the media-discovered “Blue” Zone. Honestly, it makes me feel like I am back in high school in the 60s.
Clueless? No, worse. Parasitical. Art that simply protests, parodies, even perjures, has no positive energy, no being rooted in anything good, true, or beautiful. That one artist used his feces for his “art” tells me all I need to know.
Father Reardon and I, reflecting recently on some of the mysteries of life, found we had independently observed the irony of the moderate feminists who, hyphenating the family name in defiance of the old male dominion, merely add the father's name to the husband's.
Surrealisms like this meeting one these days on every hand call upon us, who often think we were born too late, to bless our Maker that at least we saw the last generation where reason made any difference, in which men could discuss their differences all breathing the air of that atmosphere. It seems that we have now entered an age where reason has been broken up into chunks, and floats around like floes from an iceberg; there is reasoning, but apart from Reason. It is applied here and there, and often with great thoroughness and severity, but the "atmosphere," all appearance of a common mind, governed by Reason, is gone, and the spaces between the disjected islets is a fathomless abyss of unreason.
We are living in something like a Bosch landscape, where whenever we try to settle down to enjoy the wide green scenery, something with no arms and an arse for a mouth scuttles out of the bushes to remind us who's in charge now. But no, we will not acknowledge him, and in that there is cause for thanks, too.
RETHINKING THE “GODLESS PARTY?”
A friend sent me this CNN online article on the secularization of the Democratic Party which opens by quoting Professor Ralph Whitehead of the University of Massachusetts, “a good Democrat.”
"Too many in my party tragically, and foolishly, confuse the cherished American doctrine of separation and church and state with the politically suicidal notion of separation of church and society," he said.
Whitehead is right. How many of today's liberals recall that the greatest U.S. political crusade of the 20th century -- to legally end more than a century of officially sanctioned segregation of the races -- was led by the Southern Christian Leadership Counsel?
Do we need to be reminded that the movement's courageous leaders who put their own lives at risk included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Andrew Young and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth?
In the 19th century, the crusade to abolish human slavery was led by Protestant men of the cloth.
Later, there is this comment, which relates to our previous blog:
If pro-choice Democrats were truly compassionate and even semi-smart, they would do something positive -- which conservatives and Republicans have failed to do -- to reduce the nation's abortion rate, already the highest among all industrialized nations.
As noted, the number of abortions in Cook County, Illinois, likely would have been nearly 400 higher without the intervention of mostly “conservatives,” who are certainly doing more than others to support, free of charge, mothers who are contemplating abortions. Certainly, 400 compared to 22,000 abortions is not a lot, but 400 lives are 400 lives.
Would the Democratic Party like to vote funds to open more centers like those run by CareFirst, even without explicit religious connections, providing the ultrasound pictures of the babies and providing a clear way out of the abortion “choice”? The response of some has simply been, if the parenthood wasn't planned, then going ahead with it is a bad idea, and we can fix it for you--for a fee, of course.
CARE FIRST FOR LIFE
As a follow-up on what I wrote yesterday about “Little Ones and Unity,” I report on a dinner held last night in Chicago on behalf of CareFirst Pregnancy Centers & Prevention Services. Christians are not just “pro-life” when they vote, but try to do something about the crisis by offering charitable works.
The caricature of pro-life as right-wing haters is quite unfair. Around 1,800 people gathered last night at the Hyatt Regency to support a ministry that reaches out to women and supports them through troubled pregnancies. There was no talk of politics, legislation, voting, candidates, protests, or judicial strategies. It was all about life, the babies, the mothers, the fathers, and how to support them. Those who wish to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare” should be supporting such ministries.
Another thing CareFirst does is teach abstinence in schools. The idea that sex is for marriage, or minimally that abstinence has significant benefits, is now being promoted in an increasing number of schools, and it is being supported with government funding. An elementary school teacher at our table said he was going to be attending a conference on abstinence education later this week. The notion that I heard early and often in the 70s from boneheaded educators was that kids reaching puberty were just going to “have sex” anyway, so teach them to use condoms.
To use a phrase that has recently become popular, this is simply the soft bigotry of low-expectations directed toward teenagers. It is to say, you can't control yourself. To regulate sex in this manner with condoms and sex-ed classes actually strips sex of its magnificent procreative power to create new human life and turns it into a recreative appetite, all in the name of sexual liberation. Sex so downgraded is not liberating but drearily predictable and ultimately numbing of the spirit. There is nothing so unpredictable as “unsafe sex” in marriage where one neither knows whether one will conceive, the sex of a child, the personality of the baby. All children can surprise us, sometimes even when they're fifty.
CareFirst is doing at least that much of a service in giving students a chance to experience sex as a marital bond and procreative power, not a hedonistic bodily function that gets messy sometimes and needs abortuaries to clean up the little “messes” that get in the way of real life.
A few items from a CareFirst booklet:
“One in three American women will have had an abortion by the time she reaches age 45.”
“Nearly 22,000 abortions were performed in Cook County in 2003, equaling one abortion for every three live births.” [70 every single day, excluding Sundays]
“Over 400 babies were born in 2003 to CareFirst clients.” [7 centers in the Chicago area]
“Nearly half of US High School students have had sex, with the average age of first sexual intercourse being 15.”
“The abortion industry could not survive financially without the paying customers drawn from the church (5.6 million).”
“Religious affiliation is reported by nearly 80% of women having abortions.”
CareFirst began in 1985 with one office in Chicago's Loop, and has grown to 7 centers. Each is equipped with an up-to-date ultrasound machine and offers its services to clients without charge. They are simply doing what needs to be done on one front in advancing the culture of life.
NATIONAL GEO ON DARWIN:
Here is something I found while looking for something else, that readers may find of interest: the New Covenant blog's critique of the National Geographic article on Darwin. It includes links to other critiques.
When reading Darwinians, one always assumes they must be able to do better, but they don't. You start with finches with little beaks and after a while you get finches with big beaks and this proves . . . ? That you start with a mix of chemicals and after a while you get Albert Einstein? The latter is, for all I know, perfectly possible, but it isn't proved by the evidence (finches, moths, mole rats) the Darwinians offer.
A little late, but I wanted to commend to your attention the three articles from the November issue we've posted on the main page:
— Our senior editor Robert George's Right Alliances, the address he gave at dinner last May;
— Our senior editor Patrick Henry Reardon's Free Press and Pulpit, on the proper (constitutional) understanding of the relation of church and state; and
— David B. Hart's Ecumenical Councils of War, a review of Alexander Webster and Darrell Cole's The Virtue of War.
The rest of the articles in the issue, which is quite good, can only be read by subscribers. This is a hint. To follow this hint, click here.
LITTLE ONES AND UNITY
In the basement of our son's school, St. John's Lutheran school, there is a room with four bowling lanes. We rented this space for a recent family party, my eldest daughter's 30th birthday. We will be back there again, I found out, next weekend in order to celebrate the 5th birthday of our only grandaughter (so far).
Abigail, 5, is someone whom the doctors at a local hospital recommended be "aborted" by her mother, because she was "50-50" for surviving after birth. (She had a herniated diaphram, which meant many of her vital organs were out of place). Our daughter-in-law would have none of the doctor's advice, went on-line, and discovered specialists at Philadelphia's Children's Memorial Hospital, where she delivered Abigail and where Abigail had surgery.
It's not as simple as this sounds, though. Many of the babies who come there for delivery and this surgery do not survive. But the point was not to kill the child in the womb, but give her every chance of success. She is now thriving and looks great.
On the same day this weekend that we will be going to St. John's to celebrate this birthday, my wife, later that day, will also be participating in a minstry of St. John's that she just found out about last week. They are sewing little white gowns for babies, mostly premature, who die after birth at Cook County's Stroger Hospital. I have no idea how babies like this die at County Hospital, but the provision of gowns for the burial of these littles ones strikes me as the very least we can do for the very least of these little ones.
It's a hidden, quiet work of mercy, upholding the dignity of all human life. When my wife shared this with the women at our Orthodox Church, there was a strong response, a serious interest in participating.
St. John's is a Lutheran (Missouri Synod) Church. My wife and son and I are Eastern Orthodox. I believe it is especially in the area of works of mercy, for the poor, the sick, the dying, the prisoner, that Christians can serve our Lord in greatest unity. For whenever Christians of different churches, oftentimes divided at the altar, can serve "the least of these," they are together serving the One who gave us the parable of the sheep and the goats. In the end there are neither Orthodox nor Lutherans nor Catholics, but only sheep--and goats.
THE END OF ILLUSIONS
Apropos of my writing on The Triumph of the Will this past Saturday, I just received today a copy of The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm, kindly sent to me by its editor, Joseph Loconte. He is the William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at the Heritage Foundation.
It's an intriguing collection of the writings of religious leaders between the World Wars, and Leconte, in his 30-page introduction, "The Politics of Appeasment and the War on Terrorism," notes some of the similarities between the debates about Hitler between the World War and the current debates about the War on Terrorism. He notes also the connection between some of the Islamic radicalism and European fascism: "Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis has noted how German fascism influnence the founders of the Ba'ath Party in Syria and Iraq."
It would seem wise and profitable, for those interested in thinking critically about our modern situation, to consider our history, and what has been said before by others facing a threat to world peace. The intense debate set off by the "brazen" and "controversial" Bush doctrine now in place can only be improved, I think, by critically reading history, and not forgetting the past. And read it, I will.
Writers included in the volume: Karl Barth, John C. Bennett, Paul L. Blakley, Emerson Fosdick, Lewis Mumford, Reinhold Niebuhr, Albert W. Palmer, Stephen S. Wise, among others.
NEFF IN WHEATON, NOT UTAH
A correction to a detail from "Good News for Utah" (Nov. 12): David Neff of Christianity Today was invited to the meeting at the Mormon Tabernacle, but did not attend. Indeed, last night during the meeting he was "in Wheaton, not Utah." I regret the error. I have not received any reports of what took place, yet.
CLERICAL DERELICTIONS, HIGH AND LOW
This morning's Washington Times carries a disturbing story about the case of Father James Haley, a priest in the Roman Catholic diocese of Arlington, Virginia, who has been silenced by his bishop for speaking out about pervasive sexual misconduct in the diocesan clergy, and who subsequently has become a cause celebre among conservative lay Catholics in the diocese and around the country. The Times can be spotty-to-poor in some areas, but their reporting on religion tends to be excellent, and the article (by Julia Duin) is unusually detailed. It makes for doleful but necessary reading. Every Christian has a powerful stake in what happens in such places.
One comes away with a renewed sense of just how long and arduous a struggle is facing those who seek to reform the Catholic clergy. Fr. Haley himself estimates that 60 percent of the Arlington clergy is homosexual, substantially above the national rate which is estimated at 30-50 percent. Another student of the priesthood cited in the article estimates that 15 percent of homosexual priests are sexually active. Of course, all such estimates are highly provisional, and may overstate the extent of the problem. (Or, it should be acknowledged, they also may understate it.) But what seems incontestable is the thrust of this remark by Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and no crusading conservative: "It is an ongoing struggle to make sure the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men."
A rare moment of candor from the leader of a group of clergymen who have been liberal in dispensing vasty pronouncements and their generally tedious and unhelpful advice to our political leaders, but who have signally failed to do the straightforward working of cleaning their own house. (Perhaps it is enough that they are "struggling"?) It is one of the truly fascinating ironies of church history that the moral impetus for this necessary task seems, for now, to have fallen to the laity. May they flourish, and may they keep up the heat.