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Saturday, November 27

A HERMENEUTIC OF LOVE?

I've gotten a lot of pleasure over the past few days reading around in a book of essays honoring the theologian Thomas Oden, called Ancient and Postmodern Christianity: Paleo-Orthodoxy in the 21st Century, and coedited by our own Ken Tanner. There are some extraordinary essays in the book, but one in particular stimulated my thoughts, a very brief one at the end of the book, entitled "A Poem of Saint Bonaventure," by Daniel Clendenin, a staff worker for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Stanford University. The essay dovetails with some of my own abiding concerns about the impoverishing effects of most graduate education in this country, a subject I've addressed myself elsewhere, at other times, but one to which I fear too little attention is paid.

Clendenin is especially concerned about the plight of the Christian scholar, who must, he argues, struggle against both the anti-intellectual tendencies of his own traditions, and the rationalistic reductionism of the secular academy. That seems true enough, but I think that even non-Christian scholars are faced increasingly with the possibility that their disciplines are becoming emptied of their core meaning. Conservatives complain that the contemporary academy has lost its sense of rigor. But I think it is more profoundly the case that the academy has lost its ability to cultivate and nurture the art of informed appreciation. The very word "appreciation" has come to have a bad odor. Instead, the act of criticism and the hermeneutic of suspicion reign over all else, and intellectual life has become consumed with the intramural games of ideology and careerism (often indistinguishable from one another). I remember that my own graduate education in history was almost entirely focused upon the relentless cultivation of critical acumen, at the expense of any appreciation of the monumental labors of predecessors, which we were encouraged to trash casually and fling upon the ashheap of history. We learned a great deal about "the historical profession," but very little about history itself.

What most impressed me in Clendenin's essay was its quotation from Bonaventure, which presents an entirely different hermeneutical disposition than the one that is inculcated today:


Do not assume that mere reading will suffice without fervor,
Speculation without devotion,
Investigation without admiration,
Observation without exaltation,
Industry without piety,
Knowledge without love,
Understanding without humility,
And study without divine grace.

What wonderful words. And what a different foundation for the task of education, and the place of the life of the mind. Hard to imagine that the modern secular academy could ever be made safe for such a foundation. Yet the fact that Bonaventure wrote these words in the 13th century suggests that the problem has been around for a while. In a strange way, I find that thought encouraging.

Clendenin goes on to quote Henri Nouwen, who proposes that "what makes us human is not primarily our minds but our hearts; it is not first of all our ability to think which gives us our particular identity in all creation, but it is our ability to love....the hidden mystery of the primacy of the heart in our true identity as human beings."

Perhaps so, though the problem may also be an inadequate idea of "mind" that separates it so decisively from "heart." But these words, if they are taken in a seriously Christian (and not merely neoromantic) sense, seem well worth pondering. They remind me of the plaintive question posed by the American novelist Sherwood Anderson: "Can we understand at all, ever, where we do not love?"

I think we know what the answer to that question is. And I think, alas, we see the answer played out every day in the contemporary academy. How truly revolutionary it would be to hold up Bonaventure's counterideals---devotion, admiration, piety, humility, and the rest---as a way of challenging the exclusive reign of the Idols of Criticism. And it might be just what is needed for dying academic disciplines such as literary studies, if they are ever to revive, and recover their sense of purpose.


5:22 PM


WALKING WITH GIANTS

I have remarked below on being among the great. This calls for some explanation.

When I was a boy I was powerfully struck by these verses from Ecclesiastes:

Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place. I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.

Later I was impressed by the frequency of this Christological theme in literature--from the beggar who sits by the door who is in fact Lord of the house (the dog knows him!), to the woodcutter who intones the Classics while he works, and, when finally raised to the rank of mandarin, has the pleasure of seeing his nagging wife drown herself in consternation.

This does not mean those in high places are invariably fools. Some deserve their eminence, for, being diligent in their labors, they stand before kings. Nor does it mean that there is any inherent dignity in lowness. Rather it means that the world is constituted by sinful men in such a way that while greatness in its own eyes may touch upon the estimation of God, it is far from identical to it, and that if one would discern the true shape of things--if he would see the world that, being approved by God shall endure forever--he must take care to look beyond appearances. (It's all in Plato--well, much of it is.)

So, when I am paying attention as I should, I try to look beyond appearances, and have become convinced that the shape of God's Kingdom as it touches upon our world is very, very different from that of common sight, and in many ways. Great kingdoms of the world, political, and social, are in fact nearly nothing. I guess, for instance, if one reads People magazine, or, for that matter, the typical theological journal, one is holding in his hands the equivalent of what a Yankee of my acquaintance called hominy grits: "the closest thing to nothing I can think of." Enter a place, however, where those who are hopeless and useless from a worldly standpoint are cared for by those who love Christ in them, and one stands upon the threshold of heaven, where truly great things are being done by the hand the God who shall raise them all to unimaginable glory.

So when I speak of the greatness of my associations, I mean not only those I have met who are well known in the world, but even more those who are not, those who do not appear to me to have been granted the eminence that is their due--not simply those who appear low who should be high, but those who are high who should be even higher.

Determining as best one can the truth that lies behind the external is a fascinating exercise, and a necessary one, for it appears that a great deal of one's own worth in the eyes of God shall depend on success in it. What is, after all, the wood, hay, and stubble that shall be burned away by the judgment of Christ but preoccupation with what is close to nothing, while failing to discern and give one's self to that which is truly great?


1:30 PM


A FEW MORE PERSONAL RUMINATIONS

Reflecting on her Harvard training, a regular correspondent to this column noted its avantages to life and godliness are wholly incidental unless reformed by the hand of God. Perhaps some readers will be interested in my response:


Although I'm not smart enough for the Ivy League, I seem to be able to communicate well enough with my friends who are, so am not bothered too much by my deficiencies in this respect. The kind of intelligence that sends people to schools like Harvard is characteristically 1) very quick on the uptake, 2) verbally precocious, and usually 3) very competent mathematically, with all these gifts manifesting themselves early in life.

I have none of them. I do not take up ideas until I am ready for them. This means I think very slowly. While I always tested very high in verbal aptitude, mine is no greater, I suppose, than that of most children who read a great deal and through reading come to appreciate words and wordcraft. What the tests do not measure adequately is the kind of skill it takes to think and compose well--raw verbal aptitude being not very useful without these. Any skills I have in this area have come with practice, since for most of my life I have not been a consistently good writer. (I have certain editor friends who will readily inform you that this is still the case.) At math I am only middling, which is to say, in the view of friends who are really good at it, a virtual dolt.

I have, however, been given a very retentive mind that can, as long as its brain remains reasonably healthy, grow--and now am able to see the providence in it. For if I had been gifted in the manner of those who rank highest in the intelligence tests, there is no way I would have sought to be what I am now, doing what I can to help my fellow pilgrims on our common way. I would have entered medicine or law, sought to move to the top of my field, and graciously bestowed whatever I had left over on the Lord and his Church, probably congratulating myself on my generosity, and, worst of all, expecting them to feel honored by my association.

Instead, I work from a low position where it appears to me that I am giving of my best to the Most Worthy, even when it seems most of the time like bread thrown upon the waters. And I am honored, often into abashed silence, by the greatness of the company I keep in my Touchstone colleagues, and others I have met in the course of my work for this journal. It is hard for me to speak to important people, even though I find myself doing it with some frequency. And I am amazed when I find myself in company, as I occasionally do, that regards me as one of these--a most unnerving experience.

But all this is very good; it is the way it should be, and I see God's hand, and also something like a divine sense of humor, active in it. After complimenting ourselves on being made in his image and redeemed by his Son's blood, we should also remind ourselves that we are no less God's beasts for it, kept for his use and amusement. In all of this he is pleased to make us wiser, and some day we may even be able to speak to him with the intelligibility of his own equivalent of the Harvard graduate.


11:17 AM


Friday, November 26

MORE ON THE BISHOPS AND THE LAITY

I commented in passing a few days ago, in considering the efforts to address the clerical sex-abuse scandals, on the remarkable role being played by the Catholic laity in pressing for reform. But John J. Miller's piece in today's Wall Street Journal reminds us that this is not entirely new, even though the breadth and depth of the current response may well be unprecedented.

The occasion for his column is the prospect of an episcopal "pastoral letter" on the subject of marriage, which Miller guesses may well turn out to be a tepid and uninspiring document. But his column points to a previous episode, twenty years ago, when a group of distinguished lay Catholics, led by former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon, who were fed up with the American bishops' ill-informed, one-sided, and often patently foolish commentary on political and social questions, created the Lay Commission on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, which served as an important counterforce to the unhelpful episcopal voice, and not only negated much of its impact, but ended up having an effect on the thinking of Pope John Paul II. Miller ends his column by all but encouraging traditional lay Catholics to begin organizing now in similar ways on the issues of marriage and family life, rather than trust the bishops to do the right thing.

As he points out, there is nothing at all heretical about such behavior. But as he also points out, slightly mischievously, it was Vatican II that provided inspiration to the laity to become more active and vocal. Unfortunately for the liberal clergy, that activism has proved especially effective when it has come from the conservative laity. Hegel wrote memorably of "the cunning of history," but it appears he didn't even know the half of it. Perhaps a surer guide is that great American Catholic observer, Finley Peter Dunne, whose Mr. Dooley famously declared that "'th Supreme Coort follows th' iliction returns"--- a principle that it would seem is, mutatis mutandis, also useful here.


9:53 AM


Thursday, November 25

THANKSGIVINGS PAST

Bill McClay wrote yesterday, near the end of a much longer piece on Thanksgiving:

Yet even as we give thanks for our nation, the example of the Pilgrims reminds us that this beautiful place is not our home. That we were made not for it, or for any other earthly nation, but for God alone. That even this great nation, like all things here below, is imperfect, and will perish someday. That even as we make our homes, plant our gardens, and raise our families here, there will come a time when those families are no more, when our yet-unborn grandchildren will be vanished, our houses torn down, every earthly grace and beauty decayed into dust and scattered in the air. That this city on a hill is, like every earthly city, not a city for us to abide in.
How true. I feel my own physical separation this day from my parents, who are in reasonably good health in their 80s, since they live in Michigan, where I was raised, and I live in Chicago. For me to spend Thanksgiving with them requires not spending it with some of my own children and grandchildren who now live in Chicago. Two years ago we did spend it in Michigan.

I called my mother today to see how she is doing and to wish her and Dad a Happy Thanksgiving. She had one of her arthritic knees replaced three weeks ago, and said she has no appetite and is not sleeping very well. She didn't feel up to even having Thanksgiving dinner this year. It's about the most complaint I have heard from her in years. She had 7 children and worked hard raising us with Dad. I feel all the bittersweetness in Bill McClay's remarks above, and feel them also on behalf of my mother.

She told me how she lived in Detroit, a new kid on the block just come from Scotland. Next door lived her Aunt Nellie and Uncle John, with their kids, and two doors down on the other side of the street lived Uncle James and Aunt Cissie, with their kids. The three families always had Thanksgiving together at Uncle John's, Christmas at Aunt Nellie's, and New Year's Day dinner (big in Scotland) at their house. She wistfully talked about how James and Cissie are long gone (both died about age 50) and the last of their children died this past year. Two of my mother's three siblings are gone not so long ago. All three of my sisters have passed on.

Mom's house was the same house where I and twenty-some first cousins spent Thanksgivings and Christmas Eves and New Years Days as well, continuing something started in the 1920s well into the 1970s. When I was a kid, I couldn't imagine it all being gone, and so many of us scattered about the country, though a goodly number remain in Michigan. The house was left behind when Mom's mother, Meg, died in 1979. All of us have moved on and our houses left behind.

I have not been back on that street since about then. But no Thanksgiving Day goes by when my heart and mind do not return to the house on Shields Avenue, and then I give thanks for all the love that burned so bright in that place, for my Mom and Dad, for the whole lot of the clan.

The bittersweetness that one feels, I think, comes from that deep yearning for place and home, put into us for a reason, but something we can only taste lightly, glimpse faintly, after all, as a sign of the great Home and City to which we all belong. The Reunion there will be greater than any yearning heart can even imagine.


3:47 PM


A BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Since I have seen myself referred to a good many times as a Lutheran, I should do something to correct the misapprehension. Although my Touchstone author's biography indicates that I have a Ph.D. (originally a Th.D.) from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, I am not, nor have I ever been, a Lutheran--a church I have always found somewhat mystifying. I attended that school because that is where Carl Braaten taught. Carl was warmly recommended to me by an old Harvard connection, my seminary advisor, Harold O. J. Brown, and was as fine a Doktorvater as one might wish to have.

Because my record since those days (through no fault of Carl's) has been undistinguished, and because my own theological viewpoint is as opposed to the liberal Lutheranism of that school as it could possibly be, it is most unlikely that the Lutheran School of Theology, if it is paying attention at all, is pleased to have its name appear next to mine on the pages of a magazine like Touchstone--so here I do it the service of issuing a disclaimer on its behalf.

In another sense, however, I regard myself as a true son of that institution. People like me, who manage to squeak out of mainline academies, are, I often think, products and representatives of the prayers and gifts of the faithful who gave to those schools with the understanding that a considerably different gospel than moves groups like the E.L.C.A. and its flagship seminary was being taught there. It is not, after all, your grandfather's (well, at least your great-grandfather's) Lutheranism that is promulgated by the typical seminary of that synod, but something far more, shall we say, evolved. One has visions of the stalwarts of an older Lutheranism spinning in their graves when Luther's beret is bestowed on Schwaermer like me, but, in contemplation of the progressive Lutheran, springing out of them with inkwells raised to full throwing position.


10:04 AM


Wednesday, November 24

DEVOTIONAL GUIDE DELAYED:

Due to growth in circulation, we've hired an outside distributor for the Daily Devotional Guide. The postal application for our new distributor was delayed, and, as a result, so was the shipment of the Guide's Winter Edition.

We hope most domestic subscribers will receive their Guides before the First Sunday of Advent. For subscribers who do not receive their Guide before the weekend, we've posted the readings and notes for the first two weeks (clicking on the link will download a .pdf file of the relevant pages).

We apologize for any inconvenience.


3:41 PM


THINK ON THESE THINGS....

With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, the Wall Street Journal reprints, as it has on this day for the past forty-three years, the account given by Nathaniel Morton of the so-called Pilgrims who departed their refuge in Holland for the unknowns of the New World. It is difficult to put ourselves in their place, and give adequate weight to the courage and resolute faithfulness that they needed to show in this undertaking---not to mention also the remarkable lengths to which they were willing to go to establish a Christian way of life for themselves and their offspring:

*****

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years, but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and therein quieted their spirits.

When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready, and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love.

The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other's heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loath to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with the most fervent prayers unto the Lord and His blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.

Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.

Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.

If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.

*****

It is an awesome scene. Small wonder that so many of the New England Puritans saw themselves enacting, with the grit and determination of their own lives, the familiar patterns of Biblical displacement and exile. For those stories were the very warp and woof of their existence, the meat and drink that sustained them. Without that template of meaning for this endeavor, the great Puritan migration to this hemisphere would not have occurred, certainly not in the way that it did.

And we would consequently have been a very different people. It is because of them that those stories, including their own story, are part of the warp and woof of this nation too. The critics of the concept of "Christian America" are right, of course, albeit in a limited way. The founding of this nation can't be reduced to religious tenets and motives. But it cannot be understood, then or now, without constant recourse to them. And a group of people that know themselves to be "pilgrims and strangers here below" have a safeguard against the tendency to confuse the nation with the Kingdom. Let us be thankful, this Thanksgiving, that this insight has not been lost.

It is now fashionable among certain Christians to prove their devotion to Christ by expressing their unqualified contempt for the American nation-state and all its works. I have some sympathy for such sentiments, and consider some of these folks my friends. They do valuable work in reminding Christians that they are first and foremost citizens of heaven. But I think their judgment misses the mark, and falls short of Christian maturity. It is the anger and mocking tone that creeps into their discourse that gives them away. There is all the difference in the world between, for example, a cosmopolitanism that builds upon, and transcends (sometimes at great personal expense), one's more provincial and local loyalties, and a cosmopolitanism that never had any such loyalties to begin with, and adopts cosmopolitanism as a perpetual superior pose, a lifelong adolescent revenge against the village. Calling ourselves "a peculiar people" or "resident aliens" should not become a religiously sanctioned way of giving the finger to our neighbors.

One of the most overused words emanating from this particular perspective is "idolatry." It should be used far more sparingly. Not every powerful earthly attachment is a form of idolatry. On the contrary. The incarnational qualities of the Christian faith demand that we cherish what is here and now---the day-old bread on our table, the tangled families in which we find ourselves, the often-exasperating work of our hands, the disappointing churches in which we worship, and so on---even as we are called to remember, and live in the light of, what is beyond them.

And so the virtues of patriotism are secondary but real---as real as any of our loyalties, short of those to God Himself. We should be thankful for the peerless gift of this rich and abundant land. With all its faults, it has been a refuge for all of humanity—an island of prosperity and order and democracy in a cruel and violent world, and a place where the most vital of all liberties, the freedom to worship God in spirit and truth, has been cherished and enshrined in our fundamental institutions.

We constantly fail to appreciate the magnitude of this legacy---and the responsibilities entailed in it. We should live in gratitude and faithfulness to it, even as we built upon it in our own ways. We should strive to be worthy of our forebears’ hopes, their dreams, their sacrifices, and their love. We should pray for the strength and wisdom and discipline to be good stewards of this gift. And yes, we are obliged to improve and purify and preserve it, so that the generations to come will also have reason to be thankful that we were here.

Yet even as we give thanks for our nation, the example of the Pilgrims reminds us that this beautiful place is not our home. That we were made not for it, or for any other earthly nation, but for God alone. That even this great nation, like all things here below, is imperfect, and will perish someday. That even as we make our homes, plant our gardens, and raise our families here, there will come a time when those families are no more, when our yet-unborn grandchildren will be vanished, our houses torn down, every earthly grace and beauty decayed into dust and scattered in the air. That this city on a hill is, like every earthly city, not a city for us to abide in.

So Thanksgiving is a time to love our country for the right reasons. It is, on the simplest plane, where God has placed us. That alone makes it a gift we did not deserve. It also is a nation that does not---yet---put Caesar in God’s place, and is still---for now---a land where the knowledge of God's Word and Kingdom have been given a special protection. Indeed, it has been a bulwark to pilgrims and seekers through the years, and remains so today, despite many threatening clouds. Long may it prosper. But may we always seek His Kingdom first.


9:54 AM


SINGE-ISSUE REHASH

This was sent in response to yesterday's posting about the debate between CT and World on single-issue voting.

Yes, abortion is evil. Yes, homosexual and lesbian acts are immoral. Nevertheless, so is an economic system that places profit above community values; so is a healthcare system that takes care of those who can afford its services and leaves the rest (especially the jobless) out in the cold; so are corporations that pollute our environment and the politicians who let them.

Let me ask you what is worse: what Adam and Steve do in bed (Adam and Steve, by the way, are two consenting adults), or an administration that commits us to an unnecessary war based on reasons that have been proven false? What is worse, Adam and Steve, or corporations that dump toxins into our rivers and our air, and the politicians who let them?

I will admit, abortion is a grave evil, far more grave than gay marriage, since it involves the taking of innocent human life. Nevertheless, do you think eradicating this evil will be as easy as electing Bush to another term? Even Bush himself said that hearts will need to be changed in order to eradicate the evil of abortion.

Even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, do you think this means that abortion will cease? An even better question is even though Bush has been re-elected, do you think Roe V. Wade will be overturned, or that the numbers of abortions will decrease? I would say no. I sincerely hope I end up eating these words, since I find this to be the only consolation of a second term for Bush. One last question on this issue: do you think abortion is the cause for the culture of death that Bush talks about, or do you think it is a symptom? based on Bush's policies on everything else other than abortion, I would say it's the latter. Respectfully, a reader.
One could add to the list of things that are immoral: telling lies to your children about where you were last night; adultery; looking at the lady next door lustfully; putting your mother in a bad nursing home. My point all along has been that, yes, there are all these moral questions, but there seems to be a clear hierarchy. That is acknowledge, but my question then is: does this hierarchy (life and marriage) have any cash value when it comes to voting? I think the answer to that clear enough, and it was articulate in an editorial and in blogs.

Now, I do not know what will happen to the number of abortions over the next four years or next decade. I do know that had John Kerry been elected he would have freed up funding for additional abortions in other countries. That a ban on partial-birth abortion is something he would veto, as did President Clinton. Kerry has been consistently pro-choice. The next Supreme Court justice appointed may have an important role in advancing either the culture of life or the culture of death, along the abortion, cloning, euthanasia fronts. It is a crucial appointment.

I also know that bad laws help to make bad men. I know a doctor who started doing abortions in Illinois when Roe struck down the state law, even though he worked at a Christian hospital that didn't do them. His wife and his mother begged him to stop. After some years and God knows how many abortions, he finally stopped. And he has to live with what he did, something he would never have done, nor many of his “patients”, had not the Supreme Court of the United States forbidden Illinois citizens from regulating abortion through their elected representatives in Springfield.

Overturning Roe will stop someof the killing, but not in every state. Obviously, more needs to be done.

Gangs are “caused” by something, and they result in homicides. But we don't drop laws against homicides because there is something else that leads young men to join gangs and kill. Yes, there should be something done about the formation of gangs. If you can cut it off at the root, you might save a young man before he gets locked up for selling drugs. But you have to at least punish those who sell.

On the last question: abortion, certainly, is a symptom. All sins are symptoms of something deeper: original sin. Rebellion. But the way to repent is stop doing rebellious things, even when you don't know what made you do them. What makes a temptation tempting? If we could get at that root cause, then we would never be tempted again.


9:16 AM


Tuesday, November 23

CHRISTIANITY TODAY & WORLD

Mere Comments readers know of our own criticism of CT's editorial. This week, World Magazine's Joel Belzcriticizes the same editorial and Christianity Today responds. The debate continues on World's blog site, with an opening defense of Belz by Marvin Olasky.

I have read the critiques and reread the CT editorial, and I still stand by what I wrote on October 28 (My Big Fat Single -Issue Vote).


6:29 PM


OLD TROUBLES WITH MARRIAGE

Readers may be interested in this story from the Associate Press Conservatives Urge a Closer Look at Marriage. It quotes The Howard Center's Allan Carlson and Bryce Christensen on marriage, and the problems it has been having before the “gay marriage” issue ever came up. Marriage is in trouble, generally, and has been for a long time, and there are issues that society needs to address, not just “gay marriage”:

."When you talk about protecting marriage, you need to talk about divorce," said Bryce Christensen, a Southern Utah University professor who writes frequently about family issues.

While Christensen doesn't oppose the campaign to enact state and federal bans on gay marriage, he worries it's distracting from immediate threats to marriage's place in society.

Gay-rights supporters, during their recent losing battles against gay-marriage bans in 11 states, often argued that if marriage in America was in fact troubled, it was heterosexuals not gays who bore the blame.

"That was the best argument same-sex marriage advocates had: 'Where were you when no-fault divorce went through?'" said Allan Carlson, a conservative scholar who runs a family-studies center in Rockford, Ill. "Any thoughtful defender of marriage has to say, 'You're right. We were asleep at the switch in the '60s and '70s.'"
And, by the way, both Christensen and Carlson have feature articles coming up in the January/February 2005 issue of Touchstone on marriage and the family. If you don't subscribe, do so today right here and get this important issue.


11:45 AM


DANGEROUS WOMEN'S CLOTHING

An opinion piece in the New York Times by a Canadian Muslim woman, Irshad Manjji, (“Under Cover of Islam”) constrasts the attitudes of Americans and Europeans to Islam:

This difference speaks to a larger gulf in attitudes toward religion. To a lot of Europeans, still steeped in memories of the Catholic Church's intellectual repression, religion is an irrational force. So women who cover themselves are foolish at best and dangerous otherwise.

Not so in North America. Because it has long been a society of immigrants seeking religious tolerance, religion itself is not seen as irrational - even if what some people do with it might be, as in the case of terrorism. Which means Muslims in North America tend to be judged less by what we wear than by what we do - or don't do, like speaking out against Islamist violence.

But there's something else going on. The mass immigration of Muslims is bringing faith back into the public realm and creating a post-Enlightenment modernity for Western Europe. This return of religion threatens secular humanism, the orthodoxy that has prevailed since the French Revolution.
It just shows you how irreligious Europe is when the return of religion seems to mean the advance of Islam, not a return to Christianity. I think there is a similar reaction in the United States, a recently expressed fear, even outrage, among cultural elites who are Euro-centric and secular-minded, at the role religious conservatives (“true believers”) played, apparently, in the recent election.

They continue to be shocked at the existence of believers who haven't tame the Christian God and his Christ into a one-size-fits-all religious sentiment that is expressed most potently in the uplifting, awe-inspiring words “tolerance” and “inclusivity.”

But It think it is true that Americans in general, including the cultural elites I have mentioned, are not bothered much by the dress of Islamic women. Maybe it has something to do the Parisian penchant for fashions that leads that part of Europe in the direction of fashionable-correctness. It is France, after all, that has directed its laws against head scarves and that sort of thing. Apparently French freedom doesn't extend to fashions. Thus women of Islam, who “cover themselves” are “dangerous,” even threatening to the “secular humanism, the orthodoxy that has prevailed since the French Revolution.”

And sure enough, if you go back to the French Revolution, you will find French authorities in a deadly huff about the religious attire of women. As related in Willian Bush's very fine book, To Quell the Terror, the new government of France, on August 4, 1792, ordered the closing of all women's monasteries; and the habit was declared unfashionable.

On September 12, 1792, the Carmelite nuns of Compiégne were ordered to leave their confiscated and stripped monastery, forbidden thenceforth to live as nuns in community, and enjoined to wear civilian clothing from then on. Still, living in separate apartments, they managed to keep their vows, but not their habits-- until arrested. Given permission to wash their civilian clothes, they put on for washday the only clothing they still had in their possession, their old habits.

When the order came for transporting the nuns to Paris for trial (and execution), the local authorities quickly went to fetch them for the 70-mile trip. But they found them in their habits, with their civilian clothing still soaking wet in the washtubs. Unwilling to delay obeying their orders and risk raising the suspicions of the Parisian revolutionary tribunal, the authorities decided to put the nuns in the carts wearing their illegal habits, in which they were finally executed.

The nuns in the forbidden habits made a deep impression on the mob several days later as an eerie silence surrounded the nuns as they made their final earthly journey through the streets for two hours late in the day on July 17, 1794, en route from the prison to the guillotine, during which they sang Vespers and Compline, the Office of the Dead, and Te Deum, hymns and praises unheard in the streets of Paris for the last five years. One young boy who saw and heard the spectacle later became a priest because of it.

News of the execution of the nuns spread quickly. Author William Bush, whose book relates the true history of this martyrdom (in contrast to the various dramatic versions written last century), makes a strong case that these nuns saw their deaths as offered for the end of the Terror, to “quell the terror.” Within ten days Robespierre, the latest architect of the Terror that had reached a fever pitch, would be executed. In a final bloodbath that marked the turning point in the Terror, the next day the Mayor of Paris was guillotined with 87 city council members, one every 75 seconds.

But had the nuns not worn their habits, few would have seen the spectacle of a godless revolution offering on its bloody altar of secular progress 16 Carmelite nuns, by those habits marked as devoted to Christ. Indeed, at their trial these women who wore the sign of their “fanaticism” were handed over to the guillotine for posing a danger to all of France.


9:55 AM


Monday, November 22

WHAT WILL THEY FIND IN AZERBAIJAN?

Interesting news item from the FORUM 18 NEWS SERVICE, Oslo, Norway (http://www.forum18.org/)

Monday 22 November 2004
AZERBAIJAN: POLICE RAID ADVENTIST SERVICE

Embarrassingly for the Azerbaijani authorities, a 20 November police have raided a Seventh Day Adventist service, in the country's second city Gyanja [Gäncä], at the same time that a delegation from the Council of Europe was finishing a visit to Azerbaijan, to examine whether the country is meeting its human rights commitments.

Fifteen police officers raided the service at the registered Adventist church at about 11 am on Saturday 20 November (Adventists mark their Sabbath on Saturdays). The police then brought in a film crew from ANS (Azerbaijan News Service) television -- a local station noted for its aggressively hostile coverage of religious minorities - as Azerbaijan's Adventist leader Yahya Zavrichko complained to Forum 18 from the capital Baku on 20 November. Against the wishes of their parents, the journalists interviewed children present at the service asking if they had been forced to attend. Despite the parents' clear objections, the police did nothing to prevent the children being questioned by the film crew.
And, no doubt, the same journalists routinely go into mosques in Azerbaijan and ask children therein if they have been forced to attend.

The more interesting story may well be what the delegation from the Council of Europe has to say after their examination of Azerbaijan.


2:08 PM


BIOTECH (FOOL'S) GOLD RUSH?

BBC Radio 4 alerted a friend of Phil Johnson to a story appearing the November 2004, issue of Trends in Biotechnology, (Volume 22, Issue 11 , Pages 564-569). An abstract:

The myth of the biotech revolution
Paul Nightingale and Paul Martin

The existence of a medicinal 'biotech revolution' has been widely accepted and promoted by academics, consultants, industry and government. This has generated expectations about significant improvements in the drug discovery process, healthcare and economic development that influence a considerable amount of policy-making. Here we present empirical evidence, from a variety of indicators, that shows that a range of outputs have failed to keep pace with increased research and development spending. Rather than producing revolutionary changes, medicinal biotechnology is following a well-established pattern of slow and incremental technology diffusion. Consequently, many expectations are wildly optimistic and over-estimate the speed and extent of the impact of biotechnology, suggesting that the assumptions underpinning much contemporary policymaking need to be rethought.

Conclusion
The data we have presented suggests that it is time to rethink the biotech revolution. Policy makers need to follow the FDA and move away from an increasingly discredited linear model of innovation that sees new drug and diagnostic products as little more than the application of basic research. Instead, policy needs to address the uncertain, systemic nature of technical change and the very long time scales between advances in basic knowledge and productivity improvements 23, 32 and 33. The FDA's emphasis on the importance of getting our facts right is a welcome development because unrealistic expectations have had a major impact on government policy. Undoubtedly, some of the policy suggestions are intrinsically good ideas, such as promoting better knowledge transfer between industry, universities and the healthcare system, but successful policy needs to be based on sound evidence and a sense of proportion. This has not always been the case with biotechnology and there is now a substantial mismatch between the real world and the unrealistic expectations of policy-makers, consultants and social scientists. Although we have hinted at an alternative model we can say very little at present about the long-term prospects for biotechnology and our data are compatible with a range of eventualities. A pessimistic perspective might highlight that the biotechnology revolution has been closely associated with a reductionist, genetic model of disease 37 and 38 that is increasingly being challenged by explanations that emphasize the interaction between environmental, lifestyle and biological factors across the life course [27]. Epidemiologists have already noted how the social distribution of a range of common disorders, such as obesity, stomach ulcers and heart disease, has radically changed in the last century, suggesting that the major determinants of these diseases are social rather than purely genetic in origin [39]. These environmental factors, such as poverty and smoking require comprehensive public health programmes rather than unproven high-tech solutions that are unlikely to be delivered in the short term [29]. This uncertainty about the timing and benefits of biotechnology suggests the need for regular checks against the evidence to avoid constructing shared expectations that have little empirical foundation. Our concern is not the future but the present, and more particularly how current expectations and talk of revolutions help generate the social co-operation needed to deal with the very long-term lead times required to create new medicines. Unrealistic expectations are dangerous as they lead to poor investment decisions, misplaced hope, and distorted priorities, and can distract us from acting on the knowledge we already have about the prevention of illness and disease.
Poor investment decisions? Such as the $3 billion that California voters agreed to pay so that cures for various diseases could be sought by creating and killing human embryos for their stem cells?

Others want to join the California Stem Cell Gold Rush, as this link to Los Angeles Times reports.


1:02 PM


SMASHING TECHNOLOGY

I only got the last few minutes of a story on BBC World last night, so I don't know the country in which this story took place, but it doesn't matter, because it could be any country in the West. (They were not English-speaking, and the translation drowned out the speakers so I couldn't identify the language.)

It seems some people are paying for a new therapy treatment. The last bit of the therapy that I saw, and it may be all there was to it, took place out in field, perhaps not far from a junk yard. The participants were taking out their frustrations with modern life by taking sledgehammers to cars. In a group moment, they turned one car over on its side.

The report said that they also got to smash up computers and cell phones. By the time I got to work this morning, I could see why, though it wasn't surprising even then. The unholy trinity of cars, computers, and cell phones?

At morning coffee my wife show me the manual that came along with our new cell phone. We bought the least expensive phone we could find, with the least expensive plan: you ultimately pay only for what you use and you don't need to put more than $10 into a phone card every couple of months, so it's pretty inexpensive. We only use it for necessary communication when someone is tied up in traffic, waiting, or calling home to make sure everything is ok. Anyway, the cell phone had a thick manual and I saw the long list of “icons” that were supposed to be mastered in order to use it. I said to my wife, is it programmed, or are they programming us?

With technologically-induced angst setting in before I had even dressed for work, I went downstairs to try-one last time before spending probably an hour on the phone to find a human being who could tell me something useful about the product-to try an update our computer “spyware” detector. Of course this software wouldn't even be necessary if it weren't for all the junk “adware” and “spyware” free-enterprise creeps send into our computers to keep tabs on us. I am sure this, and the ubiquitous SPAM messages, are all protected under the free speech provisions of the US Constitution envisioned by the Founding Programmers.

Anyway, I had several circular “conversations” with the software's website, which told us during one of the routine on-line updating sessions that we needed a new version (no charge). I downloaded it all just fine. Then the next time it went to update (to keep us protected against the daily-mutations of spyware bugs) it told me that it couldn't because my subscription had expired, even though I had bought the software only a month ago.

I went around in circles a few times last week, and finally this morning I think I successfully got a new version that isn't “expired.” This is minor, compared to the problems I have had with hard drives and viruses, of course, and I am sure the horror stories of others would surpass mine. Even so, I have lost track of how many hours, parts of days spent on the phone with tech support over the last couple of years, parts of days that could been spent mastering the cell phone manual.

So, that done, I decided it was time to get ready for work at the office, and also that I needed to walk the distance today. And that's where I was reminded about the third element of the BBC's report on the exorcism of those three demons of technology: the automobile. Walking over the Kenney Expressway in Chicago during rush hour reminds me to be thankful that I don't live far enough away to drive (just over 2 miles). It's usually a “parking lot.”

I know that the scene below me as I cross the bridge is not the original idea behind the interstate system: hellish commutes. At least that's not what President Eisenhower had in mind when he proposed the interstates, and he was not happy when the planners and executioners bought up acres of urban real estate to bring the interstate highways right into the heart of the cities. But they did, and the rest is misery.

If I had to travel some distance to work, I would much prefer public transportation, for at least I could read a book or a cell phone manual, and do something other than curse, look for brake lights, blinkers, and respond to lights and arrows change colors, moving my arms, head, feet and legs from the moment I leave the driveway like a seeing eye dog trained to stop, start, turn, and lead on the owner's command.

Why is it that the more gadgets we use to get more connections, the less connected we feel with something mysterious that we call life, a kind of background noise that we sometimes only hear when everything is turned off? And after a century of frantic activity to acquire each new item in the progressive parade of labor-saving devices, why does all the time we saved seem to have vanished?

I ask myself these questions, especially when I see the hundreds of faces below the highway bridge, looking trapped, solitary, seeking to escape using the cell phones hanging from their ears. Sooner or later someone down there is going to sign up for one of those smashing parties.


10:05 AM




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