Archives from Old Blog Site: 2006

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December 21, 2006
Christmas break
This afternoon we head out over the river and through the woods to Oklahoma for Christmas, so this blog will begin its Christmas break. So let me wish you–the best readers and most perceptive commenters in the blogosphere–a merry and blessed and Christ-filled Christmas. May you keep Christ in Christmas, keep the mass in Christmas, and keep the holy in the holiday.
Posted by Veith at 10:13 AM

The true meaning of Santa Claus: Slapping heretics
The story of St. Boniface and the Christmas tree, posted below, reminds me of another one of Christmas’s violent saints: Jolly old St. Nicholas, slapper of heretics. So I thought I’d re-run my WORLD column on the subject from December 24, 2005. I also commend to you the lively and creative blog discussion we had about this, which included some original Christmas carols that deserve to become part of our holiday fare.

Slappy holiday
Why not take the Santa Claus tradition a little further? | Gene Edward Veith
Santa Claus had his origins in St. Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey. Known for his generosity and his love of children, Nicholas is said to have saved a poor family’s daughters from slavery by tossing into their window enough gold for a rich dowry, a present that landed in some shoes or, in some accounts, stockings that were hung up to dry. Thus arose the custom of hanging up stockings for St. Nicholas to fill. And somehow he transmogrified into Santa Claus, who has become for many people the secular Christmas alternative to Jesus Christ.

But there is more to the story of Nicholas of Myra. He was also a delegate to the Council of Nicea in a.d. 325, which battled the heretics who denied the deity of Christ. He was thus one of the authors of the Nicene Creed, which affirms that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. And unlike his later manifestation, Nicholas was particularly zealous in standing up for Christ.

During the Council of Nicea, jolly old St. Nicholas got so fed up with Arius, who taught that Jesus was just a man, that he walked up and slapped him! That unbishoplike behavior got him in trouble. The council almost stripped him of his office, but Nicholas said he was sorry, so he was forgiven.

The point is, the original Santa Claus was someone who flew off the handle when he heard someone minimizing Christ. Perhaps we can battle our culture’s increasingly Christ-less Christmas by enlisting Santa in his original cause. The poor girls’ stockings have become part of our Christmas imagery. So should the St. Nicholas slap.

Not a violent hit of the kind that got the good bishop in trouble, just a gentle, admonitory tap on the cheek. This should be reserved not for out-and-out nonbelievers, but for heretics (that is, people in the church who deny its teachings), Christians who forget about Jesus, and people who try to take Christ out of Christmas.

This will take a little tweaking of the mythology. Santa and his elves live at the North Pole where they compile a list of who is naughty, who is nice, and who is Nicean. On Christmas Eve, flying reindeer pull his sleigh full of gifts. And after he comes down the chimney, he will steal into the rooms of people dreaming of sugarplums who think they can do without Christ and slap them awake.
And we’ll need new songs and TV specials (“Santa Claus Is Coming to Slap,” “Deck the Apollinarian with Bats of Holly,” “Frosty the Gnostic,” “How the Arian Stole Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red Knows Jesus”).

Department store Santas should ask the children on their laps if they have been good, what they want for Christmas, and whether they understand the Two Natures of Christ. The Santas should also roam the shopping aisles, and if they hear any clerks wish their customers a mere “Happy Holiday,” give them a slap.
This addition to his job description will keep Santa busy. Teachers who forbid the singing of religious Christmas carols—SLAP! Office managers who erect Holiday Trees—SLAP! Judges who outlaw manger displays—SLAP! People who give The Da Vinci Code as a Christmas present—SLAP! Ministers who cancel Sunday church services that fall on Christmas day—SLAP! SLAP!

Perhaps Santa Claus in his original role as a theological enforcer may not go over very well in our contemporary culture. People may then try to take both Christ and Santa Claus out of Christmas. And with that economic heresy, the retailers would start to do the slapping.Posted by Veith at 10:00 AM

The missionary and the first Christmas tree
Thanks to reader SSchaper–also to commenter Puzzled– for alerting me to an account of the origin of the Christmas tree that goes way, way back to the missionary who first evangelized the German tribes. who That was St. Boniface. His apologetic technique to get through to the barbarians was to cut down the Sacred Oak of Thor. To the Germans’ amazement, Boniface did not get hammered. This convinced many of them that Boniface had the true God after all. According to this story, after cutting down the Sacred Oak, Boniface saw an evergreen tree nearby, which he used as an object lesson to teach about the everlasting life through Christ, who died on a tree:  According to tradition, when he chopped down the pagan Thor’s Oak at Geismar, Boniface claimed a tiny fir tree growing in its roots as the new Christian symbol. He told the heathen tribes: – “This humble tree’s wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the centre of your households. – Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let Christ be your constant light. – Its boughs reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your comfort and your guide.” So the fir tree became a sign of Christ amongst the German peoples, and eventually it became a world-wide symbol of Christmas.

One of my students wrote a paper about the Church fathers and how they appropriated Greco-Roman education. They were extremely careful about distinguishing between the true God and the pagan gods. Those who believe these guys would conflate Christianity and paganism just have never read the original sources.
Posted by Veith at 06:13 AM

December 20, 2006
Mythbusters get recognized
I’m glad that one of my favorite shows on television, Mythbusters, has finally made The New York Times. OK, it was a month ago, but I’m gradually getting caught up.
Posted by Veith at 10:07 AM

Tribute to a master of artistic conventions
We should pay tribute to Joseph Barbera of the animation company Hanna-Barbera, who died earlier this week. Hanna-Barbera was in the shadow of Disney and Bugs Bunny’s Warner Brothers. And in focusing on made-for-TV animation, its works are uneven, but they display a genius for artistic conventions.
I could never much hack “Scooby Doo,” though I appreciated how it pretty much always had the same plot with the villain being someone wearing a mask of another character. But “Tom and Jerry” also took a single simple story line and played it with infinite variations. Hanna-Barbera’s mastery of conventions is evident in “The Flintstones,” the primal sit-com. My favorites, though, were the extremely funny animal characters, each of whom also had his repeated conventions: Heckle and Jekyll, Yogi Bear, Quickdraw McGraw, and Snagglepuss (“exit, stage right, running all the way. . . “).
Posted by Veith at 09:36 AM

Equal rights for machines
In addition to human rights, we now have calls for animal rights. And next is a call for machine rights. In England, a government-sponsored commission charged with looking ahead into the future is saying that when technology progresses to the point that we have robots with artificial intelligence and “consciousness,” they will deserve legal and ethical rights.

On one level, this is just more scientific ignorance coupled with scientific mystification. “Artificial intelligence” is not the same as human intelligence. But the commission’s recommendation is revealing of our current worldview confusions. The assumption is that “life worthy of life”–and thus worthy of rights–consists of intelligence or consciousness. This implies that those who are lacking one or the other have no rights, including the right to life. But we knew that already.

The recommendation that robots be given rights also shows how far we have slipped away from the Declaration of Independence, that human beings have not only rights but “inalienable rights” (that cannot be taken away because they have an objective, transcendent existence) because they were endowed by our Creator. The current assumption is that rights are endowed by the state, a shaky foundation, since the state can then take them away.

I suppose since we are the creators of machines, we can endow them with whatever rights we want, but this is just another example of our current loss of humanness. Our culture no longer has a conceptual grounding for saying that humans are different from animals or even that humans are different from machines, much less for thinking about such important issues as rights, morality, and law.
Posted by Veith at 09:14 AM

December 19, 2006
Obama’s church
Thanks to commenter Kathy for the link to Barack Obama’s church, a congregation of the United Church of Christ. This sounds like one of the few mainline liberal Protestant congregations that has managed to attract black people, most of whose churches are evangelical. It seems like liberal, social gospel theology is back in vogue, being embraced by the so-called “evangelical left” and getting much more media attention as an attractive alternative to conservative Christianity. I’m wondering if we may see a confluence of old school liberalism with the doctrinal emptiness of certain megachurches. Might “mainstream” Protestantism become mainstream once again?
Posted by Veith at 12:23 PM

How to make food safe
There is an easy, safe, and inexpensive way to make our food safe from all of these e-coli and other infections, according to an editorial in the Wall Street Journal: irradiation (subscription required). Even though zapping meats, fruits, and vegetables has been thoroughly studied, with absolutely no harmful effects ever detected, the media, environmentalists, and anti-science activists have made it sound scary and blocked the technology from being implemented. Click “continue reading” for excerpts.

From the Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2006:
The recent E. coli outbreaks are playing as a familiar morality tale of too little regulation. The real story is a much bigger scandal: How special interests have blocked approval of a technology that could sanitize fruits and vegetables and reduce food poisoning in America.

The technology is known as food “irradiation,” a process that propels gamma rays into meat, poultry and produce in order to kill most insects and bacteria. It is similar to milk pasteurization, and it’s a shame some food marketer didn’t call it that from the beginning because its safety and health benefits are well established. The American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have all certified that a big reduction in disease could result from irradiating foods.

Says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota: “If even 50% of meat and poultry consumed in the United States were irradiated, the potential impact on foodborne disease would be a reduction in 900,000 cases, and 350 deaths.” A 2005 CDC assessment agrees: “Food irradiation is a logical next step to reducing the burden of food borne diseases in the United States.”

We asked several leading health scientists whether food irradiation could have prevented the E. coli outbreak at Taco Bell restaurants. “Almost certainly, yes,” says Dennis Olson, who runs a research programs on food irradiation at Iowa State University. A recent study by the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service confirms that “most of the fresh-cut (minimally processed) fruits and vegetables can tolerate a radiation of 1.0 kGy, a dose that potentially inactivates 99.999% of E. coli.”

So what’s stopping irradiation? The answer is a combination of political pressure, media scare tactics and bureaucratic and industry timidity. And it starts with organic food groups and such left-wing pressure groups as Public Citizen that have engaged in a fright campaign to persuade Americans that irradiation causes cancer and disease. Something called the Stop Food Irradiation Project tells consumers to tell grocers not to carry irradiated foods.

The liberal-leaning Consumer Reports gave credence to these claims in a 2003 article suggesting that the chemicals formed in meat as a result of irradiation may cause cancer. Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook has served on the Consumer Reports board. Eric Schlosser, author of the best-selling “Fast Food Nation,” also disparages irradiation as an “exotic technology” developed “while conducting research for the Star Wars antimissile program.” Scary.

None of these mythologies has ever been substantiated by science. The Centers for Disease Control concluded its investigation by noting: “An overwhelming body of scientific evidence demonstrates that irradiation does not harm the nutritional value of food, nor does it make the food unsafe to eat.” According to Paisan Loaharanu, a former director at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “The safety of irradiated foods is well established through many toxicological studies. . . . No other food technology has gone through more safety tests than food irradiation.”

The Food and Drug Administration bears some of the blame for bending to political pressure and slowing the spread of food irradiation. The food processing industry requested permission to apply irradiation to enhance the safety of produce in 1999, but seven years later the agency still hasn’t approved this “food additive.” The FDA does allow irradiation for meat, but it requires warning labels that send a message to consumers that eating such beef or chicken is risky. Elizabeth Whelan of the American Council on Science and Health points out that the FDA would be wiser to require that meats and produce that aren’t irradiated have a safety warning label. Those are the potentially unsafe foods.
Somehow this side of the story never seems to make it into the mainstream media. . . .
Posted by Veith at 12:05 PM

Bad words falling out of favor?
As the comedian formerly known as Kramer as demonstrated, there really ARE forbidden words. In fact, according to Wall Street Journal editor Daniel Henninger, other kinds of bad language–including the f-word–are going out of vogue, at least among comedians, and maybe, to a degree, in the culture as a whole. We can only hope.
Posted by Veith at 11:58 AM

Babies like Christmas music
A study has found that Christmas music, more so than other kinds, has a calming effect on babies. Daycare workers have long noticed how babies do not cry as much when Christmas music is played in the background. Other styles they play, such as soft rock or classical, do not have the same effect. Click “continue reading” for details.

From Scripps Howard News Service:
[oas:casperstartribune.net/news/national/top:Middle1]
The holiday season is in full swing and it is giving nurses who work with newborns something to be thankful for. Their rows of usually fussy infants have been seduced into a collective calm, thanks to the tunes of Christmas.
“They are usually pretty cranky,” said Amanda Ring, a women and children’s health nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Cornell Medical Center. “But when we put Christmas music on, they stop crying. It’s amazing.”
Studies have shown that babies are born with the ability to perceive and process basic musical sounds and patterns, often with a preference for those in major keys. It just so happens that most holiday music is written and performed in such keys.

“Because the way that our brains are wired, you don’t need to have a fully developed frontal cortex to be affected by music,” said Suzanne Hanser, chair of music therapy at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Even in adults, soothing music can be used to initiate a state of relaxed awareness in the brain, studies show. The music triggers neural impulses which themselves cause nervous system reactions that produce relaxation in muscle tone, brain wave frequency, and other reflexes.  “It’s not surprising that newborns would feel soothed by almost any music,” Hanser said.

But Ring said the infants are noticeably more content when holiday music is played compared to the usual classical or soft-rock music that flows from the overhead speakers in the hospital’s two nurseries.

“It’s a really busy nursery,” Ring said. “There can be up to 22 babies in one nursery at a time and it’s rarely quiet for more than 10 minutes. But with the Christmas music on, it can stay quiet for more than an hour and a half.”
Christmas-music expert William Studwell, professor emeritus at Northern Illinois University, said the variety of yuletide tunes also proves interesting to babies.  “Slow music and classical music, such as Yanni, would not shake up the children, but it’s boring,” Studwell said. “Christmas music has such a different body. Some are secular, some are sacred, some are fast, and some are slow.”
Yes, the image of 22 babies warehoused in a day care center is pretty disturbing. I also wonder how the babies can distinguish between “secular” and “sacred.”
Posted by Veith at 11:47 AM

December 18, 2006
Christmas vs. Solstice Festivals
Commenter RJ on last week’s post about how Christmas was NOT based on a pagan holiday admitted that historian William Tighe was right that the Roman’s “Festival of the Sun” was initiated after the Christians celebrated Christmas, but he pointed to numerous other pagan Solstice festivals, insinuating that Christmas was based on them.
Obviously, there were pagan Solstice festivals, but Tighe ‘s point is that there was not a ROMAN solstice festival. Yes, the Celts and the Germans had theirs, using a Yule log, etc. But the Greco-Roman church certainly did not take a Celtic or a German pagan holiday and Christianize it into Christmas. Yes, when Christianity spread to the Celts and the Germans some of their Solstice customs were taken over (as Kelly in her comment well accounts for). But Christmas was initially put forward as a new and distinctly Christian holiday. (No, not as we celebrate it today, with colored lights and shopping malls, but as a major festival and “mass” of the church year.)
Posted by Veith at 10:04 AM
Tommy Thompson vs. Barack Obama
Tommy Thompson has made the first steps in a run for the GOP presidentla nomination. Tommy, as we Wisconsinites call him, may have been one of the most effective governors ever, getting re-elected more than any one else in state history, serving from 1987-2001. He cut taxes and dramatically turned around the state economy. He has to be one of the most creative policy architects and implementers, whose successful experiments on the state level–such as welfare reform and private school vouchers for the poor–have been emulated nation-wide. A conservative and pro-life midwesterner who has successfully carried blue state Wisconsin every time he has run for office, Tommy would probably make a great president.
But he doesn’t have a chance. He does not come off well on TV and has absolutely no “charisma.” He is the opposite of Barack Obama, who has “charisma” but absolutely no record of accomplishment. But I believe Obama has a lock on the Democratic nomination and has a very good chance of winning the presidency.
Posted by Veith at 09:52 AM
Stem cell atrocities
The Ukraine has been called “the stem cell capital of the world.” Now we know why. Read this story from the BBC. Here is the lead:
Healthy new-born babies may have been killed in Ukraine to feed a flourishing international trade in stem cells, evidence obtained by the BBC suggests.
Posted by Veith at 09:15 AM
Congratulations on being named Person of the Year
So Time Magazine named you Person of the Year. Does that make you feel good, or does it make you feel that Time is slipping away? Can you think of a better candidate?
Posted by Veith at 09:05 AM
Putting mass back into Christmas
I’m back in Wisconsin after what I think was a good semester at Patrick Henry College. (I even got promoted already. Now I’m the Provost.) Our church here is quite a contrast from the small and intimate St. Athanasius. To give you an idea. . . Do you remember last year when Christmas fell on a Sunday? And the controversy that broke out when many churches cancelled Sunday services? To me, it is scandalous enough that many churches don’t have a service on Christmas day. This year Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday. So here is what our congregation in Wisconsin is planning: Our regular three Sunday services in the morning, plus special Christmas Eve services at 3:00, 5:00, 7:00, and 11:00. That’s seven services on Christmas Eve. Then another service at 9:00 on Christmas day.
Time for our weekly church report. Hit “comment” to say what you got out of church this week.
Posted by Veith at 08:49 AM
December 14, 2006
Missouri Synod Lutherans and the Christmas Tree
Thanks and a tip o’ the hat to blog reader Jayfromcleveland for putting up on his blog this account of the first Christmas tree to be put up in a church in the USA, back in 1851. (This is not the article by Kevin Vogts that appeared in the “Lutheran Witness” in 1998.) Henry Schwan went on to become the third president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. He was also the author of the supplementary material in the synodical edition of Luther’s Small Catechism, questions, answers, applications, and Bible verses that are still used today in the church’s catechesis. Click “continue reading” for the article.
From the “From Cleveland” blog:
My wife found this article from the December, 1958 issue of “The Record,” a customer-promotion magazine printed by Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. This is not reprinted with permission since I did not have time to trace down the correct parties to inquire. It is hoped that this is a reasonable “fair use” since this article is provided for information and education.
As far as I can tell, this fits the known facts of the subject, and shows that the origin of the Christmas Tree tradition is at least ostensibly based on an apocryphal myth of the Nativity, and is not specifically of pagan origin, as is constantly alleged each Christmas season. I’d encourage all Christians to become critical thinkers — to “prove all things” ( 1 Thess 5:21) — and to add corroborable facts to their unvarnished devotion to the LORD.
_Reverend Schwan’s “HEATHEN” TREE
By Robert Dale
It was Christmas Eve, 1851. Rev. Henry Schwan stood at the door of the Zion Church of Cleveland, Ohio, welcoming the hundred or so members of his new congregation. _ _When at last he closed the door, he walked slowly up the aisle toward a beautiful, green tree glistening in the light of candles – the first Christmas tree at an American Christmas service. There had been other trees in a few scattered homes, but none before had ever been placed in a church. The congregation stared.
After Rev. Schwan read the Gospel story of the Nativity, he felt closer to his people this Christmas than ever before. But those feelings boomeranged. _ _”What business did a foreigner have decorating a tree in honor of Christ?” demanded one man, not a member of Schwan’s congregation. _ _”‘Twas idolization, pure idolization!” another non-parishioner muttered. _ _”Blasphemous!” said a third. “We won’t let it happen again next year!” _ _Finally, the outsiders talked of bringing Rev. Schwan’s action to the attention of the sheriff, the mayor, the governor. But the townspeople were reminded that the Constitution of the United States guaranteed freedom of worship, even for the new immigrants, even to taking vulgar, candlelit trees into church at Christmas. Even so, one way remained to stop such practices – there was no law forcing Christians to do business with pagans. _ _The majority of Zion Church members were foreign-born and employed as shoemakers, butchers, clerks and grocers; they had but little money. If given to understand that the town’s decent citizens would not tolerate heathen practices, wouldn’t they themselves see that their absurd tree did not again blaze in a church in Cleveland? _ _A week after the Christmas service, one of the Zion Church members, a shoemaker, came up to Rev. Schwan, saying, “Because I worshiped your heathen tree, I’ve lost all my customers.” _ _”The Christmas tree,” insisted the pastor, “is by no means heathenish. Nor are we worshiping it.” _ _”That’s what I tell my customers,” cried the shoemaker, “but they will not listen to me.” _ _”And they refuse to buy my meat,” said the butcher, “because I helped you cut the tree.” _ _Rev. Schwan began worrying. He went to Rev. Edwin Canfield whose church was almost as small as Zion. At his birthplace, in the city of Hanover, Rev. Schwan explained, Christmas was not true Christmas without a tree. _ _”At least, it’s a pretty innovation,” said Pastor Canfield. _ _”In Europe, it’s a tradition, not an innovation,” Schwan broke in. _ _”Show me proof,” said Pastor Canfield, “and next year I will light a tree myself.” _ _Rev. Schwan immediately sent letters to all American ministers he knew, asking if the Christmas tree was really unknown in America. Replies came from many, all with the same sad news. People who had come from abroad knew of the custom, but Americans at large had never heard of the Christmas tree._ _Then Pastor Schwan began looking up new immigrants, many of whom were passing through Cleveland. A man from Cincinnati told him of the first Christmas tree in Vienna, lighted in 1816 by Princess Henriette. The practice spread rapidly in Vienna. _ _From another stranger he heard that Christmas in Sweden was never celebrated without a tree, the first one dating back to 1817. From another source he found that England had its first Christmas tree in 1841, inaugurated by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, who brought the custom from Germany. _ _Then Rev. Schwan made a final discovery: Into the home of Fred Imgard in Wooster, Ohio, on Holy Eve of 1847, a spruce tree was taken – the first Christmas tree in America, decorated with paper dolls and ornaments. The children were overcome with joy. The beautiful idea had spread in Wooster. _ _Rev. Schwan called a meeting of leading members of the community, including a reporter whose paper had termed the tree in Zion Church a “nonsensical, asinine, moronic absurdity, besides being silly.” The pastor recited the facts he had gathered. His audience was impressed, public sentiment was beginning to change, but Rev. Schwan himself wanted proof that the Christmas tree was of Christian origin. Just before Christmas, 1852, he called on Pastor Canfield once again, to admit failure. His good friend, however, had just returned from Canada where he had learned from a monk about an old legend written down in a Sicilian monastery in the Middle Ages. _ _The legend told of the holy night when Our Lord was born. All creatures came to worship at Bethlehem. And the trees did likewise. None of the other trees came so far as the least among them, a small spruce. It was so weary that it could hardly stand, and the bigger, leafy trees all but obscured it. But the stars took pity on it, and a rain of them fell from Heaven, and the bright Christmas star alighted in the top of the spruce. And the Child in the manger saw the spruce and blessed it with a smile._
“And so,” said Pastor Canfield, “long before the first known Christmas trees, a pious man envisioned the evergreen as a symbol of the Father’s everlasting love, and the Christ Child’s star-bedecked birthday gift as a sign from Heaven, and he penned the miracle for posterity.” _ _Rev. Schwan received congratulations for his long studies. And as Christmas approached he felt the deepening of friendships. On the Christmas Eve of 1852, one year after the uproar of the Christmas tree in Zion Church, many in Cleveland celebrated by decorating a Christmas tree. Stepping outside the door of Zion Church, Rev. Schwan saw a tree of exceptional beauty. Silvery angel’s hair flew from its top; little glass bells dangled from the branches, ringing in the wind; red apples and gilded nuts danced between the boughs on which sat white candles; and a waxen Christ Child leaned against the trunk, its hand raised in a blessing. _ _Beside the tree stood two smiling children. “Reverend Canfield sent us to wish you a Merry Christmas,” one of them said. “And this tree is a Christmas present for your church.” _ _Since that day, the custom of decorating Christmas trees in churches has spread from Cleveland through America.
Posted by Veith at 07:38 AM
Christmas was NOT based on a pagan holiday
Another Christmas special re-run: My column for WORLD refuting the old charge that Christmas was based on a pagan holiday:
Why December 25?
According to conventional wisdom, Christmas had its origin in a pagan winter solstice festival, which the church co-opted to promote the new religion. In doing so, many of the old pagan customs crept into the Christian celebration. But this view is apparently a historical myth—like the stories of a church council debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or that medieval folks believed the earth is flat—often repeated, even in classrooms, but not true.
William J. Tighe, a history professor at Muhlenberg College, gives a different account in his article “Calculating Christmas,” published in the December 2003 Touchstone Magazine. He points out that the ancient Roman religions had no winter solstice festival.
True, the Emperor Aurelian, in the five short years of his reign, tried to start one, “The Birth of the Unconquered Sun,” on Dec. 25, 274. This festival, marking the time of year when the length of daylight began to increase, was designed to breathe new life into a declining paganism. But Aurelian’s new festival was instituted after Christians had already been associating that day with the birth of Christ. According to Mr. Tighe, the Birth of the Unconquered Sun “was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians.” Christians were not imitating the pagans. The pagans were imitating the Christians.
The early church tried to ascertain the actual time of Christ’s birth. It was all tied up with the second-century controversies over setting the date of Easter, the commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection. That date should have been an easy one. Though Easter is also charged with having its origins in pagan equinox festivals, we know from Scripture that Christ’s death was at the time of the Jewish Passover. That time of year is known with precision.
But differences in the Jewish, Greek, and Latin calendars and the inconsistency between lunar and solar date-keeping caused intense debate over when to observe Easter. Another question was whether to fix one date for the Feast of the Resurrection no matter what day it fell on or to ensure that it always fell on Sunday, “the first day of the week,” as in the Gospels.
This discussion also had a bearing on fixing the day of Christ’s birth. Mr. Tighe, drawing on the in-depth research of Thomas J. Talley’s The Origins of the Liturgical Year, cites the ancient Jewish belief (not supported in Scripture) that God appointed for the great prophets an “integral age,” meaning that they died on the same day as either their birth or their conception.
Jesus was certainly considered a great prophet, so those church fathers who wanted a Christmas holiday reasoned that He must have been either born or conceived on the same date as the first Easter. There are hints that some Christians originally celebrated the birth of Christ in March or April. But then a consensus arose to celebrate Christ’s conception on March 25, as the Feast of the Annunciation, marking when the angel first appeared to Mary.
Note the pro-life point: According to both the ancient Jews and the early Christians, life begins at conception. So if Christ was conceived on March 25, nine months later, he would have been born on Dec. 25.
This celebrates Christ’s birth in the darkest time of the year. The Celtic and Germanic tribes, who would be evangelized later, did mark this time in their “Yule” festivals, a frightening season when only the light from the Yule log kept the darkness at bay. Christianity swallowed up that season of depression with the opposite message of joy: “The light [Jesus] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
Regardless of whether this was Christ’s actual birthday, the symbolism works. And Christ’s birth is inextricably linked to His resurrection.
_•_Copyright © 2005 WORLD Magazine_December 10, 2005, Vol. 20, No. 48
Posted by Veith at 07:36 AM
December 13, 2006
Evidence Jesus was born on December 25?
Just as TV is rerunning old TV Christmas specials, we will rerun a blog entry from last year:
In response to my column on the evidence that December 25 was not set aside as Christ’s birthday because of some pagan holiday, but for good reason, alert WORLD reader Rev. Gary Hinman sent me this article on yet another line of evidence. The calculations are based on the course of Temple duties for the clan of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. The months are laid out with precision in the Gospel of Luke, including when his wife Elisabeth visited her relative Mary, and the unborn John leapt in the womb as he came into the presence of the unborn Jesus. Counting out the months leads us somewhere after the middle of December as the time of Jesus’ birth. The article also makes an argument from when lambs are born, requiring shepherds to be out in the fields watching their flocks. But the argument from Zacharias’ temple duties is even stronger than mine, since it comes straight from the Bible.
I found the article online. It was written by John Stormer, author of the Cold War classic “None Dare Call It Treason,” who later became a Christian and a Baptist pastor.
“Lambs are born at the Christmas Season” _Is there evidence that Jesus was born at Christmas??
by John Stormer
For too many years, pastors and teachers have said, “Of course we don’t know when Christ was actually born- but the time of year is not really important.” Jehovah’s Witnesses and others have taught that Christmas was “invented” in the fourth or fifth centuries. The supposed goal was giving a “Christian” facade or influence to the wild pagan or Satanic holiday observances during the winter solstice (the shortest days of the year).
What’s the real story? Is there any real evidence that Jesus Christ _was born at Christmas? A careful examination of a number of seemingly _unrelated Bible passages gives clear indication that the Lord Jesus was _indeed born at Christmas time. Such study will give new emphasis to what _Christ came to do. It will also provide a much deeper appreciation of all _that is hidden in the Word of God which can be discovered by those who _prayerfully search the scriptures.
Every word in the Bible is there because God put it there. He has a _purpose for every one of His words. Therefore, seemingly casual listing of _periods of time, genealogical references, etc. have significance which can be _discovered through prayerful study.
In Luke Chapter 1, the Bible records seemingly unimportant details _about what a priest named Zacharias was doing when an angel announced to him _that he and his wife were to have a child. The child was to be John the _Baptist who would prepare the way for the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Bible _further records that the Lord Jesus was conceived in the sixth month after _John the Baptist was conceived. Therefore, if the time of the conception of _John the Baptist could be determined, the birth date of the Lord Jesus could _be calculated.
The scriptures say (relevant passages are underlined): “There was in _the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of _the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name _was Elisabeth.
And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office _before God in the order of his course… ” Luke 1:5,8 _At this point Zacharias demonstrated his amazing faithfulness to his _duties as a priest. Even though he had been given the wonderful news by the _angel that he and Elisabeth would have a son, Zacharias stayed in the temple _until the days of his course were completed.
“And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration _were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days his _wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months…” Luke 1:23-24 _The passage then describes how an angel came to Mary to announce that _she was to be the virgin mother of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus. The _scripture says: _”And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a _city of Galilee, named Nazareth. To a virgin espoused to a man whose name _was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary…” Luke _1:26-27 _And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with _haste, into a city of Judah; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and _saluted Elisabeth.” Luke 1:39-40
Contained within these quoted passages are scriptures which point to _the exact time when Jesus was born. (Remember that God puts every word and _every detail into the Bible exactly as He wants it and for a purpose.) The _underlined words are the key.
In Luke 1:5 and Luke 1:8, we are told that Zacharias was a priest of _the course of Abia and that he fulfilled his priestly duties in the order of _his course. To understand the importance of the course of Abia and its _bearing on the date of John the Baptist’s conception, it is necessary to turn _to 1Chronicles 24:1-10. This passage describes how a thousand years before _Christ, King David established the courses for priestly service in the coming _temple. Twenty-four courses were established and numbered by drawing lots – _twelve courses for sanctuary service and twelve for the government of the _house of God.
Members of each course would serve during a month starting with the _Hebrew month of Nisan. (Because of the way the Hebrew calendar fluctuates, _the month Nisan can start anytime between early March and early April.) The _sons of Abijah (the Old Testament spelling for Abia) were in the eighth _course. Priests of Abia like Zacharias would, therefore, have each _ministered for some days during the eighth month which in some years because _of the fluctuation in the Hebrew calendar started as early as the fifth day _of our month of October. Zacharias would have returned home when his days of _service were accomplished and John the Baptist could have been conceived _sometime between October 15 and the end of the month.
After conception the scripture says that Elisabeth hid herself for _five months. Then in the sixth month of her pregnancy (which, based on the _above calculation, would have started about March 15 and continued until _April 15) the angel announced to the Virgin Mary that the Lord Jesus would _be conceived in her womb by the Holy Ghost. If this took place on or about _April 1 a “normal” gestation period of 270 days would have then had the Lord _Jesus due on or about December 25. How about that!
There are other scriptural and natural indicators that confirm that _the Lord was born at Christmas time. IN the account of His birth in Luke _2:8, we read: _”And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, _keeping watch over their flock by night.”
My son-in-law, who has a degree in agriculture, after hearing the _above presentation, told me, “Certainly, the Lord Jesus was born at _Christmas. The only time shepherds spend the night in the fields with their _sheep is during the time when the lambs are born. The ewes become _’attractive’ to the rams in the month after June 21, the longest day of the _year. The normal gestation period is five months so the ewes start lambing _about mid-December.” He added: Isn’t it natural that the Lamb of God who _takes away the sin of the world would be born when all the other lambs are _born?
This “coincidence” was too amazing for me to accept until I checked _it out. A former teacher from the school where I am the administrator is _married to a Montana sheep rancher. She confirmed what I had been told. She _said, “Oh, yes! None of the men who have flocks are in church for weeks at _Christmas. They have to be in the fields day and night to clean up and care _for the lambs as soon as they are born or many would perish in the cold.” _Isn’t that neat? God’s Lamb, who was to die for the sins of the world, was _born when all the other little lambs are born. Because He came and died the _centuries old practice of sacrificing lambs for sin could end.
There is another neat confirmation that God had His Son born at _Christmas. The days at the end of December are the shortest (and therefore _the darkest days) of the year. Jesus Christ said, “I am the light of the _world.” So at the time of the year when the darkness is greatest, God the _Father sent God the Son to be the Light of the world.
The Lord Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a sinless life and was _therefore qualified to pay the penalty for the sins of all mankind (which is _death). He paid it all- but all do not benefit from the wondrous gift God _bestowed on mankind at Christmas.
“He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as _received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them _that believe on his name.” John 1:11-12
John Stormer, Pastor Emeritus _Heritage Baptist Church, Florissant, MO _from the PCC Update, Winter 1996 (The ABeka magazine) _(PCC – Pensacola Christian College)
Posted by Veith at 06:27 AM
FAQ about the Islamic Civil War
You can’t tell the players without a program. Here is a useful summary about the Sunnis and the Shi’ites and why they are at each other’s throats.
Realize that most of the bloodshed in Iraq consists of these two sects killing each other. Our guys are in the middle, trying to impose social order, trying to help both sides! And this is why they are getting killed. No, civil war is not good for Iraq or for our forces in Iraq. But won’t this sectarian strife prevent Muslims from presenting a common front against Western civilization? Skillful diplomacy would play the sides off against each other, bringing the Sunnis in against the threat of the Shi’ite atomic bomb, bringing in the Shi’ites against Al-Qaeda and Wahabi terrorism.
That most of us never realized the information in this FAQ is telling about our ignorance of our enemy, and I suspect the same can be said of many of our public officials.
Posted by Veith at 06:09 AM
Liberals to woo evangelicals
The Washington insider publication The Hill reports that Democratic heavyweights–including Hillary Clinton–are hiring religion consultants to help them get chunks of the evangelical vote. What are the reasons why they might well succeed?
Posted by Veith at 06:06 AM
December 12, 2006
Rembrandt’s exposition of Matthew 19
Rembrandt is one of the greatest Christian artists. Washington’s National Gallery is featuring a big exhibition of his prints. Here is one of them, showing Christ inviting the children (a topic not really depicted until the Reformation), throwing in the rest of Matthew 19 for good measure. This work is called the “Hundred Guilder Print,” since at the time it commanded this incredible price–what the artist charged his apprentices for a year of instruction–for a print. But it was worth it:
Go here for a detailed, illuminating reading of this masterpiece, what he is doing with light and technique, and how Rembrandt is meditating on Jesus and the meaning of the Scripture. For example, notice the shadow of praying hands on the garments of our Lord. Notice how His hands, one restraining Peter and the other lifted in welcome, are rising to the posture of crucifixion. Notice the man in the big hat at the left, a self-portrait of Rembrandt, who puts himself into the scene.
Posted by Veith at 06:53 AM
Christmas time. . . is here
The best of all the animated Christmas specials, as I say every year, has to be “Charlie Brown Christmas.” Among its many virtues is its terrific music, a simple jazz score that captures perfectly the melancholy thoughtfulness of Charlie Brown. Here is an account of Vince Guaraldi, who wrote the music and played the piano for that Christmas classic, which mocks the season’s commercialism and ends with Linus reading its real meaning from the Gospel of Luke.
Posted by Veith at 06:11 AM
December 11, 2006
Apocalypto Now
I haven’t seen Mel Gibson’s new movie, Apocalypto, seeing as how I am rather squeamish when it comes to violence. I trust Dr. Luther’s review, which tells me that it is very good. (If any of you have seen it, please give us your take.)
The question remains, why did Gibson, fresh after “The Passion of the Christ,” turn to a depiction of ancient Mayan civilization? If he is the politically-incorrect (and sometimes just incorrect) scourge of the liberal cultural establishment, why go after the Mayans?
My suggestion is that he is, in fact, striking at a bedrock tenet of postmodernism: The myth of the noble savage. In showing the Mayans to be such a brutal, head-chopping and heart-tearing-out culture, he is undermining the foundation of multi-culturalism and cultural relativism. Those of you who have actually seen the film, please tell me if I’m right.
Posted by Veith at 07:03 AM
The Greeks had a computer
Archeologists have been studying a mysterious device discovered on the wreck of a Greek cargo vessel that sunk 2,100 years ago. It is called he Antikythera Mechanism. Here it is:
The mechanism is a series of clockwork-like gears used to calculate the relationship between lunar months and the calendar year. It can determine the appearance of the sky on any date in the past or the future. It is, scientists now say, the first analog computer. Why this technology was lost until relatively recently remains a mystery.
Posted by Veith at 06:51 AM
Don’t forget the Treaty of Paris
In our Bible class, studying earthly authority, we got into the perennial question of whether the colonies were right to rebel against the king in 1776. We have taken this up on this blog, but, be that as it may, a recent trip to the National Archives reminded me of a highly relevant fact, to those who might doubt the legitimacy of our American government. That fact is The Treaty of Paris.
In this document of 1783, the king of England and its parliament legally renounce all claims to sovereignty and recognize the independence of the United States of America. It also has a significant beginning: “In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity.” Here is the salient article:
Article 1: His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.
The point is, America’s founding, unlike what the French Revolutionaries did, was under the law. The colonies were asserting their right to representative government, a right which had already been established in England with parliament, in which the colonists were unrepresented. Further, in England parliament was supreme over the king, as evident in the “glorious revolution” of 1688, in which parliament replaced their monarch, leading eventually to parliament’s picking of the dynasty that would give the country King George himself, who owed his own throne to the supremacy of parliament. At any rate, with the Treaty of Paris, even monarchists must recognize the legitimacy of the American government.
The Treaty of Paris used to be exhibited in the National Archives as one of our founding documents, along with the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. I went back to the archives, now that I am in the neighborhood and now that the building has undergone an extensive renovation, but the Treaty of Paris is back in storage, no longer on display. But it should be.
Posted by Veith at 06:32 AM
What we learned in church
On the cover of our bulletin this second Sunday of Advent , to tie in with the readings, was a picture of a ferocious John the Baptist (from the terrific church resource site Scholia). That doesn’t look too Christmasy, said the pastor, but then went on to show how it is, how REPENTANCE is the way to prepare for the coming of Christ, who brings with him forgiveness. So, what did you learn in church yesterday?
Posted by Veith at 06:19 AM
December 08, 2006
Philosophical critiques, abridged
After writing one of yesterday’s blog entries, a thought flashed into my mind: “The problem with pragmatism is that it doesn’t work.”
I thought that was a great sentence, both summarizing a philosophical position and criticizing it at the same time, all in one brief sentence. So I tried to come up with some more:
The problem with Platonism is that it is too idealistic.
The problem with Existentialism is that its meaningless.
The problem with Hegel is that he goes back and forth.
The problem with Nihilism is that it has nothing to say.
Can you think of any more? Feel free to try it with theological, political, or other kinds of positions.
Posted by Veith at 06:34 AM
Arabs claiming victory
The Islamic world is reading the report of the Iraq Study Group and is claiming victory over the U.S.!
Posted by Veith at 06:31 AM
An honest atheist
When we come across something we agree with, we are often blind to its flaws. Here an atheist eviscerates Richard Dawkin’s latest book “The God Delusion,” with its claims that religion is the source of all evil and atheism does nothing but good. Click “continue reading” for a sample of Shannon Love’s explanation of how the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition do NOT discredit Christianity and how atheism, on the contrary, has promoted political oppression and mass murders.
“Atheists like to single out both the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition as examples of inhumanity that occurred because of religion. (The very fact that we atheists feel compelled to reach back 400-800 years for our kneejerk examples of bad religious behavior should set off warning bells.) Yet both events had significant materialistic or practical drivers that would have created much the same events without any religion being involved. The Crusades arose as a counterattack against the Muslim military expansion that had consumed half of the Christian world. Had the United Atheist League conquered half the lands of the League of United Atheists the same dynamic would have applied. Contrary to many people’s view, no atrocities occurred during the Crusades that hadn’t occurred when Christians fought Christians or Muslims fought Muslims. The massacres of the inhabitants of cities that so occupy the modern mind did not arise out of religious bigotry but from the established rules of medieval siege warfare. Cities taken by storm were put to the sack. The Crusaders established Christian kingdoms in the Middle East that lasted nearly two centuries. Those kingdoms were 98% Muslim with a Christian nobility. The Christians didn’t try to exterminate those populations based on religion.
Likewise, the Spanish Inquisition sprang from the very secular needs for political control and money. The purpose of the Inquisition was to create legal and cultural justifications for the seizures of vast amounts of wealth from those accused. The religious aspects of the persecution were just a gloss, as in every other action taken during that time. In modern times, atheistic communists carried out nearly identical actions for nearly identical reasons. (The most strange thing about our view of the Spanish Inquisition is that we regard it with special horror even though the use of torture for both investigation and punishment was a universal standard at the time. What so shocked the contemporaries of the Inquisition was not the fact that it tortured people. Every police power of the time tortured people. What shocked the contemporaries was the class of people who got tortured. Mutilating peasants didn’t raise anyone’s eyebrows, mutilating the rich and noble did.)
Dawkins simply repeats the shallow and ahistorical version of history that any hip 19-year-old college freshman can regurgitate on cue. If Dawkins had approached the question from an empirical point of view, he would have readily determined that evidence for the degree to which religion does or does not promote inhumane decisions can only be found in the history of the last 300 years or so. Only during that time frame have atheistic ideologies gained any significant power to actually make good or bad decisions. Unfortunately for atheists, recent history shows that the more atheistic a political ideology, the more destruction it wreaks when it acquires power. The first true atheistic regime in history arose during the 1792 French revolution, which promptly consumed itself in the Great Terror. Atheistic communism next assumed power, and it killed 120 million people over 80 years, and brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation more than once. Mussolini was an atheist and the Nazis, who held a diverse mixture of atheistic, deistic and pagan beliefs, were united only by their antipathy towards traditional religion. National Socialism as an ideology was rigorously secular and justified its killings with appeals to a materialistic pseudo-science. Dawkins spends about 4 pages (what about Hitler and Stalin? weren’t they atheists? — p. 291) before concluding that atheism played no part in their crimes.”
Posted by Veith at 05:45 AM
December 07, 2006
The Pragmatists’ solution for Iraq
The Iraq Study Group, hailed in the press as a bipartisan assembly of “pragmatists” and “realists,” has issued its recommendations for solving the Iraq War. They include resolving the Arab/Israeli conflict. What a good idea! That should be easy. Another is getting Iran and Syria to form a “support group” to help stabilize Iraq. I’m sure stabilizing Iraq is exactly what Iran and Syria want to do, and they would be glad to get their friend into a 12-step program. That is really pragmatic.
Posted by Veith at 07:20 AM
Conservative Judaism OKs gay unions
It has been observed that every theological tradition tends to sort itself out into three strains: a liberal, a conservative, and a fundamentalist. (That latter term means in this context “even more conservative.”) Thus, in Lutheranism we have the liberal ELCA, the conservative LCMS, and the even more conservative and more separatist WELS. The Presbyterians have the PCUSA, the PCA, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Baptists have American Baptists, Southeran Baptists, and Fundamental Baptists. Campbellites have the Disciples of Christ, First Christian, and Church of Christ, etc., etc. This even holds true in non-Christian religions, so that Judaism breaks down into the liberal Reform Judaism, the conservative Conservative Judaism, and the super-conservative Orthodox Judaism.
Now Conservative Judaism has issued a ruling allowing rabbis to solemnize homosexual unions and to ordain gay rabbis. This is a seismic shift, suggesting that “conservatives” in these other traditions may not be immune from this moral and doctrinal slippage.
Here is how these Conservative rabbis, who profess to believe in the Old Testament and to uphold the Jewish Law, were able to come to this culture-pleasing conclusion: They formulated three official rulings, two of which condemn homosexuality and one of which is fine with it. Individual synagogues and their members are free to choose which interpretation they want to go with. But how did they get around those passages in Leviticus? The report quotes from one of the rabbis:
[The] third answer allows same-sex ceremonies and ordination of gay men and lesbians, while maintaining a ban on anal sex. It argues that the verse in Leviticus saying “a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman” is unclear, but traditionally was understood to bar only one kind of sex between men. All other prohibitions were “added later on by the rabbis.”
So Jews still may not indulge in one kind of gay sex, but they can. . . .The mind boggles. Notice how legalism leads to the finding of loopholes, which leads to lawlessness.
Posted by Veith at 07:02 AM
Jimmy Carter plagiarism charge
Scholar Kenneth Stein has resigned from the Carter Center, charging that former president Jimmy Carter committed plagiarism in his bestselling book “Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid.” He said that legal action was forthcoming so that he could not presently give the details, but stay tuned.
Posted by Veith at 06:57 AM
December 06, 2006
Of batsmen & bowlers
I had ignorantly considered the game cricket to be an aristocratic lawn game, on the order of croquet. But I was completely wrong. Cricket is a terrific sport, as absorbing as its cousin baseball. This I learned in Australia, a nation currently caught up in a cricket frenzy. In one of the world’s biggest sports rivalries, the Australia national team is playing England. The prize is “the Ashes,” an urn containing burnt wickets, that has passed back and forth since 1877.
While over there a couple of weeks ago, I read a children’s book entitled “Understanding Cricket,” watched a school match in the cricket oval across from the parsonage (“the manse”) where we were staying, watched the first test match with the “poms” on TV, and watched my son-in-law play a match for his local team. (He also explained a lot.) I also watched a mini-series on DVD entitled “Bodyline” about a British team in the 1930′s who developed a technique of throwing the ball at the batter–fracturing one Aussie’s skull–a practice that was condemned as “not cricket.” Anyway, I got way into the game. For how the game is played and why it is so interesting, click “continue reading.”
Here is a bloke from the local club. (In Australia, instead of just watching sports on TV or having kids play it, nearly every town has local adult teams. This is also true of Aussie football, a rough game played without pads that I’ll have to blog about another time!)
_The bowler throws a hard red ball, usually bouncing it with a variety of spins, to a batsman who can slap it in any direction. (There are no foul balls.) Fielders have to stand all over the field, including behind the batsman, who stands in front of three sticks balanced on each other. If he misses and the ball knocks over this wicket, he is out. He is also out if someone catches the ball on the fly. Or if the fielders throw the ball and knock down the wicket while the batsman is running. Or if the ball hits the batsman blocking the wicket, which means he HAS to hit the ball.
When he does and if he chooses to, he runs to a second wicket 22 yards away, where another batsman at that one will start running back to the first wicket, where he becomes the next hitter. Depending on how far the batsman hits the ball and how long it takes to field it, the two can keep running, going back and forth between the two wickets, scoring a run each time. If a hit ball goes all the way to the end of the field (cf. a double in baseball), that is worth 4 point. Knocking the ball out of the park (cf. a home run) scores 6.
Cricket requires great hitting, throwing, running, and fielding (without gloves). An “innings” consists of getting every player on an 11 member team out. A test match requires each team retiring the other side twice. On the level of the Ashes, this typically takes FIVE DAYS. And there is a lot of scoring. I watched Aussie captain (who calls all the shots, instead of a separate coach or manager) Ricky Ponting score 197 runs, almost a “double century.” The final score was Australia, 804; England, 527. And there is much more to the game.
Posted by Veith at 06:48 AM
Bad language French-Canadian style
In our culture, bad language consists largely of sexual terms and other “bodily function” words. This is “obscenity,” referring to things that belong “out of the scene,” or out of sight. We do have religious bad language–profanity (taking something sacred and making it “common”), curses (consigning something or someone we are mad at to eternal damnation), and blasphemy (violating God’s holy name). But these are considered by most people to be much milder. Our really bad language has to do with the body.
In French-speaking Canada, though, which has had a long Roman Catholic influence (more so than post-revolutionary France), bad language is almost exclusively religious, especially having to do with the sacraments. Bodily function words are hardly even considered bad and are seldom censored even on the public media. But religious bad language is censored, even in the secularist press. If you are a Quebecois and hit your finger with a hammer, you may say the French word for “Tabernacle!” If you are cussing out someone who has cut you off on the highway, you might say “Host!” or “Chalice!” And if you are really mad, you use one of the strongest terms: “Baptism!”
Here is an article on the subject. I think the French Canadians are right in the sense that profanity and blasphemy–taking the Lord’s name in vain–IS far worse morally than mere “dirty” words about the body. Right?
Posted by Veith at 06:40 AM
One in seven Mexicans work here
A new report has found that one in seven Mexican workers work in the USA. That comes to some 7 million. This is 2 million more than five years ago. And unlike the old days when they would sneak across the border, work, then go back home, now the biggest number of these workers stay here. Why? Increased border security. Once they get across, they don’t increase their risk getting caught by going back and forth. Instead, they stay put.
Posted by Veith at 06:30 AM
December 05, 2006
Statistics on the Religion of Peace
Is Islamic terrorism just an aberration in a peaceful religion, according to the politically-correct line? Or does this religion promote a culture of violence? Well, as think-tanker Danikel Allott reports, a study has been conducted:
In a recent survey on global conflict, Monty Marshall and Ted Burr of the Center for International Development and Conflict Management found that of the 24 major armed conflicts taking place worldwide in 2005, more than half (13) involved Muslim governments or paramilitary groups on one or both sides of the fighting. What’s more, among six countries with “emerging armed conflicts,” four are predominantly Muslim and another, Thailand, involves a Muslim separatist movement.
Messrs. Marshall and Burr also rated 161 countries according to their capacity to avoid outbreaks of armed conflicts. Whereas 63 percent of non-Muslim countries were categorized as “enjoy[ing] the strongest prospects for successful management of new challenges,” just 18 percent of the 50 Muslim nations included were similarly designated. In addition, Muslim nations (those with at least 40 percent Muslim population) were two-and-a-half times more likely than non-Muslim nations to be considered “at the greatest risk of neglecting or mismanaging emerging societal crises such that these conflicts escalate to serious violence and/or government instability.” This evaluation reveals the glaring reality that violence is a fact of life in many Muslim nations.
There is more:
But the Muslim world’s support of faith-based violence is not limited to governments and their non-state proxies. Consider a June Pew Global Attitudes poll that showed a majority of Muslims in Jordan, Egypt and Nigeria, as well as roughly a third in France, Spain and Great Britain, felt violence against civilians can be justified in order to defend Islam. Worse, a July 2005 poll found 22 percent of British Muslims said last summer’s rush-hour bombings of London’s metro system, which killed 52 people, were justified because of Britain’s support for the war on terror. This included 31 percent of young British Muslims.
Some Muslims’ appetite for destruction is not surprising given the ability of prominent Muslim leaders to foment hatred of the West. Following Pope Benedict’s September comments, Imams across the Middle East and North Africa issued fatwas for his death. Similar threats were made in advance of the pope’s visit to Turkey. Meanwhile in France, the Interior Ministry has announced that Muslims are waging an undeclared “intifada” against police, with attacks injuring an average of 14 officers a day.
There are bright spots, of course. Several thousand Muslims in Kismayo, Somalia recently publicly protested the arrival of an al Qaeda-backed Islamic militia. But while experts assure us only a small percentage (perhaps 10 percent) of Muslims are willing to participate in terror, with 1.2 billion Muslims globally, that’s more than 100 million jihadists.
The most revealing aspect of the Islamic world’s reaction to Pope Benedict’s September remarks was that what enraged many of those who reacted violently was not the suggestion that Islam is violent, but rather the implied criticism of that violence. The West must recognize these violent outbursts for what they are: calculated acts of outrage meant not to refute but to intimidate non-Muslims into not speaking up at all.
Posted by Veith at 06:09 AM
Abortion and the English Language
Nat Hentoff is a liberal, but he is an honest one, whose convictions about standing up for the underprivileged lead him to oppose abortion. He is following the Supreme Court arguments over partial birth abortion on C-Span. In his latest column, he exposes how those who defend abortion–including some of the Supreme Court justices–must resort to an Orwellian distortion of language, speaking of “fetal demise” instead of killing half-delivered babies, and removing “intercranial contents” instead of sucking out their brains.
“Orwellian” refers to British essayist George Orwell’s classic “Politics and the English Language.” I cannot think of a more important work to read if you want to think clearly and cut through the false rhetoric that dominates much of our political–and moral–discourse. If you haven’t read it, you need to. For an online text, go here
Posted by Veith at 05:50 AM
December 04, 2006
Boomer Sooner
I couldn’t believe it when I realized that my alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, was playing in the Big 12 Championship. It had seemed to be a disastrous season. First, the starting quarterback got kicked off the team for taking a bogus job from an alumnus. Then, the Heisman-trophy running back, Adrian Peterson, broke his collarbone and was out for the season. The Sooners got beat fair and square by Texas, but had a game stolen–as even the opposing conference admits–when officials made flagrant mistakes that handed the win to Oregon.
But it turned out, after their big stars got injured, the Sooners pulled together and won 7 games in a row. Texas, meanwhile, collapsed, losing to Texas A&M and lowly Kansas State. Oklahoma only had one conference loss (to Texas) and so won the Big 12 Southern division. Saturday they played the Northern division winner, OU’s longtime, historical conference rival, Nebraska. (Digression: I utterly oppose these conference playoffs. Among other reasons, they disrupt the OU/Nebraska rivalry–watching that annual game had become as much of a Thanksgiving custom as eating cranberry sauce in Oklahoma–since now the teams only play each other every other year.) And in this playoff game on Saturday, Oklahoma won, sending the Sooners to a BCS bowl, the Fiesta, to play unbeaten Boise State.
The Oklahoma quarterback, Paul Thompson, was a wide receiver last year. He was made a quarterback mainly to carry out the team’s only hopeful strategy: Handoff to superrunner Peterson. That worked for awhile, until Peterson made an unnecessary dive into the endzone that broke his collarbone, but after that, Thompson turned into an effective, pass-throwing quarterback and a true team leader.
Anyway, the team’s unexpected comeback from adversity showed excellent coaching, by Bob Stoops, and good character all around.
As for the annual BCS national championship controversy, I don’t see the problem this time. Of course Florida should play Ohio State. Michigan already did. Michigan had its chance to beat the number one team and didn’t. Of course computers should have a role in the decision, since you have to take strength of schedule into consideration (which favors Florida) and this factor can be calculated mathematically. Otherwise, you would need to have the unbeaten Ohio State play the only other unbeaten team, Boise State, whom the Sooners will play in the Fiesta bowl.
Still, I would like to see a playoff system. The season could be shortened enough by dropping some of those soft non-conference, cannon-fodder games that many teams use as practice in the beginning of the season.
Posted by Veith at 06:04 AM
The good side of a Muslim civil war?
Columnist Diana West, more than most pundits, has seen the war on terrorism as part of a larger struggle between the West and Islam. Drawing on Saudi Arabia’s recent statement threatening intervention in Iraq to defend the Sunnis, should America abandon them to the murderous Shi’ites, she is bold to raise a provocative question: If Iraq degenerates into an intra-Muslim civil war, which then spreads throughout the Islamic world, would that necessarily be a bad thing? Of course it would for the people involved and those caught in the middle. But perhaps, she suggests, such a divided Islam would advance Western interests.
Posted by Veith at 05:45 AM
Unpleasant people
R. Emmet Tyrrell, Jr., editor of the madcap conservative magazine “American Spectator,” points out how some politicians–usually of the liberal variety–are just unpleasant.
It seems as if the same traits that can make a person successful–drive, ambition, ego–also can make that person insufferable, obnoxious, and uncaring of others.
Posted by Veith at 05:40 AM
Church report
A young couple in our church has been going to have a baby, on about the same schedule as our daughter Joanna. So for the past months, on Sunday mornings, I’ve been sort of tracking this other young woman’s progress in pregnancy, thinking of my daughter’s down in Australia. Joanna had her baby, as I believe I have mentioned, and now, after coming back to St. Athanasius after our trip to Australia, I was pleased to see that this other baby had been born too! Sunday was his baptism.
This being the first Sunday of Advent, the pastor preached about Christ’s coming. How He still comes–for us–today. Just as He rode the ordinary donkey when He came into Jerusalem, He rides the waters of Baptism, the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the Word of God.
Tell about your church experience and a good sermon your pastor preached.
Posted by Veith at 05:29 AM
December 01, 2006
A pro-Christ movie?
Continuing our positive movie theme, this weekend The Nativity opens, a supposedly faithful dramatization of the birth of Our Lord. I can’t see it this weekend, but I would appreciate hearing from people who can. I trust the taste and discernment of this blog’s readers. If you see this movie, please comment on how it is. Is it faithful to Scripture? Is it a good movie?
Posted by Veith at 07:19 AM
A pro-family movie
On the long flight to and from Australia, I watched about seven movies. One of them is now on my short list of favorites. It is an Australian movie, much beloved in that country, called The Castle. Hailed as the funniest Australian film ever made–and Aussies make a lot of funny ones–the flick is available here on DVD.
It’s about an Aussie dad, a mum, and their four grown kids, whose home is their castle. Yes, its location is right by an airport landing field (the family loves to watch the airplanes come in), the property is broken up by huge power lines (“a testament to man’s ability to make electricity”), the decor is totally tacky (dad proudly points out to visitors how the trim and the chimney are all “fake”), and everything is ramshackle (but the property “is almost worth as much as when we bought it”), but it is a HOME, a place of love and good memories. The boys, even the one in prison, idolize their Dad, who treats his wife like a queen, always complimenting everything she does. (Such as her cooking: “Whoo-hoo! What is this dish?” “Chicken.” “But what is this you put on it?” “Seasoning.”)
Anyway, the government wants to expand the airport and exercise eminent domain on their house. So these ordinary folks take on the establishment, fighting to save their home.
The family is very funny, but this is an affectionate humor. As the Dad tries to explain to the judge, a home is “where people love and care for each other.” And they really do. The Dad’s speech on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding is perfect, saying of the groom, “we finally found someone who loves Trace as much as we do.”
The movie has some bad language–Dad cusses a blue streak when people try to take his home–but it is pro-family in the best sense.
I’m trying to think of other movies with such positive families. What are some?
Posted by Veith at 06:54 AM
Pro-life movie wows Toronto Film Festival
Opponents of abortion lost a net total of 13 seats in the House, very likely dooming statutory limitations on that evil operation. But political action has accomplished little anyway against abortion since our culture is pro-death. Prolifers have to change not just the laws but the culture. So says Robert Novak, but he cites an example of a prolife cultural victory.
A new movie, entitled Bella, made by a group of conservative catholics from Mexico, hinges on the repudiation of abortion. And, incredibly, it won the People’s Choice prize at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival.
The plans are to release the movie in April, but can it get a distributor? That remains to be seen. But the possibilities–a critically-acclaimed, entertaining, persuasive pro-life work of art–are intriguing.
Posted by Veith at 06:35 AM
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November 30, 2006
Tall poppy syndrome
As you know, Koreans, Japanese, and other East Asian cultures value education very highly. Often, families from these cultures send their kids to after school programs, where they study even more. After American kids get home from school, they might go to soccer practice. After Korean kids get home from school, they go to a tutorial where they go deeper into calculus.
When I was in Australia, I caught a TV news report on this phenomenon in that country. The bias was that this is a bad thing. Australia-Asians who are doing all of this extra work are getting the highest test scores and getting into the best private schools and universities. The news report was presenting this as being unfair. “It’s cheating!” said one non-Asian mother whose offspring apparently got beaten out by a hard-studying Asian kid. Someone else interviewed said, “This should not be allowed!”
Now here is a difference between Australian and American cultures. I would venture to say that virtually no American would begrudge Asian kids the fruit of their labors. Some of us may criticize so much schooling–”Let them be kids!”–or criticize our own or other ethnic groups for not making education such a priority. But, by the terms of the American dream, hard work does deserve to be rewarded. When someone studies extra hard and does extra work, it is precisely “fair” that they get into the best schools and otherwise succeed.
I was told that Australian culture is SO egalitarian–which is one of its strengths and charms–that it sometimes encourages was they call the “tall poppy” syndrome. The flower that grows taller than the rest needs to be cut down. American culture, on the other hand, encourages and admires individual success. Am I right?
Posted by Veith at 07:15 AM
From the Beowulf screenwriter
I am continually amazed at how discussions raised on this blog keep continuing week after week. While I was gone to Australia and the blog was on hiatus, people kept commenting on old entries. (You might want to check the ones you were involved with a long time ago.) Anyway, in reviewing the comments while I was away to scour them of spam, I came across one commenting on a post way back on August 10 about various film and drama projects on Beowulf. The comment was from the Emmy-award winning screenwriter Scott Wegener, who must have googled himself and came across my criticism of his decision to make the Prince of the Geats a black guy and what seemed like other inaccuracies. I appreciate Mr. Wegener’s response, and since, unless you are monitoring blog entries from four months ago, you may have missed it, I will repeat it here:
It was an unfortunate choice of words USA TODAY used in the description of “Beowulf: Prince of the Geats.” I did not ‘rewrite’ the story. In fact, more than likely, despite thinking what you might about a black Beowulf, we are sticking much more literally to the orginal story than any of our counterparts. Great care has been given to give the poem as much accurate visualization as we could, right down to the scop’s choreography of Beowulf’s fight with Grendel’s mother.
Making Beowulf African actually answers several apparent inconsistancies in the poem to which I, as the screenwriter, struggled with. Primary among them; how it is that Beowulf, a leader of the savage Geat tribe, ruled in peace for 50 years, and how, during the course of the entire poem, he never raises his sword against another human being. There is ample evidence that such behavior is completely out of character for viking society and certainly a viking warrior hero of the period. Bringing Beowulf in from a different culture with different values on human life allows ther narrative to flow without this inconsistancy.
BPOG is an all volunteer motion picture with 100% of all proceeds going to the American Cancer Society. For more information [www.princeofthegeats.com].
A textually-accurate blow by blow choreography of the fight scene with Grendel’s mom? For that, I will gladly take a Swede played by an African. The point about Beowulf never raising his sword against a human being is an interesting one I had never thought of before (though it certainly has nothing to do with his being an African–nor was Beowulf or the culture of the poem “Viking,” as I’m sure this blog’s expert on the subject and another creative writer, Lars Walker, will attest). But, hey, Mr. Wegener, thanks for your comment. I can’t wait to see your movie.
Posted by Veith at 07:00 AM
Cloak and Dagger. And Polonium
Have you been keeping up with the case of ex-Russian spy and Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko? He suddenly came died a horrible death, which, it turns out, was caused by his having ingested the deadly radioactive polonium, the tiniest bit of which will kill you. Who would even have access to such a substance? Who would have the motive to use it? Who but the remnants of Litvinenko’s and Putin’s own KGB? For a helpful summary of this James Bond-like case, go here.
Now Scotland Yard is using a geiger counter to trace a radioactive path of Mr. Litvenenko’s movements, and possibly that of his killer. This includes polonium radiation on British Airways planes that had flown to and from Moscow.
Posted by Veith at 06:58 AM
November 29, 2006
Luke and St. Sam at St. Luke’s
My son-in-law Adam is the pastor, with one other, of Hamilton parish. This includes three congregations, plus a K-12 school, plus a nursing home. My grandson Sam was baptized at St. Luke’s, a tiny, very old, bluestone church in the tiny country town of Cavendish. Here it is:
In front of the church are two towering gum trees. And living up there is a koala. The parishioners affectionally call him “Luke.” Can you see him in this photo?I always thought a koala was about as active as a sloth, but this is, I was told, because they sleep 20 hours a day. At churchtime, Luke is nearly always active, coming down from the heights when the people arrive. When I saw him, he was clambering like a monkey, going from branch to branch and even tree to tree.
Then, inside, in a beautiful service, Sam was baptized. The Rev. Greg Pietch (sp?), at whose church I had worshipped the first time I was there and who is now the District President of the state of Victoria, performed the rite. Here is the baptismal party, including the Godparents (my daughter Mary and Andrae, another cool young confessional pastor):
The baptistry is carved out of a gum tree gnarl. Pastor Pietch’s sermon, on the last Sunday of the church year, the Day of Fulfillment, was on the texts in Daniel and Revelation about the Books that are opened at the Last Judgment. He riffed on the different kinds of books (denouncing me from the pulpit, nicely, for the ones I had written), then focusing on novels, books that allow us to enter into an imaginary life, and biographies, which capture real lives. We have a book recording all of our deeds. (This tied in to a conceit I have offered my students, that they are the central characters in the novel of which God is the author). And on judgment day, our books are opened, and our deeds, both the good and the bad, are revealed. But there is another book the Scriptures speak of, the Book of Life. And if our names are written there, the judgment due for our bad deeds never falls, because the story of Jesus becomes our story.
Posted by Veith at 05:03 AM
November 28, 2006
48 hours of Monday
I’m back from my week in Australia. What with the time zone differences and crossing the International Dateline, I just endured 48 hours of Mondays, none of them including a good night’s sleep. (20 hours of those were spent on an airplane, not counting the layovers between airplane flights.) And now, today, I am dealing with the day/night differences. When I finally got back to my Virginia apartment at 10:00 p.m., despite the equivalent of two days without sleep except for a few light airplane dozes, I got my second wind, since night time in America is day time in Australia. My mind was ready to go to work, while my body needed to go to bed. Which meant I couldn’t go to sleep (instead, staying up to watch the Packers get beat). And now this morning, while America goes to work, it is the dead of night in Australia. Which means that NOW I want to go to sleep.
I shall attend to my duties at the college the best I can. And when I have time to blog, I will tell you about my sojourn in the Antipodes. While I was there, I heard about a number of people who had been positively influenced by my writing, which was gratifying, and met more Australian readers of this blog. (G’day, Mark!) I also had a great church experience, learned a new sport, and had some theologico-cultural thoughts that I will be blogging about.
The best part, family-deprived as I have been in the transition to this new job, was being with my wife, my two daughters (my son was the only nuclear family member not present)–my son-in-law, and my brand new GRANDSON. Or, as they say down under, my “grandy.”
Posted by Veith at 09:21 AM
November 17, 2006
Thanksgiving
This person is my new grandson, Samuel Clive Hensley. Tomorrow I fly to the other side of the world to Australia to see him and to be there next Sunday for his baptism. So, this blog will be taking a Thanksgiving Break until I get back. Don’t fail to come back the week after next. I’m sure I’ll have a lot to report. In the meantime, have a grateful Thanksgiving. I’m sure you have a lot to be thankful for. I know I do.
Posted by Veith at 06:44 AM
November 16, 2006
Word of the Year
The New Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year is (drum roll, please) “carbon neutral.”
Being carbon neutral involves calculating your total climate-damaging carbon emissions, reducing them where possible, and then balancing your remaining emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset: paying to plant new trees or investing in “green” technologies such as solar and wind power.
I will resist making a joke about calculating your carbon emissions to the point of taking Bean-o. But I know I have never used the word “carbon neutral.” And I cannot recall ever hearing an actual human being using it in conversation. It sounds like the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary have been watching Al Gore movies and are trying to do their bit for global warming. Linguistics and dictionaries are supposed to be descriptive, scholars keep telling us, rather than prescriptive, but here we are again with lexicographers instructing us as to what is proper.
Can anyone think of better candidates for “word of the year”?
Posted by Veith at 07:32 AM
Them phat, player Episcopalians
An official publishing arm of the Episcopal church has come out with The Hip Hop Prayer Book. Reasoning, in the words of the Rt. Rev. Catherine Roskam that “If Jesus walked the earth today, he would be a rapper,” the book translates Psalms, prayers, and liturgies from the classic Book of Common Prayer into black street slang. This is thought to result in “a powerful evangelism tool” that will “draw in the young and speak to those not generally spoken to by the Church.” Here is the 23rd Psalm:
The Lord is all that, I need for nothing. He allows me to chill. He keeps me from being heated and allows me to breathe easy. He guides my life so that I can represent and give shouts out in his Name. And even though I walk through the Hood of death, I don’t back down for you have my back. The fact that you have me covered allows me to chill. He provides me with back-up in front of my player-haters and I know that I am a baller and life will be phat. I fall back in the Lord’s crib for the rest of my life.
The responses are not “Yo!” but “Amen! Word!” It may come as a surprise to the Right Reverend and her fellow culturally-sensitive theologians, but black people go to church at a higher rate than upper class white people, and those churches have not found it necessary to make these sorts of translations. Black people do not speak a different language. They speak English. They do have their colorful slang. But here is a linguistic fact: Slang works only with informal oral discourse, and by its nature it goes in and out of fashion very quickly. By the time a book with the latest slang gets in print, the slang will be out of date. And there is no quicker way of making slang go out of date and seem ridiculous than when a middle aged white person tries to use it.
HT: Susanna Smith
Posted by Veith at 07:00 AM
Just one more Supreme Court justice
Christians and social conservatives who voted for Democrats to teach the Republicans a lesson should contemplate what the new Senate powerbroker Chuck Shumer (D, NY) has to say:
More than the inability to influence Iraq policy or the President’s tax cuts, Chuck Schumer says that the single greatest failure of the Democrats as an opposition party was allowing Samuel Alito to join the Supreme Court. “Judges are the most important,” said Mr. Schumer, who orchestrated the implausible Democratic takeover of the Senate last week. “One more justice would have made it a 5-4 conservative, hard-right majority for a long time. That won’t happen.” From now on, all the President’s judicial appointments will need to meet the requirements of Mr. Schumer, the Park Slope power broker who has happily accepted the mantle of chief architect for the Democrats’ effort to build a majority for the 2008 elections and beyond.
Conservatives came within one justice of controlling the Supreme Court. Now, as Shumer says, “That won’t happen.”_
Posted by Veith at 06:34 AM
November 15, 2006
The most influential fictional characters
A new book has come out with the 101 most influential fictional characters. Here is the list:
1. The Marlboro Man_2. Big Brother_3. King Arthur_4. Santa Claus (St. Nick)_5. Hamlet_6. Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster_7. Siegfried_8. Sherlock Holmes_9. Romeo and Juliet_10. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Click “continue reading” for the rest of them. How the authors picked these characters and ranked them in this order is obscure and lacks scholarly validity, but they say they ranked the Marlboro man as the most influential because in making cigarettes seem manly he allegedly killed the most people. But by any standards, like the list of evangelical leaders’ most influential books we blogged about some weeks ago, this is a pretty sad list.
We can do better. What fictional characters have been influential to YOU?
_11. Uncle Tom_12. Robin Hood_13. Jim Crow_14. Oedipus_15. Lady Chatterly_16. Ebenezer Scrooge_17. Don Quixote_18. Mickey Mouse_19. The American Cowboy_20. Prince Charming_21. Smokey Bear_22. Robinson Crusoe_23. Apollo and Dionysus_24. Odysseus_25. Nora Helmer_26. Cinderella_27. Shylock_28. Rosie the Riveter_29. Midas_30. Hester Prynne_31. The Little Engine That Could_32. Archie Bunker_33. Dracula_34. Alice in Wonderland_35. Citizen Kane_36. Faust_37. Figaro_38. Godzilla_39. Mary Richards_40. Don Juan_41. Bambi_42. William Tell_43. Barbie_44. Buffy the Vampire Slayer_45. Venus and Cupid_46. Prometheus_47. Pandora_48. G.I. Joe_49. Tarzan_50. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock_51. James Bond_52. Hansel and Gretel_53. Captain Ahab_54. Richard Blaine_55. The Ugly Duckling_56. Loch Ness Monster (Nessie)_57. Atticus Finch_58. Saint Valentine_59. Helen of Troy_60. Batman_61. Uncle Sam_62. Nancy Drew_63. J.R. Ewing_64. Superman_65. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn_66. HAL 9000_67. Kermit the Frog_68. Sam Spade_69. The Pied Piper_70. Peter Pan_71. Hiawatha_72. Othello_73. The Little Tramp_74. King Kong_75. Norman Bates_76. Hercules (Herakles)_77. Dick Tracy_78. Joe Camel_79. The Cat in the Hat_80. Icarus_81. Mammy_82. Sindbad_83. Amos ‘n’ Andy_84. Buck Rogers_85. Luke Skywalker_86. Perry Mason_87. Dr. Strangelove_88. Pygmalion_89. Madame Butterfly_90. Hans Beckert_91. Dorothy Gale_92. The Wandering Jew_93. The Great Gatsby_94. Buck (Jack London, The Call of the Wild)_95. Willy Loman_96. Betty Boop_97. Ivanhoe_98. Elmer Gantry_99. Lilith_100. John Doe_101. Paul Bunyan
Posted by Veith at 06:48 AM
Cultural churches
The Church of England has issued statements indicating that it is morally acceptable to kill handicapped babies. Read this.
State churches, in theory, give moral guidance to a nation. What what they tend to do instead is to give sacred sanction to what the state wants to do anyway.
This is also the problem of every kind of cultural religion. When churches follow the culture, what they end up doing is presenting that culture as sacred.
Posted by Veith at 06:47 AM
November 14, 2006
The return of the ethnic joke
I am interested in comedy, so when I read a critic who said that “Borat” was the funniest movie ever made, I had to see it. I had also caught comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s act on the “Ali G” show, in which he plays a British rapper who interviews real dignitaries with dumb questions. (My favorite Ali G moment: When a flummoxed Andy Rooney got sick of him and started to walk out, whereupon Ali G, who is white, said, “It’s because I is black, in’t it?”
Anyway, I can report that “Borat,” the number one movie for weeks, is over-rated. Yes, it is funny, but it is not a good funny. It is rude, crude, unspeakably vulgar and tasteless. I know, that might recommend it these days. But it represents the rebirth of the rude, crude, vulgar, tasteless ethnic joke. We are laughing at eastern Europeans, Jews, rednecks, Southerners, and other people made to seem below us. It is humor that is cruel and degrading, both to the targets and to those of us who laugh at it.
And now, due to the success that movie, we get lots, lots more of the same.
Posted by Veith at 07:31 AM
The Man Without a Face
I am always amazed at the ingenious ways human beings devise to sin. Markus Wolf, the spymaster of communist East Germany, just died. He was so deep under cover that Western intelligence had no idea what he even looked like, so that he was called “the man without a face.” In the battles and intrigues of the Cold War, he thwarted the West again and again. Here are some of the things he would do:
Wolf gloried in his own amorality, shrugging his shoulders at the crimes of his society, bragging that he had perfected the art of psychological manipulation. He wrote of East German “Romeo agents” (his phrase) who successfully seduced lonely secretaries in West German ministries. To keep their victims happy, Wolf arranged “Potemkin weddings” (also his phrase) with phony priests — though if anyone grew suspicious, he swiftly arranged for the “husbands” to disappear back to East Germany. Wolf also toyed with the emotions of women who had been forced by the Nazi regime to give up their blond, blue-eyed children — some the product of special breeding clinics — for adoption. Years later, he arranged for fake “sons” to get back in touch with their long-lost mothers, and then set those women up as East German agents, too.
Such tactics — combined with a liberal use of bugging devices — did, it is true, help the East Germans infiltrate the very highest levels of West German society. One of Wolf’s agents rose through the West German political hierarchy to become a senior aide to the much-loved chancellor, Willy Brandt. The East Germans were also expert at discrediting West German politicians and institutions: They would listen in on sensitive conversations, note the gaps between what was said in public and private, and then slip the information to journalists who could be relied upon to follow up.
And yet for all his preening, Wolf and his comrades did not win the Cold War. Nor, for all the CIA’s ham-handedness, did the agents of communism even win the intelligence war. Invariably, Western agents received their best information not through psychological manipulation and complex schemes but through Soviet and East European defectors who offered themselves up voluntarily. Col. Ryszard Kuklinski, the Polish Warsaw Pact liaison, passed 35,000 pages of mostly Russian documents to the West because he’d seen plans for a Russian invasion of the West, during which Poland would be destroyed. Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB officer who worked as a double agent for British intelligence, did so because the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia had gutted his faith in Soviet propaganda.
In the end, what Wolf liked to call his comrades’ “professionalism” — and what might more accurately be called cynicism, opportunism or cold calculation — wasn’t even persuasive enough to win the allegiance of most East Germans. Like the rest of the Soviet bloc, East Germany eventually fell apart not so much because of Western military pressure but because the loyalty of its people evaporated. As soon as they could leave their country, East Germans left. And no wonder: Who could feel affection for a regime led by men such as Markus Wolf?
Posted by Veith at 07:23 AM
November 13, 2006
Veterans Day tribute
On Veterans Day, the president awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously to Cpl. Jason Dunham, a Marine fighting in Iraq, who in the midst of hand-to-hand-combat with the enemy, jumped on a grenade and smothered the explosion with his body to save the lives of the other men in his unit.
Posted by Veith at 06:59 AM
Church
We had a great service again on Sunday, helped with finally having a choir! The chorale at Patrick Henry College visited our church, blessing us all with magnificent music. The Lutheran liturgical service was brand new for most of them. I explained it to them before the service–saying how it is NOT Roman Catholic to do what we do, how what we sing in the liturgy is simply texts from the Word of God, and how chanting enables us to sing the prose right from the Bible rather than having to put it in metrical terms. I also explained the different elements of worship and how they relate to our theology. I hope the students found the service meaningful. They sang right along with the liturgy and made us sound a lot better than we usually do.
And they could not have failed to appreciate the sermon. In these last days of the church year, we reflect on the last days. Pastor Douthwaite preached on Mark 13, in which Jesus tells us of the terrible troubles that will come as His return approaches, but that these are only “birth pangs.” The sermon vividly pointed to our trials and sufferings today, saying that they will get worse. But these are the “contractions” of labor. In birth (in imagery close to my consciousness, new grandfather that I am), the contractions get harder and harder and closer and closer together, but the worse it gets the closer the baby is to coming and the joy of the new life. He then segued into reflections on the baby Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection for us: “In the cross, death throes have been transformed into birth pangs.”
Please tell about good things from your church service.
Posted by Veith at 06:38 AM
November 09, 2006
A complete rout
So the Democrats took the House, the Senate (apparently), and got rid of Donald Rumsfeld. Do you think Osama bin Laden is congratulating himself for bringing down another government?
Posted by Veith at 09:26 AM
Another battleground at Gettysburg
My friend from Australia, David Thiele, is visiting in the states and was in the D.C. area this week. On Saturday, we went to see the Gettyburg battlefield, a very impressive place. In the museum, some chinaware was displayed, with the explanation that when the Confederates occupied Seminary Ridge, site of a Lutheran seminary. Some of the soldiers found this china in a professor’s house and used it for their meals. Not a piece was stolen or broken. The professor whose china they borrowed was named _Charles Krauth.
Could that be THE Charles Porterfield Krauth, we wondered, the godfather of confessional Lutheranism in America? So after coming back home, I did a little more research. It turns out the Gettysburg seminary (still in operation with the ELCA) was founded by Samuel Schmucker. He was the godfather of liberal Lutheranism, the notion, still current today, that Lutherans should give up their strange distinctives in doctrine and worship to conform to American culture and make themselves as much like other American Christians as they can.
The professor with the China was probably Charles Philip Krause, young Porterfield’s father. Porterfield, who went to seminary at Gettyburg, reacted against Schmucker (as did the latter’s son, Melanchthon), started an alternative seminary in Philadelphia, and became a powerful theological and pastoral spokesman for authentic Lutheranism. He is the author of the still superb book “The Conservative Reformation.”
So he probably did eat on that china himself. And the seminary on Seminary Ridge was the site of a battle that is still raging.
founded by Samuel Schmucker
Posted by Veith at 07:23 AM
Lyle Lovett, churchgoer
I stumbled across this old interview with Lyle Lovett, which answered a questions I was curious about:
Unlike your average young person, growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, Lyle says he never had any interest in drugs – didn’t then, doesn’t now. He always went to church with his family – Trinity Lutheran, back in Klein. When I ask him if he ever felt the typical teenage need to rebel against his roots, he looks a little surprised. “Oh,” he says, “I may have had my backsliding periods where I’d miss a few Sundays. But I never felt compelled to rebel against God.”
. . . . . . . . .
_Sundays, when he’s home, he still attends services at Trinity Lutheran, same as he always did.
Posted by Veith at 06:39 AM
November 08, 2006
Grandfatherhood!
Actually, I don’t care that much about the elections right now. I just found out that I am a GRANDFATHER! My daughter Joanna just had a baby! Samuel Clive Hensley, 8 pounds 13 ounces._Some of you know Joanna as the former editor of World’s blogs. She got married to a Lutheran pastor down in Australia, Adam Hensley. I’m going to have to fly there for a quick trip over Thanksgiving to see my GRANDSON!
I cannot get the “images” feature in this blog software to work, but to see some pictures, go here.
Posted by Veith at 09:29 AM
The end of Christian political influence?
The Democrats have won big time. Notice how some Republicans, such as Dick Armey as well as the conventional wisdom from the media, are scapegoating Christian and social conservatives as the scapegoat for the Republican debacle.
Indeed, South Dakota voters upheld abortion and the pro-life position on embryonic stem cell research seems to be a loser. Evangelicals scare lots of people. Plus, there is no clear evangelical standard bearer, especially now that Rick Santorum was defeated. And the only credible presidential candidates for the GOP are either moderate (John McCain) or libertarian (Rudy Giuliani). Expect Republicans to start running away from social conservative issues and libertarian conservatism to be ascendant.
So will Christian activists have to go into exile, or is there hope for this particular camp of voters?
Posted by Veith at 08:14 AM
Country music says, “I believe”
Brooks & Dunn’s explicitly Christian and Bible-praising single “Believe” cleaned up at the Country Music Awards last night, winning Single of the Year, Song of the Year, and Music Video of the Year. The song’s success was no doubt also instrumental in Brooks & Dunn winning Vocal Duo of the Year (though the two nearly always win that award). The Musical Event of the Year was Brad Paisley singing with Dollie Parton another explicitly Christian song, “When I Get Where I’m Going. Not only that, American-Idol winner Carrie Underwood won BOTH the Horizon award for new artists AND female vocalist of the year for her explicitly Christian hit “Jesus Take the Wheel.”
Posted by Veith at 06:48 AM
November 07, 2006
Good Shepherd Institute
Organshoes alluded to the Good Shepherd Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, which holds an annual conference on music, worship, and preaching. That’s where I am right now. The topic this year is the Lutheran Service Book, the new hymnal and book of worship. I chaired the Translations Committee, so I will be talking about what we did (for example, our distinction between “obsolete” usage [which people do not understand anymore] and “archaic” usage [which sounds old-fashioned, but which people still understand], how the latter characterizes what linguists call “ritual language,” justifying our retention of at least some “thee’s” and “thou’s”]).
I was one of the 25% of Americans who voted with an absentee ballot. After I speak, I fly to Nashville on Patrick Henry College business, going to a conference of our accrediting agency.
If anyone has seen or used the LSB, I’d be curious to hear how you like it.
Posted by Veith at 07:15 AM
Either vote or don’t
Remember to vote–if, that is, you care about the races, are informed about the issues, and have a clear preference about the candidates, one way or the other. If you are apathetic, are not conversant with the issues, and do not know which candidate is which, please DON’T vote. It would be nice of you not to cancel the vote of those who do care and keep up with the issues.
Is this a bad attitude? Is it better to have a big voter turnout no matter what? Or am I right?
Posted by Veith at 06:59 AM
Appease or defy?
Here is a scenario, a mental experiment: What if Osama bin Laden came on Al Jazeera and said that his jihad is against the satanic George W. Bush and his party. If the American people vote him and his people out of office, we will call off the jihad. Islam will go back to being a religion of peace, and Americans will be able to carry large tubes of toothpaste onto airplanes and stop worrying about Islamic terrorism. How should American voters react?
Posted by Veith at 06:55 AM
Evangelical leader confesses
So, Ted Haggard, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals admits his homosexual liasons and his buying crystal meth:
“The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There’s a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life.”
What can we say about this?
Posted by Veith at 06:35 AM
November 06, 2006
Archpriestess of the new pantheon
The Episcopalians now have a woman serving as the archbishop over the whole church body (one that is no bigger than the LCMS but that gets all the attention). What I want you notice, though, are the details of Katherine Jefferts Schori’s consecration service in the National Cathedral, as well as the theology this represents:
Native American “smudgers” — incense-bearing tribal leaders, mostly from Episcopal missions in Jefferts Schori’s Nevada diocese — filled the gothic cathedral with the aroma of smoldering cedar, sage and sweet grass.
A barefoot Chinese-style dancer waved aquamarine streamers. An African American gospel choir from Philadelphia sang “This is the Day.” A female rabbi, an imam and an Anglican archbishop from South Africa presented Jefferts Schori with oil, representing the healing arts.
. . . . . . . . .
Jefferts Schori, who is married to a theoretical mathematician and has a 25-year-old daughter serving as an Air Force pilot, voted in 2003 to confirm the election of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Anglican prelate. She has also supported blessings for same-sex couples, and she has said that, although she believes in salvation through Jesus, she does not think Christianity is the only path to God.
Welcome to our country’s new religion: neo-polytheism.
Posted by Veith at 07:56 AM
Political moralism
Our pastor made another striking point in his sermon. He pointed out how the political candidates in all of these election ads say, “I am a saint.” All holy, totally righteous, selflessly helping everyone, able to work miracles. And they also say, “My opponent is a sinner.” Totally depraved, selfishly hurting one and all, corrupt, and just evil.
The ads are remarkably moralistic, self-righteous, and black-and-white for a bunch of relativists. Our level of political discourse is shameful. And these politicians are so cynical in thinking they can manipulate us voters in this way. And maybe they can, which does not speak well of us voters.
At any rate, tomorrow we vote. Many of us are so frustrated with the Republicans for their ineptitude and ideological waffling that we will vote in a party that will cancel the tax cut, fund pro-death research, and install leftwing judges.
Any predictions or last-minute campaigning?
Posted by Veith at 06:58 AM
Church report
Another good service at St. Athanasius, celebrating the Festival of All Saints. Interesting point from the sermon, on Matthew 5: “Those who are blessed in the Beatitudes are those who in this world would seem cursed [those who mourn, the poor in spirit, the persecuted, etc.].”
Any interesting points from your church worship or Bible class?
Posted by Veith at 06:49 AM
November 03, 2006
And now, the baby killer slander
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh, another liberal revelling in the retro-Vietnam War climate, says that if Americans only knew how our troops were really acting, we would treat them with revulsion, as we did Vietnam veterans:
“In Vietnam, our soldiers came back and they were reviled as baby killers, in shame and humiliation,” he said. “It isn’t happening now, but I will tell you – there has never been an [American] army as violent and murderous as our army has been in Iraq.”
Posted by Veith at 07:02 AM
Marriage IS under attack
In an op-ed piece, Leah Ward Sears, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, points out some sobering facts:
For the first time in history, less than half of U.S. households are headed by married couples. And on Sept. 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that almost 36 percent of all births are the result of unmarried childbearing, the highest percentage ever recorded.
In family law, as in the rest of American society, there is an intensifying debate about how we should respond to this kind of news. Should law and society actively seek new ways to support marriage? Or should family law strive to be marriage-neutral by providing more rights and benefits to its alternatives, such as cohabitation and single parenthood?
The column describes the cutting edge legal efforts to change family law according to a “family diversity model”:
For example, the respected American Law Institute, an organization of judges, lawyers and legal scholars that periodically drafts model laws and other proposals for legal reform, has proposed a new set of laws that promotes this “family diversity model.” In “Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution,” some ALI scholars argue that family law should focus less on trying to channel people into marriage and more on being “fair” to people in different relationships — in other words, that it should take families as it finds them.
Posted by Veith at 06:29 AM
Get out of Dodge
Dodge City, Kansas, has a gang problem. No, not the James Gang or the Dalton Boys, as in its Wild West days, but as in the Crips and the Bloods.
Dodge only has 25,000 people! It’s in the middle of rural Kansas! I’ve been there, and I like Dodge. But now gangs have come to small town America. These are Hispanic gangs.
Any of the rest of you in the heartland facing gangs like this? We need more Wyatt Earps.
Posted by Veith at 05:48 AM
When liberals take up the war on terrorism
U.S. forces captured Amari Saifi, a northern African terrorist responsible for kidnapping 32 European tourists and other mayhem. But look carefully at the “however” in the Washington Post article on the subject by Craig Whitlock:
A close examination of how Saifi was apprehended, however, highlights the quandaries facing the United States as it extends its fight against Islamic terrorism to remote parts of the globe. In its search for allies in an unstable region, the U.S. government reached out to Libya — then still officially designated a state sponsor of terrorism — and to other countries it has condemned for abusing human rights.
The reporter is criticizing the Americans who captured this guy because they had to work with Libya and other bad guys to do it! He thinks that is terrible! What is wrong with this thinking?
Posted by Veith at 05:38 AM
November 02, 2006
Lutheran politics
In reading through the Book of Concord, I’m finding all kinds of interesting treasures. I’m reading the “Formula of Concord,” which probably gets read less than the other confessions. Here I find, for instance, that the Lutheran Confessions address, in very specific terms, a number of political issues.
Lutherans cannot say that being a politician or holding a governmental office is “dirty,” something Christians should not get involved in:
13] 2. That a Christian cannot with a good, inviolate conscience hold or discharge the office of magistrate.
A Lutheran must believe in capital punishment. An “Article that Cannot be Tolerated in the Government”:
16] 5. That under the New Testament magistrates cannot, without injury to conscience, inflict capital punishment upon malefactors.
A Lutheran cannot be a socialist. An “Article that Cannot be Tolerated in Domestic Life”:
16] 5. That under the New Testament magistrates cannot, without injury to conscience, inflict capital punishment upon malefactors.
A Lutheran may work in a business that sells alcohol or that MAKES WEAPONS. Another “article that cannot be tolerated”:
18] 2. That a Christian cannot with a good conscience be an innkeeper, merchant, or cutler [maker of arms].
Posted by Veith at 06:41 AM
Bloodthirsty Americans
An interesting tidbit in a Robert Kagan column:
The German Marshall Fund commissions an annual poll that asks Europeans and Americans, among other things, whether they agree with the following statement: “Under some conditions, war is necessary to obtain justice.” Europeans disagree, and by a 2 to 1 margin. But Americans overwhelmingly support the idea that war may be necessary to obtain justice. Even this year, with disapproval of the Iraq war high, 78 percent of American respondents agreed with the statement.
Posted by Veith at 06:36 AM
Religion and the Military
The U.S. military is currently facing two sets of lawsuits. One, from a conservative Christian chaplain who maintains that his religious freedom is being violated when asked not to pray in Jesus’ name in front of “diverse” audiences. The other, from secularists who maintain that there is too much Christian evangelism going on in the military.
Any suggestions for how the military should handle this issue?
Posted by Veith at 06:28 AM
Guess which side the Post is on
Actual news headlines from today’s “Washington Post”:
“Scandals Alone Could Cost Republicans Their House Majority”
“Clawing for Votes, Chafee Steers Race Toward Gutter”
“Republican Is a Political Force, Despite Party Baggage”
“Republicans Losing Edge in Fairfax County”
“A Taxing Time for the GOP”
Posted by Veith at 06:23 AM
November 01, 2006
How liberals support the troops
John Kerry’s crack, telling students that if they study hard and get “smart,” they will succeed, and if they don’t, they will end up in Iraq, reflects a commonplace sentiment on the Left. I have hung out in those circles, and the notion that the all-volunteer military is populated by the uneducated, the desperate, and the lower class is extremely common in Democratic circles, for all their denials and their claims to support the troops–by wanting to bring them home. As commentator Michael Barone said on Fox News, the Democrats portray our troops as either victims or perpetrators. Can they praise their prowess in battle? Can they hail their victories? Can they look up to them instead of condescending to them? Can they admire them instead of just feeling sorry for them?
Posted by Veith at 06:48 AM
The new Deism
A new poll showed some curious details in what Americans believe about God:
Nearly half of Americans are not sure God exists, according to a poll that also found divisions among the public on whether God is male or female or whether God has a human form and has control over events.
The survey conducted by Harris Poll found that 42 percent of US adults are not “absolutely certain” there is a God compared to 34 percent who felt that way when asked the same question three years ago.
Among the various religious groups, 76 percent of Protestants, 64 percent of Catholics and 30 percent of Jews said they are “absolutely certain” there is a God while 93 percent of Christians who describe themselves as “Born Again” feel certain God exists.
When questioned on whether God is male or female, 36 percent of respondents said they think God is male, 37 percent said neither male nor female and 10 percent said “both male and female.”_Only one percent think of God as a female, according to the poll._Asked whether God has a human form, 41 percent said they think of God as “a spirit or power than can take on human form but is not inherently human.”
As to whether God controls events on Earth, 29 percent believe that to be the case while 44 percent said God “observes but does not control what happens on Earth”.
Apparently the poll did not even ask how many people believe that God became flesh and lived among us.
Posted by Veith at 06:06 AM
Luther Library: Religious poetry
Dante is one of the greatest Christian or any other kind of poet ever. But he is not Lutheran. God is far above, and Dante’s persona has to slog through Hell, climb up the mountain of Purgatory, and fly up through Heaven to reach Him.
George Herbert IS Lutheran. His persona is running away from God, who descends to Him in Word and Sacrament. Herbert is a Lutheran Anglican.
That also describes the poetry of Francis Thompson, especially “The Hound of Heaven.” He could thus be described as a Lutheran Catholic, as opposed to Dante, a Catholic Catholic.
There are a lot of Protestant poets, such as Henry Vaughn, who are like Dante in depicting God as passive and the human being as ascending to Him through his works. They could be described as Catholic Protestants.
Posted by Veith at 05:32 AM
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October 31, 2006
Lie detector as household and workplace appliance
St. Augustine defined lying as having one thing in your heart and uttering another. It turns out, the Bishop of Hippo nailed a scientific fact: When we lie, since our minds have to hold in place both the truth and the untruth simultaneously, our brains light up like a Christmas tree. Or a Halloween pumpkin.
According to this article, brain scanning technology has advanced to the point that detecting lies gets easier and easier. That big machine with the graph paper is no longer necessary. Soon we will have much more reliable devices. They can even work remotely, just sending a scan at someone just standing there in the room.
The immediate application will be airport security, but think about it. What if one of these non-intrusive lie detectors would become as commonplace as any other household or workplace appliance? The boss could tell if the employees were telling the truth. Employees around the watercooler would sift through the gossip. Parents could tell if their children were hiding anything. Spouses could know the truth about each other.
Would this technology be an infringement on our “right to privacy”? Do we have a right not to tell the truth? What would be the personal implications of having one of these things on in the room? What would be the cultural implications? (For example, telling the truth would no longer be a virtue, since it would become a necessity. Do we need to be able to hide the truth from each other, sometimes? And what if we couldn’t?)
Posted by Veith at 06:22 AM
Why did the Iraqi Chicken cross the road?
This has been going around, supposedly having its origin in the U.S. military. It is both humorous and telling:
WHY DID THE IRAQI CHICKEN CROSS THE ROAD?
MNC-I (Multi-National Corps-Iraq)_The chicken-crossing situation is reflected in an amber-rated capability within only those regions prioritized to receive road-marking equipment and should not be confused with units non-operationally qualified to partner yet with chicken crossers. This will be briefed in the next conference.
MNSTC-I (Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq)_The fact that the Iraqi chicken crossed the road affirmatively demonstrates that decision-making authority has been transferred to the chicken well in advance of the scheduled transition of power. From now on, the chicken is responsible for its own decisions.
U.S. Army division_The chicken was not authorized to cross the road without two forms of picture identification. Thus, the chicken was appropriately detained and searched in accordance with [standard operating procedures]. We apologize for any embarrassment to the chicken. As a result of this unfortunate incident, the command has instituted a gender sensitivity training program and all future chicken searches will be carried out by female soldiers.
U.S. Marine Corps_The chicken is dead.
_U.S. Air Force_In the last seven days the USAF has cargo-lifted 732,361 chickens across 852 roads.
Blackwater (security contractor)_We cannot confirm any involvement in the chicken road-crossing incident.
Halliburton/Kellogg Brown & Root_We were asked to help the chicken cross the road. Given the inherent risk of road crossing and the rarity of chickens, this operation will only cost the U.S. government $326,004.99.
Peshmerga_The chicken crossed the road, and will continue to cross the road, to show its independence and to transport the weapons it needs to defend itself. However, in the future, to avoid problems, the chicken will be called a duck, and will wear a plastic bill.
Al-Jazeera_The chicken was forced to cross the road multiple times at gunpoint by a large group of coalition soldiers, according to eyewitnesses. The chicken was then fired upon intentionally, in yet another example of the abuse of innocent Iraqi chickens.
Moqtada al-Sadr_The chicken is a tool of the evil coalition and will be killed.
Posted by Veith at 06:13 AM
Happy Holiday!
Here it is, October 31, that fun time of year associated with getting scared, the dead coming back to life, and the wearing of masks. I am referring, of course, to Reformation Day (and to the Law, the Gospel, and the Doctrine of Vocation).
Can you think of any other parallels between Reformation Day and Halloween?
Posted by Veith at 06:10 AM
October 30, 2006
Viva Nicaragua!
Nicaragua is on the verge of passing a law that would ban all abortions. The measure has the support of virtually all of the country’s political parties, from right to left (including presumably the Sandinistas).
It turns out other nations are similarly enlightened. Abortion is also illegal in Chile and El Salvador. In fact, abortion is outlawed in 34 countries, mostly in Africa and the Middle East.
OK, Nicaragua is about to go Sandinista, but I never understood what is particularly “liberal” about being willing to abort babies. Liberals usually are all about defending the little guy. Their pro-abortion stand made me stop believing them. These other countries suggest that it may be possible to put together a pro-life coalition separate from political ideologies. But I can’t see that happening here.
Posted by Veith at 07:14 AM
When internet sites go out of fashion
MySpace has been huge among young people, a site where they can express themselves to the world. _But now, according to this article, MySpace is falling out of fashion in favor of other socializing sites. It seems teenagers are freaked out by the easy way strangers have of harrassing them on MySpace, not to mention parents checking up on them. The thing is, though, Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp has bought the site for over half a billion dollars, and Google has paid nearly a billion to advertise on the site. Internet sites are both insubstantial and vulnerable to fickle fashion, making them tricky investments for real money.
Posted by Veith at 05:46 AM
Bratwurst championship
Now that baseball season is over–and congratulations to the Cardinals! Yay!–I found myself watching a different sport on ESPN on Saturday: Competive eating. As an expatriate Wisconsinite, I could not resist watching the bratwurst eating contest held at Sheboygan. The event was discussed with dead-serious play-by-play color commentators. It seems that brats are one of the most difficult things to eat competitively. They have that tough casing, they are kind of greasy, and they have such a strong taste. Said one competitor, they taste so good that the temptation is to linger on them. But you can’t afford to enjoy what you are eating, since you have the fight the clock. The object is to see how many you can eat in ten minutes.
The Sheboygan event attracted someone hailed as the Michael Jordan, the Babe Ruth, of competitive eating: a skinny Japanese kid named Takeru Kobayashi. He has never been defeated on American soil in any event he has entered. He was described as “the most dominant athlete” in the sport today. Sure enough, he demolished the previous world record of 35 brats, set by a 100 lb. little slip of a girl named Sonya Thomas. Kobayashi ate 58 bratwursts in 10 minutes. Watching him do this was strangely satisfying, though not nearly as exciting as watching the World Series.
Is this sort of physical feat a sport? If not, how is it different from other prodigious exercises bordering on abuse of the human body that are sports?
Posted by Veith at 05:31 AM
Church on Reformation Sunday
It was good to have a normal weekend with no travelling and good to worship at St. Athanasius. (I learned that long-time blog commenter “Carl Vehse” is the secret identity of someone I know at church!) We let out all the stops to celebrate Reformation Sunday (October 31 being the date Luther posted his Theses and sparked the Reformation, a holiday others celebrate as Halloween), going so far as to use incense. Pastor Douthwaite preached about how Reformation day and Lutheranism itself are not about Luther but about Jesus Christ, crucified for our salvation. Here are some good lines from his sermon:
The nails pounded through the paper into the wood of the church door at Wittenberg were important, but not as important as the nails driven through the flesh of Jesus into the wood of the Cross at Calvary.
We are not deformed by sin or conformed to the world or informed by falsehood but reformed into the image of Christ.
So, hit “comment” to post your church stories.
Posted by Veith at 05:19 AM
October 27, 2006
Lutheran (noun) vs. Lutheran (adjective)
In answer to your question, Dustin, being Lutheran has to do with being a Christian whose sole hope is the Gospel, who has a theology of the Cross rather than Glory (that is, grows closer to Christ in the experience of weakness, suffering, and defeat rather than strength, power, and victory), who has a sense of vocation (that God is in the ordinary tasks of life that He calls us to), who recognizes the depths of human sin and also the depths of God’s grace, who rejects all gnosticism in a recognition that God comes to us in the material world of flesh, creation, incarnation, a book printed on paper, and sacraments of water, bread, and wine. Someone with at least some of these characteristics I describe can be said to be, figuratively and at least some degree, Lutheran.
Yes, I am aware that Dostoevsky is not a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and that I could not commune with him and he certainly would not commune with me. Yes, I know he was a member of the Russian Orthodox church. But you don’t see much salvation by works or even by piety in Dostoevsky’s novels. There is a sense in which you don’t have to be a Lutheran (noun) to be Lutheran (adjective) . (There is also a sense in which not all Lutherans are Lutheran.)
This is a little game we are playing, and please give me a plenary indulgence as I play it some more. And please join in.
Posted by Veith at 05:56 AM
Lutheran Baptists
John Bunyan: Lutheran
The author of “Pilgrim’s Progress” became a Christian when we attended a meeting at which Luther’s “Commentary on Galatians.” He said that he prized this book above all others next to the Bible for the consolation it gives to wounded consciences. And a major theme of “Pilgrim’s Progress” is the distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The most dramatic–and funny–example is what happened with the character Faithful. He tries to get to the Celestial City by climbing Mt. Sinai. He is carrying this heavy burden, which makes it even harder for him to climb those steep slopes. Then it turns out that Mt. Sinai is an active volcano, which erupts as he tries to climb it, sending fire and smoke and rocks down on him . And then, Moses shows up, who starts BEATING HIM UP!
Finally, Faithful slips down, realizing that he can’t save himself by the good works of the Law. He just cannot fulfill the Law’s demands. Then he finds a narrow gate and Christ on the Cross, whereupon his burden falls off and rolls into an empty tomb.
Jimmy Carter: Not Lutheran
Posted by Veith at 05:22 AM
Lutheran fictional characters
Hamlet, the Melancholy Dane: Lutheran_Malvolio, the Melancholy Puritan: Not Lutheran
_Starbuck, not the coffee magnate but the devoutly Christian First Mate in “Moby Dick,” who is skeptical of his captain’s spiritual over-reachings: Lutheran
Captain Ahab, who wants to harpoon the universe and God himself in his obsessive quest to kill the hated White Whale: Not Lutheran
(Feel free to nominate your own candidates in all of these categories.)
Posted by Veith at 05:16 AM
Lutheran defunct comic strips
Charlie Brown: Lutheran_Lucy: Not Lutheran
Far Side: Lutheran (Really, Gary Larson, the artist of this absurdist, bizarro world of talking animals, with its exceedingly low view of human nature, is a Lutheran.)
Calvin and Hobbes: Calvinist and Hobbesian.
Posted by Veith at 05:12 AM
Lutheran comic book heroes
Batman, simultaneously saint and sinner: Lutheran
Superman, Nietzchean ubermensch who can do virtually everything with his superpowers: Not Lutheran
Posted by Veith at 05:10 AM
October 26, 2006
Islamic Democrats
America’s Muslims fall squarely into the Republican demographic, one would think: middle class, socially conservative, religious, “family values.” And yet, they are overwhelmingly voting for Democrats. How can that be? Aren’t they pro-life, against gay marriage, pro-small business? What is it they like in the Democratic party?
Posted by Veith at 07:07 AM
From entrepreneurs to managers to entrepreneurs
Economic columnist Robert Samuelson observes that in 1848, America’s richest man was John Jacob Astor. He made his money from furs and real estate. He employed only a handful of clerks. Fifty years later, America’s economy was totally different with the rise of industrialism, companies that employed untold numbers. The success of these companies, though, was not a matter of their storied owners, derided as “robber barons” or hailed as “captains of industry.” Rather, what made them work was the rise of middle managers.
Samuelson focuses on the ideas of economic historian Alfred D. Chandler:
New technologies (the railroad, telegraph and steam power) favored the creation of massive businesses that needed — and in turn gave rise to — superstructures of professional managers: engineers, accountants and supervisors.
It began with railroads. In 1830 getting from New York to Chicago took three weeks. By 1857 the trip was three days (and we think the Internet is a big deal). From 1850 to 1900, track mileage went from 9,000 to 200,000. But railroads required a vast administrative apparatus to ensure the maintenance of “locomotives, rolling stock and track” — not to mention scheduling trains, billing and construction, as Chandler showed in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business” (1977).
Elsewhere the story was similar. Companies didn’t achieve lower costs simply by adopting new technologies or building bigger factories. No matter how efficient a plant might be, it would be hugely wasteful if raw materials did not arrive on time or if the output couldn’t be quickly distributed and sold. Managers were essential; so were statistical controls. Coordination and organization mattered.
Companies that surmounted these problems succeeded. Typical was Singer Sewing Machine. Around 1910 it produced 20,000 to 25,000 machines a month and had 1,700 U.S. branch offices, whose salaried managers supervised an army of salesmen. The rise of big business involved more than tycoons. Its central feature was actually the creation of professional managers.
The internet-based economy, though, is changing that. Small companies with relatively few employees and few managers are against becoming huge. Chandler and Samuelson aren’t sure what this next phase of capitalism will look like. I think it looks more like John Jacob Astor. And certainly the era of the middle manager is giving way to the era of the entrepreneur.
Posted by Veith at 06:54 AM
Evangelist for Atheism
You should be aware of >a href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/25/AR2006102501998.html” mce_href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/25/AR2006102501998.html”>Sam Harris, who is being described as an “atheist evangelist” for his all-encompassing attacks on all religion, which he condemns as being intrinsically evil and the source of all that is bad in the world. His new book “Letters to a Christian America” is now number 11 on the bestseller charts.
Posted by Veith at 06:51 AM
Luther at the Library
Good idea, Organshoes, that Cranach should try to do for literature what Luther at the Movies does for films. Yes, Dostoevsky is Lutheran. Dickens, with his feel-good moralism and optimistic endings, is not Lutheran. I’ll do more with that in times to come.
(P.S. : No offense to Dickens, whom I like and honor. He would agree that he is not Lutheran. And all of you non-Lutheran readers, I hope you have indulgence with some of these Lutheran-specific references. I think Luther has a lot of value to say even to those of other traditions. And I can’t believe I used “indulgence” and “Lutheran” in the same sentence.)
Posted by Veith at 06:40 AM
October 25, 2006
Crime and Punishment
During my semi-all-nighter, I also had to prepare for one of the classes I am teaching, Western Literature II, a true joy. So I was spending an hour doing the tedious work of writing self-study material, then spending an hour reading Dostoevsky, alternating back and forth, until I finished what I needed to do (the literature keeping me stimulated enough to do the dull stuff). What a masterpiece is “Crime and Punishment.” I am blown away by Dostoevsky’s genius as a novelist. And it is thoroughly, explicitly, on every level, Christian. By that I mean it is thoroughly, explicitly, on every level, about the Gospel. And its other theme is the Theology of the Cross.
Posted by Veith at 05:50 AM
To Him, everything is possible and everything is known
My other pre-bed reading is working my way through the Book of Concord. As C. S. Lewis has observed, reading hard core theology (if I may use that term) is often more “devotional” than reading sappy books of devotion. Consider this, from the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, VIII, 16, on the Two Natures of Christ:
This majesty He [Christ] always had according to the personal union, and yet He abstained from it in the state of His humiliation, and on this account truly increased in all wisdom and favor with God and men; therefore He exercised this majesty, not always, but when [as often as] it pleased Him, until after His resurrection He entirely laid aside the form of a servant, but not the [human] nature, and was established in the full use, manifestation, and declaration of the divine majesty, and thus entered into His glory, Phil. 2, 6ff , so that now not only as God, but also as man He knows all things, can do all things, is present with all creatures, and has under His feet and in His hands everything that is in heaven and on earth and under the earth, as He Himself testifies Matt. 28, 18; John 13, 3: All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. And St. Paul says Eph. 4, 10: He ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things. And this His power, He, being present, can exercise everywhere, and to Him everything is possible and everything is known.
Posted by Veith at 05:44 AM
Solomon on Vocation
Spent a 13 hour day writing madly to meet an accreditation deadline. (College administration is hard, draining, exhausting work!) Came home, tumbled into bed, did my Bible reading (good habits are as hard to break as bad habits). I have come to Ecclesiastes, that tough-minded, dark, hard book, which I have always found strangely comforting. And I see that, among other things, it is about vocation:
What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
Posted by Veith at 05:37 AM
October 24, 2006
Towards a cloak of invisibility
If there were a Nobel Prize for the coolest technology–defined as turning a science fiction concept into real life–it would have to go to the researchers at Duke who are close to inventing an invisibility cloak. Really. If you wrap something up in this material, you would not see it. You would see what is behind it. So far the cloaking device has only worked for microwaves and to cloak a copper cylinder, but scientists say there is no reason the process cannot work for light as well.
In effect the device, made of metamaterials — engineered mixtures of metal and circuit board materials, which could include ceramic, Teflon or fiber composite materials — channels the microwaves around the object being hidden.
When water flows around a rock, Smith explained, the water recombines after it passes the rock and people looking at the water downstream would never know it had passed a rock.
The cloaking has to be designed for specific bandwidths of radiation.
In this case it’s microwaves, and someone measuring them wouldn’t be able to tell they had passed around an object. The hope is to do the same for light waves.
Looking at a cloaked item, Smith explained: ”One would see whatever is behind the cloak.”
What applications might this invention have? Besides revolutionizing the fashion industry, what do you think would be the personal and social consequences if people could go around unseen?
Posted by Veith at 06:42 AM
Stem cells can also cause cancer
Scientists began experimentation to try to use stem cells to combat Parkinson’s disease, the poster affliction used to create sympathy for legalizing the destruction of human fetuses to get their stem cells. In the research, rats with a Parkinson-like disease had stem cells injected into their brains. Sure enough, the stem cells reduced the symptoms. The problem was, the rats also developed brain tumors. Oh, right. The multiplication of undifferentiated cells is sort of what cancer is.
Missourians, whatever your disillusionment with politics might be, you have got to go to the polls to vote against that law on the ballots that would legalize harvesting the stem cells of unborn babies.
Posted by Veith at 06:28 AM
Grammar is back
Because of the pressure of SAT tests and the general collapse of writing ability, many schools are returning to the study of grammar. Note the unintentional humor in this account from the Washington Post:
The National Council of Teachers of English, whose directives shape curriculum decisions nationwide, has quietly reversed its long opposition to grammar drills, which the group had condemned in 1985 as “a deterrent to the improvement of students’ speaking and writing.”
Now, even the sentence diagram, long the symbol of abandoned methodology, is allowed, if not quite endorsed, in the classrooms of Fairfax and Howard and other high-performing school systems throughout the region. To diagram a sentence is to deconstruct it as if it were a math problem, with the main noun, verb and object written on a horizontal line and their various modifiers attached with diagonals.
It’s funny that the English teacher’s establishment thought that study of grammar is actually harmful to students’ use of English. It’s also funny how the return to grammar is being rationalized: “To diagram a sentence is to deconstruct it.” Sentence diagramming, when seen correctly, is not going back to a traditional approach to education that produced good writers. Rather, it is really postmodernist, and so it’s OK.
Posted by Veith at 06:18 AM
October 23, 2006
BBQ & Bluegrass
After the service Sunday, we had a big church dinner. And, proving the true Southern credentials of these Dixie Lutherans, it consisted of two of my favorite cultural creations: Real Carolina BBQ and bluegrass music. The group was made up of members of their church who get together to play bluegrass.
There is no higher expression of American music than bluegrass music. It is improvisational, like jazz, and the musicianship it requires–tearing along at a breakneck speed with everyone playing by ear rather than following sheet music–is of a high order. And it is a living survival of when ordinary people actually played music together, rather than just passively listening to it by turning on a radio, buying a CD, or pirating it off the internet. Bluegrass, while technically invented by Bill Monroe, shows what you can do with a living culture.
A seminarian from California made a snide comment denigrating bluegrass, so I sharply admonished, rebuked, and corrected him. (Sorry, vicar, if I was too harsh.)
Posted by Veith at 05:58 AM
When Abraham saw Jesus
Dr. Feuerhahn preached at the service on Sunday, a remarkable exposition of John 8. Remember when Jesus said that Abraham rejoiced to see his day, and that he did see it and was glad? (8:54). Modern translations struggle to render that. How did Abraham see the day of Christ? Where in the Bible do we see Abraham seeing Jesus? Dr. Feuerhahn gave a stunning answer: When Abraham was spared from sacrificing his son Isaac, he was given a substitute to die in Isaac’s place: the Ram in the thicket. In the Ram, Abraham saw Jesus Christ and the day of His substitutionary death and atonement. Abraham saw that Ram and, indeed, was very glad.
Posted by Veith at 05:46 AM
Dixie Lutherans
During the Revolutionary War, the British hired mercenary troops from Germany to help them put down the rebellious colonists. These were the Hessians, from the land of Hesse, as in Philip of Hesse, the prince who joined Luther’s cause. These Hessian mercenaries, though, were bad hombres. But when the war was over, some of them, seeing what this new nation they had fought against had to offer, decided to stay. They settled mostly in enclaves in the South, where their theology of culture allowed them to adopt American and Southern ways, without abandoning their Lutheranism.
There were other German settlers in the South also. A German-speaking evangelist with the great name of Polycarp Hinckel ministered to them as a circuit rider who also founded churches. One that he not only founded back in 1854 but also pastored was Salem Lutheran in Taylorsville, NC, which–with several other strong churches in the area–puts on an annual series of “Luther Lectures,” to which Lutherans come from far and wide. (About ten people from my new church drove some 11 hours to get there!)
I was one of the speakers this year. So was Daniel Preus, David Maxwell, and Ron Feuerhahn (who was honored on Sunday at a special service as a confessor and teacher of the church–Kurt Marquardt was supposed to be there too, to speak and be honored, but he died a few weeks ago, a giant of confessional Lutheranism). Anyway, a good time was had by all. My cultural point is simply this bit of trivia: There are actual counties in the South where there are more Lutherans than Southern Baptists.
Posted by Veith at 05:32 AM
Church
I had another great church experience yesterday, to the point that I am going to write several posts about it. Here is your chance for our weekly church report.
Posted by Veith at 05:30 AM
October 20, 2006
How manifold are thy works!
Scientists have discovered a bacteria, deep beneath the surface of the earth, that lives for hundreds of years, feeding only on radiation and its interaction with rocks:
A team of scientists has found bacteria living nearly two miles below ground, dining on sulfur in a world of steaming water and radioactive rock. A single cell may live a century before it gets up the energy to divide. The organisms have been there for millions of years. They will probably survive as long as the planet does, drawing energy from the stygian world around them.
The microbes, found in water spilling out of a fissure in a South African gold mine in 2003, are not entirely new, the researchers report in today’s issue of Science. They are similar to ones found in other extreme environments and among the most primitive life forms ever described._What is unusual is that their underground home contains no nutrients traceable to photosynthesis, the sunlight-harnessing process that fuels all life on Earth’s surface.
. . . . . . . . . .
_First, water molecules — H2O — are split by radioactive particles. The result is hydrogen, oxygen and hydrogen peroxide. The latter two substances then attack the mineral pyrite (also known as iron sulfide or “fool’s gold”), making sulfate through a process called oxidation._The bacteria then uses the hydrogen to turn the sulfate back to sulfide, a process known as reduction. In doing so, it captures some of the energy in the sulfate’s chemical bonds, which it uses to make ATP, the molecule that is the universal coin of energy exchange in living things.
Radiation then splits more water, producing more hydrogen peroxide, which turns the sulfide back to sulfate, effectively “recharging the battery.”
The deep underground water where the bacteria live is loaded with these nutrients. But the exceedingly torpid organisms are using only a fraction — perhaps as little as one-billionth — of what is available to them. They live 45 to 300 years between cell divisions; in comparison, some strains of E. coli bacteria can divide every 20 minutes under ideal conditions.
“For some reason it is advantageous to grow slow rather than fast in this environment,” said Lisa M. Pratt, a geologist and astrobiologist at Indiana University, who is one the authors of the Science paper._”Philosophically, that is very interesting, because on the surface it is advantageous to grow fast and use nutrients before something else does,” she added.
How random is that? Two comments: I appreciate the reporter using the word “Stygian,” a sure sign of a classical education. Make an effort to use that word today. Second, if the thought comes to mind, “what is the use of a lifeform like that?”, that is a sign that you have been seduced by the secularist philosophy of utilitarianism. The answer has to do with what the great Christian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins called “inscape.” (I have to catch a plane. If anyone knows what “inscape” means and how this concept not only answers the question but gives glory to God, I’ll let you explain.)
Posted by Veith at 06:06 AM
Cardinals make the World Series
I like to think that my criticisms of the Cardinals a few weeks ago, after even my lowly Brewers beat them, played some small part in the cosmic scheme of things, which concluded in their beating the Mets last night in dramatic fashion to ascend into the World Series. I said that they were having their usual end-of-the-season collapse early, so now maybe they have got it out of their system.
The Cardinals had a bad year, by their standards, and yet here they are. They are being called one of the worst teams ever to make the series, with their .519 record, an underdog against Detroit, that Cinderella team the country will be pulling for. I think that puts the Cardinals in a very good position.
Someone should do research into pundits’ and sportswriters’ predictions, not just about who will make it into the World Series and such, but political and cultural predictions. My impression is that hardly anyone is ever right. Before the season, I venture to say that no one predicted the Tigers and Cardinals would compete in the World Series. And the news is also nearly always a surprise.
Posted by Veith at 05:58 AM
October 19, 2006
Engineering a baby boom
As the population of the United States passes 300 million (see the blog entry of a couple of days ago), some Americans think this is a good thing and others do not. But Europe, in a state of demographic free fall, desperately wants more population, specifically, children. Otherwise, it will soon be a continent of old people.
France has actually made progress, increasing its birthrate to 1.94, nearly a replacement level. How did the French manage this? No, not what you might expect, an upsurge in family values involving begetting children. The French welfare state has turned things around with money: A woman who has a baby in the first year will get from the government $960 per month. If she has a second child, she will get twice that. In addition, the government provides free and subsidized child care and other perks (such as 40% discounts on train tickets, breaks on tickets to cultural events, and tax benefits).
Posted by Veith at 06:56 AM
Deaf Power
Here in the D.C. area, college students are rioting, occupying buildings, and shutting down the campus. No, I’m not talking about Patrick Henry College, but about Gallaudet University, the nation’s premier school for the deaf. The student uprising is over the hiring of provost Jane Fernandes to be the school’s new president. Why the uproar? I had assumed that it was because Dr. Fernandes is not deaf, but she is and has been all her life. According to this profile, the problem is that she and her family dealt with her deafness by learning how to vocalize in English. She did not learn sign language until she was 23 and, supposedly, is not that proficient with it.
This raises the ire of deaf radicals who believe deafness, with signing as its self-contained language, constitutes a culture. These deaf militants go even further, opposing chochlear implants and other treatments that can cure deafness as being an assault on deaf people, implying that there is something wrong with them:
Fernandes tells of a friend on the faculty who has now broken with her — “a former friend, maybe” — who refers to the advent of cochlear implants, electronic devices that give the deaf a sense of sound, as a “genocide.”
Dr. Fernandes opposes this view, wanting to equip deaf people to be integrated into the larger society, and for this she is condemned. Maybe there is more to this than gets in the papers–does anybody know?–but this is a telling case-study in postmodernism.
Posted by Veith at 06:46 AM
Rebranding the Christian Coalition
The new president of the Christian Coalition–a key player in the rise of conservative Christian activism–wants to “rebuild and rebrand” the movement. In addition to opposing abortion and same-sex marriage, Rev. Joel Hunter wants to add to the cause opposition to global warming. _His group, as well as other Christian activist organizations, is also speaking out against the mass killings in Darfur, which is wholly appropriate, though what is different is the alliance on this cause with liberal Christian activists.
A supporter’s comments are telling:
“I think you could call this a PR problem, because young people who are very involved in their churches understand the passion for these two issues,” he said, referring to abortion and same-sex marriage, “but in the culture at large we can come across as wild-eyed bigots to some because we have only emphasized these things.”
It is certainly true that many people in the dominant culture have come to fear and hate Christians who are active politically. Will taking on a few liberal-friendly causes, such as environmentalism, change that image? Or is this just another example of selling out? Might there be a better way to “rebrand” the Christian right?
Posted by Veith at 06:34 AM
October 18, 2006
Your most influential books
Can we come up with a better list than the one posted about below? Whether you are a “leader” or not, what are some titles of books published after WWII that have influenced you?
Posted by Veith at 06:07 AM
Most influential books
Christianity Today polled a number of evangelical leaders to determine what books published since World War II have influenced them the most. The result is a top 50 list. It contains some good titles, but on the whole it seems, shall we say, rather light. Check out the list here. What might we conclude from this list about the state of American Christianity?
Posted by Veith at 06:01 AM
The next phase of human evolution
A British scientist predicts that today’s social and economic inequities will result in human beings evolving into two different species:
The mating preferences of the rich, highly educated and well-nourished could ultimately drive their separation into a genetically distinct group that no longer interbreeds with less fortunate human beings, according to British scientist Oliver Curry.
Dr Curry, a research associate in the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science of the London School of Economics, speculated that privileged humans might over tens of thousands of years evolve into a “gracile” subspecies, tall, thin, symmetrical, intelligent and creative.
The rest would be shorter and stockier, with asymmetric features and lower intelligence, he said._Dr Curry’s vision echoes that of H.G. Wells in The Time Machine. He envisaged a race of frail, privileged beings, the Eloi, living in a ruined city and co-existing uneasily with ape-like Morlocks who toil underground and are descended from the downtrodden workers of today.
First of all, this does not either echo H. G. Wells’ science fiction classic. The Morlocks were the rulers. They bred the gentle Eloi so as to eat them.
Second, it was not too long ago that poor people were the skinny ones.
HT: Dorothy Margraf
Posted by Veith at 05:50 AM
October 17, 2006
300 million
At 4:46 a.m. today, America’s population reached 300,000,000. That is 100 million more than we had in 1967. We are now the third biggest nation in the world, after China and India. Do you think hitting 300 million is a good thing or a bad thing?
Realize that the “Population Bomb” is a myth. America is not overcroweded, as such. Our population density is only 80 people per square mile, one eighth that of England. And human beings, at least in a healthy economy, produce more than they consume. People are a valuable resource. The population growth will help support us baby boomer’s retirement. America is alone among the advanced industrial nations in having a growing population, and those others are rightly worried about the economic effects of their population dip. On the other hand, 40% of America’s population growth is due to immigration, not necessarily of the legal kind, which will have consequences of its own.
So what’s the bottom line? Should we celebrate this demographic milestone or lament it?
Posted by Veith at 06:07 AM
Fascist bedfellows
Remember Jean-Marie Le Pen, head of the near-fascist French party, the National Front, which made its mark opposing immigration? Now, according to this column about what is amounting to a full-fledged Muslim “intifada” in France, Le Pen’s party is actually joining forces with Muslims, who admire the National Front’s anti-semitism, demonization of Israel, and support for Hamas and Hezbollah.
Posted by Veith at 05:57 AM
North Korea at Circuit City
Japan is utterly serious about sanctioning North Korea for its now confirmed nuclear bomb, cutting off all trade with Kim Il Jong’s murderous regime. This includes shutting down a monthly ferry that operated between the two countries, a decrepit steamer that brought North Korean shoppers to Japan’s land of plenty. Now Japan is maintaining that North Korean agents used the ferry trips to load up on commercial electronic gizmos–Play Stations, games, computers, cameras–that were then taken apart and their components adapted for military hardware.
Posted by Veith at 05:46 AM
They don’t want them either
Germany and Great Britain have been demanding that the USA close down the terrorist prison in Guantanamo. But those countries have been blocking American efforts to send German and British citizens imprisoned there back home. Not wanting to deal with the terrorists in their own legal system, Germany and Britain would just as soon let the Americans deal with them, even as they criticize the Americans for doing so. This is a reminder that when it comes to matters of state there are wheels within wheels and policies within policies.
Posted by Veith at 05:35 AM
October 16, 2006
Discuss church
I’m back, and the blog is back (after technical difficulties whereby though the blog could come up, I couldn’t post on it; and after just general difficulties in blogging while I was on the road). So tomorrow I’ll post some stuff. But, even though it is late on Monday, I don’t want to neglect what has become a quite interesting feature: Discussing Sunday’s church service. Did any of you hear any good sermons? Bible studies? Hymns? Did any of you hear any bad ones?
Posted by Veith at 07:42 PM
October 11, 2006
Technical difficulties
World’s blog sites have been down, but they are now sort of up. But note this from blogmeister Lynn Vincent:
Friends, the blog is up and down as our domain-name reestablishes itself with servers. I can now access Worldmagblog using MS Explorer, but not using AOL. Others report they cannot access the blog either from PC-based browsers, or from Mac’s Safari. WORLD’s IT department says it could take some time to get the problem resolved. If you are reading this post, you can help by telling us how you accessed the site.
She also notes another problem with the spam filters, which have plagued some of you with other quirks:
When it rains, it pours. Apparently our spam filter is going haywire again. Among the bad words it is now flagging in the comment fields: “funny” and “read” (without the quotes), and anything that contains those letter sequences, such as “thread.” Just letting you all know that our web elves are working hard to fix the problem.
I’m on the road today, so can’t blog much anyway. So please be patient and keep checking with us, as things get back to normal. So for today, comment on whatever you want. But no bad words such as “funny” and “read.”
Posted by Veith at 06:56 AM
October 09, 2006
North Korea’s Nuke
Well, it has happened. We now have a mad man armed with nuclear weapons. North Korea exploded an atomic bomb . Read this scared and scary reaction from South Korea. Some fugitve thoughts on the matter:
We must now add the retro-Stalinist North Koreans to the Islamic jihadists–who, in Iran, will inevitably get the bomb themselves–to our worries. What can be done about the threat from North Korea?
Sanctions? OK, but the country is already starving. If we drive them to desperation, won’t Kim Jong Il just want to go out in a nuclear blaze of glory?
The problem with lunatics and fanatics is that they are undeterrable, unlike the Soviets. Besides, if North Korea nuked our South Korean allies, would we have to stomach to nuke them back?
South Koreans are in real danger. They will almost certainly develop nuclear weapons themselves, which with their technological sophistication they can do in a short time. So might Japan.
We should surely step up our anti-missile program, which might have had problems shooting down a Soviet ICBM, but should be able to handle more primitive missiles from North Korea or Iran.
Does anybody have any bright ideas for what we and the world should do now?
Posted by Veith at 08:20 AM
Discuss yesterday’s church
Those of you who want to find genuine, consistent Lutheranism–evangelical, Biblical, confessional, liturgical–should move to Wyoming, where all the churches are conservative and all the schools are classical. (In the LCMS, that is.) I’m here speaking at a Lutheran teachers’ conference, and, yes, you read right, all of the schcools in the whole district have embraced the classical Christian model.
I worshipped at Mt. Hope Lutheran Church in Casper yesterday. The just-retired district president, Ron Garwood, who did so much to keep his district solid, has just become their associate pastor. He greeted me by saying, “I have now attained the highest office in the church–being a parish pastor.” He led the Bible class–a survey of the Old Testament–and it was one of the best I’ve ever heard. He showed how those first chapters of Genesis contain nearly the whole of theology–creation, marriage, the purpose of our existence, sin, the fall, the promise of Christ (the Seed of the woman), the grace of God, etc., etc., finishing the lesson with the call of Abram, in which we have the great text for justification by faith, in which Abram’s faith was “accounted” to him as righteousness. Amidst all of this, Rev. Garwood worked in wonderful digressions about the problems in American Christianity, how we have drifted to a focus on “what people want” rather than “what God says,” on the uniqueness of Christianity (in which God accomplishes salvation for us) among all other religions (in which human beings have to propiate God). He preached against as well as for, but all in a winsome, engaging way, a tour de force of effective Bible teaching.
And worship, led by Rev. John Hill, was splendid. His sermon was on Ephesians 4, in which he discussed both the spiritual and the physical dimensions of the Christian life. We worshipped with “The Lutheran Hymnal,” (the old hymnal), but at the end of the service they dedicated “The Lutheran Service Book,” (the brand new hymnal). That was touching, as I had a hand in developing the new hymnal, serving as the chairman of the translation committee. Among its many good features is that it includes the old liturgy of TLH. I’m encouraged that TLH congregations such as Mt. Hope are also welcoming this new resource.
Anyway, I had a good day in church. As I said last week, we’ll try to make this a weekly feature, giving you the chance to hit “comment” and share your church experience from yesterday.
Posted by Veith at 08:02 AM
October 06, 2006
How big is the internet?
An interesting tidbit in an column on the difficulty of tracing terrorists’ online activity:
The National Security Agency, one of 16 intelligence agencies under DNI John Negroponte, estimates by next year, the Internet will carry 647 petabytes of data each day. “That’s 647 followed by 15 zeros,” says Negroponte, “and by way of comparison, the holdings of the entire Library of Congress (130 million items, including 30 million books that occupy 530 miles of book shelves) represent only 0.02 petabytes.”
Posted by Veith at 06:09 AM
Evangelical vote slipping
Our excellent discussion the other day of your eagerness to vote seemed to be in accord with new findings that show significant erosion in the Christian vote in the upcoming election.
A nationwide poll of 1,500 registered voters released yesterday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of white evangelicals are inclined to vote for Republican congressional candidates in the midterm elections, a 21-point drop in support among this critical part of the GOP base.
Not that clumsy Democratic efforts at God-talk–which comes out as nothing more than the liberal theology most of us despise–are paying off (even though some evangelical leaders are embracing that very theology):
But before Democrats take credit for the shift, they might ponder one of the findings in a recent survey of 2,500 voters by the Center for American Values, a project of the left-leaning People for the American Way Foundation: Republicans have lost more support (14 percentage points) than Democrats have picked up (4 points) among frequent churchgoers.
That rings true to Michael Cromartie, an expert on evangelicals at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Washington think tank. “Erosion for evangelicals doesn’t necessarily lead to Democratic voting. It leads to nonvoting,” he said.
Either way, this would turn over our country’s reins to the Nancy Pelosis of the world.
Posted by Veith at 05:54 AM
When Congress started to go wrong
It was in 1913, according to Washington Times columnist Bruce Bartlett. In that year, two actions threw off the finely-tuned checks and balances crafted by the Founding Fathers. First, Senators were no longer to be elected by state legislatures, as the Founders intended and as was the case through most of our history. Rather, they were to be elected by direct popular vote. Second, a cap was placed on the number of congressmen in the House of Representatives. Before, the number was simply increased as the nation’s population rose. After 1913, there could only be 435.
The Founders designed only the House to reflect the changing, unstable moods of public opinion. They wanted a Republic, not a pure Democracy, wanting to incorporate the good elements of democratic systems while checking and balancing their instability and their susceptibility to manipulation through sensationalistic demagogues. Now the Senate, with its longer terms and greater power, was in play for those demagogues.
The House, meantime, its numbers fixed, became LESS representative of the people. The number of people each Congressman represented has kept growing, so that ordinary Americans are less in touch with their representative than they were before. Not only that, to deal with growing populations, the House has resorted to gerrymandering, creating artificial district lines to keep incumbents in power.
Now, according to Bartlett, Senators are more likely to get voted out of office than House congressmen! Switching control from one party to the other happens more often with the Senate than with the House! And the Senate reflects changes in public opinion more than the House does! All of this is the opposite of what the Founders intended.
Posted by Veith at 05:41 AM
October 05, 2006
Irreducible complexity?
A sweep! No, I’m not talking about the baseball playoffs but about how Americans won all three of the major Nobel prizes in science: in medicine, physics, and chemistry. That has happened only twice before, in 1946 and 1976. The winner in chemistry is Stanford researcher Roger D. Kornberg. Another rarity of note is that his father also won a Nobel prize, something that has happened a surprising seven times. But here is what Kornberg the younger discovered:
Organisms more complicated than bacteria store their genes in a nucleus, a compartment apart from the rest of the cell’s machinery. These so-called eukaryotic cells face a fundamental problem. They carry thousands of genes — in the case of humans, about 30,000 — that together provide the instructions to make all the parts of all cells. But beyond the first few days of embryonic life, no cell needs all those instructions. It needs only a few hundred, or at most a few thousand, but it needs to be able to get them quickly.
But efficient retrieval — finding a single tool in a garage, or a single book in a library — is only the beginning of the problem.
The gene cannot be taken out of the nucleus, like a tool or a book. Instead, the information in it has to be copied. The copy is then sent to a distant part of the cell, where it is “translated” into a specific protein, the desired end product.
The information in genes is encoded in DNA, which has a twisted, two-strand structure. The copy that leaves the nucleus is made of RNA, which has a single strand. DNA and RNA are built of letter-like units, nucleotides, strung end to end. The RNA copy is made by separating the two strands of DNA and then using one strand as a letter-for-letter template to make the RNA strand.
The thing that does this is a giant enzyme called DNA polymerase II. Along with numerous other molecules, called transcription factors, and guided by cues that differ from one type of cell to another, DNA polymerase II finds a gene and makes an RNA message through a series of actions that include feeling, unfolding, sorting, shoving and releasing.
Kornberg’s feat was to show how those steps occur on a physical, three-dimensional, nonmetaphorical basis.
Does that complex process of communication sound random to you? And what of the very first cell to have supposedly generated in the primordial soup? Could there have been a simpler reaction that later evolved, randomly, into this ordered complexity? Isn’t the process as a complete and finished whole necessary for the life of any cell? And doesn’t the foundation of life seem to be, literally, language, as in “in the beginning was the Word”?
Posted by Veith at 06:11 AM
Comma-tose thinking
President Bush is getting criticism for saying that, in the context of history, the Iraq War will prove to be “just a comma.” In the Democrat pile-on, he is being accused of minimizing all of the lives lost, etc.
First of all, as an English professor, I must insist that commas really are important!
But the most humorous part of the controversy is how the left, by now utterly irrational in their pathological paranoid fantasies, is interpreting the remark as a coded signal to the religious right:
A lively Internet debate has broken out about the origins of the phrase, with some speculating that Bush means it as a coded message to religious supporters, evoking the aphorism “Never put a period where God has put a comma.”
. . . . . . . . . .
Ian Welsh, on his Agonist blog, postulated a theory about the hidden meaning of the comment, citing the “never put a period” saying and calling it a “dog whistle” comment that only some would understand: “He is constantly littering his speeches with code words and phrases meant for the religious right. Other people don’t hear them, but they do, and most of the time it allows Bush both to say what those who aren’t evangelical or born again want to hear, while still reassuring the religious right [what it] wants to hear.”
Have any of you religious right types ever heard of that saying? Did you pick up on the secret message? Did it signal you, like Osama bin Laden’s tapes, to implement a terrorist attack as part of the overarching plan to take over the country?
Well, it turns out the phrase originated with the late, great Gracie Allen (the wife of George Burns and a comic genius of the highest order). It further turns out that the phrase has become a cliche not of the religious right, but of the religious left! That’s where the paranoid lefties heard it, whereupon they projected it onto “the other.”
Posted by Veith at 05:58 AM
What waterboarding is
The new agreement about how troops and the CIA are allowed to interrogate terrorists forbids waterboarding. Finally, here is an article about what waterboarding is. Basically, it means covering a person’s face with a cloth and pouring water over it. That’s it.
The article showed this nefarious practice with a picture from the Vietnam War, which the reporter seemed to think documented a war crime, in which soldiers have a captured a North Vietnamese soldier and are pouring water on him from a canteen. Somehow, water on the face has a way of breaking the will–as it did with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed–but the article indicates that it has become favored by interrogators because it doesn’t really hurt the prisoner.
This reminds me of the Monty Python schtick the Spanish Inquisition, in which the leering inquisitors talk up the horrible torture they are devising, which turns out to be getting poked with a soft pillow.
Posted by Veith at 05:44 AM
October 04, 2006
Excited about voting?
Republican strategists are worried about the upcoming elections. They had been placing their hope in a big turnout from their most dependable base: socially conservative Christians. Their fear is that this crowd will be so turned off by the behavior of politicians–particularly the example of Mark Foley and how the Republican leadership handled his attraction to congressional pages–that they will not bother to vote. This would lead, in turn, to a Democrat takeover of the House and Senate.
How about you? Are you all psyched up for a big get-out-the vote push in November? Or are you sick of it all? Are you going to bother to vote?
Posted by Veith at 04:55 AM
Hypocrisy as the only vice
Republicans caught in a sex scandal tend to pay the price. Democrats, on the other hand, tend to go scot free. That’s the conclusion not of talk radio but of The Washington Post. Reporter Paul Farhi contrasts what happened to Bob Livingston, Jack Ryan, Bob Packwood, Dan Crane (GOP stalwarts who lost their careers when their sexual sins came out in the public), with the likes of Bill Clinton, Gerry Studds, Jim Bates, and Barney Frank (Democrats who got away with it).
This holds true even when Republicans and Democrats committed the same act, even when they molested congressional pages:
The clearest illustration may be in the divergent outcomes of the cases against Crane (R) and Studds (D) in 1983. Both men were censured by the House for having sex with underage congressional pages — Crane with a 17-year-old girl in 1980, Studds with a 17-year-old boy in 1973. Crane, of Illinois, apologized for his actions, while Studds, who declared he was gay, refused. Crane lost his reelection bid the next year; Studds, of Massachusetts, kept winning his seat until he retired in 1996.
And now we have Republican Mark Foley and his enablers. My theory, which is supported by the article, is that our culture really doesn’t mind sexual sins, as such. What brings politicians down is one of the only sins that the culture still recognizes: hypocrisy.
The spectacle of someone who stands publicly for morality, family values, and cultural conservatism and who is then caught violating those tenets will receive no mercy from anyone. Republicans have staked out those positions, so they are fair game when their vices are found out. With Democrats who are associated with a more permissive lifestyle, when they live out their beliefs, no one objects too much.
There are a few exceptions: Gary Hart, but his “sin” was portrayed as lying to the media and the recklessness of daring reporters to catch him. But Foley, head of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, is not going to get away with anything. And rightly so. Still, the double standard is telling.
Posted by Veith at 04:34 AM
October 03, 2006
Homegrown terrorism
We’ve got a terrorism problem of our own, and it has nothing to do with jihadist terrorism. A man breaks into a one-room Amish schoolhouse and shoots eleven little girls. Three died, and the others are in critical condition.
That makes SIX SCHOOL SHOOTINGS IN SIX WEEKS. In addition to this one in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the others were in Montreal, Canada; Essex, Vermont; Hillsborough, North Carolina; Cazenovia, Wisconsin; and Bailey, Colorado.
The president has summoned law enforcement agencies and education officials to the White House to discuss how to wage this particular war on terror.
Posted by Veith at 05:09 AM
Compounding the offense
So, Republican congressman Mark Foley (Fla.) makes his career sponsoring bills against child predators, and he is a child predator himself. On the surface, a solid cultural conservative, but in reality he sexually harrasses young boys, congressional pages (we need to see if it went further with some of them). (Another thing I learned at the Love & Marriage conference is that a large percentage of homosexuals were initiated into that lifestyle by an older man abusing them sexually.)
And now he has the gall to blame his alcoholism, so he is going in for “treatment.” (The ancient Greeks, far from allowing alcohol to be an excuse, actually doubled the punishment when alcohol was involved, reasoning that the offender committed two crimes: what he was charged with and dulling his reason by drinking too much and so endangering the community.)
Posted by Veith at 04:55 AM
October 02, 2006
Sermon discussion forum
Good worship at my church, as usual (St. Athanasius Lutheran Church in Vienna, VA). Killer sermon point: “God shows His love to us in the Cross. The Cross of Jesus. And also the crosses He lays upon us to bear.”
What insights did you glean from your church yesterday? Maybe we can make this a regular feature of this blog, a discussion forum on Mondays of sermons from the previous day of worship. This would salute the importance of preaching and allow other people to benefit from what we have received. Let’s try it.
Posted by Veith at 07:15 AM
Worship
Today’s blog entries have the theme of other religions’ worship problems. Meanwhile, here is what is happening with the persecuted church in China.
Posted by Veith at 06:44 AM
Tickets for worship
Churches depend on members’ giving their tithes and offerings. But Jewish synagogues, according to this article, charge membership fees and sell tickets to worship services. With the high holy days coming up, some synagogues are selling tickets Yom Kippur tickets for as much as $700. As part of the outreach program we blogged about earlier, some synagogues are trying to reach young adults by giving away free tickets. (Is this universal in Judaism? Does anyone know?)
Posted by Veith at 06:31 AM
Memory Work
A mosque in the D.C. suburbs had sent for an imam from South Africa. Unfortunately, he wasn’t let into the country because of his terrorist connections. So the Muslims had to find someone else qualified to lead Ramadan prayers. That means someone who has memorized the entire Q’uran.
It turns out, the community had two individuals who had achieved this impressive feat: Two teenage boys, one thirteen and another sixteen. So now these two are leading the services.
The Koran is not as long as the Bible, but it has 114 chapters with more than 6,200 verses and about 80,000 words.
Posted by Veith at 05:20 AM
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September 29, 2006
More picky eaters
You’ve got to read the comments on yesterday’s post about “Picky Eaters.” They are strangely endearing. As for the questions about my eating at fancy restaurants–as opposed to McDonalds, where each food item is neatly wrapped separately–I feel I must defend myself against insinuations that I am among the culturally elite and those with lots of money. In the course of my travels, I get taken out a lot, often by nice people trying to treat me really well. And as we go to these haute cuisine places, we typically drive past more proletarian establishments that have the food I really like: run-down BBQ joints with smoke-stained walls and a neon pig with a chef’s hat; low-rent Mexican tortilla huts; greasy-spoon diners; roadside cafes with a big sign that says EAT.
I am a connoisseur of those places, which must make me the pathological opposite of a picky eater.
Posted by Veith at 06:15 AM
Scaring the ruling class
An alert reader drew my attention to the fact that “Jesus Camp” is advertising on this site. (NOTE WELL: I have nothing to do with the advertisers. This is a site connected with WORLD MAGAZINE, and that worthy publication takes care of all of that. The products advertised do not necessarily reflect the views of WORLD, the Cranach Institute, or me.) That movie is a documentary about evangelical, specifically Pentecostal young people, apparently designed to scare the ruling class. The filmmakers must have found it amusing to advertise on Christian sites.
Here is a review. But apparently some of the Christians whom it portrays are OK with it. Note the final telling quote from the filmmaker:
“Jesus Camp” is composed of images of kids being radicalized spiritually and politically that will be heartening or chilling depending on the viewer. There are moments sure to set secular humanists’ teeth on edge: when Tory’s mother, who educates her kids at home, dismisses global warming and declares once and for all that creationism provides “the only possible answer to all the questions”; or when Becky excoriates Harry Potter to nervous-looking youngsters (“Warlocks are enemies of God!”). And it’s hard not to feel a little frightened watching Becky and her fellow leaders goad their young charges into speaking in tongues, or joining in chants like “This means war!” and smashing coffee cups that symbolize secularized government.
But those who find “Jesus Camp” frightening, Grady says, may be missing an important lesson. The evangelicals are “not doing anything illegal,” Grady explained recently in a phone interview. “In fact, they’re embracing and utilizing democracy to its fullest potential. There’s no office too small, no political position that’s insignificant [to them]. If I were to say I was scared of these people, then I’m scared of the very tenets of our political system.”
Here is the danger: That said ruling class, the cultural elite whose voice is the mainstream media, will come to the point of fearing “these people”–as they already class conservative Christians with the Taliban–that they will dismantle “the very tenets of our political system,” in the form of “tolerance” laws forbidding proseletyzing, exclusive religious claims, criticism of immorality, religiously-informed political activism, etc.
If any of you see this movie, please report.
Posted by Veith at 05:56 AM
Weekend of reckoning
This weekend should determine the baseball playoff picture. This year’s postseason should be interesting, with no team clearly dominant and will all of them having potentially tragic flaws. I’m pulling for the recently-lowly Padres and Tigers, their sudden success giving me hope for my still-lowly Brewers. Who, by the way, just beat the St. Louis Cardinals, who have squandered an 11-game lead in the National League Central and may lose their title to a resurgent Houston. The Cardinals have apparently started their playoff collapse extra early this year. They are usually my fall-back team to support. But why are they unable to finish?
Posted by Veith at 05:46 AM
September 28, 2006
Picky Eaters
Anne Groer of “The Washington Post” published an article on picky eaters.
There are those who shun “foreign” or spicy foods as a category, or all produce with seeds (especially okra, which when overcooked marries seeds with slime, making it a true picky-eater nightmare). There are the dairy-averse (ice cream is often a notable exception) and condiment-phobes, who wouldn’t consider defiling their food with mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise or relish. Some finicky eaters will not mix foods on the same plate, or they insist on finishing one item entirely before starting the next. Others refuse to eat anything at all with their hands, whether a sandwich, peanuts or pizza.
. . . . . . . . .
A self-described “hyper-picky eater” who consumes little more than raw carrots and celery, french fries, potato chips, pretzels, peanut butter crackers, cereal, beer and milk, Krause will not dine at friends’ homes; he will go to a restaurant only with his wife. “She will have a three-course meal and I might have a beer and french fries. In fancy restaurants, the fries might come with spices, batter or vinegar, and there I am with french fries I can’t eat and two beers,” says Krause. In his universe, Thanksgiving is “Black Thursday.”
Vegetables are the most common loathing of picky eaters, with some people finding salads utterly abhorrent. Some people will eat different things, except when they touch on the plate.
As an acknowledged omnivore, this is hard for me to relate to. Except for a few foods that I associate with times of sickness in my childhood, such as Rice Krispie bars. I don’t mind food that touches other food on the plate. I do, however, dislike the current fad in fancy restaurants of putting food ON TOP of other food. I have had put before me towering food structures–mashed potatoes on the bottom, serving as the foundation for a tower-of-pisa constructed of meat and onion rings, all under a tepee of asparagus–that was more of a sculpture than a meal.
This phenomenon is another example of how our culture is being taken over by the visual image. Words give way to the visual. Instead of reading books, people watch TV. Instead of just listening to music, many young people have to have a music video running before their eyes. And now, visualization is displacing the sense of taste.
So, any of the rest of you have any food quirks?
Posted by Veith at 06:24 AM
Selective Quotation
Democrats are making political hay with that leaked National Intelligence Estimate that the war in Iraq is breeding more terrorists. But the news reports hyping that point strangely fail to cite other material in that same document, which give those discouraging words their context . Consider these paragraphs:
We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.
· The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.
My point here is to note how the mainstream media treated this document. The information in the first half of the sentence quoted above is hyped hysterically. The rest of the sentence, though, draws a completely different conclusion from how the MSM spun the story: If those jihadist SUCCEED, for example, by driving out the Americans, we will have even more of them.
Conversely, in the second paragraph here, the analysts give a sentence that Democrats are seizing on. But the next sentence concludes that if those jihadists FAIL in Iraq, we will have fewer of them.
The intelligence finding is a balanced account of the facts in all of their complexity. I don’t know if I have ever seen a more blatant example of journalistic bias and dishonest reporting than this selective quotation.
Posted by Veith at 06:09 AM
September 27, 2006
The UN to levy taxes?
According to columnist Frank Gaffney, the United Nations is planning to become a taxing authority. To fund a program to fight AIDS and other diseases, the UN is proposing an “innovative funding mechanism.” Namely, a world-wide levy on airline tickets. Many countries think “globotaxes” are a swell idea. According to Gaffney, this is a brainchild of the Clinton Foundation, the do-gooder agency of the former president and his wife. If the UN can levy taxes on the world, wouldn’t that make it the dreaded one-world government?
Posted by Veith at 09:09 PM
Immigrants and culture
Los Angeles no longer has a country music station. But this post is not one of my country music indulgences. It has to do with how immigrants are impacting American culture. LA’s last country station switched to a Hispanic format. According to this article, Hispanics listen to more radio than any other group, so stations, especially in the big cities, are switching to that format. Country music is not the only casualty. So is rock ‘n’ roll. Thus, Hispanic immigration is impacting the American music scene, which is only one aspect of cultural influence.
Posted by Veith at 08:57 PM
Down with the Boondocks
The “Boondocks”–that bitter Black power comic strip–apparently won’t be coming back. The creator Aaron McGruder, who has been on “sabbatical” for the last six months, has not responded to Universal Syndicate’s queries, so the syndicator is telling newspapers to just get another strip to take its place.
This oddly cheers me. The Boondocks, to me, was annoying but never even mildly amusing. It wasn’t just the leftist bent that I disliked . “Doonsbury” is that way, but it is mildly amusing. Are there any other comic strips that you’d like to go on a permanent hiatus?
Posted by Veith at 08:49 PM
September 26, 2006
Quality workmanship
Remember back in 2004, when those Mars rovers landed on the red planet and started sending those amazing pictures as they putt-putted around the landscape like little toy cars? The mission was planned to last 90 days, after which, it was assumed, the rovers would stop working. Well, they are still putt-putting on the surface of Mars 900 days later. One of the rovers, the size of a riding lawnmower, is about to complete a journey of six miles to peer into a large impact crater, which will give scientists a look at the geological history of the planet.
The rovers run on solar panels, which gives them energy. The assumption was that eventually the panels would get encrusted with Martian dust, but it turns out every night the Martian wind blows the dust off.
Whatever engineering team designed those rovers and whatever manufacturer put them together deserves a big Quality award. In fact, the American auto industry should hire those people and put them in charge of design and production.
Posted by Veith at 07:00 AM
Religious theme parks
An interesting news feature is going around about Christian theme parks. Perhaps the biggest is the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, where Roman soldiers stand around a replica of Herod’s Temple and Jesus gets crucified twice a day. Currently, the park is involved in a controversy because it is claiming not only to be a theme park but to be a church, so as to get tax advantages.
But the Holy Land Experience is not the only one. I myself would have to draw the line at a Bible themed miniature golf park in Kentucky called Golgotha Fun Park.
Have any of you been to these? At what point does Christian consumerism violate the commandment against taking the name of the Lord our God in vain? And where does this leave Veggie Tales?
Posted by Veith at 06:50 AM
Censoring Veggie Tales
The popular Christian children’s show Veggie Tales is now being shown on NBC’s Saturday kids’ anthology show Qubo. But the network is chopping out the animated vegetables’ references to God. NBC has offered a lame explanation, but the Veggie Tales creator has shot that down. From the Parents Television Council:
As reported in Broadcasting & Cable, NBC had to “clip off the beginning and ending tags, which are Bible verses, but they were also arguably the easiest cut to make. ‘Veggie Tales was originally created for home video and, in most cases, each episode is over 30 minutes long,’ the network said in a statement. ‘As it appears on Qubo [NBC's Saturday morning Block, which is a co-venture with four other kids TV producers including Veggie Tales], Veggie Tales has been edited down for broadcast without losing any of its core messages about positive values.’” The creator of Veggie Tales, Phil Vischer, has gone public and disclosed this line as being false. Stating on his web site, www.philvischer.com, Mr. Vischer said, “Well, that’s kinda funny, because as the guy required to do all the editing, I know that statement is false. We sent them our first episode for TV, which was already edited to EXACTLY the right length, and they rejected it because, at the end, Bob the Tomato said, ‘Remember kids, God made you special and he loves you very much.’ They demanded we remove that line. The show wasn’t too long, it was too Christian. The show was already cut down to the proper length, so timing had nothing to do with it.”
Posted by Veith at 05:34 AM
September 25, 2006
Jewish evangelism
No, not evangelism OF Jews, evangelism BY Jews. After centuries of discouraging proseletyzing, some Jewish bodies are encouraging winning converts to help stem the tide of declining numbers, due to demographic decline, assimilation, and intermarriage. The targets of conversion, in particular, will be the non-Jewish partner in marriages. One-third of Jews are currently in mixed marriages with Gentiles. In the past, if anyone wanted to convert to Judaism, he or she had to ask a rabbi three times–and be rejected each time–to see if the person was really serious.
The reporter who wrote the story about this left out what inquiring minds really want to know. If a man who has not had a particular operation as a baby wants to convert to Judaism, doesn’t he have to. . .well, you know. . .get circumcised? And how is that done? Surely not in the public ceremony of the “bris” as with infants. In a doctor’s office? And. . .well, I don’t want to think about it. But does anyone know?
Posted by Veith at 06:04 AM
Criticize THIS
In what may be the most significant health care benefit since Medicaid, Wal-Mart will use its squeeze-the-supplier strategy to sell some 300 commonly-used generic long-term drugs for only $4 a month. That is less than the copay for most insured patients, and it will be a huge boon for patients who have no insurance. And now, competition in the free marketplace doing what it does, Target has said that it will match the deal.
As we blogged about earlier, Wal-Mart already saves poor people more on their food bill than the value of their food stamps. Could this corporate behemoth be modeling a free enterprise welfare program? But what about all of the mom and pop drug companies Wal-Mart is oppressing?
Posted by Veith at 05:55 AM
Diversity training hurts diversity and other research findings
Richard Morin, who works at the Pew Research Center, does a column for the Washington Post, featuring odd but interesting research findings. (We talked about that, what I consider, illogical study of what happens when states repeal blue laws.) Here are some that sound more valid:
Corporations have spent millions of dollars on diversity training programs to make mangers more sensitive to minorities, but these efforts have “roundly failed” to eliminate bias or increase the number of minorities in management, according to a team of sociologists headed by Frank Dobbin of Harvard University.
Dobbin and his colleagues Alexandra Kalev of the University of California at Berkeley and Erin Kelly of the University of Minnesota examined a sampling of reports submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by private-sector establishments and surveyed a sample of these businesses about their diversity programs.
Sensitivity programs that emphasize mentoring failed to reduce bias complaints or increase the number of minority managers. Only targeted programs in which senior managers were held accountable for hiring more women and minorities worked, they reported in the latest issue of the American Sociological Review.
In fact, they found diversity training may actually reduce diversity: Such programs were followed by a 6 percent decline in the proportion of black women in management, they found.
“The Incidence of Having Dreamed and Conservative Political Attitudes” by Jerry Kroth, et al., Psychological Reports, Vol. 38, No. 3. A Santa Clara University psychologist and his colleagues find that politically conservative women were more likely to dream about falling, being chased or being famous than less conservative women.
“Money and Mental Wellbeing: A Longitudinal Study of Medium-Sized Lottery Wins” by Jonathan Gardner and Andrew J. Oswald, University of Warwick, Economics Working Paper No. 754. British researchers find that people who won 1,000 pounds or more (about $1,900 U.S.) playing the lottery were significantly happier two years after winning than those who won less money or nothing at all.
“On the Maximum Number of Folds of a Piece of Paper” by G.J. Rees, Philosophical Magazine Letters, Vol. 86, No. 1. An engineering professor at the University of Sheffield finds that a piece of paper typically can be folded in half only six times.
Posted by Veith at 05:43 AM
September 22, 2006
Boycott or buycott?
So, some conservatives are organizing a boycott of CITGO, the gasoline company owned by the state oil company of Venezuela, after its leftwing president Hugo Chavez called our president a “devil” (and even crossed himself at the “smell of sulphur”) at the UN. But then some liberals are organizing a “buycott,” urging their fellow Bush haters to buy their gas at CITGO in support of what Chavez said.
My view is that a boycott just hurts the local small business stiffs trying to make a living who had nothing to do with what his corporate masters had to say. What do you think? Also weigh in on whether you think boycotts–or the opposite, buycotts–can be an effective means of protest.
Posted by Veith at 06:07 AM
Stores open on Sunday cause sin?
When states repeal “blue laws” against businesses being open on Sunday, bad behavior increases, according to researchers from MIT and a Notre Dame. The effect is especially noticable among Christians, they found, with drinking and drug use going up when the malls are allowed to be open on the “sabbath.” Read this amused article on the subject.
Do you see why this conclusion is utterly bogus? What are the errors in logic and interpretation of data? (Bonus points for anyone who can bring in the philosophical contribution of David Hume, who apparently goes unread in the social sciences.)
Posted by Veith at 05:57 AM
The other holocaust denial
From 1915-1917, hundreds of thousands and possibly more than a million Armenians (who were Christians) were slaughtered in Turkey, in what is sometimes called the first holocaust, an act of systematic genocide that anticipated what the Nazis would do to Jews on an even bigger scale. Today, the leaders of Turkey, while acknowledging that the deaths happened, deny that it was genocide, just an unfortunate outbreak of disease and violence in the chaos of World War I (in which the Turks were allies of the Germans). Turkey even has laws against going too deeply into the matter.
Turkish novelist Elif Shafak wrote a novel in which one of her characters laments what the Turks did to the Armenians. For that she was indicted of a crime against “insulting Turkishness.” Ms. Shafak, who also serves as a professor at the University of Arizona, was tried in absentia. But in a bit of good news for human rights in Muslim lands, yesterday she was found innocent of the charge.
Posted by Veith at 05:41 AM
September 21, 2006
Immortal Quotes from the Conference
“We are so hungry, we are willing to eat from a dumpster.” Christopher West
“The only sins today are homophobia and wearing animal fur in public. Purity it about organic food and health spas.” Beverly Yahnke
“The ‘Happy Church’ cannot minister to people who are suffering.” Beverly Yahnke
“The marriage of Christ and the Church is permanent.” William Weinrich
“I often find in pious Christians that Jesus doesn’t matter.” William Weinrich
“When man tries to become God, he becomes the Devil.” Martin Luther
Posted by Veith at 06:41 AM
The Sinned Against
Christian counselor Beverly Yahnke–my friend and former colleague–gave a brilliant paper at the Love & Marriage conference on the “sinned against.” She pointed out that we in the church usually concentrate on the sinner, but that there is someone else in dire need of spiritual care: the sinned against.
This is especially evident in cases of sexual sin. She gave some heartbreaking examples of pastors mishandling this: instead of exerting church discipline against the adulterer who broke up the marriage, asking the innocent wife to leave; the plight of the wife of a pastor who had homosexual affairs and might have given her AIDS; a case in which a pastor told a woman whose husband was cheating on her, “don’t come back until you’ve forgiven him.”
Yes, the sinned against eventually need to come to the point of forgiving the one who has trespassed against them, but that cannot be legalistically demanded up front. First the sinned against have a need for justice, an advocate, and those really angry Psalms. Eventually, God’s Word will do its work. But pastors, in the meantime, must give them spiritual care. Not psychological care, which few pastors are equipped to do, but spiritual care in bringing them to the healing that can only come from the ultimate One who was sinned against: Christ on the Cross.
Posted by Veith at 06:23 AM
September 20, 2006
More conference blogging
What a good conference this is turning out to be! I can only mention a few highlights of what I have learned.
Posted by Veith at 12:55 PM
Needed: Good fathers
One theme that came out clearly again and again in the prescriptions for restoring Christian sexual morality is good fathering. In their presentations on homosexuality, Melissa Fryrear and Mike Haley stressed that this particular condition is neither genetic, nor a choice, but a complex psychological condition. A major factor in the construction of homosexual desire is family dynamics. Both male and female homosexuality are associated with absent, emotionally distant, or hostile fathers. Little boys thus cannot identify with a masculine role model and so yearn for masculinity that they develop attractions to men. Little girls grow up not know how to relate to men in a loving way, and so their desires drift elsewhere.
In our current culture of single mothers, abandoning fathers, and fathers who are so busy they only spend an average of 5 minutes a day with their kids, of course we are going to have an upsurge of homosexuality. (This doesn’t have to happen, of course. Sometimes fatherless boys satisfy their craving for masculinity by joining gangs. More positively, other male role models can help enormously.)
Posted by Veith at 06:56 AM
Theology of the Body
One of the most active and effective people involved in teaching Christians how to recover a positive, Biblical ethic of sexuality and marriage is Christopher West. He is a Roman Catholic, working off of Pope John Paul II’s theological works on “the theology of the body,” but in his presentation at this Lutheran free conference, he drew more from the Bible and did more with the distinction between Law & Gospel, while preaching the latter, than I have heard from many a Protestant pulpit.
His presentation was compelling, and I cannot do it justice. But Gilbert Meilaender set it up perfectly, in an unplanned way, by stressing our common heritage in Western Christianity and our continuity with the “catholic” ethical tradition. He too, as we blogged yesterday, outlined the centrality of the body for Christians. (And not in a way that would deny what my friend and colleague, the philosopher G. T. Smith so helpfully brought out in his comment to that post.)
Mr. West showed, among other things, that the “mystery of Christ and the Church,” which St. Paul invokes when he talks about sexuality and marriage is a theme that runs through the whole Bible, from beginning (the first human words in Genesis are the groom Adam’s calling to his bride) to the end (the last human words in Revelation are the bride’s calling to her Groom: “the Spirit and the Bride say, come, Lord Jesus).” In between, we have, among other references, Israel’s “adultery” and the Song of Solomon, which Aquinas called the culmination of the Old Testament.
Mr. West says that the one flesh union of two persons in marriage–which creates new life–is a sign and an embodiment of the dynamics of the Trinity and our union with Christ. In fact, the marriage imagery in the Bible is not symbolic. Rather, our earthly marriages are symbolic–more precisely, they are signs and icons–of the reality in Christ.
From this, Mr. West develops a powerful critique of our twistedness today, the work of the devil who seeks to undermine this icon of Christ. And he sets forth a powerful revisioning of Christian marriage and sexuality.
Watch for Mr. West’s teachings, which Protestants can certainly agree with.
Posted by Veith at 06:05 AM
September 19, 2006
Blogging the Love & Marriage conference
I’m at the conference In the Image of God: A Christian Vision of Love and Marriage, sponsored by the Cranach Institute, LCMS World Relief and Human Care, and Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. So far, the presentations have been excellent, paradigm-shifting, and enormously helpful. (They will be available on DVD at some point. I’ll give details about how to get them.) So I thought I would blog about them.
Posted by Veith at 12:46 PM
Allowing sex to be ordinary
The estimable Lauren Winner, author of the must-read book Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity, gave a brilliant presentation entitled “Allowing Sex to be Ordinary.”
She showed how our culture has become so inverted that qualities characteristic of extra-marital sex (danger! rule-breaking! exoticism! escapism!) have now become the standards for marital sex, which, by God’s design, is supposed to be part of the normal fabric of marriage and the domestic life (familiar; commonplace; intimate; “ordinary”).
Though truly satisfying sex is of the latter variety, the primacy of the former makes married couples dissatisfied with their sexual relationships, so that they think they have to “spice up” what they do (as in the advice from women’s magazines and even Christian sex-help books). But since familiarity is seen as a bad, unsexy thing, this mindset often leads to sexual unfaithfulness and divorce, thinking that the sexual grass is always greener, though familiarity again will make that new relationship unsatisfying.
We need, instead, to bring life back into the realm of the ordinary. A questioner made some interesting connections to church, which Dr. Winner agreed with, that we think our religious life has to be one emotional high after another, with worship having to be different, thrilling, and exotic all the time, as opposed to the regular patterns of life with God and a worship filled with, to use the technical term, “ordinaries.”
This makes me think too of what the Swedish theologian Einar Billing said in his book about vocation, “The Calling,” that we tend to look for religious experience in the realm of the extraordinary, while vocation brings the Christian life into the realm of the ordinary.
Posted by Veith at 11:56 AM
The animated body
The noted Christian ethicist Gilbert Meilaender spoke about “Marriage as a Form of Life.” He said that our views about marriage, sexual morality, and life issues often rest on our assumption about what human life is. He contrasted two views, the “body-centered” perspective and the “choice-centered” perspective.
The former, which is characteristic of historic Christianity, sees human beings as an animated body. We ARE bodies, though animated by a soul, and even after death, we will enjoy “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” A body exists in time, so we have a history, and the need for covenants, such as marriage, which is permanent, physical, and connected to the real world of everyday life. (Note the parallels to Lauren Winner’s insights.)
The other view sees human beings as a consciousness which just inhabits a body. What makes us human is not our body but our inner choices, our freedom, our self-fulfillment. This, Dr. Meilaender points out, is the heresy of Gnosticism.
In life issues, if a person loses higher-order mental faculties, the choice-centered Gnostic believes the body is no longer inhabited, and so may be killed. A body-centered Christian will see that as long as the body is alive, the person is alive.
In marriage, the choice-centered Gnostic will get married “as long as we both shall love,” but when the sense of “self” is no longer “fulfilled,” he or she feels that the marriage is no longer valid and feels free to break it up and look for that fulfillment in someone else. Sexual pleasure is divorced from the body’s design of begetting children, who, in contrast, can be manufactured in technological ways. (In contrast to the Nicene Creed–formulated to battle Gnosticism–which speaks of the Son of God being “begotten, not made.”)
The body-centered Christian will treat marriage as permanent, “as long as we both shall live,” as being open to the body’s process of begetting children, and will be oriented not just to each person’s self-interests but to the “other.”
Posted by Veith at 10:19 AM
The Image of God
My former colleague Nathan Jastram gave a workshop relating marriage to the Image of God. He has done a lot of research into the Biblical concept of God’s image in human beings, which has to do with our original righteousness, which we have lost, but also to certain qualities of God which we still share. I have heard him apply his findings to gender issues and to life issues. Now he applies it to marriage, with fruitful results.
The bottom line: We should treat our spouse as the image of God for us: with reverence, adoration, and as a bearer of God’s grace and mercy to us.
My thoughts, which Nathan got going: It is thus no wonder that the language of love–”I adore you!” “I worship the ground you walk on!”–and the language of love poetry (read anything by John Donne) employs religious language. Nathan said that this sort of thing is not idolatry, as long as it does not displace the true God, but a recognition of the divine image in our creation “as male and female.”
Posted by Veith at 09:40 AM
September 18, 2006
The limits Christians must stay within
Robert Spencer of Jihadwatch, explicating the meaning of a protest sign, “Mr. Pope be within your limits.”
Look at that sign. “Mr. Pope be with in your limits.” What limits? Classic Islamic law stipulates that Christians may live in peace in Islamic societies as long as they accept second-class status as dhimmis, which involves living within certain limits: not holding authority over Muslims, paying the jizya tax, not building new churches or repairing old ones, and…not insulting Allah or Muhammad. If they believe that a Christian has insulted them in some way, even inadvertently, his contract of protection — dhimma — is voided.
So are these protestors warning the Pope to behave like a dhimmi, or else? I expect so. After all, so many Christians and post-Christians in the West in recent years have been willing, even eager, to accept such limits — witness the chastened reaction to the Cartoon Rage riots, in which Church officials, government leaders, and others solemnly pontificated against “insults to religious figures.” But it wasn’t really a question of blasphemy then, and it isn’t a question of insult now. It is a question of whether non-Muslims will submit to Muslim standards and restrictions on their speech, thought, and behavior._And I hope that the Pope, for one, is not willing to do so.
The dhimmi laws are the source, hilariously, of the claims that Islam is religiously tolerant. But the issue is that non-Muslims are expected to submit to Muslim standards. And many in the West are doing just that.
Posted by Veith at 07:10 AM
And now an Orthodox Archbishop
An Archbishop of the Orthodox church in Africa issued what was described as a “scathing attack” on “Islamic fanaticism” on that continent:
In yet another furore to grip the Christian community, the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece has joined the Pope controversy by attacking what he calls Islamic fanaticism in Africa. In a scathing attack, barely 48 hours after a Somali Islamic cleric called for Muslims to kill the Pope for his Tuesday utterances, Archbishop Christodoulos told a sermon in Athens that Christians in Africa were suffering at the hands of ‘fanatic Islamists’.
“Many Christians on the Black Continent (Africa) suffer from fanatic Islamists. The example of Roman Catholic monks who were slaughtered last year… because they wore the cross and believed in our crucified Lord is still recent,” said Christodoulos.
OK, let’s hear from Protestant leaders, in far safer locations.
Posted by Veith at 06:58 AM
Death of a Christian atheist
The Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci has died of cancer. The scourge of oppressors wherever she found them, she used to be favored by the Left, until she zeroed in on Islam. Ms. Fallaci was under indictment and faced trial in Italy for defaming Islam when she died. She called herself a “Christian atheist,” meaning that she believed in the Christian cultural influence, though she could not believe in God. Ironically, in one of her last publications, she called on Pope Benedict to say something against the new Muslim assault on the West.
Posted by Veith at 06:51 AM
The Pope’s quotation
So the Pope quoted a 14th century Byzantine Emperor who was under attack from Muslims who eventually conquered his civilization and who said that Muhammad’s innovations were evil and inhumane. In outrage at this quotation in an academic paper and to protest the insinuation that Islam is a violent religion, the Muslim world erupts in violence. This includes church-burning (including those that do not acknowledge the Pope), terrorist threats to kill Christians, calls to assassinate the Pope, and–as of last count–two murders (a nun and her bodyguard who cared for the sick in Somalia).
The Pope issued a non-apology apology (of the structure, “I’m sorry for your reaction,” rather than “I’m sorry for what I said). I’m worried that he might, in remorse, issue an even stronger than usual universalistic statement to the effect that Muslims are saved or some such. Not that it would matter to the Muslims if he does. But now the battle line is being drawn in a new way, at least as far as Muslims are concerned, and it is clear that we have a “clash of civilizations” and a religious war.
Posted by Veith at 06:39 AM
September 15, 2006
The Bible and the Book
The Bible has profoundly influenced Western civilization not only through what it says. The very concept that God reveals Himself to us personally not so much through experiences or visions or inner voices but in the words of a book has given us near universal education and literacy.
According to an exhibit of ancient Bibles at the Smithsonian’s Sackler gallery (which I am definitely going into D.C. to take in), the very form of a book–the “codex,” that is, “a collection of sheets with writing on both sides bound along one side”–owes its existence to the decision of the early church to bind the Bible in that way, rather than in scrolls.
“In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000″ argues that when early Christian communities adopted the papyrus codex as the form of their Scriptures, it was “the most dramatic development in the history of the book.”
Notice how when we read a long text online, in which we have to, as we say, “scroll down,” we have gone back to the scroll. That’s another case in which our new media environment is actually making us more primitive.
Posted by Veith at 05:40 AM
Jesus would be a Muslim?
HT to Little Green Footballs for this, from the North Texas Daily:
In the spirit of promoting understanding across religious denomination lines, the Muslim Student Association hosted a lecture clarifying some of its religious beliefs.
“Christ in Islam,” held at 4 p. m. Wednesday in Wooten Hall, aimed to show NT students that contrary to popular opinion, Muslim beliefs could align to Christian ones, event organizers said.
Eric Meek, NT alumnus and vice president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was invited to speak to students on Islamic beliefs, especially those relating to Jesus Christ. “I think education will help everyone,” Meek said.
Meek, a self-proclaimed Muslim for the past 16 years, said his interest in Islam began when he was studying to become a Baptist preacher. He said he began wondering if Muslims were “confused Christians” or whether Christians were the ones who were confused. Meek said he was unsure of how to confirm his beliefs. “I started from the prospective that I wanted to study the Bible to convince people that it’s true,” he said.
As he started studying the history of the text, he said he began doubting the truth of the Bible. Meek said he compared the two religions and decided on Islam. “It’s more compelling, more attractive to me,” he said.
He now works as the president of the Islamic Association in Lewisville and said he enjoys speaking on the topic of religion. “Islam is totally more convincing,” he said.
Muslims affirm that all people are born Muslim, and they can either choose to embrace the teachings of their creator, Allah, or convert to a different religion, Meek said.
“If Jesus were here, he’d be a Muslim, and he’d say what I’m saying,” he said.
So Islam is another “denomination”! And such discourse helps promote “religious understanding”! Mr. Meek here is a white, middle class sort, who wanted to be a Baptist preacher. This is the line of thought that some people are finding persuasive, causing them to become Muslims. Get ready for waves of American conversions to Islam.
Posted by Veith at 04:44 AM
Controlling the future/Changing the past
The discussion of vows reminded me of something I heard in a sermon long ago:
The one way to control the future is to make a promise.
The one way to change the past is to forgive.
Posted by Veith at 04:40 AM
Vows
So, you readers do not think vows–such as confirmation vows to suffer death rather than fall away from the confirmand’s confession–should not be taken nor asked for? (Lars, the Book of Concord teaches that vows made contrary to God’s Word, such as Luther’s monastic vows, cannot be valid. But isn’t a vow to hold to God’s Word valid?) What makes a marriage but vows? What is the basis of our spiritual security but God’s promises to us in Christ? What does “confirmation” mean without commitment? Do you think we should make confirmation EASIER? What promises SHOULD we be willing to exact? Are any of these more important than a spiritual and theological commitment?
I guess another issue here is the light way people shop for churches, drifting from one set of theologies to another, as if they don’t matter (which, of course, to people who do this, they don’t). Promising to die rather than do that does, of course, go against the grain of our times.
And, to clarify, as Bruce Gee points out, the confirmation vow is NOT to a particular denomination or church body but to a set of beliefs. Another issue is what happens if the church body drifts away from what all its members have vowed to uphold!
(This has reference to the “Suffer death” post from yesterday.)
Posted by Veith at 04:39 AM
September 14, 2006
“Suffer death rather than fall away”
Last Sunday at our church, we had an adult confirmation. It was solemn and moving, with the person who had been studying the Lutheran faith affirming her faith in Christ, her belief in the Apostle’s Creed, her submission to the authority of Scripture, and her confession that the Book of Concord is an accurate exposition of Scripture. Then she vowed that she would hold to this faith and would “suffer death rather than fall away.”
That last promise is a key part of one’s confirmation vows. Indeed, many have suffered death rather than renounce this Lutheran faith, from the inquisitions of the Reformation area to what African Lutherans in the Sudan and Ethiopia today are suffering at the hands of Muslims.
My children, now grown, say that they will NEVER join another church after taking that vow. I wonder how people who do can get around what they have promised. Some, of course, say words they don’t need and are nominal Lutherans and often nominal Christians. But some serious Lutherans have become Roman Catholics or Greek Orthodox. But didn’t they promise to die rather to do so? (I don’t mean to come down hard on them–and you non-Lutherans, please bear with this excursion into my particular church–but I am just trying to understand the mindset.)
Posted by Veith at 07:08 AM
Emerging into the mainline
I’ve been sort of intrigued by Brian McLaren’s “emerging church,” appreciating his critique of the megachurch movement as not reaching young people and his call to bring back liturgical worship. I have not approved of his lack of doctrinal rigor or of his assumption that one can just make up new styles of worship and practice. Not to mention the irony that the megachurches he is criticizing are the ones who are sponsoring many of the “emerging churches,” so that much of the approach (do whatever appeals to the culture) is exactly the same, just aimed at a different group. Still, I had hopes that McLaren was trying to reach postmoderns and not just be postmodern.
I found it ironic that his book A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN tries to blend all of these different traditions, while saying nothing about LUTHERANISM.
I think Lutheranism IS the theology that features the best of all of these other traditions without their faults. At the same time, it is incompatible with his particular mismash.
But now, the Washington Post reports that McLaren’s “emerging church” has turned to emphasizing environmentalism, is refusing to criticize homosexuality, is championing progressive politics, and downplaying salvation for everlasting life.
In the latest of his eight books, “The Secret Message of Jesus,” which has sold 55,000 copies since its April release, he argues that Christians should be more concerned about creating a just “Kingdom of God” on earth than about getting into heaven.
Note the Gnosticism in alleging a “secret message of Jesus.” But note too how now McLaren is sounding just like all of the other mainline liberal protestant denominations. This certainly moves him out of any claim to be “evangelical.” And what makes his approach any more culturally relevant than that of the National Council of Churches crowd or the European state churches, both of which are increasingly vacant, since no secularist needs a church that preaches secularism. It is much easier to just sleep in on Sunday mornings. Or is that mainline message going to come back in vogue, with “emerging” techniques to liven things up similar to what megachurches have done for (and to) evangelicalism?
Now, though
Posted by Veith at 06:45 AM
Voting in Islamic Law
One of Plato’s critiques of democracy was that it lends itself to tyranny. That is, the people can get manipulated by a demogogue who appeals to their basest desires–such as taking the money of the wealthy–who gets voted in and who, with the people’s support, takes away all liberty. This happened again and again in the Greek democracies, as well as in other democratic experiments, such as when the French revolution ended up with Napoleon and the Germans elected Hitler. The Romans had a better system, devising a Republic with an elected Senate, checks and balances, and the rule of law. Our constitutional system is like that and is better still.
But it is evident that Islamic jihadists do not have to kill all the infidels in order to conquer their lands and so spread Islam. At least not in Europe. They merely have to immigrate in large numbers, have lots of children while the Europeans who are already there have hardly any, wait a couple of generations, and then vote.
Remarkably, this is what the Justice Minister of the Netherlands, Piet Hein Donner is recommending, saying that Islamic Sharia Law (the law of the Quran) can conceptually be implemented in areas that vote to do so. Click “continue reading” to see what he has to say.
From Expatica:
AMSTERDAM — Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner has provoked an angry response by stating it has to be possible for Sharia Law to be introduced in the Netherlands via democratic means.
The Christian Democrat (CDA) minister made the suggestion during an interview for the book ‘Het land van haat en nijd’ (the land of hate and malice) which was published on Wednesday.
Donner indicated he was not happy with the tone of the integration debate in the Netherlands._Muslims, he said, just like Protestants and Roman Catholics, have a right to the perceptions of their religion, even if that included dissenting rules of behaviour such as imams refusing to shake hands with women.
He went on to say: “It must be possible for Muslim groups to come to power [in the Netherlands] via democratic means. Every citizen may argue why the law should be changed, as long as he sticks to the law.
“It is a sure certainty for me: if two thirds of all Netherlanders tomorrow would want to introduce Sharia, then this possibility must exist. Could you block this legally? It would also be a scandal to say ‘this isn’t allowed!
“The majority counts. That is the essence of democracy.”
His remarks are contrary to the stance taken by MP Maxime Verhagen, leader of the CDA in parliament. Verhagen had expressed concern Sharia Law could be introduced in city districts where Muslims are already in the majority.
Right-wing MP Geert Wilders of the Party for Freedom has posed written questions to Donner._Wilders said Donner should be defending Dutch norms and values and resisting the introduction of “barbarous Sharia Law” in the Netherlands. The minister will face a motion of no confidence if he sticks to his views, Wilders warned.
Labour (PvdA), the largest opposition party, has also expressed surprise at Donner. MP Jeroen Dijsselbloem said Donner seemed to be forgetting that several points of Sharia Law are in conflict with the Dutch Constitution. “The Minister for Justice must invest his energies in opposing these sorts of opinions rather than signalling that such ideas can form part of our democracy,” Dijsselbloem said.
HT: Michelle Malkin
Posted by Veith at 05:49 AM
September 13, 2006
Dr. House
Luther at the Movies is hosting a discussion of some interesting ethical dilemmas raised in the premiere of “House,” one of my favorite shows for a reason I don’t fully understand.
Posted by Veith at 07:00 AM
Relativists vs. Absolutists
On one of the 9/ll posts, reader Anthony makes an interesting point and poses a good question:
The irony of 9-11 is that the people who did this believe in absolute truth. Bin Laden is not a relativist. Who’s more dangerous?
This is how postmodernists are spinning the 9/11 attacks, arguing that people who believe in absolute truth (both Muslims and Christians) are to blame for the attacks and that being a relativist is the only humane stance against them. How would you answer this?
I would argue that a true relativist could not even say that the Muslim jihadists did anything wrong. After all, this was their culture. This was their religion. This was the morality they have chosen for themselves. Who are we to say that they are wrong, just because some of our people got killed? Of course, the relativists DO say they were wrong, and that conservative Christians are wrong, and that George Bush is evil incarnate. The people who claim to be relativists are making absolute moral judgments all the time. (Maybe I was right after all, that 9/11 destroyed postmodernist relativism. Maybe the vehemence of the Bush critics is a result of the new moral certainty these people enjoy, the overboard enthusiasm people often show when they find a new tool but aren’t used to using it.)
As someone who believes in absolutes, I can affirm that Osama bin Laden is WRONG in his religion and in his moral actions. That is to say, the CONTENT of that religion and those moral actions are wrong. (The relativists assume what they need to prove, that all religions and moralities are alike, and so they attack one similiarity they do have, that they all believe they are correct.)
Further, Osama bin Laden bears the marks of the relativist, in that he recognized no moral constraints on what he is willing to do. He has the pragmatist’s insistence that the end justifies the mean. He is willing to kill ANYBODY, especially innocent people who have nothing to do with his cause, even fellow Muslims who stand in his way. (In this sense, some Muslims say that his actions are un-Islamic, though the question remains whether there is something in Islam that opens the door to this relativism in concrete moral action.)
Can anybody help me out in this debate?
Posted by Veith at 06:53 AM
September 12, 2006
The Four Gods
Baylor University has conducted a new study of America’s religious beliefs. According to the findings, Americans have four basic conceptions of God, and their beliefs as to what He is like predict all kinds of other social and political beliefs. Some view God as “Authoritarian,” others as “Benevolent,” others still as “Critical,” and others as “Distant.”
Those who believe God is “Authoritarian” are (surprise, surprise) more likely to reject gay marriage and are usually conservative politically. Those who believe God is “Benevolent” are more tolerant of homosexuality and are usually liberal politically, but not nearly as much as those who consider Him “distant.” The conceptions of God are more predictive of people’s values than other factors and transcend denominational lines.
Well, how about those who believe God is COMPLEX, that He is BOTH Authoritarian AND benevolent. How about those who believe in the Triune God, not a generic God? How about those who believe we dare not contemplate God apart from His incarnation and the mediation of Jesus Christ? Was Biblical Christianity represented on the check-off box?
Posted by Veith at 08:56 AM
The Eight Americas
There are not only four gods, according to USA Today, there are eight Americas. This classification is based on longevity, and supposedly which America you live in has a higher predictive value for how long you will live than race, income, and similar factors.
I learn that I am taking a longevity hit of 1.1 years in moving from Wisconsin’s America to Virginia’s America, and I can readily believe it.
Posted by Veith at 08:39 AM
Debunking the 9/11 conspiracy theories
If you would like to have answers to the various conspiracy theories about 9/11–including the technical questions about how “steel couldn’t melt at those temperatures” and “what brought down the third building”–the estimable and always interesting magazine “Popular Mechanics” has put out a book entitled Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Stand Up to the Facts. That web site alone will give you lots of the answers.
Posted by Veith at 07:06 AM
September 11, 2006
9/ll & the Culture: Religion
Contrary to my expectations, even after 9/11 and the subsequent Jihadist War (a much better term than “the war on terrorism”), Americans and other Westerners STILL think all religions are equally valid. And, indeed, give Islam special respect, since it is assumed that the terrorists give it a bad name and that mean Americans are bigoted against Muslims.
One corrollary of the view that Islam is just as good as Christianity is that conservative Christians are just as bad as conservative Muslims. They are both “Talibans,” and Christian “fundamentalists” are as dangerous and as morally contemptible and as necessary to fight as Islamic “fundamentalists.”
Posted by Veith at 09:29 AM
9/11 & the Culture: Civilization
Way back when I was in grad school at the University of Kansas–back in the 1970s, when global terrorism was hardly a glimmer in Osama bin Laden’s eyes–one of my professors, John Senior (a renegade Christian, conservative, and advocate of the Great Books), commented on an obscure news item: a Muslim terrorist blew himself up in an attack against somebody.
Prof. Senior said that when one side is willing to die for a set of beliefs, and the other side has no beliefs, the latter does not have a chance.
We Americans do have beliefs and our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are indeed dying for them. (We should salute THEM on this 9/11 day.) And so are some others, mainly British and Australians. But I worry about the rest of Europe and other heirs of Western Civilization living off its capital. Complacent in their secularist vacuum and increasingly ashamed of their own heritage, many Westerners have no spiritual resources to resist the new Islamic conquest of the West.
Posted by Veith at 09:17 AM
9/11 & the Culture: Postmodernism
In my own punditry just after 9/11 five years ago, I proposed that the fall of the World Trade Center heralded the fall of postmodernism (just like the fall of the Bastille heralded the end of the pre-modern era and the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of modernism). I thought that after the terrorist attacks, no one could deny the existence of truth (here was a reality we did not “construct”). No one could believe that morality is relative (here is objective evil). No one could believe that all cultures, all values, and all religions are equally valid (the terrorists exemplifying a twisted culture, perverted set of values, and a malign religion). Postmodernism, I thought at the time, could never survive 9/11.
Was I wrong! Postmodernism continues its reign, with a jihadist’s vengeance. Truth is STILL held to be a construction, with academics constructing explanatory paradigms that blame America for what happened (either in our “imperialism” or in actually taking the buildings down). Take in this from the Washington Post:
Nico Haupt, a gaunt fellow in black sneakers, black socks, black jeans and black T-shirt, stands up in St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery. He holds aloft two blue Oreos boxes taped to resemble the twin towers. A pen juts out, kind of like a Boeing airplane.
For an hour he’s shown videos of planes hitting the towers. If you note the glinting sunlight and angle of wings and you’re honest about vectors and maybe the hashish is kicking in, you’ll realize there were no planes .
Truth movement veterans distance themselves from Haupt, who has a bit of a temper. But Reynolds, the former Labor Department economist, also is a “no-planer.”
“There were no planes, there were no hijackers,” Reynolds insists. “I know, I know, I’m out of the mainstream, but that’s the way it is.”
But what about all those New Yorkers who saw airplanes hitting the twin towers? A chuckle rumbles down the phone line. “I don’t believe anyone in Lower Manhattan,” he says. “You hire three dozen Actors’ Equity dudes and they’ll say anything .”
And, of course, the other elements of postmodernism remain, including our difficulty in being “judgmental” against jihadists.
Posted by Veith at 09:02 AM
9/11 & the Culture: Unity
I had thought 9/11 would give us national unity–and we did enjoy that strange and ennobling sense of unity with our fellow citizens for awhile (remember “united we stand”?)–but now our divisions seem worse and more hateful than ever. And these are not just the usual political, social, and intellectual differences. The deepest divisions are precisely over how to respond to the worldwide Islamic jihad against Western Civilization.
Add this to the terrorists’ accomplishments: they fractured our country.
Posted by Veith at 08:53 AM
September 08, 2006
“Babette’s Feast” vs. “Chocolat”
Luther the movie critic has ruled: “Babette’s Feast” really is a Lutheran movie, having to do with grace, forgiveness, the sacrament, and–Cranach’s hobby horse–vocation.
On the other hand, the superficially similar movie “Chocolat” is definitely not Lutheran or even Christian, but is literally pagan. You have got to read the comparison/contrast at Luther at the Movies. I feel so strongly about this, that I will link it again.
UPDATE: Sorry about the confusing and wrong links. I have never seen those sites I linked to! I blame Blogspot and the Devil. I fixed them though, so now read what Luther at the Movies had to say.
Posted by Veith at 06:16 AM
The mind of “vegetables”
Human beings are not and never will be “vegetables,” no matter how handicapped they are. That is a metaphor, a figure of speech, and it should not be used to devalue human life or to promote euthanasia. Now scientists are discovering that people in “vegative states” may well exhibit responsive mental activity. From the Washington Post:
According to all the tests, the young woman was deep in a “vegetative state” — completely unresponsive and unaware of her surroundings. But then a team of scientists decided to do an unprecedented experiment, employing sophisticated technology to try to peer behind the veil of her brain injury for any signs of conscious awareness.
Without any hint that she might have a sense of what was happening, the researchers put the woman in a scanner that detects brain activity and told her that in a few minutes they would say the word “tennis,” signaling her to imagine she was serving, volleying and chasing down balls. When they did, the neurologists were shocked to see her brain “light up” exactly as an uninjured person’s would. It happened again and again. And the doctors got the same result when they repeatedly cued her to picture herself wandering, room to room, through her own home.
“I was absolutely stunned,” said Adrian M. Owen, a British neurologist who led the team reporting the case in today’s issue of the journal Science. “We had no idea whether she would understand our instructions. But this showed that she is aware.”
While cautioning that the study involved just one patient who had been in a vegetative state for a relatively short time, the researchers said it could force a rethinking of how medicine evaluates brain-damaged patients.
. . . . . . . .
“This is a very important study,” said Nicholas D. Schiff, a neurologist at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. “It’s the first time we’ve ever seen something like this. It really is kind of shocking.”
. . . . . . .
“It’s a little disturbing,” Bernat said. “This suggests there may be things going on inside people’s minds that we can’t assess by interacting with them at the bedside.”
Posted by Veith at 05:54 AM
The preacher at the National Cathedral
The former president of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, gave the sermon Thursday at the National Cathedral, an Episcopalian institution that aspires to being a national religious symbol. According to the “Washington Post,” he used the pulpit to condemn America’s policy towards Iran and our warmongering ways.
Khatami, who is a mid-level Shiite cleric and wears the black turban of a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, focused heavily on religious themes and the need for the three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Islam and Christianity — to work together.
“Jesus is the prophet of kindness and peace. Muhammad is the prophet of ethics, morality and grace. Moses is the prophet of dialogue and exchange,” he said. “It’s good at the present time, where war, violence and repression is so prevalent across the world, for all of us who are followers of God’s religion to pursue all efforts for the establishment of peace and security.”
The three “Abrahamic faiths” all working together to condemn America’s war on terrorism, all worshipping together and being represented in the National Cathedral. Can it get any more tolerant than that?
Posted by Veith at 05:41 AM
September 07, 2006
Conspiracy theorists
A new mini-industry has broken out among left-wing academics: arguing that the 9/11 attacks were really conducted by President Bush and his administration. See here. Among the charges: the World Trade Center buildings were taken down by demolition charges, not the airplanes that crashed into the towers. Some of the alleged 9/11 hijackers are alive. Osama bin Laden works for the CIA. There was no airplane that crashed into the Pentagon. And on and on. These are academics, mind you, and their ravings are being published by some presses that once had scholarly credibility, though in this case the most rudimentary rules of scholarly evidence are set aside, such is the pathological hatred of President Bush.
Posted by Veith at 10:14 AM
Coffee economics
In an article about a building coffee war between Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, we find this interesting statistics: there is now a coffee shop for every 10,000 Americans. Whatever people think of Starbucks, we owe the company a debt of thanks. Its popularity has improved the quality of coffee just about everywhere, from mom and pop diners to the local convenience stores. They no longer serve just colored water, but serious cups of coffee. In the economics of quality and competition, the tide of coffee has risen for everyone.
Posted by Veith at 09:33 AM
September 06, 2006
CBS news
Did anyone watch the debut of Katie Couric as the new anchor of CBS News? Does it matter anymore?
I always assumed news anchors were just tele-prompter readers, but I once talked with one of Walter Cronkite’s news writers who was in awe of the man, citing the major way he shaped stories and pushed for the highest standards of journalism. I don’t know that we have that, at least to the same extent, today.
Katie Couric is promising to make the news less stentorian and more fun. I say, bring back stentorian!
Posted by Veith at 10:02 AM
Ordinary bloke
The father of the late crocodile hunter Steve Irwin gave a touching tribute to his son, in turning down the offer of a state funeral for the Australian super-star. Steve, he said, would just want to be remembered as an “ordinary bloke.” They were not just father and son, said Bob Irwin, they were “good mates.”
Posted by Veith at 09:56 AM
Lots and lots of oil
A major new source of oil has been discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, with the potential to raise U.S. oil reserves by 50%.
I just had an interesting conversation with someone in the oil business who cites the vast abundance of oil on this planet, despite the hyped-up worries of how we are running out. He pointed out that the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, for example, have never even employed modern methods of oil extraction. That when the vast pools are pumped dry, then it will be time for salt-water extraction and other methods, which have multiplied many times the production of American fields.
Poltiical issues, such as international instability in many of these oil-production countries, remain, of course. But we are not running out of oil.
Posted by Veith at 09:49 AM
September 05, 2006
The Limits of Definition
The “Wall Street Journal’s” Brian M. Carney points to the philosophical naivete [subscription] of the scientists who thought they had to come up with a definition of “planet,” which in turn banished what the culture (which is the source of language) had always defined as a planet, namedly Pluto:
Early in the “Ethics,” Aristotle cautions his readers that every field of study should aim for a degree of precision appropriate to the subject matter. “The same exactness must not be expected in all departments of philosophy alike,” Aristotle wrote, “any more than in all the products of the arts and crafts.” The officious astronomers who redefined planethood to exclude Pluto are guilty of what scholars of Aristotle like to call a “category mistake.” They are striving for a degree of precision inappropriate to their subject matter.
More than 2,000 years after Aristotle, another philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, made a related point about definitions. Wittgenstein asked his readers to come up with a definition for the word “game.” He then proceeded to show that this was not a trivial task. Some games involve competition, but not all do. Some have fixed rules or a defined end-point, but some do not. Most games are fun, somehow defined. But the differences between ring-around-the-rosie and chess are much easier to discern than their similarities. Wittgenstein’s point was not that we don’t know what a game is, but rather that we are perfectly capable of using the word and understanding it without possessing a mental rule that includes every activity we might call a game and excludes everything that is clearly not a game.
The recent campaign against Pluto’s planethood proceeds from the assumption that we can’t really know what we’re talking about when it comes to planets unless we have a “strict” definition. Without a rule, the argument runs, we don’t really know what a planet is at all. Does this make any sense?
……….
Defining planethood is an exercise in ersatz precision. At the end of the day, it’s a judgment call. What’s more, the recently drawn boundaries of Club Planet were not developed in a vacuum. They were designed to achieve a preordained result.
………
Posted by Veith at 06:26 AM
Death of the Crocodile Hunter
I’m sad at the death of Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter, from one of the dangerous animals that he defied throughout his career. More enjoyable than the spectacle of bringing TV viewers up close and personal to scary creatures was his exuberant personality. He also had a big impact on television, giving Discovery’s Animal Planet network a huge hit and showing that educational cable can be entertaining.
Posted by Veith at 06:09 AM
September 01, 2006
The Vocation Day weekend
Not much time to blog today. I’m going to teach my class, then make a mad dash to the airport in an effort to get out before Tropical Storm Ernesto hits for a much-needed reunion with my family in Wisconsin.
In the meantime, I invite you to join me in a cause. One way the early church evangelized its pagan culture was to co-opt its holidays, taking over pagan festivals and giving them Christian meanings. We can do that with Labor Day.
Everyone is glad to have it, but almost no one knows what is being celebrated (the rise of labor unions? the end of the summer?). I propose that we devote this day to the observance of the Doctrine of Vocation.
God has called us to our work, as a means of love and service to our neighbors. And He works through our callings to provide daily bread to all of His creation. And we are to live out our Christian faith in our various callings–in our work, yes, but also in our family vocations and in our cultural vocations. So getting a little break from work, having a cook out with our families, taking part in the cultural observances are all fitting ways to honor and to celebrate how God chooses to act through human beings, through us.
So, pastors, I urge you to preach and teach about Vocation this Sunday. Everybody else, contemplate your callings this weekend and have a good time. Let’s turn this holiday into a Holy Day.
Posted by Veith at 05:35 AM
Homeschooling and social development
In answer to a comment the other day saying that homeschooled kids lack social skills, etc.: I deny that! And my experience at Patrick Henry College, where 85% of the students have been homeschooled, gives me an abundance of evidence. Our students are MUCH better adjusted than typical young people their age, probably because they have had so much parenting. Their manners, deportment, personality, pleasantness, and conversational ability are far superior to their peers. It is NOT socially healthy for young people to spend nearly all of their time with children their own age, with little interaction with adults. Hang out at the mall or wherever, watch and listen to the typical pack of teenagers and tell me about their “social skills.”
Posted by Veith at 05:00 AM
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August 31, 2006
More on Islam & Culture
In Turkey, publishers of school curriculum have re-written Tom Sawyer, Pollyanna, the Three Musketeers, and Pinocchio to make the characters Muslim!
Though some Christians have taken similar positions in wanting to erase or revise elements of “non-Christian” culture, for the most part Christians do not do this sort of thing and in fact, historically, have preserved and transmitted even the non-Christian components of Western civilization. What is the difference between Christianity and Islam that accounts for this?
Posted by Veith at 06:48 AM
Multiculturalism reconsidered
It appears that ultra-liberal, super-tolerant Scandinavia is having second thoughts about multiculturalism.
Posted by Veith at 06:46 AM
Islam and Culture
Naguib Mahfouz, the Nobel Prize-winning Arab novelist, died in Cairo at the age of 94. He was indeed a fine writer who, from his readings in Western literature, basically invented the Arabic novel, which previously did not really exist. He was a moderate Muslim who cast an unflinching but affectionate eye on his society. For his contributions to Islamic culture, in 1994 he was stabbed by a terrorist led by Omar Abdel-Rahman, the “blind shiek” who engineered the first World Trade Center attack. He survived, barely, but his right hand–with which he did his writing–was paralyzed.
Meanwhile, the man in charge of Antiquities in Iraq, a Christian named Donny George, has quit his post and fled the country. The National Museum, which had been looted after the fall of Saddam, is padlocked, and many of the historical and archeological sites that go back deep into Bible days have been plundered and sometimes destroyed. The problem, according to George, is that Iraqi Muslims are interested only in Islamic sites and relics of Islamic history. All of that pagan stuff, they believe, deserves to be lost.
Posted by Veith at 06:22 AM
Killer quote on Iran
Writes Ghazal Omid, a persecuted expatriate from Iran:
“If Iran achieves nuclear power, the world, particularly Israel, should start digging our shelters, or rather, our graves.”
Posted by Veith at 05:04 AM
August 30, 2006
SAT scores drop
Last year’s SAT scores are down to an average of 1021, with math dropping 2 points and reading down 5, the biggest drop in reading proficiency in 31 years. (In 1975, the measure dropped 9 points.)
Here at Patrick Henry College, though, I am happy to say that our SAT scores average 1350, the highest of any Christian college (in a tie with Wheaton), and up there with the best American universities. And it shows. What a joy to teach and work with such gifted, devoted, and engaged students!
Now that classes have started, the stresses and strains of my new administrative job are mitigated by the two classes I have assigned myself. It’s good to get back into the classroom. The students are what even the administration is all about, and here is where the satisfactions are to be found.
Posted by Veith at 06:04 AM
We’re rich
Woke up this morning to find that I am trying to live in the wealthiest county in the nation. Right here, Loudon County in Virginia, has the highest median income–$98,000–and the lowest poverty rate of anywhere.
What can we learn from this? Government is still a growth industry. It’s not so much government as such, though, but government contractors, with lots of high-tech companies, many of them defense-related, with contracts with the government.
I would venture to say that many of these wealthy Loudonites are income rich, but cash poor, with much of their paycheck having to be devoted to pay for a place to live. A modest bungalow will cost $400,000, and the ubiquitous McMansions cost in the millions.
I worry too about family life, as a good percentage Loudonites commute over an hour each way into D.C., sometimes two hours if they live in the far corners of the county searching for affordable housing. That means they are in the car 4 hours a day. They wake up at 4:00, and many high-powered D.C. jobs require long hours, meaning they might have to work until 7:00, getting home at 9:00, after the kids are in bed and the spouse is tired. That leaves little time for the vocation of parenthood.
Also, if Loudon County is the wealthiest county, that suggests that what I have observed with alarm may not be a trend, though perhaps it is or a sign of what is coming everywhere. Nearly all of the service jobs–sales clerks, bank tellers, postal workers, shop workers–are filled by immigrants. It smacks like the emergence of a new class system, which cannot be healthy.
Posted by Veith at 05:45 AM
August 29, 2006
Of Pluto and scientific paradigms
The Washington Post’s Shankar Vedantam has an intriguing column entitled What One Fewer Planet Means to Our Worldview. He relates the demotion of Pluto to the way we organize information using definitions and “paradigms.” He says that when our paradigms shift, it is unsettling. All of that is pretty obvious, but the most salient point is that science is all about constructing paradigms to explain data and that those paradigms keep changing.
Peter Lipton, a University of Cambridge philosopher of science, argues that science itself is a composite of external reality and human interpretation of that reality. This is why, after a paradigm shift such as the redefinition of a planet, reality itself can feel different. Whether we say the solar system has eight planets or nine or 12 makes no difference to the solar system, but it makes an enormous difference to us. Much of the business of science, in fact, has to do with the construction and demolition of categories.
Keep that in mind with the Darwinist vs. Intelligent Design debates!
Posted by Veith at 06:39 AM
Wal-Mart as welfare program
I realize that nobody on this blog cares about Wal-Mart related stories except for me, but I found some fascinating statistics. Families that shop for food at those big-box stores such as Super Wal-Marts and Sam’s Club cut their food bill by one-fourth. Also, Wal-Mart’s cut-rate prices save Americans over $200 billion a year. The federal government’s food stamp program gives out a mere $33 billion.
Posted by Veith at 06:33 AM
Terrorist plot in Germany
Did you know that German police foiled a jihadist plot to set off suitcase bombs on that nation’s trains? Actually, they didn’t so much foil the plot as feel very fortunate, since two suitcase bombs were already on the trains, but they failed to go off. Officials are rounding up more and more suspects.
If you didn’t know about this, why not? One would think that the media would have made a bigger deal of this. Note the significance: Germany does NOT support the war in Iraq. Germany does NOT support Israel. Germany has provided a safe haven for Muslims of even the extreme sort. And yet, the terrorists targeted Germany. This is more evidence that the jihadists are not acting out of some political grievance, but simply to strike Western civilization and to kill infidels.
Posted by Veith at 06:21 AM
August 28, 2006
Forced conversions
The Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig who had been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists have been released, but first they had to convert to Islam! This is done by making a Muslim confession of faith.
I am not criticizing those poor men, and I am not saying that such a conversion in any way means anything. But the jihadists were clearly trying to make their captives apostasize. I don’t know if these men were or are Christians, and if so, if they have sinned, I’m sure they can find forgiveness in Christ, but still, this is monstrous. I suspect other hostages will be forced to do the same, a bit of Islamic “evangelism” of the sort that has always accompanied Muslim conquests.
One of the people Michelle Malkin quotes, in the link above, seems to say that this is a good strategy if jihadists kidnap you. “Convert” to Islam and you will probably not get killed and will get better treatment, and probably release. Then you can go back to your real religion later.
But the early Christians, who refused to burn the incense to Caesar, could have made the same rationalization. But they would rather die than deny their faith in Christ by worshipping a false god. Contrast those true martyrs, who die for their faith, with jihadist martyrs, who kill for their faith.
If any of us are ever put into this situation, may God grant us the grace and the courage to die rather than to deny Jesus Christ.
Posted by Veith at 07:59 AM
Two different takes on Wal-Mart
Conservative pundit Rich Lowry asks why liberal politicians are always demagoguing against Wal-Mart . They accuse oil companies of “price-gouging.” What Wal-Mart does is the opposite, squeezing every price margin from their suppliers so as to offer prices as low as possible. To the point of saving the average family that shops there $2300 per year, which is a major benefit to the low income shoppers liberals claim to want to help.
But one liberal Democrat defends Wal-Mart for another reason. Andrew Young, a paid spokesman for the superstore, took off against the mom-and-pop stores who are often Wal-Mart’s victims:
“Those are the people who have been overcharging us — selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables,” he told the Los Angeles Sentinel, an African American weekly. “First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs,” he added. “Very few black folks own these stores.”
Such was the flack when he said that, that Mr. Young resigned from doing Wal-Mart PR. But the Washington Post columnist John H. McWhorter, linked above, defends the Democratic mover and shaker.
Posted by Veith at 06:55 AM
A different defense of Pluto
It doesn’t bother me so much that Pluto has been demoted from planethood. What I lament is the decline of classical education. The planets really were associated with the Greek and Roman deities, and when that pagan faith subsided, the names remained. When Pluto was discovered in 1930, educated people still had a knowledge of the classics. So this far-far-flung planet in the outer darkness was named Pluto, after the god of the dead, the king of Hades. That was a perfect name! And it fit perfectly into the pantheon of the other deity-named planets.
Now, with scientists discovering other celestial bodies out there even bigger than Pluto–leading to its demotion–they are calling them less imaginative and less learned names, such as numbers or “Xena,” as in Warrior Princess, the made-up TV pop culture version of an ancient Greek.
Posted by Veith at 06:02 AM
August 25, 2006
Lutheran movies
Luther at the Movies takes up Herr _Cranach’s challenge to tell us about movies that are truly Lutheran. The large theologian begins with a perceptive discourse on what it means to be “Lutheran.” Promising to keep this subject going in his blog, he begins by showing why “The Apostle” is NOT Lutheran, and why “Sling Blade” IS.
Posted by Veith at 08:27 AM
Et tu, Buckley?
A number of conservative pundits have turned viciously against President Bush, due mainly to their giving up on Iraq: William F. Buckley, George Will, Rich Lowry. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough went so far as to do a show arguing that “George Bush’s mental weakness is damaging America’s credibility at home and abroad.” The show’s caption was, “IS BUSH AN ‘IDIOT’?”
Criticizing the president is their perogative, of course. And it is certainly legitimate for conservatives to question when the president does not seem conservative. But does this seem to be going overboard?
Posted by Veith at 07:42 AM
Evangelicals & Episcopalians together
The evangelical seminary Gordon-Conwell is partnering with some conservative Episcopal seminaries (Nashotah House in Wisconsin and Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Pennsylvania) to prepare renegade conservative priests for the Episcopal church.
As someone who has been a visiting professor at Gordon-Conwell and who has been a professor visiting at the Nashotah House, I find this to be an intriguing alliance.
Posted by Veith at 06:32 AM
Bob Dylan, music critic
I’m a Bob Dylan fan. I can’t help it. And though his voice may be shaky, he has a good ear. Listen to his characterization of today’s music. Note that he is not complaining about its content, but about the quality of the sound:
Noting the music industry’s complaints that illegal downloading means people are getting their music for free, he said, “Well, why not? It ain’t worth nothing anyway.”
“You listen to these modern records, they’re atrocious, they have sound all over them,” he added. “There’s no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like … static.”
Posted by Veith at 05:38 AM
August 24, 2006
Good news for pro-lifers
Scientists have found a way to generate stem cells from an embryo without killing him or her. (At first I wrote “it,” then remembered that the whole point is that the embryo is a human being.) In an article to be released today in the important scientific journal “Nature,” the researchers describe how they removed one cell from the eight-cell blastocyst, which is immediately replaced, doing no harm to the embryo. That one cell multiplied but did not turn into another embryo, but rather stem cells, which the scientists proceeded to coax to form retinal cells and other useful tissue.
Somewhat oddly, in my opinion, some on both sides of the debate immediately criticized the finding. The people who want to kill those embryos to make medicine for adults said that this new process would be too “inefficient.” Some Pro-lifers said that the process still involves experimentation on human embryos, even though they are not harmed. Others said that the individual cell taken away “might” be able to develop in a human being, even though scientists have said that has never happened at that stage in any kind of mammal they have studied.
This may be a rare moment in the culture wars that is a “win-win” for both sides. Is it necessary to still keep fighting, even if the issue at question is resolved?
Posted by Veith at 06:28 AM
Bad news for pro-lifers
The Food and Drug Administration is poised today to approve the over-the-counter sale of the morning after pill.
Posted by Veith at 06:25 AM
The vocation of the video game maker
The theme of this blog, lest we forget, is the relationship between Christianity and culture, and particularly the doctrine of vocation. In that very interesting discussion yesterday about video game producer Doug G’s points about how hard it is to design a “Christian video game,” Pastor Matt made a most salient point:
Where does the doctrine of vocation fall in all of this? I say a first person shooter about a US (or any nation’s soldier for that matter) marine fighting for his nation is Christian enough. This is also true for the sports game – where you pretend to live out the vocation of an ahtlete and entertainer. Thinking that a “Christian” video game means fighting evil spirits with “swords of the spirit” encourages a false dichotomoy between spirituality and “real” life. Being Christian is being a baker, a bus driver, and a father. Games that allow me to escape to another vocation are as Christian as it needs to get!
Posted by Veith at 06:22 AM
August 23, 2006
How to make a Christian video game?
I keep getting amazed at the different people who read this blog. Doug G makes video games, and he commented on our critique of “Left Behind: Eternal Forces.” If you missed it, here are his thoughts:
Here is the problem. Parents are always calling us at Cactus Game Design saying, “Hey, why don’t you make a Christian X-Box game?”
Here are the problems of Christian game design:
1. Christians don’t get along theologically. They are not willing to look past a few minor points to difference. For example, in our Redemption trading card game people have written us nasty letters because one card suggests lose of salvation. So, they ban the game in their church. Nice. Thanks for the support.
2. Every great game has to have a point of tension. Something needs to oppose you. Now, how exactly do you do that? In non-computer games it is extremely difficult. In Redemption we have players taking turns between playing the good forces and the evil forces. The game is set up so that the good always wins. The answer to the tension problem in computer games is to create a first person shooter and let the computer be the bad guy. But now, how do you eliminate the bad guys? In the game Catechumen, you use a ray of light from your Sword of the Spirit to shot the pagan Romans and convert them. That is the most mild way you can go about doing it. Still it is called a “violent” video game.
3. Game components and visual effects have taken a huge jump forward in the last decade. While our company carries two First Person Shooter games (Catechumen and Ominous Horizons) the games graphically were already dated before they even hit the shelves (due cutting edge game engines being way out of budget range). Now when we show the games at our trade shows, the teenagers take one look at our “crappy” graphics and move on, not even giving it a second glance.
So, how do you design a game that is theologically neutral, has no one play the bad guys and is equal in visual stimulation and game play that can compete with the big boys? You do exactly what Left Behind Games has done.
Sadly, they forget one thing. Holier than thou Christians will hunt you down and crucify you. The enemy has to do nothing to destroy them. Christians beat him too it.
To Left Behind Games, a parting comment. You obviously know the market. Stay the course.
I am sympathetic to the plight of all Christian artists, including those who try to make video games. Maybe part of the reason evangelicals tend not to be great at fiction is that every plot has to have conflict. You can’t have a story where everybody is nice and has no problems and no one to fight. Christians are perhaps trying to be so moral, they miss what redemption has to entail. But other Christian authors have solved this problem, often by depicting inner, rather than external conflict.
But what could you say to Doug G? Can you think of any scenarios for Christian games that would not be lame, but still embody a Christian sensibility?
Posted by Veith at 07:54 AM
Spiritual matter?
Scientists have proven the existence of dark matter. Get this description:
The researchers said yesterday that visible and detectible matter — the atoms in everything from gases to elephants and stars — makes up only 5 percent of the matter in the universe. Another estimated 20 percent is subatomic dark matter, which has no discernible qualities except the ability to create gravitational fields and pass through any object without leaving a trace. The rest, they said, is the even more mysterious dark energy, which fills empty space with a force that appears to negate gravity and push the universe to expand ever faster.
So 95% of the universe is some kind of reality that can not be seen, can pass through perceivable matter, and has great power. Could this be better called “spiritual matter”?
Posted by Veith at 06:06 AM
Guest preacher
The ex-president of Iran, Mohammed Khatami, is going to speak at Washington’s National Cathedral!
Posted by Veith at 05:26 AM
State governments rolling in money
You wouldn’t guess it from the whining at the nation’s statehouses a few years ago, but the economy has flourished to the point that now, nearly all state governments are enjoying big budget surpluses. The only ones who do not are Ilinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. All of the rest are up an average of 10%, a surplus of some $57 billion, one of the biggest bonanzas in decades.
Posted by Veith at 05:12 AM
August 22, 2006
First Person Shooters for Jesus
Forget writing. A far more culturally relevant question today is which theology can yield the best video games.
Coming in October is Left Behind: Eternal Forces, based on the wildly popular apocalyptic novels. (Don’t those prove the point that evangelicals CAN write bestsellers?) The game, which has gotten strong reviews from hardcore gamers, can be described as “Grand Theft Auto,” only Christian.
The game is set after the Rapture, and has the Tribulation Force battling the followers of the Anti-Christ. When the members pray, they get more power. They go around a realistic urban landscape. When they meet sinners, they either convert them or kill them.
OK, discuss that. Also discuss this pair of quotations, one from a developer of the game and another from a Christian gamer:
It doesn’t say who you pray to,” he said. “I don’t think the word ‘Christian’ is anywhere in the game play.” Likewise, the game has only a ” ‘Star Wars’ level” of violence. “There’s no blood or gore; people just fall over,” he said. Lyndon says he hopes to give parents and gamers an option for an action-packed title that also gets players thinking about eternal matters.
The game “could reach a broad spectrum of people who wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to the books or go to church.”
I keep hearing that double and contradictory message from Christians who attempt to reach the culture by conforming to it. On the one hand, they tone down the Christian content–to the point of not even mentioning Christ, or in this case totally inverting His teachings–and then, at the same time, they claim that this will somehow evangelize the culture. The question is, are these evangelists reaching the culture, or has the culture reached them?
Posted by Veith at 07:08 AM
Snacks on a plane
Here is another example of the review as a literary form in itself, as virtuoso critic Stephen Hunter takes on a movie that I have not even the slightest desire to see. Read it all, but here is a sampling:
Silly me, I thought it was called ” Snacks on a Plane.” It was going to be a documentary about those delightful little unopenable steel-mesh bags they give you on flights; you know, the ones containing seven desiccated peanuts, two Rice Chex, a shoestring pretzel and 19 sunflower seeds, all sand-blasted with industrial-strength ceramic glaze salt. The trick is to serve it exactly 35 minutes before or 35 minutes after giving you your regulation three ounces of Diet Coke with melted ice.
But no, it turns out it’s called ” Snakes on a Plane,” though the irony is that it really is about snacks on a plane. The snacks would be the crew and passengers of Pacific Flight 121, who are Vienna cocktail sausages for about 300 creepy, oozy, squiggly, slithery reptiles. (Question: Why would it be easier to smuggle 300 snakes aboard an airliner than one bomb?) They bite nearly everyone in all the predictable places that a 13-year-old would find “funny.”
Posted by Veith at 06:43 AM
How TIVO saved broadcast TV
Many commentators, including me, thought that Digital Video Recorders–a.k.a. DVRs and the brand name TIVO–would free the culture from broadcast television. People could just select the few shows they wanted to watch and leave the rest. Industry experts also were panicked at the prospect that the economic foundation of broadcast TV–advertisers paying for commercials–would be demolished, since TIVO allows viewers to zap past the commercials.
But what has happened is that TIVO has led to an upsurge in broadcast TV watching. Used to, people could only watch what was on one channel at a particular time. If there were two “good shows” on at the same time, they had make a choice which one to see. Now, with TIVO, people can watch both of them, or more.
Also, the research suggests that people with DVRs are still watching commercials. “Commercial awareness” is higher than ever. Apparently for some people, commercials really are the best thing on TV. To the point that advertisers are designing new commercials that will give “extra features” when they are watched on TIVO. If you watch them slow motion, or frame-by-frame, you will see messages hidden from regular viewers. The idea is that TIVO families will watch the commercial over and over, endlessly going back and playing it slowly again and again. This will create even greater commercial awareness! And I guess the public will obey.
Posted by Veith at 06:32 AM
Babette’s Feast
The meaning of that movie inheres in the climactic lines at the end about how the Kingdom of Heaven will be a feast. Note the sacramental symbolism and how the hymns the people are singing are commentaries on the plot, underscoring the evangelical themes. (And the villagers are not exactly Lutherans–they are members of a “pietist sect,” of the sort that orthodox Lutherans always play off against.)
Posted by Veith at 06:25 AM
August 21, 2006
The Marburg mistake
Peter Leithart, a Calvinist writing for Doug Wilson’s Credenda/Agenda, has written a remarkable essay entitled Why Evangelicals Can’t Write, lamenting the few great works of literature written by evangelicals. The reason, he says, goes back to the Marburg Colloquy, that pivotal event in the Reformation in which the movement fragmented over the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Luther insisted that Christ, in His Body and Blood, is really present in the Bread and Wine, while Zwingli insisted that the bread and wine are mere symbols. Leithart writes:
For many post-Marburg Protestants, literal truth is over here, while symbols drift off in another direction. At best, they live in adjoining rooms; at worst, in widely separated neighborhoods, and they definitely inhabit different academic departments.
Here is a thesis, which I offer in a gleeful fit of reductionism: Modern Protestants can’t write because we have no sacramental theology. Protestants will learn to write when we have reckoned with the tragic results of Marburg, and have exorcised the ghost of Zwingli from our poetics. Protestants need not give up our Protestantism to do this, as there are abundant sacramental resources within our own tradition. But contemporary Protestants do need to give up the instinctive anti-sacramentalism that infects so much of Protestantism, especially American Protestantism.
Leithart says that good writing requires a sacramental sensibility, which grasps how spiritual reality is made manifest in tangible, physical things. Evangelicals followed Zwingli, which separated the sign from the reality, which results in a diminished imagination and bad writing.
For a Calvinist such as Leithart–whose insights and writings about literature I have always appreciated–to say Luther was right about the Lord’s Supper at Marburg and Zwingli was wrong is a seismic admission. If Leithart gets in trouble with his own church body, we will be glad to welcome him into Lutheranism.
Posted by Veith at 09:08 AM
So why can’t Lutherans write either?
Luther at the Movies has a fine discussion of Peter Leithart’s article (see above) blaming the literary weaknesses of evangelicals on Zwingli’s view of the Lord’s Supper at the Marburg Colloquy. The big-boned reformer appreciates the point, but he is honest enough to question it: If a strong sense of the sacraments is necessary for great literature, where are the great Lutheran writers? Lutherans rejected Zwingli’s split between the sign and the reality and came down on the right side at Marburg. But are Lutherans any better writers than evangelicals?
I would respond that there are some good, sacramental Lutheran writers. We must not forget the Scandinavians, such as Bo Giertz (who has written a number of other novels, in addition to “The Hammer of God,” in urgent need of translation. Wasn’t Hans Christian Andersen a Lutheran? And in English, there is Walt Wangerin, who certainly works in terms of tangible reality charged with spiritual significance. And there is my current favorite, Lars Walker. (Luther, get your assistant to get you “Wolf Time.”)
And I hearby tag Luther at the Movies to tell us the best Lutheran movies. Ingmar Bergman surely has a Lutheran imagination, doesn’t he? And can there be a more Lutheran movie than “Babette’s Feast” (was Danish novelist Isak Denison, who wrote that story, a Lutheran?).
Posted by Veith at 08:03 AM
What countries can write
In reference to Peter Leithart’s and Luther at the Movies’ discussion about the connection between sacramentalism and literature, another issue is that some whole countries have artistic strengths and blind spots.
The English language is very good for the production of novels, with both England and America excelling in this art form. Russia also excels. Also France. But where are the German novels? or the Italians or Spanish (however sacramental)? Latin America has given us some good fiction. But what about the Dutch?
The Dutch have, however, given us some very great paintings. As has been said, the Dutch have no Shakespeare, but the English have no Rembrandt. Germany may not be so big in fiction, but it has given us great music. Italy hasn’t given us many memorable novels, but it has given us lots of operas. Different national cultures seem to have their own particular genius.
Back to the sacrament discussion, England is Protestant, but the Church of England did keep a strong sacramental focus, so that fits the thesis. Calvinism is supposed to be anti-visual art, but if so why explains all of that art from Calvinist Holland?
But the bigger question is why are there so many good writers who reject the sacred altogether? I guess atheists are left just with material reality, but they surely lack a sacramental sensibility. But that doesn’t prevent a Hardy or Zola or Hemingway from being good writers.
Posted by Veith at 07:09 AM
August 18, 2006
The Nobel-prize winning S.S. Trooper
Guenter Grass, arguably Germany’s greatest living novelist and a Nobel Prize winner, has admitted that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS.
Since then, he has become a peace activist and a leftist political ideologue. I am not saying that he believes now what he once believed. But the irony is that Grass’s novels have nearly all lambasted the German people for failing to admit their complicity in the Nazi regime. He even spear-headed an artistic movement called “Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung,” or “coming to terms with the past”.
Notice the psychological phenomenon of “projection,” that what we harshly condemn in others is often a projection of the sin and guilt that we have within ourselves.
Posted by Veith at 09:02 AM
An earlier September 11
A Chuck Colson Breakpoint script points out a connection I had never realized. The last major Muslim invasion of the West was defeated on September 11, back in 1683.
A European coalition defeated the Turks of the Ottoman Empire at the gates of Vienna, putting an end to the threat of Muslim conquest–that could very well have been successful–going back for centuries. This was brought up in the context of the Islamic terrorists’ long memories and that we are in a “clash of civilizations.” The implication is that the jihadists’ decision to strike on a September 11 was a payback time. Whether Osama bin Laden had that in mind, I don’t know, but this is another example of a strange historical conjunction.
HT: Steve King
Posted by Veith at 07:57 AM
Married moms
I just heard on the radio a bit of language that may be a portent of a major cultural shift. The talker, a Washington Post journalist, was talking about “married moms.” There was a time when one would just assume that “moms” were married, but of course that time is no more. “Married moms” are just a subset of moms in general, a vast number of whom are divorced or (the biggest new demographic) never married at all.
Posted by Veith at 06:38 AM
August 17, 2006
Dumpster diving for Jesus
You’ve heard of “vegans,” people who only eat non-violent and non-animal-oppressing food, namely, plants. Now you need to know about “freegans,” people who only eat food that has been thrown away.
The idea is that by diving into dumpsters behind high-class restaurants and grocery stores and fishing out food that has been discarded, often due to being past its expiration date, the person is striking a blow against waste and is helping to save the planet. It also means eating higher on the hog (lobster, rack of lamb, slightly rancid pork products) than vegans, but with the same sense of righteousness.
To the point that the freegan interviewed in the Washington Post–as Trader Joe’s employees keep chasing him out of their garbage–is Ryan Beiler, editor of the leftwing evangelical magazine “Sojourners.” According to the story, “Beiler said his Christian beliefs push him to live simply and refrain from wasting natural resources.”
Half the fun of dumpster diving is the anticipation of the unknown, they said: A late-night run could lead to a confrontation with police, a case of rotten bananas or a huge score. Beiler has come home empty-handed some nights; on other trips, he’s netted pounds of smoked salmon, full containers of lobster, several trays of sushi. “It’s about allowing God’s provisions to be available,” Beiler said. “I’ll eat vegetables for a week, and the next week it’ll be mostly carbs.”
Posted by Veith at 08:37 AM
Amazingly good economic news
Despite the plague of terrorism and other bad news around the globe, the world’s economy has boomed since 2001. This holds true even with poor countries, which have made astonishing progress in only five years. According to economic columnist Robert Samuelson,
“Since 2001 the world economy has expanded more than 20 percent. For the United States, the gain is almost 15 percent; for developing countries, more than 30 percent. World trade — exports and imports — has risen by more than 30 percent.
And for all that we Americans complain, according to Lawrence Kudlow,
Individuals now hold $6.3 trillion in savings accounts, money market funds and certificates of deposit (CDs). In contrast, short-term debt — notably credit card and installment debt — stands at only $2.2 trillion, and is growing slowly. So, despite the housing slump, consumers have an excellent cash position.
Of course, individuals cannot necessarily tap their retirement money and many people do not have such wealth socked away, but such data bodes well for the economy as a whole. So why such malaise?
Posted by Veith at 07:20 AM
The new rules of war
The inimitable classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson posits a list of new rules of war, judging from the conventional wisdom about how the West must fight the Islamic jihadists.
1. Any death — enemy or friendly, accidental or deliberate, civilian or soldier — favors the terrorists.
2. All media coverage of fighting in the Middle East is ultimately hostile.
3. The opposition — whether an establishment figure like Howard Dean or an activist such as Cindy Sheehan — ultimately prefers the enemy to win.
4. Europeans have shown little morality, but plenty of influence, abroad and here at home during Middle East wars.
5. To fight in the Middle East, the United States and Israel must enlist China, Russia, Europe, or any nation in the Arab world to fight its wars.
6. Time is always an enemy.
Click the link, above, to get Hanson’s explanation about each point.
Posted by Veith at 06:33 AM
August 16, 2006
Jihadist college students
British investigators are finding that major players in the plot to blow up the airplanes were Muslim college students studying in British universities. Indeed, Western universities have become a breeding ground for jihadists.
I remember as a graduate student working in student housing cleaning out apartments and finding stacks of tracts, posters, and photos lauding someone called the Ayatollah Khomeini. And talking to Muslim students, listening to their violent harangues and scary anti-semitism, which they related to their Muslim piety. That was back in the 1970′s. I didn’t think a thing about it.
One of their lessons taught in these Western universities is how Western civilization is nothing but oppression and imperialism. And I suspect another legacy young Muslims pick up is guilt: succumbing to Western temptations, knowing that Allah will damn them, hating the culture that has brought them to ruin, and seeing martyrdom in jihad as offering their only assurance of salvation.
Posted by Veith at 07:29 AM
Foeticide
The Prime Minister of India inveighed against the practice that is rampant in that country of aborting girl babies, so as to avoid the necessity of paying dowries to marry them off. I appreciate the term he used: foeticide. It’s homicide, actually, but this is closer.
Posted by Veith at 06:58 AM
August 15, 2006
Bob and other palindromes
Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is a really good song, although I have no idea what it means. Here is an early music video, in which the one true Bob holds up signs of the lyrics. Here is Weird Al Yankovic’s parody, in which each lyric is a palindrome. That is, the sentence reads the same backwards and forwards. (You know, as in “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.”)
Posted by Veith at 09:06 AM
Honor killings
After years of decline, violent crime shot up 5% last year, and this year looks to be even worse, with many major cities facing an epidemic of murders and assaults. Why is that? Is the new violence being caused by drugs? robberies? revenge? hate? No. The surge in violence can largely be accounted for by a new cultural phenomenon: the demand for respect.
Here is what David Kennedy,director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control, has observed:
Some of the law enforcement tactics used to fight crime in recent years damaged the social fabric in many communities and contributed to increased crime. More important has been the spread of a virulent thug ethos — an obsession with “respect” that has made killing a legitimate response to the most minor snubs and slights. In parts of the District’s Anacostia neighborhood today, a young man knows that the wrong kind of eye contact with the wrong person — a “hard look” — can cost him his life.
. . . . . . . . . .
We are used to thinking of the many factors that drive crime — poverty, inequality, demographics, racism, and family and community problems. But to that list we should add the spread of a subculture once found only in the toughest urban areas: the culture of respect.
My research in Baltimore, Boston, Minneapolis, Washington and many other cities, along with that of colleagues at the University of California at Irvine and at Michigan State University, shows that in hard-hit neighborhoods, the violence is much less about drugs and money than about girls, vendettas and trivial social frictions. These are often referred to as “disputes” in police reports and in the media. But such violence is not about anger-management problems. The code of the streets has reached a point in which not responding to a slight can destroy a reputation, while violence is a sure way to enhance it. The quick and the dead are not losing their tempers; they are following shared — and lethal — social expectations.
I’ve heard shooters say, in private, that they wanted no part of what happened. But with their friends and enemies watching — and the unwritten rules clear to everybody — they did what they had to do. In San Francisco, a string of killings between the warring Big Block and West Mob crews in Hunters Point apparently started nearly a decade ago over who would perform next at a rap concert. The killing of Analicia Perry’s brother was never solved, but the man the neighborhood tagged for the death was himself killed — and that homicide in turn went unsolved. The minister at Analicia Perry’s memorial service upbraided the young men before him. “She is now in the hands of God,” he said. “I’m just glad she’s not in the hands of some of you.”
This thug ethos is spreading. It used to be that one learned how to be a gangster from another gangster. No more. Mass-market glossy magazines promote the thug life. One can learn from listening to rapper 50 Cent, or by watching music videos. And it is big business. When rapper Lil’ Kim was convicted of perjury connected to a shooting by her posse, she got her own reality show on Black Entertainment Television, which promoted her intent to go to federal prison with her “mouth shut and head held high.” Crips and Bloods have Web pages and profiles on MySpace.__All of this is spreading as well as amplifying the street definition of what it means to have honor. In big cities, the quest for honor reignites existing conflicts; in small ones, it brings big-city behavior and big-city problems. Working recently on Long Island with the Nassau County Police Department, my colleagues and I found Bloods, Crips — and violence. But the gangs were homegrown, and the violence was almost entirely personal.
Posted by Veith at 08:35 AM
Psalm for the 9/11 age
Jules Crittendon, a columnist for the Boston Herald, offers a moving meditation for our current age of terrorism. It culminates in a text from Psalm 23. I am struck by what Crittendon told Powerline:
“I’d like to note that while I am not particularly religious, I consider the 23rd Psalm one of the greatest pieces of literature of western civilization and also one of the greatest comforts in hard times even for an unrepentant sinner such as myself. Hat tip to David, or whoever wrote that.”
I don’t know how the Psalm is comforting unless someone really has the Lord as his Shepherd, but I salute the man’s literary taste.
Posted by Veith at 08:05 AM
August 14, 2006
Martin Luther, movie critic
Dr. Luther is back, this time as a movie critic. You have got to read the blog Luther at the Movies. Scroll down and read the Reformer’s riff occasioned by but having little to do with “World Trade Center.” Here the pugnacious theologian gets into a knockdown fight with John Calvin precipitated by that blogosphere favorite books tag.
Posted by Veith at 07:33 AM
A Hezbollah victory?
With the ceasefire being put into effect, pundits and Muslims are saying that Hezbollah defeated Israel and won the war. That remains to be seen. I suspect the guerillas were degraded more than the media realizes or that the Islamic propaganda machine will admit. But still, it is certainly true that Israel failed in its goal to clear out Hezbollah from bordering Lebanon.
The article linked above analyzes how this terrorist militia stood its ground against Israel’s modern army. They were well dug in, in civilian areas where they had much support. They did not fear death, so they would neither run nor surrender. They had sophisticated weaponry, including guided anti-tank missiles that were devastating to Israeli tanks and observation posts. They maintained a secrecy that made it impossible for Israeli intelligence to penetrate their operations. They have huge amounts of money from Iran, which has been paying them $25 million per month for years and maybe twice as much since President Ahmadinejad took over.
This “defeat” of Israel will surely embolden the jihadists.
Posted by Veith at 06:42 AM
Baby martyrs
Why, we might ask, is Homeland Security and the TSA going so far as to ban baby formula from flights, much less subject even infants in arm to security searches? Well, it turns out, as information about the details of the terrorist plot to blow up ten passenger aircraft, that in one case, the suicide bomber was _travelling with his wife and baby and was smuggling the liquid explosive in the baby’s bottles. Yes, he was planning to “martyr”–that is to say, kill–not only himself but his wife and child.
UPDATE: There may have been more than one such case. In fact, according to report from England this may be a new tactic for suicide bombers, throwing off the attention on how most terrorists have been young men: Women being the suicide bombers, and mothers making bombs of their own babies.
Posted by Veith at 06:41 AM
Not such a bad flight
Well, flying from L.A. to Washington the day after the terrorist scare was not so bad after all. While the first day was chaos, by the second day passengers and the airports had adapted. The only long line I went through was at check-in, since all of the passengers knew they had to check luggage containing toiletries and other liquids. The security line was quicker than usual–they may have had more lanes open–with the hand-search of carry-ons saved for the gates, just before boarding. Long tables were set up and National Guardsmen helped, so it went quite quickly. And on the plane, for the first time ever, there was plenty of room in the overhead bins.
I don’t know if it was that way everywhere, but I have to salute LAX, which has an inefficient reputation. The whole air traffic system couldn’t have been too bad. My plane got to Dulles half an hour early.
Posted by Veith at 06:28 AM
August 11, 2006
Church growth for Hare Krishnas
In addition to Mosque growth, we now have Temple growth. See how the Hare Krishnas have adapted from their old airport dancing to their member’s new suburban lifestyle.
Posted by Veith at 08:49 AM
Germans embracing Islam
Germans from all walks of life are becoming Muslims. Before 2000, the number of Muslim converts was only about 300 a year, mostly women who married into the religion. But last year, some 4000 Germans of all sorts have embraced Islam.
Posted by Veith at 08:10 AM
Another promising movie on the way
P. D. James is a British mystery writer with the skills of a serious novelist. She is also a Christian. In addition to her mysteries, she has written a science fiction dystopia entitled “The Children of Men.” In it, the human race becomes infertile. No more children can be conceived or born. The world is just waiting to die out. The novel, which also takes on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, is a pro-life classic. And now it is being made into a movie, by a top-flight director and with a top-flight cast, to be released September 29. Click here to see the trailer.
HT: Scott Stiegemeyer at Burr in the Burgh
Posted by Veith at 07:07 AM
Against loud restaurants
I just got back from a restaurant that was pretty good, but it was LOUD. I have read that restaurant designers actually plan the acoustics of places that want to appeal to a young and happenin’ crowd so that they are LOUD, noise creating a sense of “energy” and “buzz.” I realize that I am now an old fogey, but if any of you are young and happenin’, do YOU like loud restaurants? Wouldn’t you rather have conversations, or is the advantage of noise that you don’t have to do that?
Posted by Veith at 07:02 AM
August 10, 2006
The Artist and the Soldier
Check out the comments in yesterday’s “The Life of Perfection” post, in which we have some moving testimonies about the doctrine of vocation from two of the ones most misunderstood and too little appreciated: an artist and a soldier.
Posted by Veith at 10:45 AM
Beowulf: The Monster and the Movies
Beowulf, that great Saxon epic that J. R. R. Tolkien taught the world to read, is being made into no less than THREE movies. And one opera. The most promising of the movies will feature Anthony Hopkins as Hrothgar and Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s Mother (who said there are no strong women in medieval literature?). This makes me happy, though I have some concerns. Consider the descriptions from a story about the Beowulf phenomenon in USA Today (linked above):
•Beowulf &Grendel. Released in June, this Canadian art film was made in Iceland, starred Scottish actor Gerard Butler as Beowulf, and was directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, a Canadian descendant of Vikings.
A Canadian art film? Please don’t make Beowulf sensitive! This sounds like it went straight to video. I’m willing to give it a chance, but how good could it be?
•Grendel: Transcendence of the Great Big Bad. The opera, which premiered in June, is based on John Gardner’s 1971 book Grendel, which tells the story from the point of view of the monster. The opera, featuring mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves as the dragon, was written and directed by Lion King queen Julie Taymor and composed by her companion, Elliot Goldenthal.
Gardner’s novel was pretty good, but it is NOT Beowulf. It draws on us moderns’ tendency to sympathize with the individual outcast, including the evil he commits, rather than the good of the community, which Beowulf’s original audience prized. But an opera with this kind of subtitle and a girl dragon does not sound promising.
•Beowulf: Prince of the Geats. Due in 2007 and filmed in such locales as Norway and South Africa, it features a little-known cast and Emmy-winning filmmaker Scott Wegener at the helm. He rewrote the story to make Beowulf a man caught between two cultures as the son of an African explorer who marries into a Geat clan.
The filmmaker REWROTE the story? He thinks he can do better than the scop whose work has last for over a thousand years? That kind of presumption is the bane of Hollywood writers. And he rewrote Beowulf to make it MULTICULTURAL? He is making the King of the Swedes a black guy? Caught between two cultures? Such killjoy revisionism is what is ruining English literature for thousands of college students today who are kept in thrall to postmodernist profs.
•Beowulf. Also due in 2007, director Robert Zemeckis’ version of the epic will use the performance-capture technique of his Polar Express. Besides Jolie and Hopkins (as the Danish king harassed by Grendel), the cast includes Ray Winstone as Beowulf and Crispin Glover as Grendel.
That 3-D faux realistic animation in “Polar Express” creeped me out, but maybe it could work for larger-than-life heroic fantasy. This means we will not see the actual Angelina Jolie, just an animated version of her, but still I can imagine a distorted image of her as an excellent Grendel’s Mom. I have hopes for this one.
Posted by Veith at 10:18 AM
Death Squads
Most of the killings today in Iraq are the work of Shiite death squads, which are assassinating Sunni leaders. That’s the word from American commander General George Casey.
The hard-hearted cynic might say that, well, that’s progress. Let the Shiites take out the Sunni Baathists and other insurgents. But the problem is that each political party has its own militia, typically better armed than the Iraqi army. Whereas the goal was to integrate Sunnis into the democratically-elected government, now the Sunnis are retreating to Al-Qaida (a Sunni brand of terrorism) for protection. And the most formidable of the Shiite militias with its death squads is Muqtada Al-Sadr, the leader of the Shiite insurgents. Remember when we were happy that he decided to stop fighting Americans and to get involved instead in politics? Well, his party now holds seats in parliament and occupies some key political positions. That was also the tactic of the Hezbollah (Al-Sadr’s fellow Shiite terrorists).
Meanwhile, the death squads stand in the way of social order. And insofar as they are operated by members of the democratically-elected government, we are facing the prospect of one of those postmodern dictatorships we discussed recently, a democratically-elected unfree society.
Posted by Veith at 10:02 AM
Check your carry-on bags
The Brits–bless ‘em–cracked a huge terrorist plot to blow up at least 10 aircraft as they flew from England to American destinations. The plan was for terrorists to smuggle liquid explosives onto the planes in carry-on luggage, then set them off. British authorities have arrested 21 people so far, with more being investigated. As many as 50 terrorists may have been involved, and the Brits are not sure they have gotten everyone.
So England is forbidding any passengers from taking aboard carry on luggage. And in the USA, airline security has been ratcheted up to level “orange.” Passengers will be doubly searched and forbidden from taking on ANY kind of liquid in carry on luggage, which will all be searched. So if you are flying–as I am tomorrow!–expect both hassle and delays.
UPDATE: The security level for flights to the U.K. has been elevated to red. And, indeed, flying today is a nightmare of delays, as every carry on bag is being checked by hand, with passengers having to throw away their sunscreen, bottled water, and contact lends solution. And tomorrow I have to fly from LAX to Washington Dulles! I’ll try to put up Friday’s posts tonight, since I’ll have to leave really, really early to run this gauntlet.
Posted by Veith at 09:50 AM
August 09, 2006
The life of perfection
I hadn’t realized just how much the Lutheran Confessions have to say about the doctrine of vocation, in particular, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. The thing is so long that I suspect it is little read, even among those who promise that they will uphold it. Here, Melanchthon–who later would wimp out in becoming willing to compromise on some of these points–is in rare form: he is forceful, sometimes sarcastic like Luther, and, as always, learned and rhetorically brilliant.
Get a load of this confessionally-binding statement about vocation, in the context of refuting the claim that Christians who want to live a life “of perfection” should enter the monastery:
So with us perfection is that everyone with true faith should obey his own calling. (Apology, Article XXVII, paragraph 50, “Concordia: Reader’s Edition,” p. 270)
Isn’t that stunning? Do you want to live a life of spiritual perfection? Do it in your vocations of spouse, parent, child; of worker; of citizen–do these all in “true faith” in the perfect work of Jesus, which bears fruit in love and service to all of your neighbors. That is the perfection God cares about, not the feel-good exercises we make up for ourselves. Somebody, make Apology XXVII. 50 into a plaque!
Posted by Veith at 11:49 AM
Linking sexual music & teen behavior
A scientific study has documented that there really is a link between a teenager’s listening to sexually explicit music and his or her own sexual activity. Surprise, surprise. Causality, of course, is nearly impossible to prove: does sexy music make a young person sexually active, or do sexually active young people have a greater appetite for music about sex?
But let us draw on the much-neglected field of cultural anthropology. Cultural artifacts, such as art and music, have the cultural function of codifying and transmitting the culture’s values: what it permits and does not permit; what is seen as good and what is seen as shameful; what is sacred and what is taboo; what is sanctioned and what is forbidden.
Our culture’s artifacts–in our music, TV shows, films, books, magazines–SANCTION extra-marital sex. The message is not only that there is not anything wrong with it. That message is presented as an assumption, something never questioned, just a “given.” And so, yes, our cultural artifacts give permission to young people and everyone else to have sex outside of marriage.
To the argument that “they will do it anyway,” the cultural anthropologist has to point out that this supposedly “natural impulse” of sex is, in fact, kept under control and channeled into marriage in most cultures. Sex is controlled by culture. And when it isn’t controlled, that is usually a sign of cultural breakdown. But it definitely does make a difference what the culture signals through its artifcats that it permits.
Posted by Veith at 07:38 AM
Higher Criticism & Islam
In the quest for a “moderate” Islam, some Westernized Muslim scholars are taking a second look at the hadith, the sayings collected from the oral tradition that are ascribed to Mohammed, teachings that Muslims consider binding. In some of them, the prophet sounds benevolent and tolerant; in others, he sounds harsh and violent. The revisionists are trying to tone down the latter in favor of the former, trying to make the case that some of the hadith are not authentic but are later extrapolations. In other words, these scholars are trying to do to Islam what the higher critics have done to Christianity.
In this case, I side with the Islamic conservatives. On what basis do we assume that the “nice” teachings are original and the “mean” teachings are later additions? Couldn’t you just as easily argue that the harsh sayings are original and the kinder, gentler sayings are later additions designed to soften them? It’s ironic that, despite the pretense of liberal Bible scholars to be “scientific,” the sayings of Jesus they accept tend to be the ones most in line with their own political or philosophical agendas. Higher criticism, whether directed against Christianity or against Islam, is trapped in the modern mind.
P.S.: Higher Critics have not DARED to tackle the Muslim holy book itself, the Q’uran.
Posted by Veith at 07:08 AM
August 08, 2006
Guilty pleasures
Afghanistan is struggling to deal with the moral degradation that often seems to accompany political freedom. Afghan Muslims are scandalized by the rise in prostitution, alcohol abuse, and pornography. Many are trying to start a milder version of Taliban-era committees on virtue and vice to enforce social morality. The story has a telling quotation:_
“These movies have a very bad impact on people, and they should be banned,” said Reza Mousani, 21, who was in a crowd of young men waiting outside a movie house covered with posters of buxom Indian film stars.
He’s moralizing against the movie while he is standing in line to see it! Notice: Mere restrictive external laws cannot bring virtue. That has to be a matter of the heart. And the only way to change the heart is through faith in Christ. (Which is also often missing here in the immoral West and even in churches that lack the fruit of faith.)
Posted by Veith at 10:24 AM
Explicating a commercial
Those of you who have television sets have no doubt seen that commercial for Ford 150 pickup trucks: A cowboy type drives his Ford truck around a log in the road. He turns around when he sees that the log has blocked the way for a convertible and its two passengers, a good-looking woman and a yuppie type guy. The pickup man lassos the log with a chain and uses his truck to pull it away. The woman smiles at the cowboy and says, “Gracias, Manuel.” The cowboy tips his hat to the lady. The convertible yuppie asks, “you know him?” She says, “he’s my ex-boyfriend.”
You have got to read this critical discussion of what the commercial really means. The subtext supposedly deals with such themes as Hispanics taking over the American icon of the cowboy; macho Hispanics who work with their hands vs. affluent but unmanly Anglo men; Hispanic bilingual women rejecting Hispanic working men in favor of wealthy Anglos while still desiring the former; Ford trucks vs. Ford mustangs; and all kinds of other themes of race, class, and gender. Can you offer another interpretation?
Posted by Veith at 09:10 AM
Postmodern dictators
Francis Fukuyama, the scholar who hailed the ultimate triumph of free political and economic structures as “the end of history,” discusses “Chavismo,” the movement of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, the left’s new hope. Fukuyama still believes freedom will eventually end the conflicts that have defined history, despite its recent setbacks, but he coins a new concept: postmodern dictatorship:
By preserving some freedoms, including a relatively free press and pseudo-democratic elections, Chávez has developed what some observers call a postmodern dictatorship, neither fully democratic nor fully totalitarian, a left-wing hybrid that enjoys a legitimacy never reached in Castro’s Cuba or in the Soviet Union. . . . . . . . . . The postmodern authoritarianism of Chávez’s Venezuela is durable only while oil prices remain high. Yet it presents a distinct challenge from that of totalitarianism because it allows for democratic choice and caters to real social needs.
Democratically elected and supported dictators. Freely choosing the abnegation of freedom. Democratic authoritarianism. This explains Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, and–I suspect–it will be what we must be on guard against in this country in the decades ahead.
Imagine the rise of a leftwing Reagan, as we discussed a few days ago, a genial, likeable sort who connects with ordinary people and who vows to solve all of their problems. And who seemingly does. A nice man who will make a nice country, outlawing people and ideas who are not nice. Wouldn’t people vote for him, support him, and follow him to the death?
Posted by Veith at 07:51 AM
The vocation of mercenaries
In regards to yesterday’s post about “fighting under another flag”. . . Those of you who aren’t Lutherans, of course do not have to believe in the doctrine of vocation. Lutherans are confessionally obliged to, insofar as they have subscribed to the book of Concord. I acknowledge that there have been lots of mercenaries, including Lutheran ones, and I saluted many brave men who have served under other flags. But this begs my question. Let me put it another way, using the Bible only rather than Lutheran theology as such: Does Romans 13 justify mercenary soldiers?
The example of privateers actually supports my point that fighters would seem to need the authorization of their country. Privateers serve under official “letters of marque” issued by a lawful Romans 13 authority, something authorized even in our constitution. A ship that attacks even enemy vessels without a letter of marque is a pirate.
My point is that Romans 13–as well as the international laws of war–requires those who “bear the sword” to do so under the lawful authority of the government that God has put over them.
Is it right to just “bear the sword” for money? Out of one’s own personal ideals? If so–and maybe it is–please explain how and why. Just “what about” examples are not explanations.
And the doctrine of vocation is no mere human invention, but an account of how God rules in the social order, working through human beings to give daily bread (through farmers), protection (see Romans 13), new life (through parents) and everything else that we need. Sex in the vocation of marriage is a good work; sex outside of vocation is sin. Isn’t the same true for this issue, which is the difference between lawful soldiers and unlawful terrorists?
Posted by Veith at 07:11 AM
August 07, 2006
Chavez and friends
What does Marxism have to do with Jihadist Islam? At any rate, the freely-elected postmodern dictator of Venezuela Hugo Chavez is cozying up to the Iranians.
Posted by Veith at 08:47 PM
Fighting under another flag?
I salue the courage and idealism of the 120 Americans–at least two of whom have died–who have gone to Israel to fight. But consider this account of one of those “lone soldiers”:
David Johnson, 22, a soldier from Asheville, N.C., was Levin’s roommate during a one-year program for new immigrants the two took together when they arrived in Israel four years ago.
He shifted his rifle and paused before the start of Levin’s funeral to describe why he, Levin and other young Americans had joined the Israeli military instead of the U.S. armed forces.
“As a Jew in the diaspora, you feel like you’ve got to give something to your country,” said Johnson, with a hint of North Carolina drawl.
YOUR country? Your country, Mr. Johnson, is the United States of America.
The issue has to do with the doctrine of vocation. If the calling of the soldier has to do with Romans 13, citizenship, and lawful authorities who “bear the sword,” is it right to serve as a soldier in a country that you are not a citizen of?
I know this practice has a long history, including the Lafayette Escadrille of American pilots fighting under the French in World War I. Lots of Lutheran soldiers fought as mercenaries from the Thirty Year’s War to our own Revolution. The Hessians were from staunchly Lutheran Hesse, as in Philip of Hesse, and the descendants of those who stayed here are the backbone of some fine Lutheran congregations in the South. But is fighting as a mercenary or as an idealistic volunteer lawful under the doctrine of vocation?
Posted by Veith at 08:52 AM
Of fake war pictures
Once again, bloggers have caught mainstream journalists in a big mistake, identifying a faked photo of an Israeli bombing in Lebanon that now the Reuters news agency has had to retract.
The photographer used crude photoshop techniques to clone the smoke clouds and to put morebuildings in harm’s way.
Here is why this exposure is significant. As Ace of Spades says,
It’s not just this one picture. It is the MSM’s “outsourcing” of most foreign news coverage to low-paid, low-experience, low-credentials, foreign “local” stringers who almost certainly have a very strong personal interest in 1) juicing their stories and pictures to make sure they sell and 2) advancing a political goal of slandering Israel that most Muslims, sadly, seem to share.
Here are some now-obviously staged shots from the same photographer , Adnan Hajj, who also gave us the heart-wrenching shots of the dead bodies at Qana. If you want to do your own research into what else he might have faked or staged, his portfolio is posted here.
Posted by Veith at 08:19 AM
August 04, 2006
Croc attack on Fashion
My feet have the habit of killing me, so my mother gave me a pair of Crocs. They are made out of some kind of vinyl-like resin and are designed to be really, really comfortable. And they are. The problem is, they look unutterably dorky, their hideous appearance magnified by the way the manufacturer has chosen to make them in bright neon colors, thereby making it impossible for them to go with clothes and calling attention to themselves in all of their ugliness. (See for yourselves.)
And yet, they are really, really comfortable. I started wearing them nearly all the time when I was a slovenly journalist–sometimes even venturing out into public with them–but now that I am academic again at a school that makes even its students dress up, I don’t wear them much anymore.
Now, studies have found that Crocs really do have tangible medical advantages. __Conversely, the high-heeled pointy shoes that women favor do terrible harm to their feet and are reportedly not just uncomfortable but often painful to wear. And yet they keep buying them (and probably wouldn’t get caught dead in Crocs) as fashion dictates. The question of the day is, Why should we be slaves to fashion?
Posted by Veith at 07:20 AM
Bob Dylan, DJ
I did catch Bob Dylan’s radio show on XM, before it goes away. Bob has an amazingly good radio voice, shifting into that mellow tone he used so well on “Nashville Skyline.” He played an utterly diverse set of tunes on the theme of weather, from ancient country songs through obscure blues numbers and rock ‘n’ roll to show tunes. It was really ear-opening musically.
And Bob came up with these remarkably off-beat, yet right-on insights. For example, he threw off the point that originally, Elvis just wanted to be Dean Martin. Bob then paired tunes from both artists, and he was absolutely right. Both had that “buh-buh-buh-boo” phrasing.
Posted by Veith at 07:18 AM
Will iPod kill Satellite radio?
Ford and GM announced a deal with Apple to integrate iPod into their new car sound systems, rather than satellite radio, which at first looked like the music technology of the future. This was a major blow to the pay-radio companies Sirius (which lost $237.8 million last year) and XM (which lost $229 million–even though both companies racked up more subscribers).
Posted by Veith at 07:10 AM
The End of Conservatism?
Liberal columnist E. J. Dionne is arguing that the era of conservatism in American politics is over.
The nadir, he says, strangely, is how they linked the minimum wage hike to the estate tax cut, thereby supposedly abandoning their principles (that wages should be determined solely by the free market) in their obsessive drive to give more tax cuts to rich people.(Notice how I argue the reverse below, that this is the nadir of liberals who have given up their principle of helping poor people in their obsessive drive to hurt the rich.)
Dionne goes on to cite the difficulties of “Big Government Conservatives” (as in the Bush administration who want to use government to pursue conservative goals, what Fred Barnes calls “Hamiltonian” conservatism. He marks with glee the conflict between Libertarian conservatives and Social conservatives on issues such as stem cell research. In Dionne’s mind, conservatism has fallen apart. He concludes by seeing a power “vacuum” that is just waiting for someone to fill.
Is he right, or is just a Freudian dream grounded in wish-fulfillment? I believe there will indeed be a schism between cultural conservatives and libertarian conservatives–with the Democrats probably embracing the latter and succeeding–but is there an immediate political future for big government welfare-state liberalism?
Posted by Veith at 07:05 AM
Democrats kill the minimum wage hike
Senate Democrats, valuing “soaking the rich” over their old goal of helping the poor, killed the minimum wage hike, since it was attached to a bill that would also drastically cut the Death Tax.
Posted by Veith at 07:01 AM
August 03, 2006
Sorry for the double entry
I don’t know why the software posted the “Liberal Reagan” post twice. I’d delete one of them, but I don’t want to get rid of any of the thoughtful comments strung along both entries. I can’t seem to move them. So just scroll down for the other posts.
Posted by Veith at 02:49 PM
Preparing for a Liberal Reagan
E. J. Dionne sees a parallel going on in the Democratic party with what went on with Republicans after the Goldwater debacle, in which the party purged its liberal and moderate office-holders, heralding the ascension of Ronald Reagan.
The Democratic base is becoming more and more extreme, rising up to pose a serious challenge, for example, to the relatively conservative Joseph Lieberman, who faces a tough re-election to the Connecticut Senate seat from the inexperienced but blogger-supported Ned Lamont. The conventional wisdom that victory lies in going to the center is being challenged, with liberals energized by their Bush-hating hoping to eventually create a new liberal dominance, just as the conservatives did in the post-Reagan era.
So, might the Democrats find a Ronald Reagan? Is there anyone remotely like him on the horizon (in either party)? Or is that a laughable contradiction in terms?
Posted by Veith at 07:58 AM
Preparing for a Liberal Reagan
E. J. Dionne sees a parallel going on in the Democratic party with what went on with Republicans after the Goldwater debacle, in which the party purged its liberal and moderate office-holders, heralding the ascension of Ronald Reagan.
The Democratic base is becoming more and more extreme, rising up to pose a serious challenge, for example, to the relatively conservative Joseph Lieberman, who faces a tough re-election to the Connecticut Senate seat from the inexperienced but blogger-supported Ned Lamont. The conventional wisdom that victory lies in going to the center is being challenged, with liberals energized by their Bush-hating hoping to eventually create a new liberal dominance, just as the conservatives did in the post-Reagan era.
So, might the Democrats find a Ronald Reagan? Is there anyone remotely like him on the horizon (in either party)? Or is that a laughable contradiction in terms?
Posted by Veith at 07:58 AM
Liberals against the minimum wage
A legislative tactic has lawmakers and their lobbiests tied up in knots: A measure to increase the minimum wage has been attached to a bill decreasing the Estate tax (a.k.a. “the death tax”).
The pro-business side, including the Chamber of Congress, has accepted the deal, which would raise the minimum wage over three years from $5.15 to $7.25. But the labor giant, the AFL-CIO, is opposing the bill, its desire to “soak the rich” being greater than its interest in helping low-income workers! (Could the dominance of liberal ideology over pursuing the actual interests of its workers be one reason for the decline in labor unions?)
Politically, the Democrats are also opposing the bill, cooked up by House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). Republicans are reasoning that a minimum wage hike, which would only affect 3% of workers (since even most low level jobs already pay more than that due to the free market), would be a small price to pay to allow people to pass on their estates to their heirs without the government taking a big part of it. But Democrats just cannot stand that thought.
Posted by Veith at 07:45 AM
TV is like peanuts
A quote from one of America’s great artists, Wisconsin-born Orson Welles: “I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.”
(New York Herald Tribune,1956) Quoted from here.
Posted by Veith at 07:40 AM
August 02, 2006
Reggie White & the Bible
The late, great Green Bay Packer defensive lineman Reggie White will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. The quarterback sack specialist–I have watched him save a game by sacking the quarterback three times in a row until the opposing team was out of field goal range–was often called the “Minister of Defense” for his outspoken Christianity.
An article in USA Today gives some fascinating quotes from him, just shortly before his death. The reporter, Tom Krattenmaker, uses these to slam Christian athletes, missing what they really mean: Reggie had moved from the “enthusiast” view that expects direct inspiration to a reliance on the objective Word of God:
“When I look back on my life, there are a lot of things I said God said. I realize he didn’t say nothing. It was what Reggie wanted to do. I do feel the Father…gave me some signals…but you won’t hear me anymore saying God spoke to me about something–unless I read something in Scripture and I know.”
“Most people who wanted me to speak at their churches only asked me to speak because I played football, not because I was this great religious guy or this theologian…I got caught up in some of that until I got older and I got sick of it. I’ve been a preacher for 21 years, preaching what somebody wrote or what I heard somebody else say. I was not a student of Scripture. I came to the realization I’d become more of a motivaional speaker than a teacher of the Word.”
Sports fans, athletes, young people, old and middle aged people, and especially preachers–LEARN from this.
Hat Tip: Bruce Gee
Posted by Veith at 08:56 AM
MTV gets old
Yesterday marked the 25th Anniversary of MTV. That’s right, the once cutting edge pioneer of the music video is celebrating its Silver Anniversary. The irony is that MTV seldom shows music videos any more. Its programming has shifted to “reality” fare. It remains a popular bad influence on young people–focusing on partying, sex, and vapid fashion-mongering–but it has largely given up the art form it invented that made it once, at least, interesting.
Posted by Veith at 08:02 AM
What to say about Mel Gibson?
I don’t know. But here is yet another Christian in the public eye, capable of much good in the culture with his artistic gifts, blowing it before the world. Yes, Christians themselves are “sinful and unclean.” Yes, much of the rest of the world right now similarly is accusing Jews of being responsible for all the world’s wars. Yes, other people invoke their social status to treat with contempt police officers who risk their lives to protect them. But still. . . .Do you have anything to say about Mel Gibson and his drunken tirade?
Posted by Veith at 07:56 AM
August 01, 2006
Toxic parents
Your teenager is going to a party at his friend’s house, but it’s all right because the friend’s parents will be there. Right? Well, maybe and maybe not. Now you have to worry about “toxic parents.
These are parents who want to be “cool,” who want to be their child’s friend and who even–perversely–want to be considered part of the child’s social clique. These are the parents who supply their underaged kids alcohol–rationalizing that “they are going to do it anyway”–and sometimes even drugs. They even support and enable their children’s sexual activity. The linked article above recounts some hair-raising stories of children who are “raised by wolves” and whose irreponsible ways can affect other people’s children as well.
The article has a great conclusion, quoting teenagers who–while exploiting this parental weakness–pour contempt on parents who are trying to be “cool,” showing that these apparently wild kids yearn for some real parenting.
Posted by Veith at 07:52 AM
End of the nuclear fortress
Those of us who grew up during the Cold War with its fear of a “nuclear exchange” with the Soviets may get wistful at the news: The government is mothballing NORAD. The North American Aerospace Defense Command was the top-secret fortress of solitude built deep into a Colorado mountain, shut off by 25-ton steel doors, filled with high tech gizmos and designed to withstand a nuclear blast. If the country got nuked, this place would co-ordinate the military response and keep the government going.
Now, the fortress is getting shut down, the communications function shifting to a regular military installation. The super-bunker will still be available, but it is basically being phased out as a Cold War relic.
But isn’t the nuclear threat potentially GREATER today–or at least tomorrow, once Iran gets its bomb–than it was before? As veteran Cold Warrior John Stormer told me in a conversation, the Russian Communists, for whom this life is all there is, could be deterred by the threat of Mutual Assured Destruction. The jihadists, though, are ready to die for the pleasures of the afterlife promised to those who war against us infidels. With the jihadists, therefore, deterrence doesn’t work.
Posted by Veith at 07:50 AM
Trade or no trade
This is always a depressing baseball time for those of us who are always rooting for second or third-tier teams. This is when those teams trade off their best players. Teams just a player or two from making the playoffs are ready to make deals. And the other teams give up. They reason, correctly, that they might as well get some good players for their one superstar–in their never-ending rebuilding quest–since he is coming up for free agency and they don’t have the money to sign him anyway. That’s realistic, but still depressing to fans.
The Brewers gave up Carlos Lee. The Cubs gave up Greg Maddux. But, in a remarkable move–or rather, lack of move–the Nationals defied all expectations and offers and kept Alfonso Soriano! That will help greatly in my effort to become a Nationals fan.
Posted by Veith at 07:45 AM
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August 31, 2006
More on Islam & Culture
In Turkey, publishers of school curriculum have re-written Tom Sawyer, Pollyanna, the Three Musketeers, and Pinocchio to make the characters Muslim!
Though some Christians have taken similar positions in wanting to erase or revise elements of “non-Christian” culture, for the most part Christians do not do this sort of thing and in fact, historically, have preserved and transmitted even the non-Christian components of Western civilization. What is the difference between Christianity and Islam that accounts for this?
Posted by Veith at 06:48 AM
Multiculturalism reconsidered
It appears that ultra-liberal, super-tolerant Scandinavia is having second thoughts about multiculturalism.
Posted by Veith at 06:46 AM
Islam and Culture
Naguib Mahfouz, the Nobel Prize-winning Arab novelist, died in Cairo at the age of 94. He was indeed a fine writer who, from his readings in Western literature, basically invented the Arabic novel, which previously did not really exist. He was a moderate Muslim who cast an unflinching but affectionate eye on his society. For his contributions to Islamic culture, in 1994 he was stabbed by a terrorist led by Omar Abdel-Rahman, the “blind shiek” who engineered the first World Trade Center attack. He survived, barely, but his right hand–with which he did his writing–was paralyzed.
Meanwhile, the man in charge of Antiquities in Iraq, a Christian named Donny George, has quit his post and fled the country. The National Museum, which had been looted after the fall of Saddam, is padlocked, and many of the historical and archeological sites that go back deep into Bible days have been plundered and sometimes destroyed. The problem, according to George, is that Iraqi Muslims are interested only in Islamic sites and relics of Islamic history. All of that pagan stuff, they believe, deserves to be lost.
Posted by Veith at 06:22 AM
Killer quote on Iran
Writes Ghazal Omid, a persecuted expatriate from Iran:
“If Iran achieves nuclear power, the world, particularly Israel, should start digging our shelters, or rather, our graves.”
Posted by Veith at 05:04 AM
August 30, 2006
SAT scores drop
Last year’s SAT scores are down to an average of 1021, with math dropping 2 points and reading down 5, the biggest drop in reading proficiency in 31 years. (In 1975, the measure dropped 9 points.)
Here at Patrick Henry College, though, I am happy to say that our SAT scores average 1350, the highest of any Christian college (in a tie with Wheaton), and up there with the best American universities. And it shows. What a joy to teach and work with such gifted, devoted, and engaged students!
Now that classes have started, the stresses and strains of my new administrative job are mitigated by the two classes I have assigned myself. It’s good to get back into the classroom. The students are what even the administration is all about, and here is where the satisfactions are to be found.
Posted by Veith at 06:04 AM
We’re rich
Woke up this morning to find that I am trying to live in the wealthiest county in the nation. Right here, Loudon County in Virginia, has the highest median income–$98,000–and the lowest poverty rate of anywhere.
What can we learn from this? Government is still a growth industry. It’s not so much government as such, though, but government contractors, with lots of high-tech companies, many of them defense-related, with contracts with the government.
I would venture to say that many of these wealthy Loudonites are income rich, but cash poor, with much of their paycheck having to be devoted to pay for a place to live. A modest bungalow will cost $400,000, and the ubiquitous McMansions cost in the millions.
I worry too about family life, as a good percentage Loudonites commute over an hour each way into D.C., sometimes two hours if they live in the far corners of the county searching for affordable housing. That means they are in the car 4 hours a day. They wake up at 4:00, and many high-powered D.C. jobs require long hours, meaning they might have to work until 7:00, getting home at 9:00, after the kids are in bed and the spouse is tired. That leaves little time for the vocation of parenthood.
Also, if Loudon County is the wealthiest county, that suggests that what I have observed with alarm may not be a trend, though perhaps it is or a sign of what is coming everywhere. Nearly all of the service jobs–sales clerks, bank tellers, postal workers, shop workers–are filled by immigrants. It smacks like the emergence of a new class system, which cannot be healthy.
Posted by Veith at 05:45 AM
August 29, 2006
Of Pluto and scientific paradigms
The Washington Post’s Shankar Vedantam has an intriguing column entitled What One Fewer Planet Means to Our Worldview. He relates the demotion of Pluto to the way we organize information using definitions and “paradigms.” He says that when our paradigms shift, it is unsettling. All of that is pretty obvious, but the most salient point is that science is all about constructing paradigms to explain data and that those paradigms keep changing.
Peter Lipton, a University of Cambridge philosopher of science, argues that science itself is a composite of external reality and human interpretation of that reality. This is why, after a paradigm shift such as the redefinition of a planet, reality itself can feel different. Whether we say the solar system has eight planets or nine or 12 makes no difference to the solar system, but it makes an enormous difference to us. Much of the business of science, in fact, has to do with the construction and demolition of categories.
Keep that in mind with the Darwinist vs. Intelligent Design debates!
Posted by Veith at 06:39 AM
Wal-Mart as welfare program
I realize that nobody on this blog cares about Wal-Mart related stories except for me, but I found some fascinating statistics. Families that shop for food at those big-box stores such as Super Wal-Marts and Sam’s Club cut their food bill by one-fourth. Also, Wal-Mart’s cut-rate prices save Americans over $200 billion a year. The federal government’s food stamp program gives out a mere $33 billion.
Posted by Veith at 06:33 AM
Terrorist plot in Germany
Did you know that German police foiled a jihadist plot to set off suitcase bombs on that nation’s trains? Actually, they didn’t so much foil the plot as feel very fortunate, since two suitcase bombs were already on the trains, but they failed to go off. Officials are rounding up more and more suspects.
If you didn’t know about this, why not? One would think that the media would have made a bigger deal of this. Note the significance: Germany does NOT support the war in Iraq. Germany does NOT support Israel. Germany has provided a safe haven for Muslims of even the extreme sort. And yet, the terrorists targeted Germany. This is more evidence that the jihadists are not acting out of some political grievance, but simply to strike Western civilization and to kill infidels.
Posted by Veith at 06:21 AM
August 28, 2006
Forced conversions
The Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig who had been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists have been released, but first they had to convert to Islam! This is done by making a Muslim confession of faith.
I am not criticizing those poor men, and I am not saying that such a conversion in any way means anything. But the jihadists were clearly trying to make their captives apostasize. I don’t know if these men were or are Christians, and if so, if they have sinned, I’m sure they can find forgiveness in Christ, but still, this is monstrous. I suspect other hostages will be forced to do the same, a bit of Islamic “evangelism” of the sort that has always accompanied Muslim conquests.
One of the people Michelle Malkin quotes, in the link above, seems to say that this is a good strategy if jihadists kidnap you. “Convert” to Islam and you will probably not get killed and will get better treatment, and probably release. Then you can go back to your real religion later.
But the early Christians, who refused to burn the incense to Caesar, could have made the same rationalization. But they would rather die than deny their faith in Christ by worshipping a false god. Contrast those true martyrs, who die for their faith, with jihadist martyrs, who kill for their faith.
If any of us are ever put into this situation, may God grant us the grace and the courage to die rather than to deny Jesus Christ.
Posted by Veith at 07:59 AM
Two different takes on Wal-Mart
Conservative pundit Rich Lowry asks why liberal politicians are always demagoguing against Wal-Mart . They accuse oil companies of “price-gouging.” What Wal-Mart does is the opposite, squeezing every price margin from their suppliers so as to offer prices as low as possible. To the point of saving the average family that shops there $2300 per year, which is a major benefit to the low income shoppers liberals claim to want to help.
But one liberal Democrat defends Wal-Mart for another reason. Andrew Young, a paid spokesman for the superstore, took off against the mom-and-pop stores who are often Wal-Mart’s victims:
“Those are the people who have been overcharging us — selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables,” he told the Los Angeles Sentinel, an African American weekly. “First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs,” he added. “Very few black folks own these stores.”
Such was the flack when he said that, that Mr. Young resigned from doing Wal-Mart PR. But the Washington Post columnist John H. McWhorter, linked above, defends the Democratic mover and shaker.
Posted by Veith at 06:55 AM
A different defense of Pluto
It doesn’t bother me so much that Pluto has been demoted from planethood. What I lament is the decline of classical education. The planets really were associated with the Greek and Roman deities, and when that pagan faith subsided, the names remained. When Pluto was discovered in 1930, educated people still had a knowledge of the classics. So this far-far-flung planet in the outer darkness was named Pluto, after the god of the dead, the king of Hades. That was a perfect name! And it fit perfectly into the pantheon of the other deity-named planets.
Now, with scientists discovering other celestial bodies out there even bigger than Pluto–leading to its demotion–they are calling them less imaginative and less learned names, such as numbers or “Xena,” as in Warrior Princess, the made-up TV pop culture version of an ancient Greek.
Posted by Veith at 06:02 AM
August 25, 2006
Lutheran movies
Luther at the Movies takes up Herr _Cranach’s challenge to tell us about movies that are truly Lutheran. The large theologian begins with a perceptive discourse on what it means to be “Lutheran.” Promising to keep this subject going in his blog, he begins by showing why “The Apostle” is NOT Lutheran, and why “Sling Blade” IS.
Posted by Veith at 08:27 AM
Et tu, Buckley?
A number of conservative pundits have turned viciously against President Bush, due mainly to their giving up on Iraq: William F. Buckley, George Will, Rich Lowry. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough went so far as to do a show arguing that “George Bush’s mental weakness is damaging America’s credibility at home and abroad.” The show’s caption was, “IS BUSH AN ‘IDIOT’?”
Criticizing the president is their perogative, of course. And it is certainly legitimate for conservatives to question when the president does not seem conservative. But does this seem to be going overboard?
Posted by Veith at 07:42 AM
Evangelicals & Episcopalians together
The evangelical seminary Gordon-Conwell is partnering with some conservative Episcopal seminaries (Nashotah House in Wisconsin and Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Pennsylvania) to prepare renegade conservative priests for the Episcopal church.
As someone who has been a visiting professor at Gordon-Conwell and who has been a professor visiting at the Nashotah House, I find this to be an intriguing alliance.
Posted by Veith at 06:32 AM
Bob Dylan, music critic
I’m a Bob Dylan fan. I can’t help it. And though his voice may be shaky, he has a good ear. Listen to his characterization of today’s music. Note that he is not complaining about its content, but about the quality of the sound:
Noting the music industry’s complaints that illegal downloading means people are getting their music for free, he said, “Well, why not? It ain’t worth nothing anyway.”
“You listen to these modern records, they’re atrocious, they have sound all over them,” he added. “There’s no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like … static.”
Posted by Veith at 05:38 AM
August 24, 2006
Good news for pro-lifers
Scientists have found a way to generate stem cells from an embryo without killing him or her. (At first I wrote “it,” then remembered that the whole point is that the embryo is a human being.) In an article to be released today in the important scientific journal “Nature,” the researchers describe how they removed one cell from the eight-cell blastocyst, which is immediately replaced, doing no harm to the embryo. That one cell multiplied but did not turn into another embryo, but rather stem cells, which the scientists proceeded to coax to form retinal cells and other useful tissue.
Somewhat oddly, in my opinion, some on both sides of the debate immediately criticized the finding. The people who want to kill those embryos to make medicine for adults said that this new process would be too “inefficient.” Some Pro-lifers said that the process still involves experimentation on human embryos, even though they are not harmed. Others said that the individual cell taken away “might” be able to develop in a human being, even though scientists have said that has never happened at that stage in any kind of mammal they have studied.
This may be a rare moment in the culture wars that is a “win-win” for both sides. Is it necessary to still keep fighting, even if the issue at question is resolved?
Posted by Veith at 06:28 AM
Bad news for pro-lifers
The Food and Drug Administration is poised today to approve the over-the-counter sale of the morning after pill.
Posted by Veith at 06:25 AM
The vocation of the video game maker
The theme of this blog, lest we forget, is the relationship between Christianity and culture, and particularly the doctrine of vocation. In that very interesting discussion yesterday about video game producer Doug G’s points about how hard it is to design a “Christian video game,” Pastor Matt made a most salient point:
Where does the doctrine of vocation fall in all of this? I say a first person shooter about a US (or any nation’s soldier for that matter) marine fighting for his nation is Christian enough. This is also true for the sports game – where you pretend to live out the vocation of an ahtlete and entertainer. Thinking that a “Christian” video game means fighting evil spirits with “swords of the spirit” encourages a false dichotomoy between spirituality and “real” life. Being Christian is being a baker, a bus driver, and a father. Games that allow me to escape to another vocation are as Christian as it needs to get!
Posted by Veith at 06:22 AM
August 23, 2006
How to make a Christian video game?
I keep getting amazed at the different people who read this blog. Doug G makes video games, and he commented on our critique of “Left Behind: Eternal Forces.” If you missed it, here are his thoughts:
Here is the problem. Parents are always calling us at Cactus Game Design saying, “Hey, why don’t you make a Christian X-Box game?”
Here are the problems of Christian game design:
1. Christians don’t get along theologically. They are not willing to look past a few minor points to difference. For example, in our Redemption trading card game people have written us nasty letters because one card suggests lose of salvation. So, they ban the game in their church. Nice. Thanks for the support.
2. Every great game has to have a point of tension. Something needs to oppose you. Now, how exactly do you do that? In non-computer games it is extremely difficult. In Redemption we have players taking turns between playing the good forces and the evil forces. The game is set up so that the good always wins. The answer to the tension problem in computer games is to create a first person shooter and let the computer be the bad guy. But now, how do you eliminate the bad guys? In the game Catechumen, you use a ray of light from your Sword of the Spirit to shot the pagan Romans and convert them. That is the most mild way you can go about doing it. Still it is called a “violent” video game.
3. Game components and visual effects have taken a huge jump forward in the last decade. While our company carries two First Person Shooter games (Catechumen and Ominous Horizons) the games graphically were already dated before they even hit the shelves (due cutting edge game engines being way out of budget range). Now when we show the games at our trade shows, the teenagers take one look at our “crappy” graphics and move on, not even giving it a second glance.
So, how do you design a game that is theologically neutral, has no one play the bad guys and is equal in visual stimulation and game play that can compete with the big boys? You do exactly what Left Behind Games has done.
Sadly, they forget one thing. Holier than thou Christians will hunt you down and crucify you. The enemy has to do nothing to destroy them. Christians beat him too it.
To Left Behind Games, a parting comment. You obviously know the market. Stay the course.
I am sympathetic to the plight of all Christian artists, including those who try to make video games. Maybe part of the reason evangelicals tend not to be great at fiction is that every plot has to have conflict. You can’t have a story where everybody is nice and has no problems and no one to fight. Christians are perhaps trying to be so moral, they miss what redemption has to entail. But other Christian authors have solved this problem, often by depicting inner, rather than external conflict.
But what could you say to Doug G? Can you think of any scenarios for Christian games that would not be lame, but still embody a Christian sensibility?
Posted by Veith at 07:54 AM
Spiritual matter?
Scientists have proven the existence of dark matter. Get this description:
The researchers said yesterday that visible and detectible matter — the atoms in everything from gases to elephants and stars — makes up only 5 percent of the matter in the universe. Another estimated 20 percent is subatomic dark matter, which has no discernible qualities except the ability to create gravitational fields and pass through any object without leaving a trace. The rest, they said, is the even more mysterious dark energy, which fills empty space with a force that appears to negate gravity and push the universe to expand ever faster.
So 95% of the universe is some kind of reality that can not be seen, can pass through perceivable matter, and has great power. Could this be better called “spiritual matter”?
Posted by Veith at 06:06 AM
Guest preacher
The ex-president of Iran, Mohammed Khatami, is going to speak at Washington’s National Cathedral!
Posted by Veith at 05:26 AM
State governments rolling in money
You wouldn’t guess it from the whining at the nation’s statehouses a few years ago, but the economy has flourished to the point that now, nearly all state governments are enjoying big budget surpluses. The only ones who do not are Ilinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. All of the rest are up an average of 10%, a surplus of some $57 billion, one of the biggest bonanzas in decades.
Posted by Veith at 05:12 AM
August 22, 2006
First Person Shooters for Jesus
Forget writing. A far more culturally relevant question today is which theology can yield the best video games.
Coming in October is Left Behind: Eternal Forces, based on the wildly popular apocalyptic novels. (Don’t those prove the point that evangelicals CAN write bestsellers?) The game, which has gotten strong reviews from hardcore gamers, can be described as “Grand Theft Auto,” only Christian.
The game is set after the Rapture, and has the Tribulation Force battling the followers of the Anti-Christ. When the members pray, they get more power. They go around a realistic urban landscape. When they meet sinners, they either convert them or kill them.
OK, discuss that. Also discuss this pair of quotations, one from a developer of the game and another from a Christian gamer:
It doesn’t say who you pray to,” he said. “I don’t think the word ‘Christian’ is anywhere in the game play.” Likewise, the game has only a ” ‘Star Wars’ level” of violence. “There’s no blood or gore; people just fall over,” he said. Lyndon says he hopes to give parents and gamers an option for an action-packed title that also gets players thinking about eternal matters.
The game “could reach a broad spectrum of people who wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to the books or go to church.”
I keep hearing that double and contradictory message from Christians who attempt to reach the culture by conforming to it. On the one hand, they tone down the Christian content–to the point of not even mentioning Christ, or in this case totally inverting His teachings–and then, at the same time, they claim that this will somehow evangelize the culture. The question is, are these evangelists reaching the culture, or has the culture reached them?
Posted by Veith at 07:08 AM
Snacks on a plane
Here is another example of the review as a literary form in itself, as virtuoso critic Stephen Hunter takes on a movie that I have not even the slightest desire to see. Read it all, but here is a sampling:
Silly me, I thought it was called ” Snacks on a Plane.” It was going to be a documentary about those delightful little unopenable steel-mesh bags they give you on flights; you know, the ones containing seven desiccated peanuts, two Rice Chex, a shoestring pretzel and 19 sunflower seeds, all sand-blasted with industrial-strength ceramic glaze salt. The trick is to serve it exactly 35 minutes before or 35 minutes after giving you your regulation three ounces of Diet Coke with melted ice.
But no, it turns out it’s called ” Snakes on a Plane,” though the irony is that it really is about snacks on a plane. The snacks would be the crew and passengers of Pacific Flight 121, who are Vienna cocktail sausages for about 300 creepy, oozy, squiggly, slithery reptiles. (Question: Why would it be easier to smuggle 300 snakes aboard an airliner than one bomb?) They bite nearly everyone in all the predictable places that a 13-year-old would find “funny.”
Posted by Veith at 06:43 AM
How TIVO saved broadcast TV
Many commentators, including me, thought that Digital Video Recorders–a.k.a. DVRs and the brand name TIVO–would free the culture from broadcast television. People could just select the few shows they wanted to watch and leave the rest. Industry experts also were panicked at the prospect that the economic foundation of broadcast TV–advertisers paying for commercials–would be demolished, since TIVO allows viewers to zap past the commercials.
But what has happened is that TIVO has led to an upsurge in broadcast TV watching. Used to, people could only watch what was on one channel at a particular time. If there were two “good shows” on at the same time, they had make a choice which one to see. Now, with TIVO, people can watch both of them, or more.
Also, the research suggests that people with DVRs are still watching commercials. “Commercial awareness” is higher than ever. Apparently for some people, commercials really are the best thing on TV. To the point that advertisers are designing new commercials that will give “extra features” when they are watched on TIVO. If you watch them slow motion, or frame-by-frame, you will see messages hidden from regular viewers. The idea is that TIVO families will watch the commercial over and over, endlessly going back and playing it slowly again and again. This will create even greater commercial awareness! And I guess the public will obey.
Posted by Veith at 06:32 AM
Babette’s Feast
The meaning of that movie inheres in the climactic lines at the end about how the Kingdom of Heaven will be a feast. Note the sacramental symbolism and how the hymns the people are singing are commentaries on the plot, underscoring the evangelical themes. (And the villagers are not exactly Lutherans–they are members of a “pietist sect,” of the sort that orthodox Lutherans always play off against.)
Posted by Veith at 06:25 AM
August 21, 2006
The Marburg mistake
Peter Leithart, a Calvinist writing for Doug Wilson’s Credenda/Agenda, has written a remarkable essay entitled Why Evangelicals Can’t Write, lamenting the few great works of literature written by evangelicals. The reason, he says, goes back to the Marburg Colloquy, that pivotal event in the Reformation in which the movement fragmented over the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Luther insisted that Christ, in His Body and Blood, is really present in the Bread and Wine, while Zwingli insisted that the bread and wine are mere symbols. Leithart writes:
For many post-Marburg Protestants, literal truth is over here, while symbols drift off in another direction. At best, they live in adjoining rooms; at worst, in widely separated neighborhoods, and they definitely inhabit different academic departments.
Here is a thesis, which I offer in a gleeful fit of reductionism: Modern Protestants can’t write because we have no sacramental theology. Protestants will learn to write when we have reckoned with the tragic results of Marburg, and have exorcised the ghost of Zwingli from our poetics. Protestants need not give up our Protestantism to do this, as there are abundant sacramental resources within our own tradition. But contemporary Protestants do need to give up the instinctive anti-sacramentalism that infects so much of Protestantism, especially American Protestantism.
Leithart says that good writing requires a sacramental sensibility, which grasps how spiritual reality is made manifest in tangible, physical things. Evangelicals followed Zwingli, which separated the sign from the reality, which results in a diminished imagination and bad writing.
For a Calvinist such as Leithart–whose insights and writings about literature I have always appreciated–to say Luther was right about the Lord’s Supper at Marburg and Zwingli was wrong is a seismic admission. If Leithart gets in trouble with his own church body, we will be glad to welcome him into Lutheranism.
Posted by Veith at 09:08 AM
So why can’t Lutherans write either?
Luther at the Movies has a fine discussion of Peter Leithart’s article (see above) blaming the literary weaknesses of evangelicals on Zwingli’s view of the Lord’s Supper at the Marburg Colloquy. The big-boned reformer appreciates the point, but he is honest enough to question it: If a strong sense of the sacraments is necessary for great literature, where are the great Lutheran writers? Lutherans rejected Zwingli’s split between the sign and the reality and came down on the right side at Marburg. But are Lutherans any better writers than evangelicals?
I would respond that there are some good, sacramental Lutheran writers. We must not forget the Scandinavians, such as Bo Giertz (who has written a number of other novels, in addition to “The Hammer of God,” in urgent need of translation. Wasn’t Hans Christian Andersen a Lutheran? And in English, there is Walt Wangerin, who certainly works in terms of tangible reality charged with spiritual significance. And there is my current favorite, Lars Walker. (Luther, get your assistant to get you “Wolf Time.”)
And I hearby tag Luther at the Movies to tell us the best Lutheran movies. Ingmar Bergman surely has a Lutheran imagination, doesn’t he? And can there be a more Lutheran movie than “Babette’s Feast” (was Danish novelist Isak Denison, who wrote that story, a Lutheran?).
Posted by Veith at 08:03 AM
What countries can write
In reference to Peter Leithart’s and Luther at the Movies’ discussion about the connection between sacramentalism and literature, another issue is that some whole countries have artistic strengths and blind spots.
The English language is very good for the production of novels, with both England and America excelling in this art form. Russia also excels. Also France. But where are the German novels? or the Italians or Spanish (however sacramental)? Latin America has given us some good fiction. But what about the Dutch?
The Dutch have, however, given us some very great paintings. As has been said, the Dutch have no Shakespeare, but the English have no Rembrandt. Germany may not be so big in fiction, but it has given us great music. Italy hasn’t given us many memorable novels, but it has given us lots of operas. Different national cultures seem to have their own particular genius.
Back to the sacrament discussion, England is Protestant, but the Church of England did keep a strong sacramental focus, so that fits the thesis. Calvinism is supposed to be anti-visual art, but if so why explains all of that art from Calvinist Holland?
But the bigger question is why are there so many good writers who reject the sacred altogether? I guess atheists are left just with material reality, but they surely lack a sacramental sensibility. But that doesn’t prevent a Hardy or Zola or Hemingway from being good writers.
Posted by Veith at 07:09 AM
August 18, 2006
The Nobel-prize winning S.S. Trooper
Guenter Grass, arguably Germany’s greatest living novelist and a Nobel Prize winner, has admitted that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS.
Since then, he has become a peace activist and a leftist political ideologue. I am not saying that he believes now what he once believed. But the irony is that Grass’s novels have nearly all lambasted the German people for failing to admit their complicity in the Nazi regime. He even spear-headed an artistic movement called “Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung,” or “coming to terms with the past”.
Notice the psychological phenomenon of “projection,” that what we harshly condemn in others is often a projection of the sin and guilt that we have within ourselves.
Posted by Veith at 09:02 AM
An earlier September 11
A Chuck Colson Breakpoint script points out a connection I had never realized. The last major Muslim invasion of the West was defeated on September 11, back in 1683.
A European coalition defeated the Turks of the Ottoman Empire at the gates of Vienna, putting an end to the threat of Muslim conquest–that could very well have been successful–going back for centuries. This was brought up in the context of the Islamic terrorists’ long memories and that we are in a “clash of civilizations.” The implication is that the jihadists’ decision to strike on a September 11 was a payback time. Whether Osama bin Laden had that in mind, I don’t know, but this is another example of a strange historical conjunction.
HT: Steve King
Posted by Veith at 07:57 AM
Married moms
I just heard on the radio a bit of language that may be a portent of a major cultural shift. The talker, a Washington Post journalist, was talking about “married moms.” There was a time when one would just assume that “moms” were married, but of course that time is no more. “Married moms” are just a subset of moms in general, a vast number of whom are divorced or (the biggest new demographic) never married at all.
Posted by Veith at 06:38 AM
August 17, 2006
Dumpster diving for Jesus
You’ve heard of “vegans,” people who only eat non-violent and non-animal-oppressing food, namely, plants. Now you need to know about “freegans,” people who only eat food that has been thrown away.
The idea is that by diving into dumpsters behind high-class restaurants and grocery stores and fishing out food that has been discarded, often due to being past its expiration date, the person is striking a blow against waste and is helping to save the planet. It also means eating higher on the hog (lobster, rack of lamb, slightly rancid pork products) than vegans, but with the same sense of righteousness.
To the point that the freegan interviewed in the Washington Post–as Trader Joe’s employees keep chasing him out of their garbage–is Ryan Beiler, editor of the leftwing evangelical magazine “Sojourners.” According to the story, “Beiler said his Christian beliefs push him to live simply and refrain from wasting natural resources.”
Half the fun of dumpster diving is the anticipation of the unknown, they said: A late-night run could lead to a confrontation with police, a case of rotten bananas or a huge score. Beiler has come home empty-handed some nights; on other trips, he’s netted pounds of smoked salmon, full containers of lobster, several trays of sushi. “It’s about allowing God’s provisions to be available,” Beiler said. “I’ll eat vegetables for a week, and the next week it’ll be mostly carbs.”
Posted by Veith at 08:37 AM
Amazingly good economic news
Despite the plague of terrorism and other bad news around the globe, the world’s economy has boomed since 2001. This holds true even with poor countries, which have made astonishing progress in only five years. According to economic columnist Robert Samuelson,
“Since 2001 the world economy has expanded more than 20 percent. For the United States, the gain is almost 15 percent; for developing countries, more than 30 percent. World trade — exports and imports — has risen by more than 30 percent.
And for all that we Americans complain, according to Lawrence Kudlow,
Individuals now hold $6.3 trillion in savings accounts, money market funds and certificates of deposit (CDs). In contrast, short-term debt — notably credit card and installment debt — stands at only $2.2 trillion, and is growing slowly. So, despite the housing slump, consumers have an excellent cash position.
Of course, individuals cannot necessarily tap their retirement money and many people do not have such wealth socked away, but such data bodes well for the economy as a whole. So why such malaise?
Posted by Veith at 07:20 AM
The new rules of war
The inimitable classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson posits a list of new rules of war, judging from the conventional wisdom about how the West must fight the Islamic jihadists.
1. Any death — enemy or friendly, accidental or deliberate, civilian or soldier — favors the terrorists.
2. All media coverage of fighting in the Middle East is ultimately hostile.
3. The opposition — whether an establishment figure like Howard Dean or an activist such as Cindy Sheehan — ultimately prefers the enemy to win.
4. Europeans have shown little morality, but plenty of influence, abroad and here at home during Middle East wars.
5. To fight in the Middle East, the United States and Israel must enlist China, Russia, Europe, or any nation in the Arab world to fight its wars.
6. Time is always an enemy.
Click the link, above, to get Hanson’s explanation about each point.
Posted by Veith at 06:33 AM
August 16, 2006
Jihadist college students
British investigators are finding that major players in the plot to blow up the airplanes were Muslim college students studying in British universities. Indeed, Western universities have become a breeding ground for jihadists.
I remember as a graduate student working in student housing cleaning out apartments and finding stacks of tracts, posters, and photos lauding someone called the Ayatollah Khomeini. And talking to Muslim students, listening to their violent harangues and scary anti-semitism, which they related to their Muslim piety. That was back in the 1970′s. I didn’t think a thing about it.
One of their lessons taught in these Western universities is how Western civilization is nothing but oppression and imperialism. And I suspect another legacy young Muslims pick up is guilt: succumbing to Western temptations, knowing that Allah will damn them, hating the culture that has brought them to ruin, and seeing martyrdom in jihad as offering their only assurance of salvation.
Posted by Veith at 07:29 AM
Foeticide
The Prime Minister of India inveighed against the practice that is rampant in that country of aborting girl babies, so as to avoid the necessity of paying dowries to marry them off. I appreciate the term he used: foeticide. It’s homicide, actually, but this is closer.
Posted by Veith at 06:58 AM
August 15, 2006
Bob and other palindromes
Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is a really good song, although I have no idea what it means. Here is an early music video, in which the one true Bob holds up signs of the lyrics. Here is Weird Al Yankovic’s parody, in which each lyric is a palindrome. That is, the sentence reads the same backwards and forwards. (You know, as in “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.”)
Posted by Veith at 09:06 AM
Honor killings
After years of decline, violent crime shot up 5% last year, and this year looks to be even worse, with many major cities facing an epidemic of murders and assaults. Why is that? Is the new violence being caused by drugs? robberies? revenge? hate? No. The surge in violence can largely be accounted for by a new cultural phenomenon: the demand for respect.
Here is what David Kennedy,director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control, has observed:
Some of the law enforcement tactics used to fight crime in recent years damaged the social fabric in many communities and contributed to increased crime. More important has been the spread of a virulent thug ethos — an obsession with “respect” that has made killing a legitimate response to the most minor snubs and slights. In parts of the District’s Anacostia neighborhood today, a young man knows that the wrong kind of eye contact with the wrong person — a “hard look” — can cost him his life.
. . . . . . . . . .
We are used to thinking of the many factors that drive crime — poverty, inequality, demographics, racism, and family and community problems. But to that list we should add the spread of a subculture once found only in the toughest urban areas: the culture of respect.
My research in Baltimore, Boston, Minneapolis, Washington and many other cities, along with that of colleagues at the University of California at Irvine and at Michigan State University, shows that in hard-hit neighborhoods, the violence is much less about drugs and money than about girls, vendettas and trivial social frictions. These are often referred to as “disputes” in police reports and in the media. But such violence is not about anger-management problems. The code of the streets has reached a point in which not responding to a slight can destroy a reputation, while violence is a sure way to enhance it. The quick and the dead are not losing their tempers; they are following shared — and lethal — social expectations.
I’ve heard shooters say, in private, that they wanted no part of what happened. But with their friends and enemies watching — and the unwritten rules clear to everybody — they did what they had to do. In San Francisco, a string of killings between the warring Big Block and West Mob crews in Hunters Point apparently started nearly a decade ago over who would perform next at a rap concert. The killing of Analicia Perry’s brother was never solved, but the man the neighborhood tagged for the death was himself killed — and that homicide in turn went unsolved. The minister at Analicia Perry’s memorial service upbraided the young men before him. “She is now in the hands of God,” he said. “I’m just glad she’s not in the hands of some of you.”
This thug ethos is spreading. It used to be that one learned how to be a gangster from another gangster. No more. Mass-market glossy magazines promote the thug life. One can learn from listening to rapper 50 Cent, or by watching music videos. And it is big business. When rapper Lil’ Kim was convicted of perjury connected to a shooting by her posse, she got her own reality show on Black Entertainment Television, which promoted her intent to go to federal prison with her “mouth shut and head held high.” Crips and Bloods have Web pages and profiles on MySpace.__All of this is spreading as well as amplifying the street definition of what it means to have honor. In big cities, the quest for honor reignites existing conflicts; in small ones, it brings big-city behavior and big-city problems. Working recently on Long Island with the Nassau County Police Department, my colleagues and I found Bloods, Crips — and violence. But the gangs were homegrown, and the violence was almost entirely personal.
Posted by Veith at 08:35 AM
Psalm for the 9/11 age
Jules Crittendon, a columnist for the Boston Herald, offers a moving meditation for our current age of terrorism. It culminates in a text from Psalm 23. I am struck by what Crittendon told Powerline:
“I’d like to note that while I am not particularly religious, I consider the 23rd Psalm one of the greatest pieces of literature of western civilization and also one of the greatest comforts in hard times even for an unrepentant sinner such as myself. Hat tip to David, or whoever wrote that.”
I don’t know how the Psalm is comforting unless someone really has the Lord as his Shepherd, but I salute the man’s literary taste.
Posted by Veith at 08:05 AM
August 14, 2006
Martin Luther, movie critic
Dr. Luther is back, this time as a movie critic. You have got to read the blog Luther at the Movies. Scroll down and read the Reformer’s riff occasioned by but having little to do with “World Trade Center.” Here the pugnacious theologian gets into a knockdown fight with John Calvin precipitated by that blogosphere favorite books tag.
Posted by Veith at 07:33 AM
A Hezbollah victory?
With the ceasefire being put into effect, pundits and Muslims are saying that Hezbollah defeated Israel and won the war. That remains to be seen. I suspect the guerillas were degraded more than the media realizes or that the Islamic propaganda machine will admit. But still, it is certainly true that Israel failed in its goal to clear out Hezbollah from bordering Lebanon.
The article linked above analyzes how this terrorist militia stood its ground against Israel’s modern army. They were well dug in, in civilian areas where they had much support. They did not fear death, so they would neither run nor surrender. They had sophisticated weaponry, including guided anti-tank missiles that were devastating to Israeli tanks and observation posts. They maintained a secrecy that made it impossible for Israeli intelligence to penetrate their operations. They have huge amounts of money from Iran, which has been paying them $25 million per month for years and maybe twice as much since President Ahmadinejad took over.
This “defeat” of Israel will surely embolden the jihadists.
Posted by Veith at 06:42 AM
Baby martyrs
Why, we might ask, is Homeland Security and the TSA going so far as to ban baby formula from flights, much less subject even infants in arm to security searches? Well, it turns out, as information about the details of the terrorist plot to blow up ten passenger aircraft, that in one case, the suicide bomber was _travelling with his wife and baby and was smuggling the liquid explosive in the baby’s bottles. Yes, he was planning to “martyr”–that is to say, kill–not only himself but his wife and child.
UPDATE: There may have been more than one such case. In fact, according to report from England this may be a new tactic for suicide bombers, throwing off the attention on how most terrorists have been young men: Women being the suicide bombers, and mothers making bombs of their own babies.
Posted by Veith at 06:41 AM
Not such a bad flight
Well, flying from L.A. to Washington the day after the terrorist scare was not so bad after all. While the first day was chaos, by the second day passengers and the airports had adapted. The only long line I went through was at check-in, since all of the passengers knew they had to check luggage containing toiletries and other liquids. The security line was quicker than usual–they may have had more lanes open–with the hand-search of carry-ons saved for the gates, just before boarding. Long tables were set up and National Guardsmen helped, so it went quite quickly. And on the plane, for the first time ever, there was plenty of room in the overhead bins.
I don’t know if it was that way everywhere, but I have to salute LAX, which has an inefficient reputation. The whole air traffic system couldn’t have been too bad. My plane got to Dulles half an hour early.
Posted by Veith at 06:28 AM
August 11, 2006
Church growth for Hare Krishnas
In addition to Mosque growth, we now have Temple growth. See how the Hare Krishnas have adapted from their old airport dancing to their member’s new suburban lifestyle.
Posted by Veith at 08:49 AM
Germans embracing Islam
Germans from all walks of life are becoming Muslims. Before 2000, the number of Muslim converts was only about 300 a year, mostly women who married into the religion. But last year, some 4000 Germans of all sorts have embraced Islam.
Posted by Veith at 08:10 AM
Another promising movie on the way
P. D. James is a British mystery writer with the skills of a serious novelist. She is also a Christian. In addition to her mysteries, she has written a science fiction dystopia entitled “The Children of Men.” In it, the human race becomes infertile. No more children can be conceived or born. The world is just waiting to die out. The novel, which also takes on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, is a pro-life classic. And now it is being made into a movie, by a top-flight director and with a top-flight cast, to be released September 29. Click here to see the trailer.
HT: Scott Stiegemeyer at Burr in the Burgh
Posted by Veith at 07:07 AM
Against loud restaurants
I just got back from a restaurant that was pretty good, but it was LOUD. I have read that restaurant designers actually plan the acoustics of places that want to appeal to a young and happenin’ crowd so that they are LOUD, noise creating a sense of “energy” and “buzz.” I realize that I am now an old fogey, but if any of you are young and happenin’, do YOU like loud restaurants? Wouldn’t you rather have conversations, or is the advantage of noise that you don’t have to do that?
Posted by Veith at 07:02 AM
August 10, 2006
The Artist and the Soldier
Check out the comments in yesterday’s “The Life of Perfection” post, in which we have some moving testimonies about the doctrine of vocation from two of the ones most misunderstood and too little appreciated: an artist and a soldier.
Posted by Veith at 10:45 AM
Beowulf: The Monster and the Movies
Beowulf, that great Saxon epic that J. R. R. Tolkien taught the world to read, is being made into no less than THREE movies. And one opera. The most promising of the movies will feature Anthony Hopkins as Hrothgar and Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s Mother (who said there are no strong women in medieval literature?). This makes me happy, though I have some concerns. Consider the descriptions from a story about the Beowulf phenomenon in USA Today (linked above):
•Beowulf &Grendel. Released in June, this Canadian art film was made in Iceland, starred Scottish actor Gerard Butler as Beowulf, and was directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, a Canadian descendant of Vikings.
A Canadian art film? Please don’t make Beowulf sensitive! This sounds like it went straight to video. I’m willing to give it a chance, but how good could it be?
•Grendel: Transcendence of the Great Big Bad. The opera, which premiered in June, is based on John Gardner’s 1971 book Grendel, which tells the story from the point of view of the monster. The opera, featuring mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves as the dragon, was written and directed by Lion King queen Julie Taymor and composed by her companion, Elliot Goldenthal.
Gardner’s novel was pretty good, but it is NOT Beowulf. It draws on us moderns’ tendency to sympathize with the individual outcast, including the evil he commits, rather than the good of the community, which Beowulf’s original audience prized. But an opera with this kind of subtitle and a girl dragon does not sound promising.
•Beowulf: Prince of the Geats. Due in 2007 and filmed in such locales as Norway and South Africa, it features a little-known cast and Emmy-winning filmmaker Scott Wegener at the helm. He rewrote the story to make Beowulf a man caught between two cultures as the son of an African explorer who marries into a Geat clan.
The filmmaker REWROTE the story? He thinks he can do better than the scop whose work has last for over a thousand years? That kind of presumption is the bane of Hollywood writers. And he rewrote Beowulf to make it MULTICULTURAL? He is making the King of the Swedes a black guy? Caught between two cultures? Such killjoy revisionism is what is ruining English literature for thousands of college students today who are kept in thrall to postmodernist profs.
•Beowulf. Also due in 2007, director Robert Zemeckis’ version of the epic will use the performance-capture technique of his Polar Express. Besides Jolie and Hopkins (as the Danish king harassed by Grendel), the cast includes Ray Winstone as Beowulf and Crispin Glover as Grendel.
That 3-D faux realistic animation in “Polar Express” creeped me out, but maybe it could work for larger-than-life heroic fantasy. This means we will not see the actual Angelina Jolie, just an animated version of her, but still I can imagine a distorted image of her as an excellent Grendel’s Mom. I have hopes for this one.
Posted by Veith at 10:18 AM
Death Squads
Most of the killings today in Iraq are the work of Shiite death squads, which are assassinating Sunni leaders. That’s the word from American commander General George Casey.
The hard-hearted cynic might say that, well, that’s progress. Let the Shiites take out the Sunni Baathists and other insurgents. But the problem is that each political party has its own militia, typically better armed than the Iraqi army. Whereas the goal was to integrate Sunnis into the democratically-elected government, now the Sunnis are retreating to Al-Qaida (a Sunni brand of terrorism) for protection. And the most formidable of the Shiite militias with its death squads is Muqtada Al-Sadr, the leader of the Shiite insurgents. Remember when we were happy that he decided to stop fighting Americans and to get involved instead in politics? Well, his party now holds seats in parliament and occupies some key political positions. That was also the tactic of the Hezbollah (Al-Sadr’s fellow Shiite terrorists).
Meanwhile, the death squads stand in the way of social order. And insofar as they are operated by members of the democratically-elected government, we are facing the prospect of one of those postmodern dictatorships we discussed recently, a democratically-elected unfree society.
Posted by Veith at 10:02 AM
Check your carry-on bags
The Brits–bless ‘em–cracked a huge terrorist plot to blow up at least 10 aircraft as they flew from England to American destinations. The plan was for terrorists to smuggle liquid explosives onto the planes in carry-on luggage, then set them off. British authorities have arrested 21 people so far, with more being investigated. As many as 50 terrorists may have been involved, and the Brits are not sure they have gotten everyone.
So England is forbidding any passengers from taking aboard carry on luggage. And in the USA, airline security has been ratcheted up to level “orange.” Passengers will be doubly searched and forbidden from taking on ANY kind of liquid in carry on luggage, which will all be searched. So if you are flying–as I am tomorrow!–expect both hassle and delays.
UPDATE: The security level for flights to the U.K. has been elevated to red. And, indeed, flying today is a nightmare of delays, as every carry on bag is being checked by hand, with passengers having to throw away their sunscreen, bottled water, and contact lends solution. And tomorrow I have to fly from LAX to Washington Dulles! I’ll try to put up Friday’s posts tonight, since I’ll have to leave really, really early to run this gauntlet.
Posted by Veith at 09:50 AM
August 09, 2006
The life of perfection
I hadn’t realized just how much the Lutheran Confessions have to say about the doctrine of vocation, in particular, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. The thing is so long that I suspect it is little read, even among those who promise that they will uphold it. Here, Melanchthon–who later would wimp out in becoming willing to compromise on some of these points–is in rare form: he is forceful, sometimes sarcastic like Luther, and, as always, learned and rhetorically brilliant.
Get a load of this confessionally-binding statement about vocation, in the context of refuting the claim that Christians who want to live a life “of perfection” should enter the monastery:
So with us perfection is that everyone with true faith should obey his own calling. (Apology, Article XXVII, paragraph 50, “Concordia: Reader’s Edition,” p. 270)
Isn’t that stunning? Do you want to live a life of spiritual perfection? Do it in your vocations of spouse, parent, child; of worker; of citizen–do these all in “true faith” in the perfect work of Jesus, which bears fruit in love and service to all of your neighbors. That is the perfection God cares about, not the feel-good exercises we make up for ourselves. Somebody, make Apology XXVII. 50 into a plaque!
Posted by Veith at 11:49 AM
Linking sexual music & teen behavior
A scientific study has documented that there really is a link between a teenager’s listening to sexually explicit music and his or her own sexual activity. Surprise, surprise. Causality, of course, is nearly impossible to prove: does sexy music make a young person sexually active, or do sexually active young people have a greater appetite for music about sex?
But let us draw on the much-neglected field of cultural anthropology. Cultural artifacts, such as art and music, have the cultural function of codifying and transmitting the culture’s values: what it permits and does not permit; what is seen as good and what is seen as shameful; what is sacred and what is taboo; what is sanctioned and what is forbidden.
Our culture’s artifacts–in our music, TV shows, films, books, magazines–SANCTION extra-marital sex. The message is not only that there is not anything wrong with it. That message is presented as an assumption, something never questioned, just a “given.” And so, yes, our cultural artifacts give permission to young people and everyone else to have sex outside of marriage.
To the argument that “they will do it anyway,” the cultural anthropologist has to point out that this supposedly “natural impulse” of sex is, in fact, kept under control and channeled into marriage in most cultures. Sex is controlled by culture. And when it isn’t controlled, that is usually a sign of cultural breakdown. But it definitely does make a difference what the culture signals through its artifcats that it permits.
Posted by Veith at 07:38 AM
Higher Criticism & Islam
In the quest for a “moderate” Islam, some Westernized Muslim scholars are taking a second look at the hadith, the sayings collected from the oral tradition that are ascribed to Mohammed, teachings that Muslims consider binding. In some of them, the prophet sounds benevolent and tolerant; in others, he sounds harsh and violent. The revisionists are trying to tone down the latter in favor of the former, trying to make the case that some of the hadith are not authentic but are later extrapolations. In other words, these scholars are trying to do to Islam what the higher critics have done to Christianity.
In this case, I side with the Islamic conservatives. On what basis do we assume that the “nice” teachings are original and the “mean” teachings are later additions? Couldn’t you just as easily argue that the harsh sayings are original and the kinder, gentler sayings are later additions designed to soften them? It’s ironic that, despite the pretense of liberal Bible scholars to be “scientific,” the sayings of Jesus they accept tend to be the ones most in line with their own political or philosophical agendas. Higher criticism, whether directed against Christianity or against Islam, is trapped in the modern mind.
P.S.: Higher Critics have not DARED to tackle the Muslim holy book itself, the Q’uran.
Posted by Veith at 07:08 AM
August 08, 2006
Guilty pleasures
Afghanistan is struggling to deal with the moral degradation that often seems to accompany political freedom. Afghan Muslims are scandalized by the rise in prostitution, alcohol abuse, and pornography. Many are trying to start a milder version of Taliban-era committees on virtue and vice to enforce social morality. The story has a telling quotation:_
“These movies have a very bad impact on people, and they should be banned,” said Reza Mousani, 21, who was in a crowd of young men waiting outside a movie house covered with posters of buxom Indian film stars.
He’s moralizing against the movie while he is standing in line to see it! Notice: Mere restrictive external laws cannot bring virtue. That has to be a matter of the heart. And the only way to change the heart is through faith in Christ. (Which is also often missing here in the immoral West and even in churches that lack the fruit of faith.)
Posted by Veith at 10:24 AM
Explicating a commercial
Those of you who have television sets have no doubt seen that commercial for Ford 150 pickup trucks: A cowboy type drives his Ford truck around a log in the road. He turns around when he sees that the log has blocked the way for a convertible and its two passengers, a good-looking woman and a yuppie type guy. The pickup man lassos the log with a chain and uses his truck to pull it away. The woman smiles at the cowboy and says, “Gracias, Manuel.” The cowboy tips his hat to the lady. The convertible yuppie asks, “you know him?” She says, “he’s my ex-boyfriend.”
You have got to read this critical discussion of what the commercial really means. The subtext supposedly deals with such themes as Hispanics taking over the American icon of the cowboy; macho Hispanics who work with their hands vs. affluent but unmanly Anglo men; Hispanic bilingual women rejecting Hispanic working men in favor of wealthy Anglos while still desiring the former; Ford trucks vs. Ford mustangs; and all kinds of other themes of race, class, and gender. Can you offer another interpretation?
Posted by Veith at 09:10 AM
Postmodern dictators
Francis Fukuyama, the scholar who hailed the ultimate triumph of free political and economic structures as “the end of history,” discusses “Chavismo,” the movement of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, the left’s new hope. Fukuyama still believes freedom will eventually end the conflicts that have defined history, despite its recent setbacks, but he coins a new concept: postmodern dictatorship:
By preserving some freedoms, including a relatively free press and pseudo-democratic elections, Chávez has developed what some observers call a postmodern dictatorship, neither fully democratic nor fully totalitarian, a left-wing hybrid that enjoys a legitimacy never reached in Castro’s Cuba or in the Soviet Union. . . . . . . . . . The postmodern authoritarianism of Chávez’s Venezuela is durable only while oil prices remain high. Yet it presents a distinct challenge from that of totalitarianism because it allows for democratic choice and caters to real social needs.
Democratically elected and supported dictators. Freely choosing the abnegation of freedom. Democratic authoritarianism. This explains Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, and–I suspect–it will be what we must be on guard against in this country in the decades ahead.
Imagine the rise of a leftwing Reagan, as we discussed a few days ago, a genial, likeable sort who connects with ordinary people and who vows to solve all of their problems. And who seemingly does. A nice man who will make a nice country, outlawing people and ideas who are not nice. Wouldn’t people vote for him, support him, and follow him to the death?
Posted by Veith at 07:51 AM
The vocation of mercenaries
In regards to yesterday’s post about “fighting under another flag”. . . Those of you who aren’t Lutherans, of course do not have to believe in the doctrine of vocation. Lutherans are confessionally obliged to, insofar as they have subscribed to the book of Concord. I acknowledge that there have been lots of mercenaries, including Lutheran ones, and I saluted many brave men who have served under other flags. But this begs my question. Let me put it another way, using the Bible only rather than Lutheran theology as such: Does Romans 13 justify mercenary soldiers?
The example of privateers actually supports my point that fighters would seem to need the authorization of their country. Privateers serve under official “letters of marque” issued by a lawful Romans 13 authority, something authorized even in our constitution. A ship that attacks even enemy vessels without a letter of marque is a pirate.
My point is that Romans 13–as well as the international laws of war–requires those who “bear the sword” to do so under the lawful authority of the government that God has put over them.
Is it right to just “bear the sword” for money? Out of one’s own personal ideals? If so–and maybe it is–please explain how and why. Just “what about” examples are not explanations.
And the doctrine of vocation is no mere human invention, but an account of how God rules in the social order, working through human beings to give daily bread (through farmers), protection (see Romans 13), new life (through parents) and everything else that we need. Sex in the vocation of marriage is a good work; sex outside of vocation is sin. Isn’t the same true for this issue, which is the difference between lawful soldiers and unlawful terrorists?
Posted by Veith at 07:11 AM
August 07, 2006
Chavez and friends
What does Marxism have to do with Jihadist Islam? At any rate, the freely-elected postmodern dictator of Venezuela Hugo Chavez is cozying up to the Iranians.
Posted by Veith at 08:47 PM
Fighting under another flag?
I salue the courage and idealism of the 120 Americans–at least two of whom have died–who have gone to Israel to fight. But consider this account of one of those “lone soldiers”:
David Johnson, 22, a soldier from Asheville, N.C., was Levin’s roommate during a one-year program for new immigrants the two took together when they arrived in Israel four years ago.
He shifted his rifle and paused before the start of Levin’s funeral to describe why he, Levin and other young Americans had joined the Israeli military instead of the U.S. armed forces.
“As a Jew in the diaspora, you feel like you’ve got to give something to your country,” said Johnson, with a hint of North Carolina drawl.
YOUR country? Your country, Mr. Johnson, is the United States of America.
The issue has to do with the doctrine of vocation. If the calling of the soldier has to do with Romans 13, citizenship, and lawful authorities who “bear the sword,” is it right to serve as a soldier in a country that you are not a citizen of?
I know this practice has a long history, including the Lafayette Escadrille of American pilots fighting under the French in World War I. Lots of Lutheran soldiers fought as mercenaries from the Thirty Year’s War to our own Revolution. The Hessians were from staunchly Lutheran Hesse, as in Philip of Hesse, and the descendants of those who stayed here are the backbone of some fine Lutheran congregations in the South. But is fighting as a mercenary or as an idealistic volunteer lawful under the doctrine of vocation?
Posted by Veith at 08:52 AM
Of fake war pictures
Once again, bloggers have caught mainstream journalists in a big mistake, identifying a faked photo of an Israeli bombing in Lebanon that now the Reuters news agency has had to retract.
The photographer used crude photoshop techniques to clone the smoke clouds and to put morebuildings in harm’s way.
Here is why this exposure is significant. As Ace of Spades says,
It’s not just this one picture. It is the MSM’s “outsourcing” of most foreign news coverage to low-paid, low-experience, low-credentials, foreign “local” stringers who almost certainly have a very strong personal interest in 1) juicing their stories and pictures to make sure they sell and 2) advancing a political goal of slandering Israel that most Muslims, sadly, seem to share.
Here are some now-obviously staged shots from the same photographer , Adnan Hajj, who also gave us the heart-wrenching shots of the dead bodies at Qana. If you want to do your own research into what else he might have faked or staged, his portfolio is posted here.
Posted by Veith at 08:19 AM
August 04, 2006
Croc attack on Fashion
My feet have the habit of killing me, so my mother gave me a pair of Crocs. They are made out of some kind of vinyl-like resin and are designed to be really, really comfortable. And they are. The problem is, they look unutterably dorky, their hideous appearance magnified by the way the manufacturer has chosen to make them in bright neon colors, thereby making it impossible for them to go with clothes and calling attention to themselves in all of their ugliness. (See for yourselves.)
And yet, they are really, really comfortable. I started wearing them nearly all the time when I was a slovenly journalist–sometimes even venturing out into public with them–but now that I am academic again at a school that makes even its students dress up, I don’t wear them much anymore.
Now, studies have found that Crocs really do have tangible medical advantages. __Conversely, the high-heeled pointy shoes that women favor do terrible harm to their feet and are reportedly not just uncomfortable but often painful to wear. And yet they keep buying them (and probably wouldn’t get caught dead in Crocs) as fashion dictates. The question of the day is, Why should we be slaves to fashion?
Posted by Veith at 07:20 AM
Bob Dylan, DJ
I did catch Bob Dylan’s radio show on XM, before it goes away. Bob has an amazingly good radio voice, shifting into that mellow tone he used so well on “Nashville Skyline.” He played an utterly diverse set of tunes on the theme of weather, from ancient country songs through obscure blues numbers and rock ‘n’ roll to show tunes. It was really ear-opening musically.
And Bob came up with these remarkably off-beat, yet right-on insights. For example, he threw off the point that originally, Elvis just wanted to be Dean Martin. Bob then paired tunes from both artists, and he was absolutely right. Both had that “buh-buh-buh-boo” phrasing.
Posted by Veith at 07:18 AM
Will iPod kill Satellite radio?
Ford and GM announced a deal with Apple to integrate iPod into their new car sound systems, rather than satellite radio, which at first looked like the music technology of the future. This was a major blow to the pay-radio companies Sirius (which lost $237.8 million last year) and XM (which lost $229 million–even though both companies racked up more subscribers).
Posted by Veith at 07:10 AM
The End of Conservatism?
Liberal columnist E. J. Dionne is arguing that the era of conservatism in American politics is over.
The nadir, he says, strangely, is how they linked the minimum wage hike to the estate tax cut, thereby supposedly abandoning their principles (that wages should be determined solely by the free market) in their obsessive drive to give more tax cuts to rich people.(Notice how I argue the reverse below, that this is the nadir of liberals who have given up their principle of helping poor people in their obsessive drive to hurt the rich.)
Dionne goes on to cite the difficulties of “Big Government Conservatives” (as in the Bush administration who want to use government to pursue conservative goals, what Fred Barnes calls “Hamiltonian” conservatism. He marks with glee the conflict between Libertarian conservatives and Social conservatives on issues such as stem cell research. In Dionne’s mind, conservatism has fallen apart. He concludes by seeing a power “vacuum” that is just waiting for someone to fill.
Is he right, or is just a Freudian dream grounded in wish-fulfillment? I believe there will indeed be a schism between cultural conservatives and libertarian conservatives–with the Democrats probably embracing the latter and succeeding–but is there an immediate political future for big government welfare-state liberalism?
Posted by Veith at 07:05 AM
Democrats kill the minimum wage hike
Senate Democrats, valuing “soaking the rich” over their old goal of helping the poor, killed the minimum wage hike, since it was attached to a bill that would also drastically cut the Death Tax.
Posted by Veith at 07:01 AM
August 03, 2006
Sorry for the double entry
I don’t know why the software posted the “Liberal Reagan” post twice. I’d delete one of them, but I don’t want to get rid of any of the thoughtful comments strung along both entries. I can’t seem to move them. So just scroll down for the other posts.
Posted by Veith at 02:49 PM
Preparing for a Liberal Reagan
E. J. Dionne sees a parallel going on in the Democratic party with what went on with Republicans after the Goldwater debacle, in which the party purged its liberal and moderate office-holders, heralding the ascension of Ronald Reagan.
The Democratic base is becoming more and more extreme, rising up to pose a serious challenge, for example, to the relatively conservative Joseph Lieberman, who faces a tough re-election to the Connecticut Senate seat from the inexperienced but blogger-supported Ned Lamont. The conventional wisdom that victory lies in going to the center is being challenged, with liberals energized by their Bush-hating hoping to eventually create a new liberal dominance, just as the conservatives did in the post-Reagan era.
So, might the Democrats find a Ronald Reagan? Is there anyone remotely like him on the horizon (in either party)? Or is that a laughable contradiction in terms?
Posted by Veith at 07:58 AM
Preparing for a Liberal Reagan
E. J. Dionne sees a parallel going on in the Democratic party with what went on with Republicans after the Goldwater debacle, in which the party purged its liberal and moderate office-holders, heralding the ascension of Ronald Reagan.
The Democratic base is becoming more and more extreme, rising up to pose a serious challenge, for example, to the relatively conservative Joseph Lieberman, who faces a tough re-election to the Connecticut Senate seat from the inexperienced but blogger-supported Ned Lamont. The conventional wisdom that victory lies in going to the center is being challenged, with liberals energized by their Bush-hating hoping to eventually create a new liberal dominance, just as the conservatives did in the post-Reagan era.
So, might the Democrats find a Ronald Reagan? Is there anyone remotely like him on the horizon (in either party)? Or is that a laughable contradiction in terms?
Posted by Veith at 07:58 AM
Liberals against the minimum wage
A legislative tactic has lawmakers and their lobbiests tied up in knots: A measure to increase the minimum wage has been attached to a bill decreasing the Estate tax (a.k.a. “the death tax”).
The pro-business side, including the Chamber of Congress, has accepted the deal, which would raise the minimum wage over three years from $5.15 to $7.25. But the labor giant, the AFL-CIO, is opposing the bill, its desire to “soak the rich” being greater than its interest in helping low-income workers! (Could the dominance of liberal ideology over pursuing the actual interests of its workers be one reason for the decline in labor unions?)
Politically, the Democrats are also opposing the bill, cooked up by House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). Republicans are reasoning that a minimum wage hike, which would only affect 3% of workers (since even most low level jobs already pay more than that due to the free market), would be a small price to pay to allow people to pass on their estates to their heirs without the government taking a big part of it. But Democrats just cannot stand that thought.
Posted by Veith at 07:45 AM
TV is like peanuts
A quote from one of America’s great artists, Wisconsin-born Orson Welles: “I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.”
(New York Herald Tribune,1956) Quoted from here.
Posted by Veith at 07:40 AM
August 02, 2006
Reggie White & the Bible
The late, great Green Bay Packer defensive lineman Reggie White will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. The quarterback sack specialist–I have watched him save a game by sacking the quarterback three times in a row until the opposing team was out of field goal range–was often called the “Minister of Defense” for his outspoken Christianity.
An article in USA Today gives some fascinating quotes from him, just shortly before his death. The reporter, Tom Krattenmaker, uses these to slam Christian athletes, missing what they really mean: Reggie had moved from the “enthusiast” view that expects direct inspiration to a reliance on the objective Word of God:
“When I look back on my life, there are a lot of things I said God said. I realize he didn’t say nothing. It was what Reggie wanted to do. I do feel the Father…gave me some signals…but you won’t hear me anymore saying God spoke to me about something–unless I read something in Scripture and I know.”
“Most people who wanted me to speak at their churches only asked me to speak because I played football, not because I was this great religious guy or this theologian…I got caught up in some of that until I got older and I got sick of it. I’ve been a preacher for 21 years, preaching what somebody wrote or what I heard somebody else say. I was not a student of Scripture. I came to the realization I’d become more of a motivaional speaker than a teacher of the Word.”
Sports fans, athletes, young people, old and middle aged people, and especially preachers–LEARN from this.
Hat Tip: Bruce Gee
Posted by Veith at 08:56 AM
MTV gets old
Yesterday marked the 25th Anniversary of MTV. That’s right, the once cutting edge pioneer of the music video is celebrating its Silver Anniversary. The irony is that MTV seldom shows music videos any more. Its programming has shifted to “reality” fare. It remains a popular bad influence on young people–focusing on partying, sex, and vapid fashion-mongering–but it has largely given up the art form it invented that made it once, at least, interesting.
Posted by Veith at 08:02 AM
What to say about Mel Gibson?
I don’t know. But here is yet another Christian in the public eye, capable of much good in the culture with his artistic gifts, blowing it before the world. Yes, Christians themselves are “sinful and unclean.” Yes, much of the rest of the world right now similarly is accusing Jews of being responsible for all the world’s wars. Yes, other people invoke their social status to treat with contempt police officers who risk their lives to protect them. But still. . . .Do you have anything to say about Mel Gibson and his drunken tirade?
Posted by Veith at 07:56 AM
August 01, 2006
Toxic parents
Your teenager is going to a party at his friend’s house, but it’s all right because the friend’s parents will be there. Right? Well, maybe and maybe not. Now you have to worry about “toxic parents.
These are parents who want to be “cool,” who want to be their child’s friend and who even–perversely–want to be considered part of the child’s social clique. These are the parents who supply their underaged kids alcohol–rationalizing that “they are going to do it anyway”–and sometimes even drugs. They even support and enable their children’s sexual activity. The linked article above recounts some hair-raising stories of children who are “raised by wolves” and whose irreponsible ways can affect other people’s children as well.
The article has a great conclusion, quoting teenagers who–while exploiting this parental weakness–pour contempt on parents who are trying to be “cool,” showing that these apparently wild kids yearn for some real parenting.
Posted by Veith at 07:52 AM
End of the nuclear fortress
Those of us who grew up during the Cold War with its fear of a “nuclear exchange” with the Soviets may get wistful at the news: The government is mothballing NORAD. The North American Aerospace Defense Command was the top-secret fortress of solitude built deep into a Colorado mountain, shut off by 25-ton steel doors, filled with high tech gizmos and designed to withstand a nuclear blast. If the country got nuked, this place would co-ordinate the military response and keep the government going.
Now, the fortress is getting shut down, the communications function shifting to a regular military installation. The super-bunker will still be available, but it is basically being phased out as a Cold War relic.
But isn’t the nuclear threat potentially GREATER today–or at least tomorrow, once Iran gets its bomb–than it was before? As veteran Cold Warrior John Stormer told me in a conversation, the Russian Communists, for whom this life is all there is, could be deterred by the threat of Mutual Assured Destruction. The jihadists, though, are ready to die for the pleasures of the afterlife promised to those who war against us infidels. With the jihadists, therefore, deterrence doesn’t work.
Posted by Veith at 07:50 AM
Trade or no trade
This is always a depressing baseball time for those of us who are always rooting for second or third-tier teams. This is when those teams trade off their best players. Teams just a player or two from making the playoffs are ready to make deals. And the other teams give up. They reason, correctly, that they might as well get some good players for their one superstar–in their never-ending rebuilding quest–since he is coming up for free agency and they don’t have the money to sign him anyway. That’s realistic, but still depressing to fans.
The Brewers gave up Carlos Lee. The Cubs gave up Greg Maddux. But, in a remarkable move–or rather, lack of move–the Nationals defied all expectations and offers and kept Alfonso Soriano! That will help greatly in my effort to become a Nationals fan.
Posted by Veith at 07:45 AM
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July 31, 2006
Inter-species marriage
The next stage of marital revisionism has already arrived: Some animal lovers are marrying their pets. The elaborate ceremonies, modeled after church weddings complete with flower girls, wedding gowns, and vows, have nothing to do with sex, these animal lovers hasten to assure us. They are all about animal rights, vows to be a good owner, and, of course, the only culturally-recognized basis and foundation for marriage, love.
For marital advice and wedding ideas, you can go to MarryYourPet.com. How long do you think it will be before certain churches agree to this and devise special rites to solemnize inter-species relationships?
Posted by Veith at 08:45 AM
Like the Crips and the Bloods
Interesting thoughts from Powerline on the phenomenon that two enemies can nevertheless unite againt a common enemy:
Sophisticated observers are often equipped with theories about things that can’t happen. Like, for example, the theory that the Nazis couldn’t possibly collaborate with Communists, since they were polar opposites. As it turned out, they were barely distinguishable–sort of like the Crips and the Bloods–and when it came to dividing up Poland, they were more than happy to cooperate. Likewise, not long ago sophisticates told us that Iraq couldn’t possibly cooperate with al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups since Saddam’s government was “secular.” We now know that wasn’t true, either.
A recent variant is the claim, often asserted by “experts” and others, that Hezbollah and al Qaeda are rivals, and therefore couldn’t possibly collaborate on anything. Not only that, but al Qaeda is Sunni and Hezbollah is Shia. Enough said.
Not surprisingly, this neat construct doesn’t work, either. The latest Zawahiri tape, in which he vows to avenge al Qaeda’s “brothers” in southern Lebanon, is not a departure. Rather, as Thomas Joscelyn shows in the Daily Standard, it is consistent with a considerable history of collaboration between the two terrorist groups. Who, at the end of the day, are as alike as two peas in a pod.
Crips and Bloods are two street gangs that are always fighting and killing each other; but they both prey on law-abiding folks and battle the police. Sunnis and Shiites hate each other, but they can unite in a common hatred of Israel, the United States, and Western Civilization. What are some other unlikely and yet natural alliances?
Posted by Veith at 08:31 AM
Civilian casualties
Israel drops a bomb on a building that was being used as a shelter for civilians, killing 57, including 37 children.
Iraqi insurgents stopped three mini-buses on the road full of civilians on a Shiite pilgrimage, then them marched out to a nearby field and shot all 23 of them.
We have to recoil from such horrors. Could Islamic jihadists also recoil from when they kill civilians? Instead of rejoicing? Not to mention doing it intentionally?
Posted by Veith at 07:06 AM
July 28, 2006
Theology of the Cross for Dummies
No insult intended! You know what I mean. And knowing ourselves as dummies, I suppose, is part of the Theology of the Cross.
Thanks for the discussion on the recent blog entries on this subject. Tip of the hat to TK for pointing us to this useful chart.
That chart comes from the British blog, Confessing Evangelical. And another tip of the hat to that blog for showing us that the Theology of the Cross is not just for Lutherans anymore, quoting the estimable Reformed theologian Michael Horton on the subject:
On rare occasions, one stumbles on a topic that is not only a fascinating subject of theology, but a completely new way of seeing theology. For me, justification and election not only added to my beliefs, but rearranged all the furniture. A similar epiphany occurred concerning the theology of the cross. . . . Once we see what this contrast means [between Cross and Glory], suddenly the biblical plot is illuminated in some surprising ways. In the theology of the cross, both Christ’s cross and our participation in that cross throughout our lives, find a bond. It helps us understand the link between theology and life, between Christ’s redemptive work and our suffering. It doesn’t need to be made practical; it is practical from start to finish.
And, finally, I invite your contemplation of this remarkably rich comment from blog reader Jack Kilcrease:
The theology of glory and theology of the cross represent two different existential relationships.
When we look upon the invisible things of God, God’s glory, we necessarily come to recognize the gap between us. We then try to fill the gap with our works and correspond to God’s glory. This is act of revolt though because it means that we are attempting to control God with our good works. As Paul tells us in Romans 6, when he lack the Holy Spirit, the law inspired sin in him.
The theology of the cross looks upon God hidden in suffering. This is not only God’s suffering, but our own also. When God elects a person, he brings him or her to nothing through mortifying their reason and pride with the Word of the cross.
God dead on the cross is a Word which is at the same time law and Gospel. It demonstrates that we are totally condemned, because we see our whole nature condemned. It is also the act whereby we are saved and faith is created. Since it destabilizes our being, we die and are resurrected. God also dies, since he dies to his own wrath, in that he judges sin. By God and Man dying in one event, salvation is wrought.
Before, God was revealed in his glory and therefore stood in total opposition to humanity. Humanity was sinful and stood in total opposition to God. Now, in the cross and the empty tomb, God establishes his relationship to us based on promise and therefore creates faith in humans. God is freed from his wrath and humans of their sin.
Wow, Jack, keep writing. “By God and Man dying in one event, salvation is wrought.” “God is freed from his wrath and humans of their sin.” Does theology–and theological writing–get any better than that?
Posted by Veith at 09:48 AM
The review as an art of its own
I’ve always thought that ANYTHING can be made interesting by a good writer. Though I care little about cars, there was an automobile writer in our local paper–dealers would lend him different models of cars that he would drive around and then review–who was such a good writer that I became one of his most avid readers.
A good movie review goes beyond its subject matter to become an art form of its own. As evidence, I submit these: Stephen Hunter ‘s review of the new computer-animated fable Ant Bully.” Notice the structure of this review and the complexity of the response, how the reviewer begins by praising the movie’s many good points, then moves into an announced “inappropriate rant” in which he rips apart the movie’s underlying premise. (This could be a good model of a Christian response to a work of art, which can combine both aesthetic appreciation and theological critique.)
Here is another masterful review from Mr. Hunter: An evisceration of Scoop, Woody Allen’s latest movie, the worst, the reviewer argues, that this once notable director ever made. But this is not a rant, but a careful look at details such as performances, structure, plotting, and even editing. And the reviewer, far from being one of these condescending critics with an air of superiority and gleeful destruction, is palpably sad at the decline of a respected artist.
Posted by Veith at 07:54 AM
Those fun summer movies
Since I’m not doing regular reviewing for WORLD, I have been oblivious to this year’s crop of summer movies. I finally saw “Pirates of the Caribbean 2,” a record-setting blockbuster, but while I found it amusing, it wasn’t nearly as good as the first one, with an exceedingly weak plot. I suspect its success came from pent up demand. The public was yearning for one of those fun summer movies, the summer is racing to a conclusion, and this was the best they were going to get.
Am I missing anything? I didn’t see the Superman flick. Were there any good recent movies you would recommend?
Posted by Veith at 07:43 AM
July 27, 2006
Why I’m going back to Academia
On a recent Shakespeare-related post, I got this comment from “Michelle”:
Ah, Dr. Veith, how I miss taking your classes! This reminds me why your lit classes were my favs, though they were not on point with my major! Thanks for being a memorable teacher of my most memorable classes!
And this kind comment reminds me why I’m glad to be getting back into academia, after my brief respite in journalism. (I’ve assigned myself two classes to teach at Patrick Henry College.)
Posted by Veith at 07:48 AM
Religious revival in prisons
The problem is, the religion the prisons are reviving is called “Asatru,” the worship of the ancient Norse deities such as Thor and Odin. This particular brand of neo-paganism despises Christianity, with its values of love and forgiveness, in favor of a “warrior” code that glorifies fighting and violence. Asatru is often (though not always, we are told perhaps disingenuously by the religion’s spokesmen) associated with white supremacy. THESE are the gods of white people’s heritage, goes the argument, as opposed to the God of the Jews.
A devotee of this religion is slated to be executed today, here in Virginia, for stabbing to death a fellow prisoner who opposed his efforts to start an Asatru congregation in the prison. Check out this article. Lars Walker, you’ve got to work this group into one of your novels (which often deal with the conflict between the old Norse gods and what they represent with Christianity).
Posted by Veith at 07:32 AM
“I’m winning!”
Here is a great story–applicable to all kinds of things–from an article interesting in its own right as an analysis of how the leftwing Mexican presidential candidate, Andres Obrador, is trying to hijack the recent election in that country, even though he lost:
To illustrate the “ad terrorem” method by which truth was imposed in totalitarian societies, Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski told a story: Two girls race each other in a park, the one who is behind repeatedly proclaiming at the top of her lungs, “I’m winning! I’m winning!,” until the one in the lead gives up and runs crying to her mother, saying: “I can’t beat her, she always wins.”
Posted by Veith at 07:26 AM
July 26, 2006
And now a book by Jesus’s grand-daughter
In the wake of the “Da Vinci Code” and obviously trying to cash in, a woman is writing a book in which she claims to be a descendant of Jesus Christ. Kathleen McGowan, an American mother of three, is putting forther her messiahship in a “partly autobiographical novel” called “The Expected One,” the first in a projected trilogy.
That “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” nonsense was first put forward by a crazed fascist monarchist trying to make the case the Merovingian dynasty, of which he happened to be the scion, really does contain “royal blood” because they are descended from Jesus and Mary Magdalene and so modern people really should accept his hereditary right to be the ruler of the world.
Not even secular, atheist historians believe in such ludicrous claims. The only ones who do–the only scholars TV documentaries and magazine reporters can get to take the “Da Vinci” code side–are theologians who believe this is a helpful “construction” to advance their feminist or related agendas. And yet this particular woman is getting a quarter of a million dollar advance from a reputable publisher, Simon & Schuster.
When a reporter asked the publisher how it could authenticate the author’s claim–something reputable publishers are supposed to do–the spokesman said, piously: “It’s impossible to verify. It’s all to do with a matter of faith. She makes a very convincing argument.”
Posted by Veith at 07:55 AM
Check out this map
See this animated map that shows the missile attacks on Israel. And they are missiles, not just rockets, that can travel this far.
Posted by Veith at 07:49 AM
The Theology of the Cross
Can someone offer a good explanation of Luther’s Theology of the Cross, as opposed to the Theology of Glory?
Posted by Veith at 07:07 AM
July 25, 2006
Postmodernist apologetics and the Cross
One problem with the postmodernists’ power reductionism (described in yesterday’s post, below) is that power can be legitimate and good. God certainly is characterized by His power, which He employs in what is often called “the Kingdom of Power,” His kingdom of His lefthand in which He governs the world and delegates His power and authority in vocation.
But His spiritual kingdom is not a realm of power, as such (aside from His power to create faith through the Word and Sacraments), but a realm of weakness, self-denial, and the Cross. He Himself came not in power but in weakness, the Baby in the manger, and redeems us by suffering and dying, the shame of the Cross. And we ourselves can only grasp onto that redemption when we know our own weakness–our failures, our sinfulness, our lack of power to so much as improve ourselves–and share in that Cross.
So, yes, I think the postmodern apologetic argument that Christianity is true because it is the only “metanarrative” that is not based on power–and so is not a manmade construction–is compelling. But, it will only be compelling if Christians stop confusing the Kingdoms and stop turning Christianity into a power trip. That would be the “theology of glory” that dominates much of Christianity today. That does not speak to postmodernists or other unbelievers today, but rather confirms their worst assumptions.
Further, this demonstrates what I have long maintained, that Lutheran insights (such as the theology of the Cross) can give us the Christianity that most profoundly resonates with the postmodern condition.
Posted by Veith at 06:46 AM
July 24, 2006
Apologetics to postmodernists
We had a wonderful service again at my new church, St. Athanasius in Vienna, Virginia, with a very helpful sermon on 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, in which the Lord reveals to St. Paul, struggling with the thorn in his flesh, that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
It reminded me of an argument Christians are making to the postmodernists who oppose all “metanarratives” (overarching explanations of everything) on the grounds that they are all nothing more than constructions to advance someone’s power agenda. Using the “hermeneutics of suspicion,” these postmodernists intepret EVERYTHING as an imposition of power. This turns many of them into rigorous cynics. It turns others into tyrant-wannabes, as they try to construct alternative truths to impose THEIR power.
The Christian argument is to first agree with them. Yes, human ideologies and humanly-made up religions ARE nothing more than constructions designed to give people power. But there is ONE metanarrative that is NOT about power. The Christian narrative is about God who, precisely, gives up His power to become a human being–a baby in a manger, a homeless carpenter–who dies on the Cross, an abnegation of ultimate power that redeems the world.
Metanarratives are inevitable, as postmodernists admit, but here is one that is profoundly different from all the rest and that avoids the oppressive, constructed character of them all. The misuse of power that the postmodernists document is nothing more than a sign of sin and of our need for redemption, which is exactly what the Christian narrative provides.
What do you think of this argument? I’ll say what I think tomorrow.
Posted by Veith at 07:27 AM
The feminization of TV news
The ascendancy of Katie Couric to what was once Walter Cronkite’s anchor desk at CBS is symptomatic of a broader change in television journalism. Today, most of the people who write, report, and produce TV news are women. Among the nation’s anchors, 57% are women; of TV reporters, 58% are women; executive producers, 55%; producers, 66%; news writers, 56%. And, judging from the pipeline, the effect will increase, as two-thirds of the students in journalism and mass media programs are women.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But the report, linked above, sees a connection to the rise of “softer” news stories, from accounts of celebrities to personal problem features, as opposed to the more hard-bitten issue coverage of the old male-dominated days. Is there anything wrong with that?
Posted by Veith at 07:18 AM
The feminization of fish
According to a scientific study in England, a third of the male fish in that nation’s rivers are changing their sex, becoming female, to the point of actually producing eggs. Apparently, fish can do that. The researchers blame pollution, with the effect especially large near sewage and industrial waste release points. It turns out that a number of industrial waste products are chemically related to estrogen. The researchers worry that this sort of water pollution could affect human beings. Not changing their sex, but reducing male fertility.
Posted by Veith at 07:17 AM
Sue thy father and thy mother
In Madison, Wisconsin (of course), a woman from Illinois (of course) thought she would go for a surprise visit to her mother on her birthday. (A warm filial gesture.) But the next morning, the daughter slipped on the ice at her parents’ home. So now she is suing her parents for $75,000, alleging negligence, that they should have cleared off the ice. She is using a letter of apology from her mother as evidence that her parents knew the sidewalk was dangerous. Maybe the first day of her visit the daughter could have helped them out by spreading some salt. She would do well to remember that the commandment to honor thy father and thy mother does not expire after a person grows up.
Posted by Veith at 07:16 AM
July 21, 2006
Shiite vs. Sunni, vs. Israel & us
An important nuance in the growing war in Lebanon and the overall “World War III” is the distinction in the Islamic world between Sunni and Shiite. Both sects are undergoing a jihadist revival, with the accompanying hatred of Israel, Western civilization, and the USA. But both sects also hate each other. (Think about how Protestants and Catholics felt about each other during the 17th century, though both could unite against the Turks.)
Al Qaida is Sunni. Hezbollah is Shiite. This is why the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and others are not strongly condemning Israel’s attacks on Hezbollah. The Palestinians are mostly Sunni. Iran is Shiite. Iraq has both, but a Shiite majority.
Notice how the current bloodshed in Iraq is not so much against us. It is largely Sunnis and Shiites killing each other. Realize too that if our troops just leave, as well-intentioned peace lovers want, that would likely result in a bloodbath of Rwandan proportions.
But America’s challenge in building a functioning government in Iraq is that a democratic regime will have to be dominated by the majority Shiites. Such is the case, and right now the Iraqi Shiites, who were cruelly oppressed by the Sunni Saddam Hussein, are mostly on our side against the mostly Sunni insurgents. The danger, though, is that an Iraqi Shiite government might eventually ally itself with Iran, which is already meddling in Iraqi affairs. And an immediate danger is if Israel’s war in Lebanon escalates, moving to Hezbollah’s sponsors, Iran, that it could be perceived as a war against the Shiites, pulling in the Iraqis we are trying to stabilize.
Posted by Veith at 07:04 AM
July 20, 2006
Dehumanizing genetic “products”
Hooray. President Bush has vetoed something. And he couldn’t have vetoed a more deserving bill than the one authorizing and granting tax money for the destruction of existing human embryos to “harvest” their stem cells. The president here did something very unpopular that will cost him politically, but he stood on principle.
Even many pro-life Republicans have succumbed to the argument that since the “extra” embryos engendered in fertility clinics won’t be used and will be discarded anyway, why not use their little bodies to make medicine for adults? Well, that sounds to me that we need legislation to restrict that kind of baby-manufacturing and to protect those who have been manufactured.
It’s amazing to me how the “products”–or victims–of genetic engineering are being dehumanized. Here is a jaw-dropping example from BBC, no less, which reports with surprise a scientific study that demonstrates what should be perfectly obvious, that a cloned human being would actually feel like a separate individual. Here is BBC’s headline and lead:
CLONE WOULD “FEEL INDIVIDUALITY”
A cloned human would probably consider themselves to be an individual, a study suggests.
Scientists drew their conclusions after interviewing identical twins about their experiences of sharing exactly the same genes with somebody else.
Posted by Veith at 08:27 AM
Civilian casualties
That innocent civilians get caught in the crossfires of “mighty opposites” is horrible. (OK, now identify that Shakespearean allusion.) But when we hear about Israel inflicting “civilian casualties,” we need to remember this: The members of Hezbollah ARE civilians. They are fighting without uniform and are under the authority of no nation. Also, after they strike, they take cover in residential areas where they blend in with the rest of the population, whom they, in effect, use as shields. That the Hezbollah terrorists draw fire into these areas gives them a large measure of responsibility for those innocent deaths. It is also beyond irony that the jihadists wail about the civilian casualties their people suffer while they themselves purposefully and almost exclusively target civilians in their terrorist attacks!
Posted by Veith at 06:33 AM
Acts of journalism
Jennifer Griffin and Shepard Smith of Fox News are doing some bold journalism in covering the Israeli-Hezbollah war. They are going to the very front lines and taking rocket fire. They have also been filing some moving stories, such as Shepard’s interview of the wife and father of one of the Israeli soldiers whose capture was the catalyst for the war. I also salute Bill O’Reilly, who exerted pressure that helped that American woman in Lebanon–who refused evacuation because it would mean leaving behind the baby she had come to adopt–get out with her child. I haven’t watched the other networks’ coverage of the war, something that often brings out the best in journalists. Can anyone speak to that?
Posted by Veith at 06:20 AM
July 19, 2006
Kinky for governor
Kinky Friedman got his start as the leader of the alternative country band “The Texas Jewboys.” As their name implies, the group performed iconoclastic, profane, and very funny country songs (for example, “They Don’t Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore.”) After a period of drug-addlement, Kinky found a new career writing mystery novels starring himself. These too are iconoclastic, profane, and very funny. Kinky Friedman is, in fact, a humorist–not a comedian, but a humorist, a satirist, and a true character in his own right, a sort of demented Will Rogers or a crazed Mark Twain. The question is, does this qualify him to be governor of Texas?
In a race called by some one of the weirdest gubernatorial races ever (a contest between an unpopular Republican incumbent, a popular Republican woman running as an independent, and a democrat few Texans have ever heard of, and Kinky Friedman), the humorist just might win. Read this account of his campaign.
His platform can be described as populist/libertarian. He supports both school prayer and gay marriage (reasoning that gays have the right to be as miserable as the rest of us). He makes the case that he is no worse than any of the others. He has undoubted charm, he speaks his mind, and he stands up for the average Texan. His candidacy is iconoclastic and very funny. His campaign manager is the same person who ran the campaign of another character, pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura, who was elected governor of Minnesota.
Do you think a candidate like him is a refreshing change? Or a sign that something is wrong with democracy? Or what?
Posted by Veith at 01:08 PM
The Dogs of War
The reference in yesterday’s blog, as a number of you caught:_ _“Cry ‘HAVOC’ and let slip the dogs of war!” – William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene I, ca 1608.
The context is Mark Antony, lamenting the bloody chaos that his own rhetoric has unleashed (get it? unleashed?). In medieval and 17th century warfare, when the officers called out “Havoc,” the soldiers were permitted to destroy and plunder with no hindrance. The figure of speech here is typical Shakespearean mastery: the picture is of ravening dogs pulling at their leashes–anger being restrained with great difficulty–and then just letting them go. Or perhaps, as Kepler says, they just “slip” out of their restraints.
This is not a good thing in the play, but it expresses a profoundly human–and dangerous–impulse, with lots of applications.
Posted by Veith at 12:34 PM
Political Activity Compliance Initiative
That is the Orwellian phrase for a new IRS program to crack down on churches that engage in politics. Reportedly, tax exemptions will be at risk for any church that the IRS construes as being too political.
I do not believe that churches should confuse their mission of bringing the salvation of Christ to people with political activism. That was the mistake of the “social gospel” folks of the 19th century, and it is also the bane of mainline churches on the left and many conservative churches on the right. But I bridle against the state telling the church what it may or may not do. I worry about the infrastructure of persecution getting put into place. Not that having to pay taxes is persecution. It is something that our Lord distinctly says that we should do. Perhaps churches should be willing to give up their tax breaks and other social perks in order to be free of government entanglement and what that might bring.
Posted by Veith at 10:25 AM
July 18, 2006
Liberals strike back
A group of wealthy donors is investing big bucks, in an organized way, to help build a “liberal infrastructure”: think tanks, activist training, and idea-generators similar to what the conservative movement has built over the last decades. That is fair enough, and an admission that the left is failing in the battle of ideas. But many Democrats are worried that the money is going to the far leftwing of the party, marginalizing centrists. They are also embarrassed that for all of the party’s demands for “openness,” the funders are refusing to let their names be public. Read this account. Do you think big-government, welfare state liberalism has a chance of coming back?
Posted by Veith at 11:28 AM
The Lutheran image
Commenter David Zierke writes:
I occasionally watch The Colbert Report. Last night on his “On Notice” report I noticed that Lutherans were number 2 on his dead to me list. Is there any readers of this blog or Dr. Veith that can tell me what his complaint was against Lutherans?
Colbert is lampooning Bill O’Reilly, and his schtick consists of numerous levels of irony. So when Colbert attacks something, he is generally making fun of the act of attacking it. Lutherans seem to have the reputation in the pop culture of being innocuous, of being nice Midwesterners who wouldn’t hurt a fly, gentle and earnest, perhaps guilt-ridden, but at least not extreme, a reputation stemming from Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion.” Am I right? Has anyone noticed any different portrayals? If they only knew how vicious we really are!
Posted by Veith at 11:06 AM
World War III?
So Israel has let loose the dogs of war. (Bonus points to the first commenter to identify where that line comes from.) Newt Gingrich says the global conflict with the various manifestations of radical Islam constitutes World War III, another struggle against an oppressive, dictatorial ideology.
I wonder, though, why Israel is beating up on poor Lebanon, itself arguably a hostage of Hezbollah, instead of going after the source of Hezbollah’s money and arms, namely, Syria and Iran. If you are going to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war, at least send them in the right direction.
Posted by Veith at 10:00 AM
July 17, 2006
The meltdown of liberal Christianity
You have got to read this op ed piece in the LA Times by Charlotte Allen, the Catholicism editor of Beliefnet, entitled Liberal Christianity is Paying for Its Sins. I’ll copy it below for your convenience. Read it and then consider this question: If the liberal way of revising Christianity so that it conforms to the culture is such a manifest failure, why are so many ostensibly conservative and evangelical Christians so eager also to, in their own way, revise Christianity so that it conforms to the culture?
From the July 9, 2006 issue of the Los Angeles Times:
The accelerating fragmentation of the strife-torn Episcopal Church USA, in which several parishes and even a few dioceses are opting out of the church, isn’t simply about gay bishops, the blessing of same-sex unions or the election of a woman as presiding bishop. It also is about the meltdown of liberal Christianity.
Embraced by the leadership of all the mainline Protestant denominations, as_well as large segments of American Catholicism, liberal Christianity has_been hailed by its boosters for 40 years as the future of the Christian_church.
Instead, as all but a few die-hards now admit, all the mainline churches_and movements within churches that have blurred doctrine and softened moral_precepts are demographically declining and, in the case of the Episcopal_Church, disintegrating.
It is not entirely coincidental that at about the same time that_Episcopalians, at their general convention in Columbus, Ohio, were thumbing_their noses at a directive from the worldwide Anglican Communion that they_”repent” of confirming the openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New_Hampshire three years ago, the Presbyterian Church USA, at its general_assembly in Birmingham, Ala., was turning itself into the laughingstock of_the blogosphere by tacitly approving alternative designations for the_supposedly sexist Christian Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Among_the suggested names were “Mother, Child and Womb” and “Rock, Redeemer and_Friend.” Moved by the spirit of the Presbyterian revisionists, Beliefnet_blogger Rod Dreher held a “Name That Trinity” contest. Entries included_”Rock, Scissors and Paper” and “Larry, Curly and Moe.”
Following the Episcopalian lead, the Presbyterians also voted to give local_congregations the freedom to ordain openly cohabiting gay and lesbian_ministers and endorsed the legalization of medical marijuana. (The latter_may be a good idea, but it is hard to see how it falls under the_theological purview of a Christian denomination.)
The Presbyterian Church USA is famous for its 1993 conference, cosponsored_with the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in_America and other mainline churches, in which participants “reimagined” God_as “Our Maker Sophia” and held a feminist-inspired “milk and honey” ritual_designed to replace traditional bread-and-wine Communion.
As if to one-up the Presbyterians in jettisoning age-old elements of_Christian belief, the Episcopalians at Columbus overwhelmingly refused even_to consider a resolution affirming that Jesus Christ is Lord. When a_Christian church cannot bring itself to endorse a bedrock Christian_theological statement repeatedly found in the New Testament, it is not a_serious Christian church. It’s a Church of What’s Happening Now, conferring_a feel-good imprimatur on whatever the liberal elements of secular society_deem permissible or politically correct.
You want to have gay sex? Be a female bishop? Change God’s name to Sophia?_Go ahead. The just-elected Episcopal presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts_Schori, is a one-woman combination of all these things, having voted for_Robinson, blessed same-sex couples in her Nevada diocese, prayed to a_female Jesus at the Columbus convention and invited former Newark, N.J.,_bishop John Shelby Spong, famous for denying Christ’s divinity, to address_her priests.
When a church doesn’t take itself seriously, neither do its members. It is_hard to believe that as recently as 1960, members of mainline churches __Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and the like __accounted for 40% of all American Protestants. Today, it’s more like 12%_(17 million out of 135 million). Some of the precipitous decline is due to_lower birthrates among the generally blue-state mainliners, but it also is_clear that millions of mainline adherents (and especially their children)_have simply walked out of the pews never to return. According to the_Hartford Institute for Religious Research, in 1965, there were 3.4 million_Episcopalians; now, there are 2.3 million. The number of Presbyterians fell_from 4.3 million in 1965 to 2.5 million today. Compare that with 16 million_members reported by the Southern Baptists.
When your religion says “whatever” on doctrinal matters, regards Jesus as_just another wise teacher, refuses on principle to evangelize and lets you_do pretty much what you want, it’s a short step to deciding that one of the_things you don’t want to do is get up on Sunday morning and go to church.
It doesn’t help matters that the mainline churches were pioneers in_ordaining women to the clergy, to the point that 25% of all Episcopal_priests these days are female, as are 29% of all Presbyterian pastors,_according to the two churches. A causal connection between a critical mass_of female clergy and a mass exodus from the churches, especially among men,_would be difficult to establish, but is it entirely a coincidence?_Sociologist Rodney Stark (“The Rise of Christianity”) and historian Philip_Jenkins (“The Next Christendom”) contend that the more demands, ethical and_doctrinal, that a faith places upon its adherents, the deeper the_adherents’ commitment to that faith. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches,_which preach biblical morality, have no trouble saying that Jesus is Lord,_and they generally eschew women’s ordination. The churches are growing_robustly, both in the United States and around the world.
Despite the fact that median Sunday attendance at Episcopal churches is 80_worshipers, the Episcopal Church, as a whole, is financially equipped to_carry on for some time, thanks to its inventory of vintage real estate and_huge endowments left over from the days (no more!) when it was the_Republican Party at prayer. Furthermore, it has offset some of its_demographic losses by attracting disaffected liberal Catholics and gays and_lesbians. The less endowed Presbyterian Church USA is in deeper trouble._Just before its general assembly in Birmingham, it announced that it would_eliminate 75 jobs to meet a $9.15-million budget cut at its headquarters,_the third such round of job cuts in four years.
The Episcopalians have smells, bells, needlework cushions and colorfully_garbed, Catholic-looking bishops as draws, but who, under the present_circumstances, wants to become a Presbyterian?
Still, it must be galling to Episcopal liberals that many of the parishes_and dioceses (including that of San Joaquin, Calif.) that want to pull out_of the Episcopal Church USA are growing instead of shrinking, have live_people in the pews who pay for the upkeep of their churches and don’t have_to rely on dead rich people. The 21-year-old Christ Church Episcopal in_Plano, Texas, for example, is one of the largest Episcopal churches in the_country. Its 2,200 worshipers on any given Sunday are about equal to the_number of active Episcopalians in Jefferts Schori’s entire Nevada diocese.
It’s no surprise that Christ Church, like the other dissident parishes,_preaches a very conservative theology. Its break from the national church_came after Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and head of the_Anglican Communion, proposed a two-tier membership in which the Episcopal_Church USA and other churches that decline to adhere to traditional_biblical standards would have “associate” status in the communion. The_dissidents hope to retain full communication with Canterbury by_establishing oversight by non-U.S. Anglican bishops.
As for the rest of the Episcopalians, the phrase “deck chairs on the_Titanic” comes to mind. A number of liberal Episcopal websites are devoted_these days to dissing Peter Akinola, outspoken primate of the Anglican_diocese of Nigeria, who, like the vast majority of the world’s 77 million_Anglicans reported by the Anglican Communion, believes that “homosexual_practice” is “incompatible with Scripture” (those words are from the_communion’s 1998 resolution at the Lambeth conference of bishops). Akinola_might have the numbers on his side, but he is now the Voldemort _ no, make_that the Karl Rove _ of the U.S. Episcopal world. Other liberals fume over_a feeble last-minute resolution in Columbus calling for “restraint” in_consecrating bishops whose lifestyle might offend “the wider church” _ a_resolution immediately ignored when a second openly cohabitating gay man_was nominated for bishop of Newark.
So this is the liberal Christianity that was supposed to be the_Christianity of the future: disarray, schism, rapidly falling numbers of_adherents, a collapse of Christology and national meetings that rival those_of the Modern Language Assn. for their potential for cheap laughs. And they_keep telling the Catholic Church that it had better get with the liberal_program _ ordain women, bless gay unions and so forth _ or die. Sure.
Posted by Veith at 01:32 PM
And now, artificial sperm
A mouse has been born engendered from artificial sperm developed from stem cells. The artificial womb is already in the works. Do you think bearing children will become technologically obsolete?
HT: Beggars All (and see his commentary)
Posted by Veith at 01:08 PM
Back from the Outback
I’m back from Australia, rather jet-lagged from 20 hours on an airplane (14.5 hours to LA, 5.5 hours from LA to D.C.), but feeling all right, considering. We went into the bush for lamb on a barbie, toured Sydney, shopped in Melbourne, went on a pilgrimage to see the Giant Earthworms of Gippland (they grow up to 11 feet and only exist in this small corner of Australia), fed kangaroos, watched penguins come in for the night, held a wombat, and did many other things that one can only do in Australia. (I even bought me one of those cool Australian hats, a genuine Akubra.)
But the best parts were seeing my daughter Joanna “with child,” hearing my son-in-law Adam preach (what a good sermon he gave!), hanging around with his family, seeing Sydney with his friend and now ours David Thiele, seeing and making other friends in Australia, going to the young adult Bible study, having tea with blog reader Aussie Dave and his wife, and other interactions with actual people (a dimension of international travel wholly missing from normal tourism).
Posted by Veith at 12:10 PM
« May 2006 | Main | July 2006 »
June 30, 2006
Blog vacation
Last Sunday was the 476th anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. Go here to learn what that entailed and why that was a big deal. So today’s blog highlights and honors that confessional heritage.
That and the still lively discussions still on previous posts should give you plenty to chew on while this blog goes on vacation. My wife and I are going to Australia! To see our daughter Joanna (the former editor of all of World’s blogs) and our son-in-law Adam (a Lutheran pastor down under)! I have already sort of seen our new grandchild via ultrasound, though he won’t be out and about until November. I hope to also see blog reader Aussie Dave. I’ll be back on July 16 and will be blogging as soon as the jet lag lets up.
So, many blessings to you all this Summer. I have to have the most thoughtful readers–with the most interesting comments and helpful discussions–in the blogosphere, so I thank you for being part of the Cranach blog.
Posted by Veith at 09:20 AM
The Confessions on Gay Marriage
I continue to be astonished at how the confessional documents of the church, though centuries old, address our current issues. For example, notice how the Apology of the Augsburg Confession speaks to the controversy over gay marriage:
First. Gen. 1, 28 teaches that men were created to be fruitful, and that one sex in a proper way should desire the other. For we are speaking not of concupiscence, which is sin, but of that appetite which was to have been in nature in its integrity [which would have existed in nature even if it had remained uncorrupted], which they call physical love. And this love of one sex for the other is truly a divine ordinance. But since this ordinance of God cannot be removed without an extraordinary work of God, it follows that the right to contract marriage cannot be removed by statutes or vows. (Apology, XXIII.7)
One would think that this would settle the matter for the ELCA, or any other group that considers itself Lutheran.
Posted by Veith at 09:14 AM
The inerrancy of Scripture
Critics of the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture argue that the notion derives from Enlightenment-era Scottish theologians, that it is therefore a late innovation and not really a part of the evangelical or Christian tradition. This whole line of scholarship illustrates one of my big pet peeves: American Christians of every stripe, liberal or conservative, ignore the elephant of Lutheranism.
As blogged about below, Johann Gerhard develops the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture in his Loci Theologici, in the first volume, “On the Nature of Theology and Scripture.” That was in 1612, more than a century before the Scottish Calvinists that are usually given the credit and (in the case of liberals) the blame.
But, of course, before Gerhard, Luther’s Large Catechism–an authoritative confessional document–says, “I and my neighbor and, in short, all men, may err and deceive, but the Word of God cannot err” (LC, Holy Baptism, 57). That was in 1529.
And you can find similar statements in the Middle Ages, the Church Fathers, and–most importantly–in the Bible itself (e.g., “Your Word is truth” [John 17:17]).
Posted by Veith at 08:46 AM
Read Gerhard for your mind and your heart
Whenever someone asks me for examples of “Protestant mysticism” or “evangelical mysticism,” I set aside the misnomer and point them to Johann Gerhard. His Sacred Meditations and Meditations on Divine Mercy are rapturous, experiential spiritual exercises. They are also of a startlingly great literary quality, with imagery that (I argue) influenced the English Metaphysical poets, especially George Herbert.
But Gerhard was both right-brained and left-brained in his expressions of faith. He also wrote systematic theology, of the most scholarly, analytically rigorous, and profound sort. Concordia Publishing House, to its credit, is publishing Gerhard’s Loci Theologici, all 15 volumes. The first one is out, “On the Nature of Theology and Scripture.”
You don’t have to be a Lutheran to appreciate and to draw on Gerhard. Though he was writing in early 17th century, he is addressing issues that are urgently relevant today. For example, in this book he makes the case for the inerrancy of Scripture. That topic demands another post. But click the links and order these books, the Loci for your mind and the Meditations for your heart.
Posted by Veith at 08:44 AM
June 29, 2006
Back to the Sixties
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean thrilled a group of religious liberals when he announced that “We’re about to enter the ’60s again”, “the age of enlightenment led by religious figures who want to greet Americans with a moral, uplifting vision.” He added,”The problem is when we hit that ’60s spot again, which I am optimistic we’re about to hit, we have to make sure that we don’t make the same mistakes.”
Now that the left has Iraq, which they are trying to spin into another Vietnam, the nostaligia really is palpable. I think we see here the great divide in American politics and culture: Those who think the ’60′s were good, and those who think they were bad.
Posted by Veith at 02:16 PM
My new favorite
Mythbusters. Click “continue reading” for my review, published in World in December. I liked it then, but since then this reality show that tests urban legends has become a Tivo favorite.
Busting urban legends
In a culture that treats truth as relative, Mythbusters (Discovery Network) is a breath of fresh air. The show takes urban legends—those “true stories” that circulate from person to person—and an affable crew of experts and handymen put them to the test.
Would dropping a penny off the top of the Empire State Building generate enough momentum to kill a person? No. The mass is too small to even break the skin. Is the “Five Second Rule” valid when you drop a piece of food? No. Measurements showed no difference in the amount of bacteria from two seconds on the floor as compared to six seconds. Nor can a small hole in an airplane suck you out of the fuselage. Nor can a cell phone ignite a gasoline pump. Nor can a tanning bed fry your insides.
The Mythbusters also take on historical legends. After checking, the team determined that Jimmy Hoffa is not buried on the ten-yard line at Giant Stadium. Nor could they duplicate Archimedes’ feat of setting enemy ships on fire with giant mirrors.
Of course, even legends can be true. Eating poppy seeds can indeed cause a false positive on a drug test for heroin. Using too many bug bombs can cause a house to explode. It is possible to fly using weather balloons attached to a lawn chair, with a controlled descent using an air gun to pop the balloons.
Watching the team design the tests is both hilarious and fascinating. To determine whether the parental warnings about ceiling fans are valid—that they can cut your head off if you bounce on your bed—the hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, who got their start designing Hollywood special effects, engineered a fake head and neck using plasticine gel that emulates the human body, artificial skin molded to look like Adam, and a hog’s spine. They then bounced it in a ceiling fan. Doing that in real life would hurt and it would break the blades, but the head would remain attached to the neck. Objective truth exists after all.
Posted by Veith at 02:08 PM
The Deluge
Take out a $20 bill. See that big tree to the right of the White House? It isn’t there anymore. The massive elm was blown down during the intense rainstorms we have had here in the D.C. area, and other places on the East Coast. We have had over 12 inches in the last four days.
Strangely, it hasn’t been so bad where I am. Just a half hour away, though, some people were killed in the flooding. We have had rain, but nothing like what you are seeing on TV, though I’m glad my apartment is on the third floor. My only adventure in this “once every 200 year” spat of rain–and just the previous week TV pundits were complaining about drought–was when I was flying back from Calfornia, a trip I blogged about earlier. Because of the rains back east, my plane was three hours late taking off. Then, when we were almost there, the Washington Dulles airport was closed because of the storm, so we had to circle and circle. Then, lest we run out of fuel, we landed in Richmond, where we waited on the runway for a while until the airport opened again. To make a long, long story short, we were supposed to get in at 5:30 p.m. It was 11:30 p.m. when we finally landed. But I was glad to be there. I was glad to be anywhere.
Posted by Veith at 01:46 PM
Drill Offshore
Congress is considering a bill that would allow offshore oil drilling. To my amazement, the usually parfty line liberal Washington Post editorialized that allowing offshore drilling is a good idea! The editorial writers looked at various environmentally-sensitive countries like Canada and Norway, which drill offshore, and noted how improved and safe the technology is. Even Hurricane Katrina couldn’t damage these new rigs. As for the danger of oil spills, the Post noted that there is much less danger of that from offshore rigs than from all of those leaky tankers that get used when we have to import our fuel.
Posted by Veith at 02:10 AM
June 28, 2006
More on revising the Trinity
Al Mohler has a good discussion of the PCUSA’s recent approval of alternative ways to refer to the Trinity, which we inveighed against earlier on this blog. He gives some more details, including the important point that the measure says that baptisms should still be done “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” But here are some more of the approved alternatives that are considered not nearly so sexist:
In its most controversial sections, the report suggests new triads of language that can be used in place of the biblical language for the Trinity–namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The new triads, suggested for employment in worship, include “Rainbow, Ark and Dove,” “Speaker, Word and Breath,” “Overflowing Font, Living Water and Flowing River,” “Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-Giving Womb,” “Sun, Light and Burning Ray,” “Giver, Gift and Giving,” “Lover, Beloved and Love,” “Rock, Cornerstone and Temple,” “Fire that Consumes, Sword that Divides and Storm that Melts Mountains,” and “The One Who Was, The One Who Is and The One Who Is to Come.”
Rainbow! Flowing River! Compassionate Mother! Burning Ray! And what would the Church Fathers say about that last one, which denies the eternity of the three Persons? Dr. Mohler ends with a great quotation from one of those fathers, St. Basil:
We are bound to be baptized in the terms we have received and to profess belief in the terms in which we are baptized, and as we have professed belief in, so to give glory to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. . . . It is enough for us to confess those names which we have received from Holy Scripture and to shun all innovations about them.
HT: Emily Carder
Posted by Veith at 08:27 AM
Why Mexico is poor
A big reason we have so many illegal immigrants is that Mexico is so poor. Why is that? According to columnist Robert Samuelson, Mexico has two economies: The first is dominated by huge businesses that are either owned by the government, such as the oil company Pemex [relics of socialistm] or are privately-held but government sponsored monopolies [relics of national socialism--why doesn't anyone study fascist economics any more?]. In these huge enterprises, there is no competition, and the operations are grossly corrupt, bloated, and inefficient. Then there is the “informal” economy: all of those street vendors, small shop owners, repair shops, and hustling salesmen. These employ two thirds of the population! But they are technically illegal. Thus, they cannot take out loans, expand beyond strict limits, or grow into larger businesses. They do show a true entrepreneurial spirit, which, eventually, I think, will bear fruit in a prosperous nation, if the dead hand of socialism is ever lifted from the economy.
Along those lines, Mexico is electing a new president on Sunday: Manuel Obrador is a leftist, one of the new wave in Latin America in the wake of Venezuela’s neo-Castroite Huge Chavez. His solution is more government control. His opponent is Felipe Calderone, an advocate of free markets. Polls indicate that the the two candidates are in a dead heat.
Posted by Veith at 08:17 AM
June 27, 2006
Childish art
Marla Olmstead is a new abstract expressionist artist, whose swirls of colors and splattered paint are attracting critical acclaim and commanding prices in the range of $25,000 each. The artist is six years old. She has been doing this since she was two.
Critics now are making her controversial, accusing her artist father of directing what she does with the paint. But, to me, the issue should not be whether or not this little girl is creating legitimate adult-quality art. The issue is that so many of our adult artists are selling what are, in effect, childish scribbles.
Posted by Veith at 06:37 PM
The rich get richer
So billionaire Warren Buffett decides to leave his fortune to billlionaire Bill Gates. Yes, they are merging their charitable foundations into a mega-philanthropy. That’s noble. It will indeed take a lot of money to do what Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates yearn to do to improve the world, such as curing the top 20 diseases that plague mankind. But do you see any negative consequences of such a charitable behemoth?
Posted by Veith at 06:28 PM
California dreamin’
I just got back from a speaking engagement in Santa Clarita, California. (Lots of impressive classical Christian education going on in Southern California.) I know this may seem strange to hear from me, the scourge of contemporary culture, but I love California. The place is just beautiful–not only in weather, but in its natural landscape, and, what most impresses me, in its architecture. All of those stuccoed villas with red tile roofs–I love that. Yes, L.A. is seedy and decadent, though having a peculiar charm of its own. But those affluent towns all around it–Santa Clarita, Orange County–and all the way down to San Diego are visions of a prosperous paradise. I cannot figure out how so many people can afford to live there. Nor can I figure out where all the ordinary people who man the shops and the restaurants live. And it is evident that even people who live in a world so prosperous that it would stagger the ’49ers who first settled there are not necessarily happy and that the climate of self-indulgence can lead to sin and destruction. But I still appreciate California.
Driving along the Santa Monica freeway in my rental car–and yes, getting stuck in the horrendous traffic (I understand why the whole world wants to live there)–I passed cultural reference after cultural reference: Ventura highway; Hollywood; Wilshire Boulevard; Venice Beach; beautiful downtown Burbank. Would that I had time to take in these landmarks. Probably my love of California comes from the Okie in me, the sense of the farthest frontier, the hope of the rootless, the ultimate West. But just as California represents the cultural cutting edge–giving us hippies, yippies, gay pride, movie stars, and the pop culture–it has also given us Merle Haggard, Ronald Reagan, and Roy Rogers.
Posted by Veith at 06:07 PM
June 23, 2006
All the lonely people
A new study has found that Americans are becoming increasingly isolated and alone. One out of four of us has NO ONE with whom to discuss personal troubles.
That is double the number since 1985. Back then, people could name three people in their closest circle of friends. Now, that circle has dropped to two. Only 8% have a neighbor they can confide in. Increasingly, one’s spouse is the only confidant. And, of course, many people don’t have a spouse, or are fighting with their spouse.
Americans were growing MORE socially connected up until the 1960′s, and the various indexes of social isolation have been going down ever since. What do you think causes this? What might churches do, both for their own isolated members and for all those lonely people? Or could it be they just want to be left alone?
Posted by Veith at 06:57 AM
Hail to Australia
Columnist Charles Krauthammer has written a heart felt tribute to Australia. And I’m going there pretty soon!
Posted by Veith at 06:53 AM
Stingy but principled; generous but racist
Remember that study a few weeks ago that found that people’s generosity to Hurricane Katrina victims varied according to whether the individuals they were helping were black or white? (The study was not of actual aid–just showing pictures and describing scenarios, then asking test subjects how much they would give to them.) Richard Morin’s <
This correlates with an earlier study by some of the same researchers on how people would deal with criminals. Republicans were equal opportunity punishers, wanting to throw the book at criminals regardless of race. Democrats, though, were nice, being far more flexible in handing out punishments. But the results were that the Democrats ended up punishing black people more harshly than whites.
Can anyone explain these phenomena?
Posted by Veith at 06:41 AM
Breeding cynics
Richard Morin, in his “Unconventional Wisdom” column for the “Washington Post,” cites evidence that satirist Jon Stewart may be, in his words, “poisoning democracy.” Viewers of his show–a huge number of whom are college students–were found to be far more cynical about politics, the electoral system, candidates from both parties, and the news media. No accident, says Mr. Morin, that this college-aged cadre tends to be too cynical to vote.
I say, those who don’t want to vote shouldn’t, and the 48% of this age group that gets its only news from Stewart’s “The Daily Show” should not cancel out the votes of people who are better informed. I’m interested, though, in “cynicism.” One could say that cynicism about politics and politicians is warranted. But does that necessitate pulling away from self-government, thereby keeping those you are cynical about in charge?
Posted by Veith at 06:30 AM
June 22, 2006
Pre-emptive strike on North Korea?
North Korea is getting ready for the experimental launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States. In a column in “The Washington Post,” Ashton B. Carter and William J. Perry argue that we should use cruise missiles to destroy the North Korean ICBM on the launch pad. They reason that the only possible use of such a weapon is to deliver a nuclear bomb. Destroying not only the missile but the complex launching system, they say, would set these unreconstructed Communists back considerably.
The irony is that Mr. Perry was the Secretary of Defense under President Clinton and his fellow author, Mr. Carter, was the Assistant Secretary of Defense. I thought Democrats were appalled at the Bush Doctrine of pre-emption, not to mention unilaterial military action, the “reckless” use of force, etc. We do see some evidence of Democratic sensitivities. The article says we should warn the North Koreans of what we are about to do, in an effort to minimize casualties around the missile site. But still, poking a stick in the eye of a nuclear-armed rabid animal seems like a pretty risky venture.
What do you think about this suggestion and the fact that Democrats are suggesting it?
Posted by Veith at 06:43 AM
Carbon-based life forms
Oil is just carbon. Every living thing on the planet–plants, animals, us–is also carbon. In the immortal words of “Star Trek,” we are all “carbon-based life forms.” Oil itself is said to be the pressurized remains of ancient forests. (What is the creationist view of oil deposits?) So theoretically we could make carbon fuel from any kind of plant if we could just process it in the right way.
We have become familiar with ethanol, which is essentially moonshine distilled from corn. But now the technology is falling into place, aided by the high gasoline prices, to make burnable alcohol from any kind of biomass. That would include cornstalks and other “agricultural wastes,” sawdust, wood, paper, and pretty much whatever is on hand. Enzymes are added, which breaks down the fiber into sugar, whereupon the mash can be distilled into 200 proof alcohol, not for drinking but for driving.
Problems remain, of course, such as how to assemble so much waste as to produce fuel in mass quantities. But this is essentially what Brazil has been doing, using their sugar cane waste to generate 30% of their fuel supply, which is essentially very strong rum.
Posted by Veith at 06:28 AM
June 21, 2006
PCUSA renames the Trinity
The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to allow alternative names for the Trinity, reasoning that “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” contains sexist language. Really. I know that statement sounds like a lead from the satirical rag “The Onion,” but this is what the PCUSA voted to do at their convention in Birmingham. Read this news report. Here are the alternatives that may now be used in worship and, presumably, in baptism:
–”Mother, Child and Womb” –”Rock, Redeemer, Friend” — “Lover, Beloved, Love” — “Creator, Savior, Sanctifier” — “King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love.”
Jesus commands us to baptize in the NAME of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are not just qualities or descriptions or metaphors for God. This is the NAME of the Triune God we worship. God’s Word tells us who He is, and the names by which we are to call upon Him. We can’t just make them up. And He commands us not to take His name in vain.
To call upon the “Mother, Child, Womb” is not the same as invoking the Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is calling upon a humanly-constructed deity, one that is not exist. This is idolatry. And a congregation that worships other gods that it makes up is no longer a Christian church.
I know there are a number of conservatives in the PCUSA, bravely fighting all of this. But how can anyone stay in that denomination–or others, making similar resolutions at their conventions–after this?
Posted by Veith at 07:10 AM
Feminists strike back–at women
Have you noticed that the left is getting bolder and more over-the-top? Philosopher Linda Hirshman is stirring up controversy in an article for American Prospect and now a book entitled “Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World.” Whereas old-fashioned feminists argued that women should have the right to do whatever they choose, including having chidren and staying home to take care of them if they want to, Ms. Hirshman harshly criticizes women who leave the workplace to take care of their children. Here are her own words:
Everybody started hating Linda, apparently, when I published an article in the progressive magazine the American Prospect last December, saying that women who quit their jobs to stay home with their children were making a mistake. Worse, I said that the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing were not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings. They do not require a great intellect, they are not honored and they do not involve risks and the rewards that risk brings.
In this article, she complains about how many women are angry with her, throwing in condescending comments about “mommyblogs.”
This reminds me of an old Phyllis Diller routine I heard way back in the early 1960′s on black-and-white TV. She launched off into a hilarious rant about a friend who was putting her down for staying home to raise the human beings of the next generation. The friend felt far superior because she was “pursuing her career”–which was working at the candy counter at Woolsworth. The point being that there is NO higher calling than engendering, caring for, and forming children. Not even scaling the highest corporate ladder (to do what? sell stock? manufacture consumer goods?) compares to that in intrinsic value and social importance. And when Ms. Hirshman says there is no “risk” in motherhood is especially clueless!
Posted by Veith at 06:43 AM
June 20, 2006
A great literary plan
Thanks to Kepler who posted the quotation from Coleridge”s “Biographica Literaria” about “the willing suspension of disbelief”:
In this idea originated the plan of the ‘Lyrical Ballads’; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. Mr. Wordsworth on the other hand was to propose to himself as his object, to give the charm of novelty to things of every day, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.
In the context he is referring to, how these two poets were going to collaborate on “Lyrical Ballads,” Coleridge was going to write about supernatural things in a way to make them seek ordinary (which he accomplished big time in “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”). And Wordsworth was going to write about ordinary things in a way to make them seem supernatural (which he accomplished in poem after poem). By the way, both of these poets, after founding English Romanticism, became orthodox Christians by the end of their lives. Coleridge, after finding that he could not just “choose” to quit taking opium, found the Gospel while studying Reformation preachers (and once, I believe, described his theology as “Lutheran,” though I need to track that down).
Posted by Veith at 09:12 AM
50 years of Interstates
The Interstate Highway system turns 50 on June 29. President Eisenhower signed the enabling bill into law in 1956, no doubt thinking of the time as a young army officer he had to lead a convoy cross-country. This was in 1919. It took him 62 days to get from one coast to the other.
The conventional stance today is to decry the interstate highways for destroying cities, by-passing small towns, consuming gasoline, and making suburbs possible, along with the long commutes and commercial sprawl they represent. But isn’t the Interstate system, besides being an engineering marvel, a good thing overall? Or not?
Posted by Veith at 09:00 AM
Hu’s on Frist?
This week is the 50th anniversary of Abbott and Costello getting inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for their comedy sketch “Who’s on First?” This year is the 70th anniversary of that group’s founding. They first did the baseball act in 1938. Go here for a transcript of the schtick.
Writing about this in The Wall Street Journal, Allan Barra refers to some take-offs that I’d like to hear:
Since then, the routine — voted Best Comedy Sketch of the 20th Century by Time magazine in 1999 — has been quoted, imitated and parodied enough to make “Who’s on First?” into a light industry. In the 1960s, a rock ‘n’ roll version, co-written by Harry Shearer, substituted baseball players with rock bands such as the Who, the Guess Who, the Band and Yes. Currently making the rounds on the Internet is a takeoff called “Hu’s on First?” in which Condoleezza Rice and President Bush stumble through a briefing on current affairs. (Sample — Bush: “Who is the new leader of China?” Rice: “Yes.” Bush: “I mean the fellow’s name.” Rice: “Hu.” Bush: “Who? Will you tell me the name of the new leader of China?” Rice: “Yes, sir.” Bush: “Yassir? I thought he was in the Middle East.”)
Posted by Veith at 08:38 AM
How am I doing?
It is indeed a strain being away from my wife and being pulled between two households, as I start my work in Virginia while my true home is in Wisconsin. But I was back for a long Father’s Day weekend. Our American-based son and daughter came home. We went to a thrilling walk-off winning Brewer’s game (they are finally doing well, just when I can’t go to games anymore!). My son and daughter proved themselves worthy apprentices in grilling steaks. It was a great time. Then I caught a red-eye back to Dulles, arriving at my apartment at 2:00 a.m. (which explains no blog entries yesterday), and back to the whirlwind of activity at Patrick Henry College.
But in my devotions that very night, after reading a Psalm on faith during hardship, I got the insight–which I credit as being from the Lord, being in the context of God’s Word–that I should put away from self-pity and second-guessing, consider that I have a calling now to this position, trust that God has brought me here for His purposes, and that my current malaise in being separated from my family is just a temporary cross to bear.
In the meantime, I am getting to know the various Patrick Henry faculty members who are around this summer. Though they have been traumatized by last year’s meltdown, I think highly of them all. They are world-class Christian scholars and teachers, who I hope will become good friends as well as colleagues. We are having success in replenishing their ranks. A week ago, the big homeschooling national debate and forensics tournament was held on our campus. I did some judging. I was greatly energized to see these enormously gifted and well-prepared young people and their virtuoso performances. These are the kind of students Patrick Henry claims. As I also get to know some of the students–and work on straightening out some of the problems they have had–they remind me that they are the neighbors we are called to love and serve in this place.
Posted by Veith at 08:21 AM
June 16, 2006
Yoga Moms
In researching a little more the baby pimp-wear phenomenon, I came across a useful and culturally-revealing term. You know about “soccer moms.” The drive to make babies look hip is driven by yoga moms. These are very affluent and style-conscious women who, in their desire for coolness, try to extend their expanded consciousness to their children. Also marketers have a term of their own to reflect the strategy of making products for kids that appeal to the aspirations of the parents: parent-flattering.
Note the other good terms in this account:
One marketing firm has coined a term for such parent-driven kid fashion, an industry likely to hit $17.5 billion this year. It’s a facet of licensing called “parent-flattering,” according to the study by Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com.
Licensing for everything from Disney to “Dora the Explorer” has driven sales for years. But a “parent-flattering” license, such as Jeep or Professional Golfers’ Association logos on kidswear, “bespeaks parents’ own lifestyles,” the report says.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a new phenomenon, but I think it’s very much a growing phenomenon,” says Timothy Dowd, the senior analyst for Packaged Facts who came up with the phrase.
Parent-flattering grows from a bigger trend, called “yoga mommies,” he says. They are a very small group, affluent group who are particular about the style they project.
The influence of yoga mommies has given way to “hipster babies” or “elegant babies” who are “decked out in alternative or upscale fashions that reflect the yoga mommies’ own style sense,” the report says.
Advertising Age recently noted that some “fashionista parents” are spending $150 on toddler blue jeans, the report notes.
Yoga mommies are a small group, but their role is significant, Dowd says. They drive tastes and interest in pricey tot wear. “Millions of moms want to emulate the yoga mommies and can only do the occasional splurge,” he says.
Posted by Veith at 09:08 AM
Dressing babies like pimps and stoners
I have long decried the way parents allow their little girls to wear bare midriffs and clothes modeled after those of prostitutes. Now parents are dressing their babies and toddlers like pimps. A company named Pimpfants is finding success with a whole line of clothing for very young children with allusions to bling and whores, including baby onesies with “Jr. Pimp Squad” in big letters. (I also note in the picture that goes with the article something the journalist apparently didn’t catch: a gang symbol, the three-pointed crown.)
But this is not just a rap-fan phenomenon. Babies and toddlers are also going around in little rock T-shirts, emblazoned with the logos for Metallica, AC/DC, KISS, Ozzy Osbourne, and (apparently given by grandparents) Pink Floyd. “Attitude” slogans are also big among today’s parents, with toddler wear emblazoned with slogans such as “Someday I’ll get trashed at prom” and pictures of Bob Marley smoking a joint.
Parents who buy this stuff, according to the article linked above, say that they want their own style to be reflected in how they dress their kids. Says a buyer for the more upscale but parallel babyGap says parents are looking for clothes that suggest “mini versions of themselves.”
Posted by Veith at 08:52 AM
Critics’ critical illiteracy
In a review of The Lake House, the normally reliable Milwaukee critic Duane Dudek says, “The story of lovers separated by time isn’t innately any more ridiculous than talking cars or warring mutants, but it does prove that suspension of belief is a gossamer thing.” This is only one example of something I keep hearing, critics mangling an enormously helpful concept from one of the greatest critics of all, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
It is not “suspension of belief.” It is “suspension of disbelief.” Coleridge’s point was that a work of fiction must be so put together that it causes readers to set aside their common-sense understanding that the story is not, in fact, real. His phrase was actually “the willing suspension of disbelief.” Readers of their own volition enter into the alternative realm of the story. Inept stories, of course, make us say “that would never happen!” which just shows that the author could not get us to willingly suspend our disbelief. A well-written story may be full of things that would never happen, but we don’t care. Coleridge used the concept to promote the artistic value of fantasy against the advocates of “realism,” though realistic narratives also require the willing suspension of disbelief.
Posted by Veith at 08:35 AM
Journalists’ liturgical illiteracy
In another example of how journalists tend not to have a clue when they cover religion stories, an Associated Press story about revisions to the English version of the Roman Catholic mass goes on and on about how “new” this is, how radical, how the revisions “would change prayers ingrained in the memories of millions of American parishioners.” For example:
• The exchanges between priest and parishioners that now go “The Lord be with you” / “And also with you” would become “The Lord be with you” / “And with your spirit.”
• The Act of Penitence, in which parishioners now confess aloud that they have sinned “through my own fault” would include the lines “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”
• Before Communion, the prayer “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you” would become “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”
There is nothing in the story to indicate that these changes ARE REVERSIONS TO THE OLDER AND MORE TRADITIONAL LANGUAGE!
Posted by Veith at 08:25 AM
Dixie Chicks laying an egg?
Not exactly, though the line was too good not to use. The Dixie Chick’s new album “Taking the Long Way” is the number 1 country album, though country fans are not necessarily the ones buying it. But they have had to cancel nearly half of their concerts scheduled for this summer due to poor ticket sales.
Country radio is not playing any of the singles from the anti-Bush album. Other country artists, such as Tim McGraw and Faith Hill have also criticized the president, with no damage to their popularity. On the other hand, Tim and Faith did not attack country fans as ignorant rednecks. The Chicks, of course, are swathing themselves in the robes of martyrdom, but a clue emerges in the comments from a Milwaukee radio programmer: “‘They asked not to be played between Toby and Reba,’ says operations manager Kerry Wolfe. ‘And I can’t do that.’”
They are presuming to demand control of the songs that are played before and after theirs? To carry out their political vendetta against Toby Keith and their inexplicable contempt for the affable Reba McIntire? This is nothing but spoiled, arrogant Diva attitude. No wonder people no longer like them.
Posted by Veith at 08:04 AM
Indecency
The old penalty for airing indecent programming was $32,500 per incident. The president has just signed a bill allowing the FCC to fine a public airways offender, whether on broadcast TV or the radio, ten times that amount, $325,000. A news story on the subject offers some interesting details:
The agency recently handed down its biggest fine, $3.3 million, against more than 100 CBS affiliates that aired an episode of the series ”Without a Trace” that simulated an orgy scene. That fine is now under review.
The FCC has received increasing complaints about lewd material over the airwaves, and has responded with fines jumping from $440,000 in 2003 to almost $8 million in 2004.
”The problem we have is that the maximum penalty that the FCC can impose under current law is just $32,500 per violation,” Bush said. ”And for some broadcasters, this amount is meaningless. It’s relatively painless for them when they violate decency standards.”
The bill does not apply to cable or satellite broadcasts, and does not try to define what is indecent. The FCC says indecent material is that which contains sexual or excretory material that does not rise to the level of obscenity.
The problem is probably not how much offenders get fined, but defining indecency down. The FCC definition seems pretty clear, in that risible legalese: No “sexual or excretory material.” It doesn’t have to be “obscene,” just don’t have any such references between 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Is that unreasonable?
Posted by Veith at 07:52 AM
June 15, 2006
Upbeat Iraqis
The new Iraqi government is sounding remarkably upbeat. Not only was Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, presiding over a completed cabinet, bolstered by President Bush’s bold trip to Baghdad. But al-Maliki’s National Security Adviser is sounding almost giddy about the information gleaned from a thumb drive that al-Zarqawi had in his pocket when he died.
“We believe that this is the beginning of the end of al-Qaida in Iraq,” al-Rubaie said, adding that the documents showed al-Qaida is in “pretty bad shape,” politically and in terms of training, weapons and media. “Now we have the upper hand,” he said at a news conference in Baghdad. “We feel that we know their locations, the names of their leaders, their whereabouts, their movements, through the documents we found during the last few days.”
He went so far as to predict that the United States would be able to withdraw a large number of troops by the end of the year, with a majority leaving the year after that. “And maybe the last soldier will leave Iraq by mid-2008,” he said.
We are not used to good news, and we have been burned so often, we are leery of optimism. But still. These remarks also show how it is that Americans will withdraw. At some point, the Iraqi government–once the leaders feel they can survive without us–will ask us to. And, with that diplomatic cover, we will.
Posted by Veith at 06:34 AM
Hurricane fraud
Yes, we wanted to help all those hurricane victims. Yes, we felt bad about how poorly the government dealt with the emergency. Yes, we wanted to feel better by pouring out government largesse. So federal money flowed into the disaster-stricken region like the water did. And now we know that 16% of that aid–some $1 billion–was taken or spent fraudulently. People who did not need the help said they did and cashed in. People spent their emergency grants on jewelry, porn, vacations, and–according to what I heard on CNN last night–in one case, a sex change operation.
Posted by Veith at 06:20 AM
Gerson to leave White House
Michael Gerson, the conservative Christian who was President Bush’s speech writer and trusted advisor, is leaving the White House. No hard feelings, from all reports, just moving on. According to this article, he managed to earn a lot of respect, even from his political opponents. He sounds like a good vocation model for how to carry his faith into the public square.
Posted by Veith at 06:12 AM
June 14, 2006
The death penalty hurts
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case from a condemned murderer who is challenging the death penalty because, he contends, lethal injection causes pain. Therefore, he argues, it constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” and so is unconstitutional.
Posted by Veith at 06:59 AM
Trial for insulting Islam
The trial of Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci is underway in Italy. Her crime? insulting Islam in a book she published. (Go to the link for more links.) So much for freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the European Union. Why aren’t the literati protesting? Why isn’t the rest of Western civilization protesting?
Posted by Veith at 06:51 AM
The coming Dark Ages?
Historian and conservative think tanker Niall Ferguson has written a provocative column entitled The End of Power. Right now, the USA is the only existing superpower. That seldom lasts, with new centers of power historically coming into existence, in the present case, China, Islam, the European Union striving to create a “multipolar” world. But Ferguson gives reasons why these possible competitors may never emerge and why America too may decline. He sees the possibility of an “apolar” world. That may sound utopian, but what it would amount to is a new Dark Age. Click “continue reading” for why.
Ferguson writes:
Indeed, one must go back much further in history to find a period of true and enduring apolarity; as far back, in fact, as the ninth and 10th centuries, when the heirs of the Roman empire–Rome and Byzantium–had receded from the height of their power, when the Abbasid caliphate was also waning and when the Chinese empire was languishing between the Tang and Sung dynasties. In the absence of strong secular polities, it was religious institutions–the Papacy, the monastic orders, the Muslim ulema–that often set the political agenda. That helps explain why the period culminated with the holy war known as the Crusades. Yet this clash of civilizations was in many ways just one more example of the apolar world’s susceptibility to long-distance military raids directed at urban centers by more backward peoples. The Vikings were perhaps the principal beneficiaries of an anarchic age. Small wonder that the future seemed to lie in creating small defensible entities like the Venetian republic or the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England.
Could an apolar world today produce an era reminiscent of that troubled time? Certainly, one can imagine the world’s established powers retreating into their own regional spheres of influence. But what of the growing pretensions to autonomy of the supranational bodies created under U.S. leadership after World War II? The U.N., the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO each regards itself as in some way representing the “international community.” Surely their aspirations to global governance are fundamentally different from the spirit of the Dark Ages?
Yet universal claims were an integral part of the rhetoric of that era. All the empires claimed to rule the world; some, unaware of the existence of other civilizations, maybe even believed that they did. The reality, however, was political fragmentation. And that remains true today. The defining characteristic of our age is not a shift of power upward to supranational institutions, but downward. If free flows of information and factors of production have empowered multinational corporations and NGOs (to say nothing of evangelistic cults of all denominations), the free flow of destructive technology has empowered criminal organizations and terrorist cells, the Viking raiders of our time. These can operate wherever they choose, from Hamburg to Gaza. By contrast, the writ of the international community is not global. It is, in fact, increasingly confined to a few strategic cities such as Kabul and Sarajevo.
Waning empires. Religious revivals. Incipient anarchy. A coming retreat into fortified cities. These are the Dark Age experiences that a world without a hyperpower might find itself reliving. The trouble is, of course, that this Dark Age would be an altogether more dangerous one than the one of the ninth century. For the world is roughly 25 times more populous, so that friction between the world’s “tribes” is bound to be greater. Technology has transformed production; now societies depend not merely on freshwater and the harvest but also on supplies of mineral oil that are known to be finite. Technology has changed destruction, too: Now it is possible not just to sack a city, but to obliterate it.
For more than two decades, globalization has been raising living standards, except where countries have shut themselves off from the process through tyranny or civil war. Deglobalization–which is what a new Dark Age would amount to–would lead to economic depression. As the U.S. sought to protect itself after a second 9/11 devastated Houston, say, it would inevitably become a less open society. And as Europe’s Muslim enclaves grow, infiltration of the EU by Islamist extremists could become irreversible, increasing trans-Atlantic tensions over the Middle East to breaking point. Meanwhile, an economic crisis in China could plunge the Communist system into crisis, unleashing the centrifugal forces that have undermined previous Chinese empires. Western investors would lose out, and conclude that lower returns at home are preferable to the risks of default abroad.
The worst effects of the Dark Age would be felt on the margins of the waning great powers. With ease, the terrorists could disrupt the freedom of the seas, targeting oil tankers and cruise liners while we concentrate our efforts on making airports secure. Meanwhile, limited nuclear wars could devastate numerous regions, beginning in Korea and Kashmir; perhaps ending catastrophically in the Middle East.
The prospect of an apolar world should frighten us a great deal more than it frightened the heirs of Charlemagne. If the U.S. is to retreat from the role of global hegemon–its fragile self-belief dented by minor reversals–its critics must not pretend that they are ushering in a new era of multipolar harmony. The alternative to unpolarity may not be multipolarity at all. It may be a global vacuum of power. Be careful what you wish for.
At least he foresees a religious revival.
Posted by Veith at 06:27 AM
June 13, 2006
Who wants to be a politician?
Russia’s Vladimir Putin is worried that nearly all of his country’s politicians are old stodgy bureaucrat types. So he decreed that from now on, at least 20% of the parliamentary deputies from his party, United Russia, be between 21 and 28. The problem is, Russia’s young people are profoundly apathetic about politics. So his party has launched Political Factory,”modeled after the popular TV show “Star Factory” (cf. “American Idol”), to get young adults into the halls of power.
Radio stations throughout the country are running the competition. Twenty-somethings answer questions, prepare videos, and give speeches. Panels of United Russia apparatchiks narrow down the contestants and pick the winner. (No, letting the audience vote is much too democratic for Mr. Putin’s party.) Taking the reality show approach to recruiting candidates and stirring up interest among the young masses seems to be effective, not to mention getting a whole demographic to vote for United Russia.
Posted by Veith at 05:55 AM
Violence moves to the heartland
Violent crime is back up, after 15 years of decline, rising 2.5%. In cities over a million, though, the number of murders and robberies continues to decline. The gain is coming in small to medium size cities, especially in the Midwest. Gangs, killers, and thieves must want a less hectic lifestyle.
Posted by Veith at 05:47 AM
Two Kingdoms for Newbies
Puzzled, who calls himself a “newbie” (though I have met Puzzled and he is not so puzzled as all that) asks if the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms is in the Book of Concord. Yes, indeed, most explicitly in the Augsburg Confession, Article XVI, especially the Apology, in which this terminology is developed.
Interestingly, one theme of the Reformation was to lift up the value of the temporal kingdom–marriage, vocation, the state–over against the spiritual kingdom, which in medieval Catholicism had exalted the Church over everything else.
Posted by Veith at 05:42 AM
June 12, 2006
Net Neutrality shot down
A measure that would ensure “net neutrality”–that all internet content be treated the same–was shot down by the House of Representatives. The bill was designed to keep broadband providers from providing special premium services. Critics say that without “net neutrality,” the internet will become like a cable TV subscription. Defenders of the service providers deny that, insisting that service providers need to be able to make some money if consumers want to access movies, avoid spam, and block porn. Both sides are invoking the free market. Which do you think has the better claim to wear that mantle?
Posted by Veith at 08:20 AM
What happened to drama?
The 60th annual Tony Awards were given out last night, mostly to nostalgic retro pieces and revivals. Has live drama lost its relevance? It remains a compelling art form, but is the public’s only experience with it now in dinner theaters and high school performances? Right now, the only play I really want to see is the Monty Python farce “Spamalot.” Is there anything out there that I should really see? Are there ways of bringing back drama?
Posted by Veith at 07:47 AM
“Da Vinci Code” passes “The Passion of the Christ”
The movie about the Gnostics’ Jesus passed the movie about the crucified Jesus in worldwide box office receipts. Though “The Passion of the Christ” is still far ahead in the American market, the global market seems to like the gospel according to Dan Brown better. “The Da Vinci Code” has taken in $642 million, compared to $623 million for “The Passion of the Christ,” making it #26 on the all-time hit list. This goes along with what I have suspected, that the impact of this revisionist book and the movie that goes with it will be greatest on the mission field, including the hyper-secularized Western nations that now have a good rationalization for dismissing their Christian heritage.
Posted by Veith at 07:38 AM
June 09, 2006
Satan the Insurgent
I don’t think Satan has a kingdom, as such. All authority comes from God (Romans 13). Satan certainly has dominion, like Osama bin Laden has dominion over his minions, which he enforces by fear and perhaps admiration, but he is no rightful ruler. Rather, Satan wreaks havoc in BOTH kingdoms.
He is our accuser in the spiritual kingdom, trying to get us to base our salvation on our works instead of Christ and then plaguing us with guilt, then despair, then unbelief. In that spiritual kingdom, he founds false religions and heresies. He sows discord in the church and, since he hates all legitimate authorities, undermines belief in the Word of God. But he has been thoroughly defeated by the true King, the son of David, who crushed his head on the Cross.
In the earthly kingdom, Satan also tries to destroy real authority, breaking up families and corrupting legitimate rulers so that they become illegitimate. He undermines all vocations–marriage and parenthood; the work place; the culture–tempting us to use them all for ourselves rather than for our neighbor. He loves to create chaos, whether social, moral, or emotional. And yes, since he often has his way for those who are not covered by the blood of Christ, he can be called the usurping “prince of this world.”
I picture Hell as not so much the ordered hierarchy of Dante but as a place of anarchy. The damned are at the mercy of the demons, who, of course–since mercy is of God–have no mercy.
Rather than being a king, Satan is an insurgent.
Posted by Veith at 05:47 AM
June 08, 2006
Two Kingdoms, or Three Kingdoms?
Reader Mark Eischer poses an interesting question:_
I’m writing concerning a question about Two-Kingdom theology. Perhaps you can answer the question or point me in the right direction for further information. I read your article, “Christianity & Culture: God’s Double Sovereignty” in which you state that Christians are citizens of two kingdoms, the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this world. My question is: do unbelievers have a spiritual citizenship, as well? Is there perhaps a third kingdom, a satanic spiritual kingdom that is the default condition of the unbaptized? Or does this give Satan too much honor? Maybe his is a kingdom of nothingness, not really a kingdom at all. What do you think?
Well, what do YOU think? Where does the Devil fit into the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms? I’ll venture my opinion tomorrow. _
Posted by Veith at 06:49 AM
Rated R for Religion
Christianity may become the new sex & violence. Columnist Terry Mattingly reports that a new family-friendly movie made by Christians, “Face the Giants,” was denied a G rating. The squeaky-clean film about a football coach was given a PG rating for “thematic elements.” Meaning it includes explicit scenes ofChristianity!
The MPAA, noted Fuhr, tends to offer cryptic explanations for its ratings. In this case, she was told that it “decided that the movie was heavily laden with messages from one religion and that this might offend people from other religions. It’s important that they used the word ‘proselytizing’ when they talked about giving this movie a PG. …
“It is kind of interesting that faith has joined that list of deadly sins that the MPAA board wants to warn parents to worry about.”
Posted by Veith at 06:45 AM
Soccer’s World Series
A true World Series begins tomorrow, the most popular sporting event in the world. And yet most Americans, alone on the globe, are oblivious to it. The global soccer championship, the World Cup, begins June 9 and goes on for a whole month, with the championship game on July 9. And, ironically, the American team is highly-rated this year. According to an elaborate statistical ranking scale, the USA ranks 5th, above such powerhouses as Italy, England, and Germany. Unfortunately, the team is in a killer bracket, playing Italy, Czechoslovakia, Ghana, and the defending champion favored to repeat Brazil. Still, the team is worth following.
Why hasn’t soccer caught on in the USA, practially alone in all the world? That is to say, it has caught on as an organized sport for little kids and has some traction on the college level. But professional soccer, though in existence, has not caught the broader public’s sporting imagination. Why not?
Posted by Veith at 06:33 AM
Al-Zarqawi is dead
A U.S. airstrike killed Abu Al-Zarqawi–the head of Al-Qaida in Iraq, the leader of the Sunni insurgents, the man who preached civil war against the Shi’ites, the terrorist who filmed himself beheading innocent hostages.
Will this mean peace in Iraq? No, at least not at first. But never underestimate the importance of leadership. This is the best news in the Iraq war since the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Posted by Veith at 05:36 AM
June 07, 2006
Your private DNA
What do you think about establishing a DNA bank of all Americans, to clear up identity problems and to facilitate crime detection? My knee-jerk response is to see this as a massive privacy violation, but let’s think a little deeper. This would not be surveillance of anyone’s behavior or ideas. The proposals being floated would only keep track of a small portion of a person’s genetic code helpful for identification, not medically-sensitive data. Could there be a legitimate way of doing this? Or not?
Posted by Veith at 06:37 AM
Elaborate, poisoned kindness
Christian news service ASSIST interviewed Garrison Keillor about his upcoming movie Prairie Home Companion and asked him about all of his Lutheran jokes. The reporter asked, do Lutherans ever send you hate mail? “No,Lutherans would never ever send hate mail,” he said. “They would think harsh thoughts of course but then they would treat you with elaborate, poisoned kindness.”
Posted by Veith at 06:06 AM
Hispanic Muslims
At least a mini-trend among Hispanics is converting to Islam. Catholicism, say some, does not give them a personal relationship with God (echoing what evangelicals say). Hispanic women who convert say Islam gives them more respect, as opposed to the macho women-as-sex-object codes of their own culture (downplaying how Islam subjugates women). Converts also praise Islam’s family values (even though the conversion stories generally recount how their own Catholic families rejected them for rejecting Christianity).
Muslims conquered Spain in the pre-medieval days and ruled it for centuries, a fate that almost happened to the rest of Europe. To this day, Islamic militants claim that Spain is really theirs, one of their many never-forget grievances they hold against the West, and the recovery of the Iberian peninsula is one of the goals of their jihad. Note how Islam’s appeal is in many ways due to the failure of the church to exert a spiritual and moral influence in the culture. Now Islam is rushing into the vacuum. We will be seeing much more of this, and not just among our minority groups but among mainstream white Americans.
See Mollie Ziegler’s comments on the news accounts of this phenomenon. Mollie is a confessional Lutheran journalist of great insight who blogs at Get Religion, a site that tracks how the media handles religious issues.
Posted by Veith at 05:58 AM
June 06, 2006
Our helpful little guests
Germs, that is to say, bacteria, are not always bad. In fact, we could not live without the little fellows. New scientific studies are demonstrating just how dependent we are on the trillions of separate organisms inhabiting our bodies.
Going by sheer numbers, only 10% of the cells in our body are human cells; 90% are bacterial cells. But they are much smaller, constituting about three pounds of a person’s weight. Most of these live in the “gut,” the digestive system. They are absolutely necessary in breaking down the food we eat into energy for our cells. They also generate vitamins. One strain creates a particular fatty acid that feeds the lining of the large intestine. Medical researchers are realizing that manipulating the different kinds of bacteria in our system may well constitute a whole new frontier for treating disease and promoting health.
Does this freak you out, knowing that your body is playing host to other creatures that are not you, but which nevertheless help you? I find it oddly encouraging. Definitely a sign of Design. And proof, in the natural order, of the interdependence, the giving and receiving, necessary for social order. Can we say that such symbiotic relationships in nature are emblematic of vocation? Do micro-organisms have a vocation?
Posted by Veith at 06:00 AM
How to undo a baseball curse?
On October 9, 1996, the Orioles were playing the Yankees in the first game of the American League Championship series. Derek Jeter hit a long fly ball. A 12-year-old Yankee fan named Jeffrey Meier reached over, prevented Oriole outfielder Tony Tarasco from catching the ball, and caught it himself. Inexplicably, instead of ruling fan interference, umpire Richie Garcia ruled it a home run. That one play proved pivotal to the whole series. And ever since, the Yankees have been ascendant and the Orioles have gone nowhere. All thanks to that kid.
But since then that kid has grown up, gone to college, and become a really good baseball player. To the point that the Orioles are considering signing him. At Wesleyan (Connecticut), Meier has set the record for hits during a season and has a .375 average for his college career. Plus, as a third-baseman/outfielder, as the Orioles know, he is good with the glove.
It may be that someone else will draft him first. But though hatred of that kid has become an Oriole mantra, Baltimore seems strangely open to the idea. Forgiveness has always been the best way to undo a curse.
Posted by Veith at 05:39 AM
Happy 6/6/6
I just wanted to write it. We’ll have more repeated-number dates for six more years, though I suppose none that recall the Number of the Beast. In this climate of Biblical illiteracy, I’m surprised the culture as a whole knows this little tid-bit and is making such a big superstitious deal about it.
Posted by Veith at 05:27 AM
June 05, 2006
From megachurch to mini-church
You know all of those church growth techniques, designed to transform a congregation into a behemoth with thousands of members, which will supposedly attract people in today’s culture? Well, file them away. The megachurch is out. The mini-church is in. The latest ecclesiastical trend that is now said to attract people in today’s culture is the house church.
Small groups of like-minded people meet in each other’s homes, as in Bible studies. But this becomes their church. No clergy, no denominations, no particular organization. They are sprouting up spontaneously. Pollster George Barna, who has been tracking the phenomenon, believes that over the next two decades, regular churches will lose up to half their “market share” to house churches.
In a way, I can sympathize. I suspect that many of these house Christians have come from these vast impersonal megachurches and crave the human scale. And many are doubtless disillusioned with denominational bureaucracy and institutional politics. But my heart goes out to these folks who are shutting themselves from genuine pastoral care (which they probably have never experienced in their old churches) and from genuine worship (which in these house churches is reduced to non-sermonic “sharing” and maybe singing a few songs).
Yesterday, as I make my move to the D. C. area, I attended St. Athanasius Lutheran Church in Vienna, Virginia. It too is rather minimalistic in its “campus,” as megachurches insist on calling their property, sharing a little building with a Hispanic Seventh Day Adventist congregation that uses it on Saturday. It is a “growing congregation” but still gloriously small, with about 50 people in attendance. It offered the the historic Lutheran liturgy, the “Divine Service” in all its majesty and comfort. The sermon was an illuminating exposition of the “Dry Bones” passage in Ezekiel (which refers to “all Israel,” that is, to all of God’s people, who were dead and dry, until Christ on the Cross became “a sack of dry bones” for us, and whose Resurrection led to the wind of the Holy Spirit, as celebrated on that Pentecost Sunday, giving us new life and our own resurrection). And we received the Lord’s Supper.
I think the house church format could be legitimate, especially under persecution, as in the early church and in today’s China and as may be coming here. They need the office of the ministry to hold them together and keep them legitimately Christian. They can celebrate the liturgy in homes. But people who reject traditional “church” ought first to see if they can find it done right.
Do any of you go to house churches?
Posted by Veith at 05:56 AM
Edit your home
A sign of our culture’s unparalleled affluence: People possess so much stuff, they are hiring other people to get rid of it for them. They call in home decorators to, as they say, “edit the living room”. Editors of language cut out excess words. Editors of homes cut out clutter. Contemplate this, from a USA Today article on the phenomenon:
Editing is an outgrowth of the USA’s burgeoning decluttering industry; an estimated $1 billion in organizing products and services are being snapped up annually. Barry Izsak, president of the Glenview, Ill.-based National Association of Professional Organizers, says five founders started the organization in 1985. Today there are more than 3,700 members, and he expects that number to double by 2010.
Posted by Veith at 05:42 AM
Oil in the rocks
Experts estimate that the world’s oil reserves are about a trillion barrels. Colorado has the equivalent of the whole world’s oil supply locked up in its vast deposits of oil shale. Wyoming and Utah have another trillion.
Canada has 2.7 trillion barrels in its oil sands, which that country is already exploiting. Extracting the oil out of shale is more difficult. The old way was to dig it out in vast strip mines, then crush the rock to squeeze out the oil. But now we have the technology to get out the oil without wreaking the land. This involves drilling down into the subterranean formations and putting in devices to heat the rock, making the oil come out, which can then be just pumped out. But this still takes energy to get the energy. So far getting oil from oil shale on a mass scale has not been cost effective. But now with gasoline at $3 per gallon that is on the verge of changing.
Posted by Veith at 05:26 AM
My lifestyle update
I like my George Foreman grill. But how do I use it without setting off the smoke alarm?
Posted by Veith at 05:23 AM
June 02, 2006
Hungry for umami
I just learned about umami. It seems scientists have isolated four tastes that our different taste buds on our tongues respond to: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Supposedly, all of the flavors we experience in food is some combination of those four. But it seems that we taste so many more flavors than just those. Japanese scientists argued that there was at least one more: “umami,” which means “savory,” the taste in meats, cheese, Worchestershire sauce, etc. Western scientists disagreed, arguing in that reductionistic empiricist way that unless they can isolate a corresponding taste bud then the taste does not exist, despite what our experience tells us. Recently, though, the umami taste bud was isolated, so it does exist.
I learned that the most intense experience of umami comes when meat “breaks down,” as in steaks that are dry aged to the point of decomposition, or when meat is cooked very, very slowly for a long time–which explains the phenomenon of BBQ! I must have a lot of umami receptors on my tongue, since these are the tastes I crave and seek out.
Posted by Veith at 07:24 AM
Lutheran floating in space
Jeff Williams, the Lutheran astronaut, just finished a 6.5 hour space walk to repair the space station where he is spending six months. In this story, we learn that it gets freezing cold floating out there in the void. I’m sure Jeff would appreciate our prayers to support him in the remarkable demands of his calling.
Posted by Veith at 07:17 AM
Peace prize winner’s new job
East Timor, one of the poorest nations in Asia, has been fighting a bloody civil war that has plunged the country into anarchy, even though the various factions are ethnically, linguistically, and religiously identical. But order seems to be restored at least for now by putting the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in charge of the nation’s military.
Jose Ramos-Horta, who shared the 1996 peace prize with a countryman, was named Minister of Defense. He isn’t the pacifist or Jimmy-Carter kind of Nobel laureate, but an ex-guerilla fighter himself in this Catholic country. Click here for the details. Click here for an attempt to explain the conflict.
Posted by Veith at 07:06 AM
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May 31, 2006
Conservative rock songs
You have GOT to read National Review’s John J. Miller on the top 50 conservative rock songs. He gives his list, then a paragraph on each song showing why it’s conservative.
Hat Tip to Bruce Gee, who offered these highlights:
Top 5: WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN by the Who
TAXMAN the Beatles
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL Stones
SWEET HOME ALABAMA Lynyrd Skynyrd
WOULDN’T IT BE NICE The Beach Boys
_Other highlights:
BODIES the Sex Pistols (anti abortion)
NEIGHBORHOOD BULLY Dylan (about Israel)
JANIE’S GOT A GUN Aerosmith (Gun laws)
and #50:
STAND BY YOUR MAN T Wynette
Any other nominations?
Posted by Veith at 09:41 AM
A night at the opera
Before I left, my wife and I went to the opera. I know I’m supposed to be this sophisticated culture vulture, but I had never been to an opera before. I’ve been to the Grand Ole Opera. But that was not very much like Verdi’s “Aida.” I liked it.
This particular art form is indeed a combination of the visual (the sets, the performers arranged in stylized tableaux), the aural (magnificent music), and the dramatic (in this case, a tragedy in ancient Egypt). It makes me want to see the Ring Cycle. I think opera lends itself to the mythic and the elemental. Someone should stage Handel’s “Messiah” as an actual opera.
Posted by Veith at 07:42 AM
Out on my own
Well, I’m moved into my new apartment in Virginia. And thanks to a neighbor whom I don’t yet know who has a wireless network that is not password protected, I can even get on line, even though the cable guy doesn’t come until Saturday. My wife won’t be able to join me permanently for some time, so we’ll be running two households, going back and forth on weekends when we can.
Here I am in my fifties, and this is the first time I’ve had to live by myself! I had roommates in my college years, and we got married while still in school. Now for the first time I’ve got to set up an apartment, plan my meals, and keep everything in order. Going to Target to buy all that stuff one needs to live on was pretty depressing. (My daughter Mary is helping me move in, though, and she has been invaluable, since, as she has said, she has lived in 6 apartments.) I was even reduced to buying what must be the icon of bachelorhood, a George Foreman Grill! Which actually seems like a great invention I’m looking forward to trying. But still. . . .
This must be what divorced guys go through all the time (which is probably what my new neighbors think I am). It will be an existential ordeal. But perhaps it will be good for me in the long run, this mid-life change, jolting me out of my ruts. I hope the Lord is putting me through this because I can bring something He wants done with Patrick Henry College. Anyway, do pray for me.
Posted by Veith at 07:23 AM
May 26, 2006
Slight hiatus
Over the Memorial Day weekend, I’ll be in moving mode. I’m actually in Virginia right now, but I have to fly back, pack up, and hit the road in my pickup truck, to set up shop for my new gig at Patrick Henry College. (Our full move will come later.)
As I learn more about my new tasks, I am feeling overwhelmed. Not only must I help the school recover from a tragic meltdown, I must attend to a thousand administrative details, including policy and structural matters. Also, I must find top-level new faculty members dedicated to Christianity and to the classical liberal arts. (Feel free to post recommendation, nominations, or self-nominations.
And send your kids to Patrick Henry, especially if they are homeschooled (even if they aren’t, but the school was designed for homeschoolers, with lots of financial aid, even though we don’t take money from the federal government so as to add to the national debt). It’s not too late to apply.
Anyway, I am going to take a brief hiatus from blogging during these moving days. Do check back, continue the earlier discussions–some of which have been going on for weeks!–and I’ll pick things up at the very end of the month. I’ll still be doing my column for WORLD periodically, and I’ll still be doing this blog. (Also the Cranach Institute and my writing.) But please, seriously, pray for me as I take up the task of being Academic Dean at Patrick Henry College.
Posted by Veith at 08:01 AM
May 25, 2006
Restoring sexual morality and Christian marriage
The divorce rate among Christians is virtually identical with that of non-Christians. The majority of Christian as well as non-Christian singles indulge in sex outside of marriage. Many Christians, including pastors, are addicted to pornography. “Living together” and homosexuality are now socially acceptable. Sexual morality, not only in the culture but in the church, is in a state of collapse._How can the Christian sexual ethic be recovered? How can we apply, in practical terms, the Word of God to build strong, fulfilling marriages, according to God’s design? How can the church move beyond denouncing sin to bring to bear the gospel of Christ on these issues?
Despite the urgency of these questions, American Christianity, on the whole, has not faced up to these issues. But now the Cranach Institute, Concordia Theological Seminary, and the LCMS Board for World Relief-Human Care have brought together experts from a wide variety of traditions and specialties to give pastors, counselors, and laypeople help for both ministry and for the everyday callings of husbands, wives, and singles.
Please try to attend–and spread the word about– the conference we have put together entitled “The Image of God: The Christian Vision for Love and Marriage,” to be held September 18-20 at Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Speakers and seminar leaders will include Lauren Winner, Christopher West, and experts from Focus on the Family. Click here for more information.
Posted by Veith at 07:55 AM
Geography Bee
“Name the mountains that extend across much of Wales from the Irish Sea to the Bristol Channel.” Click “continue reading” for the answer.
Twelve-year-old Bonny Jain knew the answer, which won him (not her) the $25,0000 prize in the 2006 National Geographic Bee.
Knowledge of geography, like knowledge of spelling, has become all too rare, so kudos to those who learn it well. Go here for more information and here for a geography game.
Cambrian
Posted by Veith at 07:53 AM
The beltway snipers’ jihad
Michelle Malkin addresses what I asked about recently, whether the Beltway Snipers were Islamic jihadists. She cites evidence they were indeed–though perhaps also reflecting the White Devil theology of America’s Black Muslims (though weren’t some of the victims black?). She posts some chilling jailhouse drawings that are paeans to Islam, Jihad, and murder.
Posted by Veith at 07:47 AM
You owe half a million dollars
The cover story of USA Today calculates that the government’s unfunded obligations–mostly upcoming retirement benefits–break down to $510,678 for every household.
That’s sort of a fictional number, of course, federal financing not being exactly like another credit card bill, but the numbers show the magnitude of the problem. I wonder why the newspaper did not put this story together when President Bush was trying to reform Social Security, when it might have alerted a complacent public to the problem. I don’t recall USA Today’s editorial position on social security reform, but it seems that the media was bashing the President when trying to fix this sort of problem, and now it is bashing him again for not having fixed it. Would that our leaders could get beyond scoring political points off of each other to solve this and other pressing national problems, which is their true vocation, not just running a never-ending political campaign.
Posted by Veith at 07:33 AM
Idol words
So Taylor Hicks won, though I haven’t noticed the culture getting noticably better, though we should give him a chance. Interestingly, one musical style has not dominated the competition over its five year run, with winners singing pop, R&B, country, and now “soul.” We have not had a rock winner, though a number of contestants sang in that vein. That will surely come. We’ll see if rap can get a hearing. At this rate, in a few years maybe we’ll have someone who does jazz. Or if the genres really run out and wear out, classical. (Yeah, right, you are thinking.)
Posted by Veith at 07:21 AM
Totally Lost
I can understand Shakespeare. I can decipher the poems of T. S. Eliot. But I have no idea what was going on in the season finale of “Lost.”
Posted by Veith at 07:20 AM
May 24, 2006
Was this Islamic terrorism?
More information is coming out about those sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C. area in 2002 that killed 10 people. The young triggerman Lee Malvo testified against John Allen Muhammad in a Maryland trial. (Both have already been convicted for some of the other murders, with Muhammad already given a death sentence.)
The Washington Post has a gripping but sad account of Malvo’s testimony, with mention of the bigger plan: “Muhammad told Malvo they would obtain a $10 million payment in exchange for stopping the killings, and then recruit 140 homeless children to a compound in Canada where they would trained to “continue the mission”–namely, a prolonged terror campaign against America.”
But the Post says nothing about the motive for this “terror campaign against America.” Did Muhammad consider these sniper attacks to be part of the Islamic jihad? This would seem to be an obvious question for authorities and journalists to answer one way or the other.
Posted by Veith at 07:20 AM
The Lost World
Not that I’ll be watching the “American Idol” finale. That overlaps with the “Lost” finale, a program that has sucked me in with its labyrinthine plots, weird goings-on, and imbedded puzzles. (There is a trend for you, mirrored also in the Da Vinci Code: a story consisting of puzzles to figure out. Can you think of any other examples?)
Most shows of this kind, with the never-ending story line, get viewers frustrated eventually, since they never around to revealing anything. “Lost” started to get that way, but in this last season, the writers finally gave some resolutions. Tonight’s episode is being hyped as not only resolving the Michael/Walt storyline but delivering one of the most surprising cliffhangers ever. Also, in the Lost world, there is indeed meaning, with everything connected to everything else, with mystery but in a realm where the supernatural is real–and Christianity is taken seriously.
Posted by Veith at 07:01 AM
The end of Idolatry
I would argue that, while it might be better for the culture if Taylor were to win in the “American Idol” finale tonight, Katharine is, in fact, by objective aesthetic standards (which we would do well to recover), better. Now you can give your opinion. . . .
Posted by Veith at 06:56 AM
May 23, 2006
If Goebbels had the internet
I caught a remarkable documentary last night, The Man Behind Hitler, one of in “American Experience” series on PBS. It was about Hitler’s weaselly propaganda Czar, Josef Goebbels. It took a masterfully simple approach to making a documentary: simply read excerpts from the man’s diary, while showing footage of the times and events he was talking about.
We see, of course, the banality of evil, with Goebbel’s petty jealousies and whining complaints. But we also see that “behind Hitler” was an artsy intellectual. He really understood the effect and the potential of technology. He observed, for example, that while England had seapower, Germany had airpower, which would prove to be the wave of the future. More to the point, he understood how the new media–especially film and this brand-new invention of the television–could be used to shape people’s minds.
Hearing Goebbel’s own words, we also see how Nazism–from being a conservative movement–was anti-conservative. He talks with contempt of the “bourgeoisie” and celebrates their suppression in a glorious revolution. We hear about his sexual immorality. Goebbels also tears down Christianity, saying that National Socialism will be the new “modern” religion (all it needs, he says, are some good rituals). As I keep warning, we haven’t seen the last of this sort of thing.
Posted by Veith at 07:34 AM
Soul man or pop diva?
Would it be better for the culture if Taylor Hicks or Katharine McPhee wins “American Idol.” Notice, I did not say which one you like best. Or which one you think will win. Maybe we’ll do that tomorrow, as the nation awaits the climactic decision. Which one would be better for the culture? Could we say, for example, that we don’t need any more pretty pop stars, since we have those in great supply, but that exalting a homely, grey-haired bluesy singer would somehow be more salutary?
Posted by Veith at 07:28 AM
The Bond alternative
Do you want to follow a baseball superhero, but are put off and burned out with Barry Bonds? Shift your attention to the St. Louis Cardinal’s Albert Pujols. This early in the season he has already hit 22 home runs, has 54 RBI, and is hitting well over .300. And he is only 26, in his fifth year as a pro. He already has 201 home runs. And he is a devout Christian.
Posted by Veith at 07:23 AM
May 22, 2006
Diss Bush, but not Reba!
The Dixie Chicks, who fell out of the good graces of many country music fans when they attacked President Bush at the beginning of the Iraq war, have a new album out, which is unrepentant and defiant. The first single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” peaked at #36 on the top 50 and is already going down. But band member Martie McGuire, like Milton, prefers to have fit fans, though few. She told Time Magazine, “I’d rather have a small following of really cool people who get it, who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith. We don’t want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do.”
OK, we know the Chicks have had a long-running feud with Toby Keith, whom they consider a right-wing red-neck Neanderthal. But why the condescending shot at Reba McEntire, who is not all that political and who by all accounts would never hurt a fly? Indeed, Reba arguably paved the way for the Dixie Chick’s brand of edgy women’s music. I suspect this will hurt them with country fans more than their criticism of President Bush. He is fair game. But cutting Reba like this is just mean.
Posted by Veith at 11:52 AM
Da Vinci post mortem
OK, so “The Da Vinci Code” is a huge hit at the box office. How could it not be with so much free publicity? But the critics are tearing it to pieces. Here is my favorite from Devin Faraci of the movie website CHUD, who calls the movie “Retarded, ridiculous and crushingly dull.” Then he tells us what he really thinks: “It’s a movie that’s too stupid to appreciate its own stupid origins, and so it takes itself completely seriously. The stupider things get, the more seriously the movie takes itself, and the more seriously it takes itself, the funnier it is. The movie isn’t content with its own stupidity–it actively assumes that the audience is operating on a simian mental level (although considering how bad the writing in Brown’s original novel is, maybe the movie is overestimating the fanbase).”
Of course it is a hit, but some of the critics are saying that the movie just shows how ridiculous the book’s premise is, which apparently goes over better if you read it than if you see it in a movie. But, have any of you seen it? Please give us a report.
Posted by Veith at 11:48 AM
May 19, 2006
Why? Are you out of your mind?
Some of you are wondering why I am leaving working for WORLD full-time to go to Patrick Henry College. As evidenced in yesterday’s post on the troubled situation there, it would seem that I am leaving an easy job for one that is very difficult, a pleasant situation for one that will be very challenging. After all, what do I do as WORLD’s culture editor? I keep up with what is happening and write my opinions about it. I also get paid to go to the movies and watch TV. What a soft gig.
And now you are walking into what looks like a minefield, put into a situation where you have to right all kinds of wrongs, build up an academic program, disrupt your home and family, and doubtless get all kinds of grief. Are you out of your mind?
Especially bothersome is the flack I am getting from some fellow Lutherans. You will be working with all of these. . . these non-Lutherans! A former student asks, “Are you giving up your Lutheran faith?”
A major theme of this blog is vocation, so these questions deserve an answer. Click “continue reading” if you want to hear it.
(1) While I think that I do have a vocation as a writer–and I appreciate WORLD for giving me the chance to make my living doing it–I am at heart an academic and not a journalist. I have had assignments that required me to interview and probe and gather information that resulted in my writing articles that were embarrassing and hurtful to those I wrote about. I have interviewed people just like I am now getting interviewed, and written articles similar to those that are being written about Patrick Henry. That’s OK. It’s part of the journalist’s calling to do that. But I hated doing it. And I don’t think I was that good at it. Even when I wrote as a journalist, I was being an academic.
(2) I got lonesome. Yes, this is a great gig, working from my home, in front of my computer all day, all by myself. There are some great people at WORLD, but my only contact with them was in our weekly conference calls and over the internet. I started missing human interaction. An unfortunate cultural phenomenon is that most people’s friends and social life today centers around the workplace. After leaving Concordia, I lacked that. I missed having colleagues. I missed having students. (I know! I may be getting more than I bargained for at PHC, but conflicts are part of human interaction, and my goal is to restore the collegial atmosphere that needs to exist at an effective school.)
(3) I am an educator. I have long believed that a Christian view of the universe provides a better foundation for education than the current postmodernist climate of relativism and intellectual anti-intellectualism. I have studied the success of homeschoolers and students in classical Christian schools, which bear this out. I have long felt that Christian higher education lags far behind the educational reforms and achievements we are seeing on the primary and secondary level. Patrick Henry College seems to have the potential to lead in this regard.
I had put together an Honors College for Concordia, which would take the best and the brightest of students and nourish them with a top-flight classical curriculum. That got shot down. But Patrick Henry seems to already be doing that!
(4) As for the Lutheran issue, first of all: YES I AM STILL A LUTHERAN! Of course our position on baptism does not conflict with justification by faith! I have talked extensively about this with the PHC people, and they see how this is so. (As for that staff member who was fired, it appears that she may have belonged to a church that believes in baptism but does not believe in justification by faith. It may be that this was one of those issues that was handled so badly. I don’t know yet.) A theologian friend of mine vetted the very-general PHC Statement of Faith and saw no conflicts, though of course there is much it does not address. PHC is not a church. And I was told that, from their point of view, my Lutheranism is a PLUS in their hiring me.
I have tried to offer my services to my own church, both the Concordia system and the International Center, but my church does not want them. This was made clear when the Council of Presidents, no less, vetoed me for a job I was imminently qualified for. I am out of favor right now, and church politics is even more unpleasant than academic politics. I guess my church body considers me too conservative, even too Lutheran.
My biggest fans and the largest number of my readers have always been non-Lutherans. Which is ironic, since what I give them is nothing more than applications of basic catechism Lutheranism: vocation, two kingdoms, Word and Sacrament, Law and Gospel. Which has shown me that our theology and spiritual heritage is often more compelling to others than it is to life-long Lutherans. I have also thought that my calling is precisely to reach outside the bounds of our church with the treasures that we have.
WORLD magazine is not a Lutheran venture, and Patrick Henry should be no more of a problem than that. And I will continue the work of the Cranach Institute and my affiliation with Concordia Theological Seminary. And my work on the board of CPH (and I will be in the Slovak district, at the excellent St. Athanasius Church in Vienna, VA, so that won’t be a conflict with the other member from Alexandria). I’ll also keep up my other writing projects.
(5) PHC really seemed to want me. The new president, Graham Walker, will be great to work with. I liked the faculty members and students that I met. And I do think I can help bring reconciliation, healing, new policies, and a new spirit to help get the school back on track with its original mission.
(6) Finally, I just feel called there. And I go where I am called.
Posted by Veith at 09:30 AM
Old Testament economics?
Thanks to Kent Dahlberg for sending along an article in an Australian newspaper about a study of economics according to the Old Testament. It maintains that the Biblical model, according to the Levitical Law, combines free markets, property rights, and important community safeguards that ensure that most people have the same amount of wealth. Granted that Christians are in no way obliged to implement the Levitical Law of the ancient Jews, what might we glean from this? Click “continue reading” for the entire article and give your reaction.
For a Divine Economy, Follow the Old Testament
by Ross Gittins _Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald _April 17, 2006
_Most of us assume the solution to problems with the economy lies in coming up with something new. But a group of Christian thinkers in Cambridge [England] believe the answer lies in getting back to the economic model laid out in the Bible.
Don’t laugh. This is Easter Monday. And it’s a group with more Ph.D.s than you’ve had haircuts. But you’re allowed to be amazed. The things these guys want to do would shock a lot of Christian economists and business people.
They’re from a Christian research group, the Jubilee Centre (http://www.jubilee-centre.org/), founded by Michael Schluter. Dr Schluter is better known as the director of the Relationships Foundation (http://www.relationshipsfoundation.org/).
You didn’t know there was an economic model in the Bible? That’s because it’s in the Old Testament, part of the laws laid down for the conduct of Israelite society.
According to economist Paul Mills, when you consider Old Testament law as a whole, “an integrated economic model emerges which satisfies the prerequisites for both efficiency and fairness without the wasteful and damaging side effects entailed in the current Western economic model.”
Our present compromise between relatively free markets on the one hand and, on the other, a sizeable role for the state in the form of redistributive welfare and regulation, has a number of worrying features that are undermining its long-term viability.
“The workings of the market system tend to commercialize every relationship and erode family and community structures by emphasizing rootlessness, mobility and the 24-hour society,” Dr Mills says.
And the complex system of taxation, redistribution and welfare has various well-known shortcomings: taxation distorts people’s behavior, much effort is expended on compliance and collection, and then the welfare system distorts recipients’ behavior.
“Rather than a system of taxation and redistribution after the process of wealth creation, the initial allocation of wealth needs to be roughly equitable and maintained over people’s lifetimes,” he says.
The key to understanding the biblical model is that the production and sale of goods is almost entirely left to the unfettered operation of market forces, while the laws governing the use of labor, the allocation of land and the role of finance are tightly drawn so as to ensure a minimum level of income and wealth for all.
The rough equality of wealth, income and opportunity are encouraged without the need for a large centralized state. And the interests of “finance” are made subservient to those of interpersonal relationships.
Apart from the ceremonial food laws and the observance of the Sabbath, the only constraints on trade in biblical law were the exhortations to merchants to maintain fair weights and eschew adulteration [compromising the integrity or purity of items, while representing it as whole or true].
Without a lot of redistribution and regulation, there was a capped and proportional rate of income tax. Tithes of 10 per cent of income were levied — although the number of tithes per year could vary.
There was a well-defined code of property law and debt collection, including fines for theft and bonded labor for the repayment of debts.
But here’s where it gets interesting. When the Israelites first entered the land of Canaan, the land was divided by tribe, then by clan and family, ending up relatively even per person.
A freehold market in agricultural land was prohibited, but a leasehold market was permitted, thus giving families in dire straits access to the market value of their land.
But every 50 years there was a “Jubilee year,” when the ownership and occupation of land had to revert to the traditional family owners, regardless of who had leased the land in the intervening period.
Thus the Jubilee ensured that the initial extended family structure was preserved and rooted in an ancestral locality. It prevented the accumulation of large estates by the wealthier families or foreclosing moneylenders, and also prevented the development of permanently landless poor.
Turning to wages, the welfare provisions of biblical laws should have kept them above subsistence levels. Employers were required to pay wages punctually and be responsible for workers’ safety. And no one was to work on the Sabbath.
[Then, of course, there's the scripture quoted by Christ, which Professor Ian Harper should make the motto of his Fair Pay Commission: "the laborer is worthy of his hire".]
Now finance. It was prohibited to charge interest on loans, whether for commercial or consumption purposes. And all debts — and debt servitude — were cancelled every seven years.
The prohibition on interest encouraged both non-interest charitable lending and risk-sharing business finance. That is, the lender would be rewarded with a share of the business’s profits — but would also _share any losses. This was considered a less exploitative way of providing funds to firms.
So by these unusual means — the Jubilee, the Sabbath, and the laws preventing usury and permanent indebtedness — were created the conditions necessary to give economic independence to the poor and to place a brake on the economic power of the rich.
“Of course,” Dr Mills concedes, “the application of these biblical insights to contemporary conditions requires great care.” Modern conditions and technologies are very different. And you’d have to win _broad public support, not just seek to impose things by religious authority.
“Nevertheless, the practical wisdom of the model itself is too valuable to be dismissed as lightly as it has been,” he says.
Take, for instance, the Jubilee year, which not only recognized the contribution of widespread property ownership to economic freedom, but underlined the importance of rootedness and a sense of place.
“It is only through the physical and prolonged proximity of extended family members and neighbours that society can deliver care of dependants without ever greater reliance on the state or on purchased ‘care’.
“Yet current economic thinking encourages workers to be as geographically mobile as possible, leading to prolonged disparities in regional incomes and to family breakdown,” he says.
So you wouldn’t try to reinstitute the Jubilee literally, but government policy could be more explicitly geared to encouraging regional rootedness and identity. For example, students could be encouraged to study at local universities through preferential loan terms.
Or, take the Sabbath. The principle of having one day of rest in every seven “ensures that work and consumption can’t be the all-encompassing object and idol of our lives”.
“The requirement to rest from work is a necessary antidote to the prevalent materialism of Western society that believes getting and spending to be the goal of existence.”
And wider benefits to society flow from a shared day off, we’re told. It enables families and communities to develop a rhythm and routine to their lives and plan shared leisure activities with other family members.
Without a common day off, families in particular have difficulty co-ordinating their time off, leading to stress and a higher divorce rate.
“It is barely credible that politicians and employers pay lip service to ‘family-friendly’ employment practices but do not promote Sunday as a shared, common day of rest,” Dr Mills concludes.
_– Ross Gittins is the Sydney Morning Herald’s Economics Editor.
Posted by Veith at 08:30 AM
Unreasonable search and seizure?
My current state of Wisconsin is home to the oddest crimes and court cases. Police busted a drug dealer and watched him swallow a bag of heroin. So they took him to a doctor who administered a laxative until the suspect, well, gave up the evidence. The suspect went to court, claiming that this constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure. The Wisconsin State Supreme Court just ruled in favor of the police. The drug swallower is considering an appeal. What do you think?
Posted by Veith at 08:17 AM
Watching the wrong guy
_The other day, I posted an item about how the BBC mistook a guy (named “Guy”) who came in off the street for an expert (also named “Guy”) scheduled for a TV interview. The producers hustled this wrong person into the studio, where he answered all of the questions and played the pundit quite well, though not really understanding why he was on TV. Thanks to Justin Taylor for sending me this link to the video. BUT DON’T CLICK UNLESS YOU WANT THE DOWNLOAD.
Posted by Veith at 08:08 AM
May 18, 2006
Patrick Henry College makes the news
I have not yet begun my new vocation as Academic Dean at Patrick Henry College, but already I find myself having to deal with a media maelstrom. Last year, five faculty members resigned in an ugly conflict with the administration. The issues were complicated. They involved some theological disputes, confusion about the relationship between faith and learning, and debates about academic freedom. They also involved personality conflicts, hard feelings, insults, and long-standing tensions. I haven’t completely gotten to the bottom of what was going on, but I have been well-aware that my major task when I assume office will be to bring peace and unity to the faculty.
But now those departed faculty members are sharing their grievances with the press. Not only Christianity Today and The Chronicles of Higher Education, but now the mainstream media—attacking like sharks who find blood in the water—including The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and even British newspapers!
Why such attention for a tiny college with only 300+ students and fewer than 20 faculty members? I suspect the British interest comes from the embarrassment that Patrick Henry College whipped the moot court team from Oxford. I suspect the leftwing newspapers are nervous about how Patrick Henry students—homeschooled and classically-educated—are so demonstrably good, in such demand as Washington D. C. interns and so much better educated than most of their peers. Patrick Henry stands as a successful conservative alternative to mainstream postmodern academia, and lots of people find that scary and hope that it fails.
Besides not getting the theological issues and their gleeful attempts to tear down the college, the stories in the media are missing the way the story ends: Both sides in the dispute are now gone. The faculty members voluntarily resigned before the issues could even be fully discussed or reconciliation attempted. (Though I am aware that issues remain for some of the other faculty.) But also—and this never happens—the Administration side of the dispute has stepped down!
The founder of the school, Michael Farris, whose Homeschool Legal Defense Association has done more than anyone to make homeschooling a legal option, is a lawyer. Attorneys practice the “adversarial” method of working through issues, which is not always appropriate in handling us thin-skinned academics. He has handed over complete executive authority to an experienced, accomplished, personable, and Godly administrator named Graham Walker. (To those who think Dr. Farris will still be pulling the strings, that is just not true. Dr. Walker will report directly to the Board, and Dr. Farris will take the office of Chancellor, raising money and representing the school, but having no administrative role in the running of the college.)
And Dr. Walker has brought on me to run the academic side of things. As for the charges in these articles that Patrick Henry will lose its liberal arts focus and its academic quality, that is certainly not going to happen on my watch. I shouldn’t blame these reporters for not reading my books “Loving God With All Your Mind” and “Classical Education.” But I guarantee that academic quality and the classical liberal arts—and their integration with the Christian faith—are going to get stronger and stronger.
With the new school year, Patrick Henry College will be (if I can use the term) born again, with a new administration, lots of fine new faculty members uninvolved with the former controversies, and more of the school’s trademark excellent students. And we will continue doing for higher education what the homeschooling movement has done on the primary and secondary levels: provide an alternative to the intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy of the contemporary educational establishment so as to equip students for success in their callings and influence in the culture.
Posted by Veith at 08:08 AM
Al-Qaida’s malaise
Bad morale. Lack of coherent strategy. Failure to win over the populace. Frustrations at the ability of the enemy to keep fighting. Negative media coverage. The sense of being caught in an unwinnable quagmire. Oh, you thought I was talking about Americans’ attitude toward the Iraq war. No, I’m talking about Al-Qaida’s attitude toward the Iraq war. Cal Thomas quotes captured Al-Qaida documents that demonstrate how frustrated the insurgents are at how poorly the war is going for them.
Samples:
In the translated documents released May 9, the al-Qaida operative says the insurgency is “disorganized and lacks a comprehensive strategy;” the Mujahidin are “not considered more than a daily annoyance” to the Iraqi government; the terrorists lack the proper equipment and have “very small numbers” compared to the personnel and equipment of the American and Iraqi forces; American and Iraqi troops are strong and resilient; American outreach to Sunni leaders is harmful to the terrorist cause; and “the policy followed by the brothers in Baghdad is a media-oriented policy.”
. . . . . . . . . .
“The Americans and the (Iraq) government were able to absorb our painful blows, sustain them, compensate their losses with new replacements, and follow strategic plans which allowed them in the past few years to take control of Baghdad as well as other areas one after another. This is why every year is worse than the previous year as far as the Mujahidin’s control and influence over Baghdad.”
. . . . . . . . . .
The documents reveal “The Mujahidin do not have any stored weapons and ammunition in their possession in Baghdad” and that there are as few as 30 or 40 insurgents in some areas compared to “tens of thousands of the enemy troops.”
“The only power the Mujahidin have,” says the al-Qaida operative, “is what they have already demonstrated.” That consists of sniper fire, “planting booby traps among the citizens and hiding among them in hope that the explosions will injure an American or members of the government.”
Posted by Veith at 07:45 AM
May 17, 2006
Ward Churchill exposed
Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado professor who called the victims of 9/11 “little Eichmanns” who deserved to die, has finally been called to account by his own colleagues. Not for his 9/11 statements but for the bogus scholarship–full of plagiarism and made-up “facts”–that won him tenure, despite the fraud in his own academic record and his false claim to be a Native American. A faculty committee investigating the matter is calling for his suspension. Go here to download the whole report.
Posted by Veith at 01:27 PM
Critics pan “The Da Vinci Code”
Thanks to Carl Vehse for alerting us to the reception “The Da Vinci Code” received at the Cannes Film Festival: jeers, pans, and derisive laughter. Along those lines, thanks too to Tickle Text for urging that we launch an AESTHETIC critique of all of this pop culture tripe. (Both of their comments are under “First Sighting of the Da Vinci Code, below.)
From Variety: “A stodgy, grim thing. . . . an oppressively talky film that isn’t exactly dull, but comes as close to it as one could imagine with such provocative material; result is perhaps the best thing the project’s critics could have hoped for.”
Posted by Veith at 07:20 AM
May 16, 2006
Heresy evangelism
Pollster George Barna has studied the impact of “The Da Vinci Code” on its 45 million readers. He found that 24% said that the novel was “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat” helpful in their “personal spiritual growth or understanding.” That comes to about 11 million people. The percentage who said the novel–which maintains that Christianity is nothing more than a hoax–”changed” their beliefs was 5%. That’s not a big percentage, but it amounts to some 2 million people.
So we have a synod-sized group of people out there who have been evangelized by “The Da Vinci Code” heresy. And the projection is that at least 10 million more people will see the movie than have read the book.
UPDATE: It’s even worse in other countries. A survey in England found that 60% of people who had read the book believe that Jesus fathered children with Mary Magdalene.
Posted by Veith at 08:01 AM
First Da Vinci Code sighting
Thanks to Cap Stewart and the blog Libertas: A Forum for Conservative Thought on Film for linking us to the first Da Vinci Code review from a British newspaper. No, the director, the former Opie Ron Howard, does not tone down the anti-Christian elements. He dramatizes them:
Although the movie closely follows the book’s storyline, Howard delivers something Dan Brown doesn’t – dramatic recreations of events relating to the book’s central inflammatory theory that for 2,000 years the Catholic Church has been covering up the fact that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and fathered a daughter, whose bloodline has survived into present-day Europe. As well as scenes of the Inquisition and of women being tortured, burned and drowned, Howard shows Mary Magdalene fleeing the Holy Land for France and giving birth there.
Posted by Veith at 08:00 AM
Interviewing the wrong Guy
BBC news in England had invited a special guest to talk about a court case involving downloading music over the internet. His name was Guy Kewney, an expert on the subject. While the producers were waiting for him to show up, another man came in and introduced himself as Guy Goma. He had come to apply for a tech job. The handlers, not quite catching the last name, whisked him into the news studio, whereupon the cameras started rolling, and the interviewer kept asking him his opinion. Mr. Goma was confused at first, but then started telling the world what he thought about internet downloading. No one was the wiser, until Mr. Kewney–watching in the green room–objected after the spot was aired.
Posted by Veith at 07:48 AM
May 15, 2006
Da Vinci projections
The entertainment industry thinks The Da Vinci Code will earn $125 million during the opening day weekend (which includes Memorial Day). That will be a useful benchmark to watch, to see if it is going to be as successful as the hype predicts.
International projections are also huge, including in Catholic countries where the church has called for a boycott. I read that Hollywood is a little worried that people in non-Christian countries, such as China and Japan, won’t understand all of the Christian references, but they are still confident that the movie will score big in those countries. So here will be another problem for Christian missionaries, who will now have to explain that Christianity is not a hoax, and that Jesus’s true message suppressed by the patriarchal church was not worship of the “sacred feminine.”
Many Christian groups, such as Campus Crusade, are urging Christians to join the throngs in seeing the movie. It will be an evangelism opportunity, they say. We must see the movie so that we can talk about it with non-Christians and set the record straight. I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of these Christians–given today’s theological illiteracy even in the church–will instead be evangelized the other way around, coming out of the theater with “new ideas” in their heads about how maybe Jesus was OK with feminism, gnosticism, and free sex.
I favor NOT contributing to making the movie a cultural phenomenon. I also favor an idea floating around from Christians in the entertainment industry: If you MUST see it, wait. Don’t go opening night, which is when the “top boxoffice” movies get their big media push. Preferably, wait until after the Memorial Day weekend. Another strategy is to intentionally watch something else, such as the family-friendly “Over the Hedge,” in an effort to make THAT the biggest hit instead. Or, better yet, stay home and spend time with your family.
Posted by Veith at 07:42 AM
Da Vinci Code howlers
Many resources are available to refute the historical claims made in “The Da Vinci Code,” and even liberal, non-Christian, arch-secularist historians agree that nearly assertion of fact in Dan Brown’s novel and in the forthcoming movie, is bogus. But that won’t matter to postmodernists, for whom truth and fiction are hopelessly blurred all the time anyway.
But here are just a few facts to keep in mind:
(1) No, Constantine didn’t impose the myth that Jesus is divine. Constantine actually favored the Arians, who insisted that Jesus is merely human.
(2) No, the Gnostics were not suppressed because they held to a more human Jesus. They were the ones who believed in His divinity–which they interpreted in a hyper-spiritual way–and rejected His humanity. The orthodox theologians at Nicea were the ones who emphasized that He is “true Man” as well as “true God.”
(3) No, Leonardo da Vinci did not put Mary Magdalene in his painting “The Last Supper.” The disciple sitting at Jesus’s right, just as the Gospel of John details, is John, “the beloved disciple.” Since the Greek word for “disciple” means literally “student,” in medieval and Renaissance iconography, John was typically portrayed as a beardless youth, which was the way of depicting students.
(4) Yes, Jesus has a bride. Not Mary Magdalene, but THE CHURCH. The wedding will take place any time now.
Posted by Veith at 07:28 AM
Second to the Bible
“The Da Vinci Code” movie opens on Friday. (WORLD did get into an advance screening–though it’s not that advance, only two days early, but we should have a review up on the magazine’s website, worldmag.com, on Thursday. Not by me, but by our film critic Andrew Coffin who lives on the West Coast closer to where the Hollywood action is.)
The book, which argues as fact that Christianity is nothing more than a giant conspiriatorial hoax, has been read by one out of five adults, making it “the second most read book with a spiritual theme, after the Bible.”
Posted by Veith at 07:17 AM
May 12, 2006
The best hamburgers
AOL tallied 2 million votes and offers its list of America’s greatest hamburgers:
1. All-American Drive-In — Long Island, N.Y._A famous and delicious “double double” for only $2.10? Fantastic!
2. Chris Madrid’s — San Antonio_Try the “Tostada Burger” with refried beans, chips, cheddar and salsa.
3. CityGrille — Denver_Go high-end with a Steakburger, or local with a Buffaloburger.
4. Dick’s Drive-In — Seattle_It’s all about their famous special sauce with zingy bits of pickle.
5. Goldyburgers — Chicago_Serving ‘em up hot, huge and cheesy since 1926
6. In-N-Out Burger — Los Angeles_The perennial favorite also won in Vegas, OC and San Diego.
7. Jack’s Old Fashion Hamburger — South Florida_Hand-shaped, charbroiled perfection served up your way
8. O’Connell’s Pub — St. Louis_Juicy, charbroiled nine-ounce burgers for more than 40 years
9. Peter Luger — New York_Prime dry-aged beef and signature steak sauce from a famed steak house
10. Roaring Fork — Phoenix_Try the “Big-Ass Burger” stacked high with green chiles.
11. Stanich’s — Portland, Ore._Try the amazing “Special” topped with a fried egg, ham, bacon and cheese.
12. Tessaro’s — Pittsburgh_Fresh meat ground daily in-house and flame-broiled on a hardwood grill
13. Thurman Cafe — Columbus, Ohio_Thurman Burger = a 3/4 lb patty, ham, mozzarella and American Cheese
14. Val’s Burgers — San Francisco_You think you can handle the One-Pound Behemoth at Val’s?
15. 96th St. Steakburgers — Indianapolis_Perfection with ground steak cuts and buns grilled with mustard
But such a list is suspect, though, if it doesn’t include the burgers at Big Dawgz Shout ‘n’ Sack in Vinita, Oklahoma, or at Five Guy’s in Alexandria, Virginia (a major reason I’m looking forward to moving in the vicinity). Any other places that belong on a corrected list?
Posted by Veith at 10:19 AM
Criminal trick
An insurance agent here in Waukesha was caught using $200,000 of her own money to buy policies for unsuspecting people. She did so in order to run up big bonuses and score major perks such as free vacations for being such a good saleswoman. And somehow, she reportedly came out ahead. Now she is being charged with “misappropriation of personal identifying information” when she wrote up the 352 policies without the policy holder’s knowledge.
Posted by Veith at 09:40 AM
Sign up for Medicare drugs by Monday
If you are retired or have relatives who are, you might note that the deadline for signing up for that big Medicare drug plan is Monday. Lots of eligible people have been told that it’s “too complicated,” but it is not that bad and really will save them big bucks. Some might have qualms about the program itself, as I do, but is it wrong to take advantage of benefits to which one is legally entitled? (I’m not sure–what do you think?) To sign up, go here, if you must.
The irony is that this huge new entitlement is a classic lose-lose proposition for President Bush. In pushing this expensive drug benefit, he has alienated his conservative base. And yet, at the same time, he is getting NO CREDIT for it from anyone. Democrats think it doesn’t go far enough. And the elderly beneficiaries are complaining about the President and this new program (“it’s too complicated”) despite all the money they will be getting from it!
Posted by Veith at 09:30 AM
Tony Snow strikes back
I’ve always been a Tony Snow fan, especially after he did a big tribute on Fox News to C. S. Lewis and his arguments for Christianity. So I’m glad he is now press secretary for the president. He is already showing himself to be much more aggressive than his more passive predecessor, identifying false and misleading stories from the mainstream media and blasting back with the facts:
“CBS News misleadingly reports that only 8 million seniors have signed up for Medicare prescription drug coverage,” Wednesday’s missive said. “But 37 million seniors have coverage.” On Tuesday, the White House railed against “USA Today’s misleading Medicare story.” “USA Today claims ‘poor, often minority’ Medicare beneficiaries are not enrolling in Medicare drug coverage,” the press office complained. “But by April, more than 70 percent of eligible African Americans, more than 70 percent of eligible Hispanics, and more than 75 percent of eligible Asian Americans are enrolled or have retiree drug coverage.”
Posted by Veith at 09:15 AM
May 11, 2006
In your light do we see light
A line from a Psalm I read the other night keeps haunting me: “In your light do we see light” (Psalm 36:9). It’s amazing–and a proof of the inexhaustible character of Scripture–how one can read and re-read and study and hear preached the Word of God for so long, and yet it can still surprise us with insights and facets that are utterly new and fresh. Here is the line and its immediate context (which also strikes me as new and fresh) in Psalm 36 (from the ESV):
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.
What is that verse saying?
Posted by Veith at 07:25 AM
Calling evil good
The post below made me realize that a major dimension of the moral debates today has to do not so much with permitting sin but with legitimizing sin. There is no shortage of pornography on the internet, but certain people would like an official imprimature that would make it seem that pornography on the internet is OK. There is nothing to prevent homosexuals from having sex with each other, but the push now is for gay marriage, so that the church and the society must say that homosexual alliances are just as moral as heterosexual marriage, that homosexuality is OK. I suspect examples could be multiplied.
If there is no objective moral order, as most moral revisionists assume, why this impulse for moral approval? Isn’t this evidence that there IS a moral order and a guilty conscience? Why do people who feel condemned by the Law want to soften that Law, instead of just accepting Christ’s forgiveness?
Posted by Veith at 07:15 AM
Dot.xxx
Back in June, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) gave preliminary approval to creating an “xxx” domain name for pornographic sites. (Thus, in addition to “.com,” “.org,” “.edu,” and all of the country names, there would be a “.xxx.”) Supporters piously intoned that this would help shield children from pornography, since the sites could thus be easily filtered. Opponents disagreed, saying this would just make pornography even easier to find and would legitimize it. But now, after pressure from the Bush administration, ICANN has nixed .xxx.
Posted by Veith at 07:13 AM
May 10, 2006
Archeological find of the future
We are burying extremely toxic nuclear waste a half mile down into the rocks at Carlsbad, New Mexico. But that stuff will remain dangerous for 250,000 years. So how can we warn future generations not to dig around in this particular site? Well, scientists at this Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) are working on the problem. What language might people speak in 25,000 A.D.? What symbols or pictures might communicate the danger? Get a load of what they are actually planning to do:
With so many ways to fail, WIPP’s planners opted for the classic American approach: Think big and leave no stone unturned. The plan will take more than a century to implement. To grasp the scale of the warnings, start with the Great Pyramid in Egypt, built from more than 6.5 million tons of stone covering 13 acres. Multiply that mass by five, and you have the first warning layer: a 98-foot-wide, 33-foot-tall, 2-mile-long berm surrounding the site. That’s just to get the attention of anyone who happens by. “Size equates with importance. The bigger the animal the more that animal is to be reckoned with,” Givens said. Powerful magnets and radar reflectors would be buried inside the berm so that remote sensors could recognize the site as purposefully and elaborately designed. It would be surrounded by 48 granite or concrete markers, 32 outside the berm and 16 inside, each 25 feet high and weighing 105 tons, engraved with warnings in English, Spanish, Russian, French, Chinese, Arabic and Navajo, with room for future discoverers to add warnings in contemporary languages. Pictures would denote buried hazards and human faces of horror and revulsion. The same symbols would be printed on metal, plastic and ceramic disks with abrasion-resistant coatings, 9 inches in diameter, that would be buried just below the surface. Three information rooms would archive detailed drawings of WIPP’s chambers and the physics of its hazards on stone tablets. They would also provide a world map showing all other known waste repositories and a star chart to calculate the year the site was sealed. One such room would stand in the center of the site. Another would be buried inside the berm, its only entrance a 2-foot hole to inhibit theft of the tablets, sealed with a 1,600-pound stone plug. The third room would be off site — perhaps inside the nearby Carlsbad Caverns. The final thing WIPP needs is a kind of Rosetta stone, a pictorial dictionary to aid in translation. The markers will take decades to build and test, to help ensure they stand the test of time. But there’s no hurry. WIPP won’t be full until 2033. It would then be guarded by the Energy Department for 100 years until it is abandoned; no one who designed the markers would be alive to see them succeed for even a single day.
But just imagine what archaeologists of the future will think when they come across this high tech Stone Henge. Surely they will think it is a primitive temple to the strange deities of 21st century tribesmen. Imagine how denizens of the far future (if the world continues for so long) might interpret those “human faces of horror and revulsion.” And upon discovering such a mysterious site, obviously marking some amazing treasure or sacred object, don’t you think that its effect on archeologists will be TO MAKE THEM WANT TO DIG?
Posted by Veith at 08:13 AM
The War on Slavery
“New York Times” columnist Nicholas Kristof has the usual liberal aversion to President Bush. But, to give credit where credit is due, Kristof gives credit where credit is due. In his recent column, Kristof praises the president for his administration’s relentless and often successful battle against the neo-slavery of sex trafficking [subscription required]. “Bush is making a historic contribution,” he says. “Just as one of President Carter’s great legacies was putting human rights squarely on the international agenda, Bush is doing the same for slave labor.”
Kristof says that some 12.3 million people around the world are currently being bought and sold, mostly young women and children who are being used for sex, with their owners forcing them into prostitution. He cites various efforts to pressure countries that tolerate this practice–such as Cambodia with its child-sex tourist industry–that have caused them to start prosecuting the offenders. Kristof pays special credit to the state department’s “tiny office on trafficking–for my money, one of the most effective units in the U.S. government”–headed by former congressman John Miller. Kristof also credits an “unlikely coalition” of evangelicals and feminists for raising the issue, on which “Bush is leaving a legacy that he and America can be proud of.”
Posted by Veith at 07:53 AM
May 09, 2006
When the state must act against the church
The state of Utah is cracking down on a break-away Mormon sect, going so far as to use an organized crime statute against the group, accused of arranging polygamous marriages of underaged girls and also a whole array of financial misdeeds. There will be those who say that the government should not interfere with this group’s religious freedom, no matter how bizarre it may appear. But then again, I remember how Luther called on the PRINCES to reform the church, since the ecclesiastical leaders refused to correct even the most flagrant moral and financial abuses. He called on the PRINCES again to come down hard on the other extreme when the enthusiasts were inciting the peasants to kill their masters and thus usher in the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of the Left should have no authority as such to determine doctrine and such, as Luther also insisted, but there are times and situations when the church needs the chastening of the state. Any idea how to draw the requisite lines?
Posted by Veith at 08:06 AM
Self-chosen crosses are not crosses
So the world watched with anguished concern as performance artist David Blaine was pulled out of his water bubble. An idiotic, made-for-TV stunt, in which he stayed under water for a week with snorkel gear and feeding tubes, then tried and failed to set the record for holding his breath. Meanwhile, Australian rescue workers after weeks of hard but delicate drilling pulled out Brant Webb and Todd Russell, two gold miners who had been trapped 3,000 feet under the earth for TWO WEEKS.
This juxtaposition of manufactured peril and the real thing, faux-suffering as pop culture amusement and actual suffering from the real world by people who did not want to undergo it, reminded me of something Luther said about the Theology of the Cross. “Self-chosen crosses”–that is, the suffering and trials that we put on ourselves, such as monks flagellating themselves, Christians purposefully putting themselves into situations so they can feel good about being “persecuted” for their faith, or the elaborate ascetic disciplines Christians sometimes put themselves through–are not really crosses. The hard times that can build up our faith are precisely those things that we do NOT choose, that happen AGAINST our will.
Posted by Veith at 07:25 AM
A league of your own
A new, independent minor league baseball league is being organized. It will feature cheap tickets and cheap concessions. Teams themselves are cheap. You can buy yourself one for $100,000. And the players will be cheap, with a total salary cap for each team of only $120,000. (That means players will earn between $4,000 and $10,000. They will also have to have day jobs.)
Good idea so far? But then there will also be certain changes in the game, including this “scoring innovation”: In the seventh inning, if a team is behind and hits a home run, it will be worth TWICE the usual score. If no one is on base, the home run will be worth two points. If the bases are loaded, it will be worth eight points. To me, this is just wrong. But I guess I can see the attraction. Do you have any other ideas of “innovations” that might add to the game if you had your own league?
Posted by Veith at 07:11 AM
My golden Aardie!
This blog has won the coveted Golden Aardvaark! Thanks, Orycteropus Afer.
Posted by Veith at 07:04 AM
May 08, 2006
What’s worse than a gay bishop?
Many Episcopalians feel they have dodged a bullet, as the heterosexual though very liberal Mark Andrus was elected Bishop of California, beating out three gay candidates. I don’t understand why so many Episcopalians are so upset over New Hampshire’s openly homosexual bishop Gene Robsinson–to the point that half of the world’s Anglican bodies have broken off at least some fellowship with the American church over the issue. Long before that happened, Episcopalians started ordaining bishops who are not Christians, with not nearly the hoopla.
For example, here are the “Twelve Theses” of retired Bishop John Shelby Spong for reforming Christianity:
The 12 Theses 1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.
So, this Bishop is calling for a Christianity without God, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Atonement, the Bible, life after death, or prayer.
Posted by Veith at 07:40 AM
This movie will self-destruct in five seconds
I watched “Mission Impossible III” last weekend, having to review it for WORLD. I was utterly underwhelmed. Mere action, for some reason, bores me into a stupor. Did I miss something? Anyway, it seems that the general public also was underwhelmed, with the movie’s box office numbers performing way below expectations.
Posted by Veith at 07:23 AM
Invisible tattoos
Do you want to look respectable at work and yet express your true wild personality without anyone seeing? Now you can get an invisible tattoo. That is, it can only be seen under ultra-violet “black light,” which is commonly shining at clubs, raves, and other party scenes. I love this quote from the newspaper story about the phenomenon: “For many people who get tattooed to try to make themselves stand out, the addition of black light ink allows them to take that effort one step further.” Trying to stand out by getting a tattoo that can’t be seen?
But this raises a question I’d like your help with. What is the attraction of getting tattoos and (even more so) piercings? The best answer I’ve heard recently is that those who do so want to make themselves a work of art. They also are ways, I am told, of expressing individuality. OK, those are worthy goals. But why do this with sharp objects? Isn’t there a less painful, less self-mutilating way? (I’m not being critical, I just want to know.)
Posted by Veith at 07:09 AM
May 05, 2006
Helicopter parents
I learned a new term: “helicopter parents.” They are always hovering over their kids. Supposedly, this is a characteristic of our current times, how the children of “Generation Y” were parented, if they were parented. A variation of this breed is “Blackhawk parents” (named after the military helicopter used in rescue and search-and-destroy missions). These parents not only hover, they swoop down to rescue their kids, doing their school work for them, intervening so they don’t have to take any bad consequences, etc.
Are you or have you had a helicopter parent? Is this a good way to be, or not? Or are there operational guidelines that would improve the success of the mission?
Posted by Veith at 09:45 AM
May 04, 2006
I took the job
Remember that job possibility I blogged about a few days ago? I think I actually took most of the advice you readers gave me in considering what to do. Well, last night I signed the contract. I’m going to be the Academic Dean of Patrick Henry College.
Patrick Henry is a brand new institution, having been started in 2000 by Michael Farrisof the Homeschool Legal Defense Association as a place for gifted homeschooled students, who are often bored silly in regular colleges since they are far more academically advanced than their regular-schooled peers. The school offers a classical liberal arts education, which it then supplements with real-world experience in a remarkable program of internships (including more White House interns than any other college) and apprenticeships. Like Hillsdale and Grove City, PHC accepts no federal money and the strings that are attached. The school is distinctly and solidly Christian, while drawing on faculty and students from many different churches, with a statement of faith that we Lutherans can accept.
The school is small, with just over 300 students, with ambitious plans to grow. (I want it to tap into the Classical Christian school movement–indeed, to add a major in Classical Christian Education so as to provide what that movement desperately needs, a steady source of classically-trained teachers for those schools.) Anyway, I’m psyched up about it.
Though I’ll be stepping down from WORLD full-time, both the magazine and the school want me to keep writing my column. I’ll still keep my Cranach Institute affiliation and this blog. We’ll have to move to Purcellville, Virginia, just outside of D.C. I’ll start in July.
I’ll appreciate your prayers and support as I plunge into this venture. And consider sending your kids to Patrick Henry!
Posted by Veith at 06:34 AM
May 03, 2006
Boycott or buy tickets?
It seems Christian groups are taking different stances on what should be the proper response to the Da Vinci Code movie, which looks to be an entertaining thriller that argues that “everything your father taught you about Christianity is wrong,” that Jesus actually was a mere mortal who started a feminist, gnostic sex religion grounded in the occult. Some Christians, especially Catholics, are calling for a boycott and planning protests. Others, such as Campus Crusade and Josh McDowell, are urging Christians to see the movie. Jesus, they say, will thus be on people’s minds and in their conversation, and Christians can use this as an evangelism opportunity to set the record straight about who Jesus is and use the controversies as a forum for evangelism.
Which approach do you think is the best response to this anti-Christian film? Or is there another option that would be even better?
Posted by Veith at 11:46 AM
May 02, 2006
Endangered species
A Swiss conservation group has said that, based on scientific evidence, some16,000 species are in danger of extinction, up by about a thousand from last year. These include polar bears and hippos, as well as “one in three amphibians, a quarter of the world’s mammals and coniferous trees, and one in eight birds.”
I raised the issue of a Christian environmentalism a week or so ago, but here would seem to be a test case. God created all of these species. Therefore, it is His will that they exist. We humans do have dominion over them, but it would seem to be very bad stewardship if we contribute to their dying out._(Darwinists, in contrast, shouldn’t care, since to their way of thinking, species die out all the time over the millennia.) Is there anything wrong with this theology? So should Christians rally to the defense of these animals?
Posted by Veith at 06:36 AM
Reverse migration
So, Mexico is coming close to legalizing the possession of drugs, including cocaine and heroin. This is not likely to make ordinary Americans more sympathetic to Mexicans flooding across our border, bringing their luggage. Is the Mexican government taking an “in-your-face” approach to their relationship with the United States, or does it just need more Public Relations officers. We have plenty in our government, so perhaps we could export some. Or maybe this is a legitimate attempt to help solve the problem. Drug-crazed Americans might then be pouring across the border in the other direction, running into and knocking down Mexicans coming into this country looking for work, and creating an overall demographic balance.
Posted by Veith at 06:30 AM
Drug Rush
Do you think any less of Rush Limbaugh, now that he has plea bargained a guilty plea to tricking doctors into giving him illegal drugs?
Posted by Veith at 06:29 AM
May 01, 2006
Today’s Boycott
No one knows what will happen with today’s boycott on the part of Latinos, who are staging a nation-wide strike, boycott of American businesses, and massive protests. Feel free to post what you see in your community. I’m trying to figure out what they are protesting. No law was passed to send back illegal immigrants, and they currently seem to have free rein. While believing in the necessity to follow the law, I tend to be sympathetic to Hispanic immigrants–seeing them mostly as hard-working, religious, family-values types who believe in what America stands for–but now I am not so sure. The movement seems be getting radicalized, to the point of some Latinos calling for the “reconquest” of North America. We do not need, nor can we tolerate, Latin American-style politics, which can include Maoism, Castroism, and strong-armed mass violence.
Posted by Veith at 06:44 AM
Did you see the other must-see movie?
Did any of you see “United 93″? Quite a few people did, according to the charts, though the escapist “RV” came in first. But “United 93″ came in second. (My favorite, posted about below, came in 8th, which is not bad.) I did not see “United 93,” but perhaps it will do some good for a culture that in many circles seems to have forgotten what happened on 9/11.
Posted by Veith at 06:40 AM
Must-see movie
You have got to see “Akeelah and the Bee,” one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. There have been a lot of movies about poor black kids who somehow straighten their lives out with the help of sports. Here is one that is far more realistic and positive, about the possibilities that open up through the cultivation of brains rather than brawn. “Akeelah and the Bee” is about an 11-year-old black girl from the hard-core inner city who throws herself into the National Spelling Bee competition. She has to battle the peer pressure not to succeed, an uncomprehending family, her poverty, and her own doubts about herself. She has the help of a spelling coach played by Laurence Fishburne, who also produced the show (along with Starbucks coffee, interestingly enough, who put up the money to film this award-winning script). There have been other spelling bee dramas, but they have mostly made fun of the nerdy kids and their driving parents. This one is very different, honoring the power of words and those who love them.
Posted by Veith at 06:28 AM
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April 28, 2006
May Day in America
Well, millions of Hispanics have chosen this Monday, May 1, for even more massive protests demanding amnesty for illegal immigrants. The heart of this protest is a boycott of businesses. The goal is to demonstrate that the American economy depends on illegal workers, who will not show up for work on that day, and on Latino consumers, who will not buy from Gringo firms. Read this account. And note these curious reactions:
Organizers have timed the action for May Day, a date when workers around the world often march for improved conditions, and have strong support from big labor and the Roman Catholic church. They vow that America’s major cities will grind to a halt and its economy will stagger as Latinos walk off their jobs and skip school.
In California on Thursday, the state senate passed a resolution recognizing “The Great American Boycott of 2006,” saying it would educate the United States about the contributions made by immigrants. The measure passed 24-13 along party lines with dissenting Republicans arguing that it sanctioned lawbreaking and encouraged children to skip school.
Teachers’ unions in major cities have said children should not be punished for walking out of class. Los Angeles school officials said principals had been told that they should allow students to leave but walk with them to help keep order.
So the state of senate of California is SUPPORTING the boycott of California businesses? And Teachers’ unions are SUPPORTING the students’ skipping school? Have they lost their minds? And the organizers want to “stagger” the economy? How does this demonstrate that these individuals will make good citizens?
Other questions: Why did the organizers pick May 1, the workers’ holiday long celebrated under Communism? Will this boycott make you more willing to accept granting amnesty to illegal aliens? Or less? I’m curious how the organizers think this will help, unless they believe they can use their numbers and economic clout to intimidate or scare Americans into supporting their cause. And should Americans ever give in to that sort of that pressure?
Posted by Veith at 12:00 PM
An idol falls
I can’t believe I got hooked onto “American Idol.” The last to fall, leaving only five left standing, was Kellie Pickler, a country girl from deep into North Carolina, who was charming in her naive, wide-eyed exposure to the bright lights of the big city. She would marvel over eating such wondrous foods as “Sall-mon,” to the amusement of sophisticates, but I admire her sense of wonder at this wide world. Anyway, she also has such a refreshing attitude about losing and about the whole experience, which you should click and read.
Posted by Veith at 06:54 AM
Joy in Tundra-ville
That cold front descending from the North comes from the massive collective sigh of relief in the land of the Packers, as Brett Favre announced his decision not to retire.
What about the vocation of professional athletes? They have God-given skills and talents, and they can love and serve their neighbors by giving all of us fans a stab of pleasure as we watch them. Although despite their status and vast wealth, they clearly do not provide the love and service to their neighbors to the extent that the man does who picks up my trash every week.
Posted by Veith at 06:45 AM
“House” call
Did anyone see “House” the other night? It featured that cynical doctor up against a 15-year-old faith healer. Who, up until the very end, was winning. The show featured some good lines–”Someone who talks to God is religious; someone who hears God talk to him is psychotic”–and some fairly serious reflection on belief, faith, and how God works through means. And sin, of course, and bad theology, and the media’s ill-informed cariacatures of Christians. But still the show wrestled with religion in a serious way, and for that it deserves credit.
Posted by Veith at 06:39 AM
Job situation
Thanks, everybody, for all of that good advice. I’ll give more details and keep you posted as to what develops, one way or the other.
Posted by Veith at 06:37 AM
April 26, 2006
Family considerations
And what are these family considerations that one must make in considering a new job? (That is, the obligations to one’s other callings.) Money? Opportunities? Lifestyle in the new place? The desires of other family members?
Posted by Veith at 12:13 PM
The school or the press?
Which do you think has more impact on the culture, educational institutions or journalism? (That will be a hint as to that job offer I am considering.)
Posted by Veith at 12:10 PM
Watch what you write
When I wrote my book on vocation, “God at Work,” I thought I had my vocational life pretty much settled. Since then, though, I’ve had to deal with all kinds of vocational issues. Of course, this was nothing like what C. S. Lewis went through after he wrote “The Problem of Pain.” So be careful what you write about. The Lord might put you through something to see if you really believe what you said.
Posted by Veith at 11:55 AM
My new job offer
We’ve discussed earlier the issue of changing jobs in light of the doctrine of vocation. That was theoretical. Now it gets real: I’ve been offered a new job. (It’s not in the church nor even in a Concordia–I’ll probably tell you more about it later.) What should I be considering in deciding whether to leave one line of work and to take up another? How do I discern God’s will in the matter, or will God’s will be evident after I make a decision? Help me out here.
Posted by Veith at 11:49 AM
April 25, 2006
Imagine there’s no Heaven
Last night was the pay-for-view seance that promised to make contact with John Lennon. Assuming that none of you Cranach readers invested $9.95 in that supernatural event (though if you did, please report), I offer this account . Briefly, a mysterious message appeared on the electronic recording equipment. John’s message from the realm of the dead was not ‘I guess I imagined wrong” but this profound oracle: “Peace. . .The message is peace.” And now we know.
Posted by Veith at 12:30 PM
On high gas prices
Of course nobody likes to pay such high gas prices. But the law of supply of demand works whether anyone wants it to or not. But those same economic laws also mandate that high energy prices will create more energy supply, which, in turn, will send prices down. That could mean making alternative energy sources financially viable. It can also mean conjuring up more oil. In Oklahoma, recently, we travelled through some country side that has always had these little oil wells. They haven’t been pumping for years, since the price has never been high enough to justify it. But now, thanks to the high oil prices, those little wells are pumping away.
Posted by Veith at 12:19 PM
Can you handle this movie?
This weekend, United 93, a vivid re-creation of the 9-11 hijacking, in which passengers rose up against the terrorists, who made the plane crash in a Pennsylvania field. Hollywood does not know whether this topic, which is reportedly handled with great respect, will attract lots of viewers, or if its subject matter is too painful for viewers to relive. What do you think? Do you want to see this movie? Do we really want movies or other forms of entertainment to deal with reality, or do we prefer entertainment that helps us escape reality? Or can a work of art do the former by means of the latter?
Posted by Veith at 12:07 PM
April 24, 2006
The Left’s strategy
“The left has nothing to propose, nothing to say, nothing to defend. It can only feed off the right’s mistakes.” Nicolas Sarkozy, French Interior Minister. Quoted in the Chicago Tribune (free registration required).
Posted by Veith at 12:03 PM
Players without Posses
As American basketball teams keep getting beat in international competition, more and more foreigners are being drafted by the NBA. The defending champions San Antonio Spurs have a league-leading 7 non-Americans on their team, and the up-and-coming Phoenix Suns has 6, including a coach who made his name in Italy who is implementing the European-style emphasis on fundamentals and team play. USA Todayhas an article on the subject, with this culturally telling quotation from a former coach: “NBA teams are realizing it’s less risky to draft internationals because they’re more coachable, more socialized, have no posses and have not been Americanized.” Remember when being Americanized was seen as a good thing?
Posted by Veith at 11:51 AM
Quasimodo
I hope you had a happy Quasimodogeniti yesterday. I couldn’t find any Quasimodogeniti cards at the Hallmark store, nor did I do any Quasimodogeniti shopping. Sorry–I just love that word, which refers to the first Sunday after Easter. It’s not named after the Hunchback of Notre Dame; rather, that unfortunate fellow was named after the day. Nor is it a holiday, as such. The word comes from the first words in the Introit that begins the service in the classic liturgy for that day. In Latin, they are “Quasi modo geniti,” which in English comes to “Like new born.” The entire sentence is “Like newborn babes desire the pure milk of the Word.” Like much of the liturgy, it’s words from the Bible, in this case 1 Peter 2:2. That’s good advice for the whole year.
We need to turn this into a bona fide holiday. I suppose we could observe Quasimodogeniti by drinking milk. We could get the Wisconsin Dairy Council to help promote it. But for the true meaning of the day, we should also do some serious Bible reading.
Posted by Veith at 10:52 AM
April 22, 2006
Earth Day
Earth Day is definitely not on my liturgical calendar, and I typically find environmentalists extremely wrong-headed and annoying. And yet, I think of “Lord of the Rings,” in which Saruman–Tolkien’s embodiment of modernity–insists on cutting down the trees and imposing his ugly technology. Tolkien and most other early 20th century conservatives were on the side of God’s creations over against man’s creations. Not that they necessarily idealized nature in its pristine state apart from man, as in our neo-pagan nature-worshipping environmentalists’ dream. (In Lars Walkers’ “Wolf Time,” blogged below, he features a movement known as the Extinctionists, anticipating that Texas professor, who have bumper stickers such as “Save the Earth, neuter your child.”) The classic thinkers saw that we make our living by a combination of “art” and “nature,” as in applying the art of farming to the natural processes in the land to grow food, or the art of medicine to the natural processes of the human body, etc., etc.
So what would be the parameters of a Christian environmentalism, and how would it be different from the other kind?
Posted by Veith at 08:08 AM
Wolf Time
While travelling, I’ve been reading Lars Walker’s novel Wolf Time. What a good book! Imagine a time when all of the cultural trends we decry on this blog take over completely: every kind of political correctness is codified into law, suicide centers serve the depressed, and all churches have become COMPLETELY liberal, with witchcraft as the emerging church. Throw in lively cast of characters, including what may be the last remaining faithful Lutheran pastor, and set them in motion with a thrilling, scary plot. This is probably the best of Lars’ books to start with. When I finish it–which won’t be long,since it’s so hard to put down– I’ll write up a review. In the meantime, you may want to get started with it too.
Posted by Veith at 07:55 AM
I’m back
Greetings, blog readers, and thanks for holding down the fort while I was on a brief hiatus. (At some point, I might tell you about my adventures.) My schedule will be shifted for a couple of weeks starting Monday, so I’ll be doing my blogging in the afternoon. So stay tuned (to use old media language).
Posted by Veith at 07:49 AM
April 18, 2006
You be the blogger
I’m going to be incommunicado for a couple of days. I won’t even be bringing my computer. So I won’t be blogging. Until I’m back, feel free to use this space to raise and discuss your own cultural and religio-cultural topics!
Posted by Veith at 09:19 AM
The cultural elite needs its peasants
Diana West offers yet another perspective on the immigration debate, attending to how the well-heeled liberals go on and on about how the illegal aliens take care of “our” lawns, tend “our” golf courses, feed “our” familes, and take care of “our” children. Who is “our,” kemosabe? It turns out that our cultural elite really has become dependent on cheap servants, especially nannies to take care of their children so that the mom can pursue her career. Referring to a New York Post feature on the threat to the upper middle class lifestyle, she writes:
The article does go on to offer an inadvertent inkling as to why this black-market for labor exists in the first place, and why it is so vehemently defended, particularly by American elites. The insight shows up in a vignette about Arlene, an “undocumented nanny.” She not only takes care of the kids, the paper notes, but “she’ll make breakfast, change diapers, and keep up with afternoon play dates…wash your laundry, clean the apartment and cook dinner for you when you get home.” Says Arlene: “The parents really depend on it…We literally make it possible for them to work.”
Them? No, Arlene makes it possible for the mother to work. The “underground economy” is actually the backbone of the three-career family: working Dad, working Mom and working Nanny. In other words, defending the illegal economy isn’t just an expression of the To-the-McMansion-Born attitude of the nouveau riche. There is also the strong possibility that the more affluent sector of society — the dual-income family of the upper middle class — couldn’t exist without it.
The impact of immigration law enforcement, then, goes beyond national security and cultural identity: It goes to the heart of the American family. Without the “undocumented nanny” to fall back on, many middle class mothers would have to stay home.
Where is class warfare when we need it?
Posted by Veith at 07:59 AM
What illegal immigration does to Mexico
The Tulsa World has a fascinating series on the impact of illegal immigration on Mexico. (The article is only available online to paid subscribers.) It turns out that nearly all of the thousands of Mexicans working in Tulsa are from one Mexican town, Casa Blanca. It is in the state of Zacatecas, which has one of the nation’s largest areas and–thanks to its status as the largest worker-exporting state–one of its smallest populations.
Thanks to nearly all of the men heading north, the population of these areas is decimated. The once-thriving farming economy is no more. Teenagers head north as soon as they can,without finishing school. And there is virtually no local economy, since there are no workers who stick around.And families now have to be raised without fathers in the home. Yes, they send back money, but children have absentee fathers and marriages are strained by unfaithfulness. As one former illegal immigrant put it, “When you’re over there, you’re single. Everybody’s single in Tulsa.”
It seems there is a compassionate conservative reason for opposting illegal immigration.
Posted by Veith at 07:42 AM
April 17, 2006
Uniformity in worship
Paul McCain has a thought-provoking post on why diversity in worship styles is not a good thing and how the early Reformers–while admitting the principle that different practices are adiaphora–nevertheless sought uniformity in worship from one congregation to the other. Paul, at his new Cyberbrethren site (his fans from WORLD might want to bookmark his new address) is talking about Lutheran debates, but what he says makes sense for different denominations as well.
The point is that one does not have to be either “high” or “low,” “traditional” or “contemporary.” Just everyone decide on something and everyone agree to follow it in all the congregations. What would, say, McDonald’s do if all of their sites were different from each other? Paul critiques not just “contemporary” innovators but also “traditional” innovators. He closes with a call for all Lutheran congregations to rally behind the new Lutheran Service Book.
Posted by Veith at 11:35 AM
Hypocrisy at Comedy Central
Comedy Central did censor “South Park” from making a cartoon character out of Muhammed. Instead, “South Park” showed a disprespectful, utterly repellant image of Jesus. Click here if you want the details. Comedy Central did NOT, of course, censor that.
Islam apparently occupies a privileged position in Western pop culture and, judging from its treatment on university campuses, high culture. Islam may not be satirized or (to use the new verb) disrespected. or questioned as to its truth or morality. Christianity, though,is fair game.
Muslims throw this back at us, saying that, see, Christians do not honor their prophet as we honor ours. Some Christians think that we should take to the streets and make it more dangerous for the media to blaspheme our Lord. Or is there something about the nature of Christianity that makes that sort of reaction inappropriate?
Posted by Veith at 09:10 AM
Hypocrisy on Immigration
It was the Democrats, not the Republicans who killed the Immigration reform bill. When AFL-CIO boss John Sweeney said, “Guest-workers programs are a bad idea and harm all workers,” Democratic lawmakers, as always, did his bidding. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid pulled some parliamentary tricks so as not to allow the many amendments that might fix the bill, and the deal was dead.
Critics of amnesty for illegal aliens should give the Democrats credit, though killing the bill also did away with stronger border controls. Theoretically, the amendment process could have found some alternative solutions and at least addressed the problem. But now it seems that Immigration, like Social Security, will be another important issue that Congress finds it more expedient to do nothing about. But, if you want, give the Democrats credit.
The hypocrisy is that those same Democrats are now campaigning among Latinos blaming President Bush and Republicans for not welcoming guest workers and for being anti-immigrant!
Posted by Veith at 08:27 AM
April 14, 2006
The Garden
Luther says, “Because our sin began in the garden, the Passion also begins in the garden.” Holy Week and Easter Sermons. I would add, both our sin and Christ’s Passion also END in a garden.
Posted by Veith at 10:00 AM
The Cross and the messed-up church
Alister McGrath:
[The theology of the cross] passes judgement upon the church where she has become proud and triumphant, or secure and smug, and recalls her to the foot of the cross, there to remind her of the mysterious and hidden way in which God is at work in his world. The scene of total dereliction, of apparent weakenss and folly, at Calvary is the theologian’s paradigm for understanding the hidden presence and activity of God in his world and in his church. Where the church recognizes her hopelessness and helplessness, she finds the key to her continued existence as the church of God in the world. In her very weakness lies her greatest strength. The “crucified and hidden God” is the God whose strength lies hidden behind apparent weakness, and whose wisdom lies hidden behind apparent folly. The theology of the cross is thus a theology of hope for those who despair, then as now, of the seeming weakness and foolishness of the Christian church.
Posted by Veith at 09:51 AM
On Theodicies
In reference to Wednesday’s discussions about whether God is “cruel,” we might reflect on what Gerhard Forde says:
[According to the theology of glory] Works are good and suffering is evil. The God who presides over this enterprise must therefore be excused from all blame for what was termed “evil.” The theology of glory ends in a simplistic understanding of God. God, according to philosophers like Plato, is not the cause of all things but only what we might call “good.” It is hard to see how such a god could even be involved in the cross. . . . But is this prettified God the God the Bible? Is it not quite probable that just these attempts to whitewash God are the cause of unbelief?. . . .Theologians of the Cross“are not driven to simplistic theodicies because with St. Paul they believe that God justifies himself precisely in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. They know that, dying to the old, the believer lives in Christ and looks forward to being raised with him.
Posted by Veith at 09:47 AM
On Suffering
Is suffering always evil? Says McGrath:
Far from regarding suffering or evil as a nonsensical intrusion into the world (which Luther regards as the opinion of a ‘theologian of glory’), the ‘theologian of the cross’ regards such suffering as his most precious treasure, for revealed and yet hidden in precisely such sufferings is none other than the living God, working out the salvation of those whom he loves.”
Says Forde:
Evil does cause suffering, but not always. . . . However, the causes of suffering may not always be evil—perhaps not even most of the time. Love can cause suffering. Beauty can be the occasion for suffering. Children with their demands and impetuous cries can cause suffering. Just the toil and trouble of daily life can cause suffering, and so on. Yet these are surely not to be termed evil.
Posted by Veith at 09:42 AM
The Cross vs. Antinomianism
Gerhard Forde, in On Being a Theologian of the Cross shows why it is not too much trust in the gospel that creates antinomianism (the permissive rejection of all moral law), but the theology of glory, according to which we save ourselves by what we do:
The usual defense of theologians of gloryis to attempt some sort of accommodation, to water down the law in some way to make it less demanding. . . .Whether overtly or covertly, the only defense theologians of glory have against the destructive nature of law is some kind of antinomianism (anti-law-ism). Antinomianism comes in many forms. The law will be rejected as old-fashioned or pietistic or fundamentalistic, or it will be contextualized or modified according to the latest scientific discovery or genetic theory, and so on. But then we are only delivered into the hands of a different fate, today usually some kind of genetic determinism. The law doesn’t let up, it only comes back in a different form.
PS: Whether Forde denies the vicarious atonement–like many “New Perspective” Calvinists and evangelicals–I would like to bracket for now. Forde does emphasize the saving power of Christ crucified. He still has some good expositions of Luther’s Heidelberg theses on the theology of the Cross.
Posted by Veith at 09:37 AM
The dereliction of civilization
Alister McGrath, in Luther’s Theology of the Cross,on how this notion was rediscovered by a number of theologians in the aftermath of the World Wars:
Luther’s theology of the cross assumed its new significance because it was the theology which addressed the question which could not be ignored: is God really there, amidst the devastation and dereliction of civilization? Luther’s proclamation of the hidden presence of God in the dereliction of Calvary, and of the Christ who was forsaken on the cross, struck a deep chord of sympathy in those who felt themselves abandoned by God, and unable to discern his presence anywhere.
Which makes me think of the dereliction of OUR civilization and the new relevance of the Cross to our own times.
Posted by Veith at 09:28 AM
Easter vacation
I’m in Oklahoma, visiting with my family over Easter. We drove all day yesterday, which is why I wasn’t able to do any blogging. I forgot to mention that. Anyway, for these days marking Christ’s death and resurrection, I thought I’d post some of what I’ve been reading. (I’ve been studying the “theology of the cross” as opposed to the “theology of glory” for a presentation I’ll be making the week after Easter. The subject also makes for profound devotional reading, especially at this time of year.)
Posted by Veith at 09:16 AM
April 12, 2006
“Your God is cruel”
I watched the finale of ABC’s “Ten Commandments” remake. I realized one of its major themes, voiced by the Sayeed character after the Angel of Death smote his firstborn: “Your God is cruel.” The show highlighted the slaughter of the Amalekites, the stoning of adulterers, and other harsh parts of the Bible. Moses is alternatively fierce, in a fanatical sort of way, and guilt-ridden for God making him do all of this mean stuff. (And you know, don’t you, about how postmodern academia spins the Exodus story?: From the very beginning and in Western civilization’s foundational text, Jews were stealing land from the Palestinians.)
Notice how we have changed from an awareness of how God judges us on our moral behavior, to how we presume to judge God on His moral behavior. I’ve been reading Gerhard Forde’s “On Being a Theologian of the Cross,” who maintains, drawing on Luther, that theodicies–attempts to justify the ways of God to man–grow out of a theology of glory, an impossible attempt to know God by reason and to domesticate Him according to our tastes. God DOES cause suffering, Luther believed, to break us down and to bring us to HIS Cross.
Posted by Veith at 08:22 AM
Clever criminal tricks
Two former stockbrokers from New Jersey recruited two men to apply for jobs at Quad/Graphics, a big Milwaukee-area printing company. The two were hired. Quad/Graphics prints “Business Week.” The workers would peek into an issue before it hit the stands and phone New Jersey with information from the “Inside Wall Street” column about what companies would be merging, which had good income reports, and which were in trouble. The stockbrokers bought company stock accordingly, then sold it a few days later after “Business Week” came out and gave the stock a boost. The printworkers made their bosses, who in turn sold the insider information to other investers, some $6.7 million. The scheme came unravelled, though, the printworkers lost their jobs, and everyone involved is being charged with insider trading. Still, I marvel at the perverse ingenuity of the fallen mind.
Posted by Veith at 07:55 AM
The end of Cockney?
Language is a deep indicator of cultural change. So it is significant that England’s urban working class accent–cockney–is being replaced by “Jafaican,” the Jamaican-like patois of the vast number of immigrants from the British Empire’s former colonies. Now, even white people, especially children and teenagers, are saying “hey, mon” and otherwise sounding like Rastafarians. (A good example is the hilarious comedian and prankster Ali G.) Go here for the details.
Posted by Veith at 07:51 AM
On the Judas hype
For one of the best discussions of the media kerfluffle over the so-called “Gospel of Judas,” see what Mollie Ziegler says at Get Religion.
Posted by Veith at 07:15 AM
April 11, 2006
The prayer experiment
Mollie Ziegler has some good things to say about that prayer experiment, in which total strangers mechanically prayed for a list of sick people they didn’t know and refused to pray for others. The idea was to determine scientifically, using these double blind control groups, whether or not prayer “works.” And lo and behold, those who were prayed for did not get any better than those who were not prayed for. So does that mean prayer is futile? See what Mollie says about this. She also links to this satire on how what the $2.4 million study does prove scientifically is that human beings cannot manipulate God.
Posted by Veith at 07:33 AM
The Ten Commandments remake
I watched ABC’s remake of the “The Ten Commandments” last night. (The second part is tonight.) It was mildly amusing and quite faithful to the miracles of the Bible. But while it was more realistic and not so hokey as Cecil B. DeMille’s classic, it lacked the sense of the “numinous,” which the Charleton Heston movie, despite its relatively primitive special effects, did evoke. Did anyone else see it? What did you think?
Posted by Veith at 07:23 AM
Religion all over the map
Go to this site for fascinating color-coded maps of American religion. The county-by-county breakdown shows where religious affiliation is at its highest and where it is at its lowest. It also shows “the Lutherans’ Northern Empire,” where the most Missouri-Synod types reside, and where Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Muslims–among others–congregate.
Posted by Veith at 07:16 AM
April 10, 2006
Lars Walker: Lutheran Novelist
Lars Walker’s novels can be found in the Science Fiction and Fantasy aisles. They are paperbacks, with those great comic book-style cover illustrations, something to read for their action, excitement, and the sheer fun that reading can be. But these particular books rise far above the typical pulp fiction. They are stylistically alive. And they are deeply, profoundly Christian. In fact, they are deeply, profoundly Lutheran. Not in the usually sappy and preachy way of the “Christian fiction” subgenre but in a bold, battling way. And far from diminishing the books’ appeal in the mainstream literary marketplace, their Christianity and their Lutheranism are intrinsic to their imaginative power.
I just finished The Year of the Warrior. Though published by the SciFi press Baen, it’s really closer to historical fiction, focusing on the conversion of the Vikings to Christianity and depicting the real-life exploits of the noble Norse lord Erling Skjalgsson and the less-admirable King Olaf (later promoted to “St.”). The tale centers around an Irishman kidnapped in a Viking raid who poses as a priest and then finds himself becoming one. The fantasy dimension comes as the Christians are challenged by the demonic forces of the old paganism.
There is lots of swordplay. And lots of even more dramatic spiritual warfare, both externalized in eerie confrontations with dark forces and internalized in the struggles of the main characters with their own sin and doubts. The context is the turning of the first millennium in 1000 A.D. (“the year of the warrior”), which many people thought would be the End of Time and Christ’s return. So the theological climate is early-medieval Catholicism. But the Lutheranism comes in the criticism of many elements of that theology (such as the practice of forced conversion) as well as in the evangelical appropriation of many of its features (the power of confession and absolution; the power of Baptism; the power of the Cross). And throughout is the figure of Christ and the truth of the Gospel, in contrast to counterfeit Christianities and the demonic gods of the pagans.
Lars also gets in some good shots at today’s false spiritualities–matter-denying Gnosticism, New Age paganism, and worldly churches. Says a bishop who wants to convert the masses by using the church growth methodology of killing them if they refuse:
Times change. We must change with the times. What use to obey Him in this or that point if we fail to win the world for him/
I don’t want to create the impression that the book is heavy-going. It’s not. It’s frequently funny. (It is not, however, for those squeamish about violence and sin.) And the voice of the slave-priest Father Aillil who narrates the tale is addictive.
Lars Walker (a frequent commenter on this blog) is a member of a Free Lutheran congregation. I’m reading his other books and will report on them as well. Meanwhile, here is someone to read.
Posted by Veith at 07:39 AM
A professor’s lecture
Here is a transcript of part of the lecture that University of Texas professor Eric Pianka gave to the Texas Academy of Science, in which he called for the elimination of 90% of the human population in order to save the planet. This is only the last part of the talk, as someone thought to turn on a tape recorder after the professor’s advocacy of the air-borne Ebola virus. (For the whole story, go here.) I offer this sampling simply as an example of the BAD teaching that often accompanies BAD thinking. Have you ever witnessed a more incoherent, unconnected, top-of-the head presentation? The answer might be “yes” if you have attended one of our prestigious universities.
Posted by Veith at 07:35 AM
The Mountains come to Muhammed
I do NOT like to promote South Park, but since we’ve been talking about these issues, you should know that on Wednesday at 10:00 p.m. ET, the profane cartoon show will depict Muhammed in an in-your-face response to Muslim reactions against those Danish cartoons. (This will be in the second of a two-part series, in which South Park residents bury their heads in the sand to avoid watching an upcoming episode of “Family Guy” in which the Prophet is depicted. The head-burial is to prove to Muslims that they didn’t watch the show and so shouldn’t be terrorized. One of the South Park kids peddles his tricycle to Hollywood to try to stop the program from airing, but another says,
If anything, we should all make cartoons of Mohammed and show the terrorists and the extremists that we are all united in the belief that every person has a right to say what they want. Look people, it’s been really easy for us to stand up for free speech lately. For the past few decades, we haven’t had to risk anything to defend it. One of those times is right now. And if we aren’t willing to risk what we have now, then we just believe in free speech, but won’t defend it.
The question is whether the Comedy Channel will allow the program to air. Apparently, some showings of South Park’s lampoons of Scientology got pulled. The even bigger question is whether Muslims will react against this cartoon show as they did against the Danish newspapers.
Posted by Veith at 07:25 AM
April 07, 2006
The gnostic Gospel of Judas
Archeologists have discovered the Gospel of Judas, a gnostic tract that the Church Fathers referred to, but that has been lost until a few years ago. Now National Geographic has arranged for its translation into English, along with a TV documentary to air Sunday night (repeated at 6, 8, 10:00 pm ET on the National Geographic Channel). That would be on Palm Sunday, an appropriate date.
The Gnostics were fond of inverting Orthodox Christianity. For example, in their treatment of the Old Testament, the God who created the universe is the BAD guy. (After all, the physical realm is intrinsically evil.) And Satan, the Serpent, is the GOOD guy. (He promised “knowledge,” or “gnosis,” to Adam and Eve, whose eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a good thing.) Gnosticism is the source of Blake’s inverted reading of “Paradise Lost,” which is continued in Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series. And Gnosticism is at the heart of “The Da Vinci Code.” (What a co-incidence that National Geographic is timing the release of their new gospel to come so close to the release of that movie.) And Gnosticism is the latest fad among postmodernist theologians (since the physical world doesn’t exist except as our inner deity creates it), especially feminists (since the body with its gender makes no difference to the spirit). And, as Harold Bloom has shown in his ground-breaking book American Religion, our cultural religion anyway is Gnosticism (all inner experience, oblivious to sacraments and action in the external world).
But the way this “gospel” is being hyped–as overturning traditional Christian beliefs, as forcing Christianity to re-evaluate its core beliefs–by a media ignorant of the Gnostic apocrypha and church history, egged on by radical scholars and a religion-mad pop culture, it looks as if a major theological shift may in fact be coming. That Gnosticism may take an institutional form, likely within once-Christian churches.
Posted by Veith at 08:37 AM
More fascism in pop culture
You have got to read the review of the movie “V for Vendetta” by my Cranach Institute colleague Angus Menuge. It’s posted at the Pearcey Report. The movie projects resistance to a “fascist” government–identified with Christianity!–and yet, as Angus shows, the terrorist resistance exemplifies point by point the fascist ideology, specifically the rise of a Nietzchean superman who is above good and evil and who rallies the masses to a collective will.
Killer quote: “For a movie so obviously influenced by George Orwell’s 1984, it is striking that the screenplay fails to grasp the message of Orwell’s Animal Farm, that those who can see themselves only as oppressed can quickly morph into the most brutal oppressors when they gain power.”
Posted by Veith at 08:26 AM
On the ending of streaks
Jimmy Rollin’s two-season hitting streak ended at 38 last night, as the Phillies fell to Cardinal pitching. I was one in the small crowd in 1987 that witnessed the end of Paul Molitor’s 39 game hitting streak. Paul had gone 0-4 in the game against Cleveland, but the score was tied in the 10th inning. There was a runner at second with only one out. Paul was on deck. He would have one more at bat in a clutch situation. But then Rick Manning, pinch-hitting before Molitor, hit a single, knocking in the winning run! But since Manning’s game-winning hit kept Paul from having to bat, the crowd booed him! I didn’t, of course, baseball purist that I am, but that is said to have been the first time in baseball that a home-crowd booed at their own team’s game-winning RBI. That was one of my oddest and yet greatest baseball moments.
Posted by Veith at 08:13 AM
April 06, 2006
The End of Humanism
Remember how humanism used to compete with Christianity? How “secular humanism” exalted human beings and made deities out of us? Well, you can hardly find that particular religion anymore. Postmodernists routinely ridicule humanism, deconstructing the notion that human beings are all that great, or capable, or valuable.
Now we have Professor Eric Pianka of the University of Texas-Arlington telling the Texas Academy of Science–to a standing ovation–that “we’re no better than bacteria” and calling for the use of the Ebola virus to exterminate 90% of the world’s population, so as to save the planet.
This sort of thinking is not all that rare on college campuses. Certainly the animal rights activists, ethicist Peter Singer, and others, in insisting that human beings are no different at all from animals and that animals in some ways should be privileged over human life, are, literally, anti-humanist. Humanists, of course, having rejected the Christian underpinnings for human rights and the value of human life, had no basis for their assertions, and now their philosophy is in shambles. Notice again, as I keep saying and demonstrating in my book “Modern Fascism,” postmodernism, by contrast, provides the underpinnings for totalitarianism, brutality, and holocaust. In the meantime, it will be up to Christians to be the advocates for human life and dignity. Now that “secular humanism” is being exterminated, we can rehabilitate an old Reformation term and cultivate a “Christian humanism.”
Posted by Veith at 06:24 AM
Lost on “Lost”
One of the few TV shows that has me hooked is “Lost.” Last night the show, in effect, offered a possible explanation for EVERYTHING on the show, all the weird stuff, that repeated number. Everything. It would have made the perfect series finale, except that the show is so popular it will keep going on and on, which means that the writers will have to cast doubt on the scenario they so boldly put before us.
One of the favored explanations for “Lost” that fans are putting forward on the web is the old-fashioned doctrine of Purgatory. Proponents of this view argue that all of the people on that airplane were really killed in the crash. On the Island, their souls are working out their “issues.” When that issue is resolved, they “die” on the Island, which means they leave Purgatory and go to Heaven. That has explanatory power, though bad theology, of course. It does illustrate how old and neglected ideas–today’s Catholic church tends to ignore Purgatory, though the doctrine is still “on the books”–can still have resonance for contemporary culture. So would the GOSPEL.
Anyway, if any of you are “Lost” fans, here is your chance to comment on the “Hurley’s brain” hypothesis–is that THE explanation?–or to offer a hypothesis of your own.
Posted by Veith at 06:05 AM
April 05, 2006
The Duke boys
Duke is one of the nation’s leading citadels of postmodernist theory, leftist politics, and politically-correct indoctrination. So it is ironic that the Duke lacrosse team has been caught in a vicious gang-rape of a black woman. I am wondering if this illustrates that the university needs more effective teachers. Or have the lads learned their lessons all too well. Their college transcripts need to be entered into evidence: Did they take a course in which they were taught that all sex is really rape? Or that white males intrinsically oppress women and minorities? Or that all moral values are really just constructions of the will to power? Such bromides are taught to try to make privileged groups feel guilty, but, if they are believed to be true, then the Duke boys could reason that they are just acting naturally and in the only way they can.
By the way, Duke was also the model for Tom Wolfe’s excellent novel, “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” an examination of the moral degradation that goes on at American universities. (Caution: That novel, in making its case, is sexually explicit, but, Wolfe said, in a purposefully unpleasant way.) Once again, fiction anticipates fact.
Posted by Veith at 07:11 AM
Baseball is back!
Because of my computer problems, I wasn’t able to wax eloquent about Opening Day! Some see the advent of Spring in terms of the first robin, or the first flowers to bloom. Others see it in their hay fever starting up again. I see it also in terms of baseball starting.
Every season has surprises. (Just like the NCAA basketball tournament, as I said it would. George Mason in the Final Four!) I wonder what this season’s surprises will be. Will the Cardinals once again utterly dominate the league, until choking in the postseason, as they have done the last two years? Or will they surprise us? What will be the unheralded team that comes out of nowhere to contend? (I’m hoping the Milwaukee Brewers. It could happen.) Any predictions?
Posted by Veith at 06:57 AM
SMUG alert
Again, I am NOT recommending “South Park.” (Really. That satire they had of Isaac Hayes quitting because the show dissed his religion of Scientology was unutterably vile, having Chef’s cult turn him into a child molester). But, surfing the channels the other night, I came across the show as it offered a rather useful satirical metaphor.
It seems the denizens of South Park, Colorado, all started driving hybrids. And while this did eliminate their SMOG, the consequent self-righteous environmentalism resulted in a large cloud of SMUG. In the storyline, another cloud of SMUG from San Francisco (portrayed as the country’s smuggest city with all its political correctness and upper class condescension ["ours is more like a European city"]) moving over the Rockies. And with the addition of the SMUG from George Clooney’s Academy Awards acceptance speech ["we in Hollywood are responsible for the Civil Rights movement"], the result would be a perfect storm that would destroy South Park! Only by getting rid of their hybrids in time were the citizens able to save their city.
In the “I think we all learned an important lesson” part of the show, we were told that it’s good to drive hybrids–but just don’t be so smug about it!
Posted by Veith at 06:48 AM
Technical difficulties
Sorry I didn’t blog yesterday. I had hardware problems, to the point of not being able to get on the internet! How weird that was. How lost and inconvenienced and thrown off I was. How much time I had to do other things!
Posted by Veith at 06:45 AM
April 03, 2006
A product I’ve got to try
I like Coca-Cola. I like coffee. So if we mix them together, wouldn’t I like that too? Today marks the debut of exactly that product: Coca-Cola Blak. This sounds strangely good to me. How about to you? Coke Blak hits the stores today. If any of you have a chance to try it, please report.
Posted by Veith at 09:24 AM
This land is their land
A thoughtful article on the complexities of the relationship between Mexico and the United States in the Chicago Tribune included an amusing anecdote. It seems that Mexicans still consider Texas and California, which the United States acquired after the Texas revolution and the Mexican War, respectively, to belong to them. That is one reason why they do not consider crossing over into the old homeland to necessarily be “illegal.” Indeed, some radicals see mass immigration as a “reconquista,” a way to take back the Hispanic possessions. OK, that’s not amusing, but the author, Hugh Dellios, tells this story:
“One of the first things that Mexicans learn in primary school is that the U.S. stole our territory, and because of that we’re not developed,” Jorge Chabat, an expert in border issues, kidded me over lunch not long after I arrived in Mexico City. “And oh, those gringos! They took the best part– the part with the good highways, the shopping malls and Disneyland!”
Posted by Veith at 09:05 AM
Still in the coop
Columnist Clarence Page has a column about a curious cultural phenomenon: a third of young male adults still live with their parents. Young women are still flying the coop, but not young men. Quoting psychologist Leonard Sax, Mr. Page writes,
“This phenomenon cuts across all demographics,” Sax wrote in a recent Washington Post essay. “You’ll find it in families both rich and poor; black, white, Asian and Hispanic; urban, suburban and rural. According to the Census Bureau, fully one-third of young men ages 22 to 34 are still living at home with their parents–a roughly 100 percent increase in the past 20 years. No such change has occurred with regard to young women. Why?”
Why, indeed? I’m not necessarily critical of this. It beats the anti-parent rebellion of earlier years, and perhaps heralds the rebirth of the extended family. But then there are considerations on the other hand. Any of you readers have any experience with this, either as parents or as the young adults?
Posted by Veith at 08:54 AM
New Church Growth methods
The church growth movement has a new idea. Bring in this far-out instrument called an “organ” and sing these weird retro songs called “hymns.” And instead of reading stuff up on the screen, you have these books that you can follow along. This makes for a worship service that is way cool and gets people out of their comfort zone.
It’s true. Dallas Morning Newshas an article about how more and more megachurches are adding “traditional” services. Even Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church has one. Click “continue reading” for excerpts.
_Dallas Morning News, The (TX)_A return to the classics_Contemporary churches rediscover the power of familiar hymns_SAM HODGES Staff Writer_Published: February 18, 2006
_A funny thing happened last summer at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall. A shipment of hymn books arrived, and not by mistake.
Lake Pointe is a megachurch with contemporary-style worship. Years back, it dissolved its choir and got rid of its hymnals in favor of Christian “praise” music, played by a rock band, with lyrics flashed on big screens.
That style still dominates at Lake Pointe. But in August, sensing demand, the church debuted its “Classic Service,” an early Sunday morning alternative service with choir, piano, organ and lots of congregational singing – out of those shiny new hymnals.
The first Sunday, Pastor Steve Stroope and his staff prepared a room for 200. Nearly twice that many came, forcing a move the next week to the church gym. A second batch of hymnals was ordered. The service now regularly draws 300 to 350, with chairs covering the basketball court.
_First Baptist Church of Fort Worth started an early Sunday morning traditional service in 2004, to go with its 11 a.m. contemporary service. Northeast Houston Baptist offers two Sunday contemporary services, but just had the first anniversary of an early morning service that’s heavy on hymns and even includes some liturgy.
Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., founded by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, is famously and influentially contemporary in worship style. But last September it added a Sunday service called “Traditions,” complete with hymnals, to its several worship style options.
“Although it is not one of our larger venues, it is extremely popular with those who attend,” said Gerald Sharon, part of Saddleback’s pastoral staff.
Across the country and across denominations, there are churches that feature contemporary worship but offer a traditional option. Quite a few, including Allentown Presbyterian in Allentown, N.J., and Spokane Valley United Methodist in Spokane Valley, Wash., use the term “classic” to describe the service.
“‘Classic’ makes me chuckle. It sounds like oldies rock for boomers!” said Mark Miller-McLemore, an assistant professor of the practice of ministry at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn. Others, including Mr. Stroope, said “Classic Service” reminded them of “Coca-Cola Classic,” a term born of the New Coke fiasco.
No one can dispute that the contemporary-style worship has helped churches grow by pulling in “unchurched” young and middle-aged people, who tend to like the informality and rock-influenced music. It’s still far more common to see a mainline church experimenting with a contemporary service than a contemporary-style church trying out tradition.
But some students of the contemporary style say that much of its music lacks the melodic sophistication of enduring hymns, or the poetry and doctrinal depth of lyrics penned by such writers as Charles Wesley (“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”), Isaac Watts (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”), Fanny Crosby (“Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine”) or Thomas Dorsey (“Precious Lord, Take My Hand”).
And while traditional worship can be stiff and uninvolving, the contemporary experience – music, big screens, mood lighting – is often derided as “church lite.”
“When done incorrectly, contemporary services are all foam and no root beer,” said Nathan Lino, Northeast Houston Baptist’s pastor. “They are entertaining, fun and high energy, but you leave with no sense of having had a meaningful time of worship. … I do think churches are beginning to realize that there is a growing desire for a shift back toward a more traditional style.”
Posted by Veith at 08:17 AM
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March 31, 2006
The underground church in Afghanistan
What is it like to be a Christian in Afghanistan, where you face the penalty for your faith? How do Afghan Christians go to church? The German newspaper “Der Spiegel” has a fascinating account, available here in English. A sampling:
The persecution and the constant danger have turned the community of Afghan converts into a closely knit underground organization. Ironically, the oppression has strengthened the faith of many.
Nothing can happen in the open, and Kabar and his fellow believers hold their worship services on different days of the week. “It would be too dangerous to do it on Sunday, because it would be easy for them to observe us.” Converts are contacted just before a service is to take place, often by innocent-sounding mobile phone text messages. “We’re having tea at 11 o’clock,” is one that Kabar reads.
The locations of services change constantly as well, and they are always held in private homes, where everything has to be prepared well in advance. The household staff must be away; neighbors mustn’t notice anything; and everyone has to have the 100 percent trust of everyone else. It is too dangerous to even have a Bible at most services, says Kabar, who knows his prayers by heart. Police have come and searched his house three times already, but failed to find anything incriminating. “They know I’m a Christian,” he says. “But I won’t give them any reason to put me on trial.”
HT: Michelle Malkin
Kabar converted to Christianity 20 years ago, when such a thing was not as taboo as it is today. “There were a lot of churches, both in Kabul and in the country,” he says. “Back then the two religions coexisted here almost peacefully.” But that all changed when the Taliban came to power in the mid-1990s. Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Omar ordered his men to raze churches to the ground, to lynch Afghan Christians and to kill or drive out foreigners who followed Jesus Christ.
Many of Kabar’s friends lost their lives during this period. “They tortured prisoners until they got them to tell them the names of other Christians. Then the Taliban would kill them and go in search of new victims.” Why he himself survived, he doesn’t know. He was taken prisoner twice and interrogated for hours at a time, but his persecutors could find no proof. “I knew the suras and the prayers from the Koran by heart. So I pretended to be a good Muslim,” he said, with something like pride in his voice.
But the disappearance of the Taliban has not made much of a difference for people like Kabar. Converts continue to be hunted down, thrown into prison or even killed by their neighbors. The West was largely unaware of the situation, and it was only by coincidence that Rahman’s case captured international attention.
. . . . . . . . .
Kabar is forced to renounce his core identity every day. There is an Islamic name on his business card, although privately he carries the name of one of the apostles. Only his family and his closest friends know his secret. Sometimes, he says, he has to act as if he is praying to Allah. “If business associates come to my house and suddenly want to pray, I have to go along,” he says, adding that he only hopes his God understands.
No one knows how many Afghan converts there really are. Because there are no churches, there are also no records. Everything is carried out in secret; only Christians know other Christians. Kabar says he knows a couple of hundred in Kabul and in many other Afghan cities, estimating that there are probably in total between 1,000 and 2,000 people of the Christian faith in Afghanistan, against a Muslim majority of nearly 20 million. Christian Web sites put that number at 10,000, a figure which seems exaggerated.
Even Christian foreigners in Afghanistan feel the oppression brought down by the larger Islamic society. While Christians in Kabul, who mostly come from the Philippines, can hold masses in Kabul, they have to do so in secret. The head of a small foreign congregation, an ophthalmologist from the United States, declined to talk about the issue last week. Christian groups are often suspected of being missionaries; therefore it’s better to keep a low profile. His own church is completely unrecognizable as such, apart from a (relief of a) fish on the outer wall.
_
Posted by Veith at 09:39 AM
Gay marriage just for Massachusetts
The Massechusetts state Supreme Court ruled that, while gays may get married in that state, non-resident gays may not. The court upheld a 1913 law forbidding visitors from contracting marriages that would not be legal in their own states.
The U.S. Constitution contains a “full faith and credit” clause, requiring states to recognize each other’s laws. It was thought that this would mean every state would have to accept marriages under Massachusetts’ gay marriage law. But I guess the other side of the coin is that Massachusetts has to accept other states’ laws that do not permit gay marriage. We’ll have to see which reading eventually passes constitutional muster from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Posted by Veith at 08:55 AM
Test tube meat
Researchers are developing ways to use artificially engineered cellcultures to generate meat tissue. They have already done so with frog, carp, and mouse (yuck!) and are now working on beef,pork,and chicken. They hope to be able to produce a commercially-viable industry in five years.
One thought, among many, that comes to mind: I can’t imagine that this kind of meat would satisfy carnivores, since the flavor is determined from the marbling of fat, what the animal was fed, and other factors that scientists have (by their own admission) not figured out. But would test-tube meat, in which it could truthfully be advertised that “no animal was harmed in the making of this product,” make it palatable for vegetarians and animal-rights activists?
Posted by Veith at 08:43 AM
TIME attacks Rahman
“Time Magazine” takes the Islamist line by attacking the character of Christian convert Ahmad Rahman. But see the rejoinder at Truth & Terrorism.
HT: Michelle Malkin
Posted by Veith at 08:07 AM
March 30, 2006
Afghanis persecute more Christians
Now that Christian convert Abdul Rahman has fled to Italy, jihadists in Afghanistan are taking out their piety on other Christians in that country.
US-based Christian news source, Compass Direct, reports that more Christians have been arrested for their faith in Afghanistan in the wake of the release of Abdul Rahman. Compass, a news service that tracks persecution of Christians mostly in Islamic countries, says harassment of the Christian community has been stepped up.
Compass says two more Christian converts have been arrested in other parts of the country, but further information is being withheld in the “sensitive situation” caused by the international media furor over Rahman. Reports of beatings and police raids on the homes of Christians are filtering out of the country through local Christian ministers.
. . . . . . . . .
The threat of death hangs over the heads of all Afghan Christians, of whom US-based groups say there may be as many as 10,000, meeting secretly in houses for prayer and bible study, and living in fear of their lives. Under Afghanistan’s strict Islamic law conversion to another religion is a capital offense and Muslim leaders have been calling for Rahman’s execution and threatening to kill him.
HT: Michelle Malkin
Posted by Veith at 07:35 AM
Americans eventually run
An article by Mideast expert Amir Taheri says that the new strategy being adopted among radical Muslims is waiting Bush out. According to the architect of Iran’s foreign policy, America has a habit of running away, citing a series of “last helicopters” that take out the last remaining Americans from places of danger once we lose our political will,as we always do. Bush is an aberration, says the Iranian, in actually being strong. But, noting the current political climate in the US, Bush will soon be gone. And then Iran can take the lead. Click “continue reading” for some quotes.
From “The Wall Street Journal”:
To hear Mr. Abbasi tell it the entire recent history of the U.S. could be narrated with the help of the image of “the last helicopter.” It was that image in Saigon that concluded the Vietnam War under Gerald Ford. Jimmy Carter had five helicopters fleeing from the Iranian desert, leaving behind the charred corpses of eight American soldiers. Under Ronald Reagan the helicopters carried the corpses of 241 Marines murdered in their sleep in a Hezbollah suicide attack. Under the first President Bush, the helicopter flew from Safwan, in southern Iraq, with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf aboard, leaving behind Saddam Hussein’s generals, who could not believe why they had been allowed live to fight their domestic foes, and America, another day. Bill Clinton’s helicopter was a Black Hawk, downed in Mogadishu and delivering 16 American soldiers into the hands of a murderous crowd.
According to this theory, President George W. Bush is an “aberration,” a leader out of sync with his nation’s character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an “American Middle East.” Messrs. Abbasi and Ahmadinejad have concluded that there will be no helicopter as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s defiant rhetoric is based on a strategy known in Middle Eastern capitals as “waiting Bush out.” “We are sure the U.S. will return to saner policies,” says Manuchehr Motakki, Iran’s new Foreign Minister.
Mr. Ahmadinejad believes that the world is heading for a clash of civilizations with the Middle East as the main battlefield. In that clash Iran will lead the Muslim world against the “Crusader-Zionist camp” led by America. Mr. Bush might have led the U.S. into “a brief moment of triumph.” But the U.S. is a “sunset” (ofuli) power while Iran is a sunrise (tolu’ee) one and, once Mr. Bush is gone, a future president would admit defeat and order a retreat as all of Mr. Bush’s predecessors have done since Jimmy Carter.
Posted by Veith at 07:30 AM
Lutheran in orbit
Astronaut Jeff Williams, a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, blasted off in a Russian spacecraft last night and successfully went into orbit. He and Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov will man the International Space Station for six months. Continual problems with the space shuttle have made the 1960s-era Soyuz spacecraft the vehicle of choice for space station missions.
I had the privilege of interviewing Col. Williams just days before launch for a series of articles in the confessional Lutheran youth magazine Higher Things. (The articles are not up yet, but you might want to check out this excellent publication and the youth ministry that goes along with it.) Col. Williams’ reflections on faith, growing-up, and vocation are truly inspiring.
Do you remember when the news media would actually cover a launch into space? Was this even on the 24-hour news channels, or were they too pre-occupied with the crime-of-the-month? This was on p. 10 of our local newspaper. Perhaps that means space travel has now become routine, like taking a commuter flight or driving a car, but it isn’t really. Space travel is still a dangerous, skill-demanding, heroic business.
Posted by Veith at 07:08 AM
March 29, 2006
Bad language
And now, to go along with the post below, we have a study of another transgression: profanity. Specifically, the use of the F-word.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans questioned last week – 74 percent – said they encounter profanity in public frequently or occasionally, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll. Two-thirds said they think people swear more than they did 20 years ago. And as for, well, the gold standard of foul words, a healthy 64 percent said they use the F-word – ranging from several times a day (8 percent) to a few times a year (15 percent).
……….
Younger people admit to using bad language more often than older people; they also encounter it more and are less bothered by it. The AP-Ipsos poll showed that 62 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds acknowledged swearing in conversation at least a few times a week, compared to 39 percent of those 35 and older.
More women than men said they encounter people swearing more now than 20 years ago – 75 percent, compared to 60 percent. Also, more women said they were bothered by profanity – 74 percent at least some of the time – than men (60 percent.) And more men admitted to swearing: 54 percent at least a few times a week, compared to 39 percent of women.
But if 74% of women and 60% of men are bothered by hearing profanity, you would think there would be some social stigma against it. (Note too that 39% of women and 54% of men use this kind of language, which adds up to more than 100%, meaning a significant segment both do it and disapprove of it, which corresponds to what the Bible teaches about our sinful inability to live up to our own standards.) But whereas taking the name of God in vain is condemned in Scripture (which Hollywood raters consider to be not so bad at all), is saying these scatological or sexual words all that bad?
Posted by Veith at 07:54 AM
What Americans consider morally wrong
The Pew Research Center did a study asking Americans whether they thought certain activities were morally wrong. Here are the results, with the percentage of people who considered the behavior a moral transgression:
1. Married people having an affair (88%) 2. Not reporting all income on your taxes (79%) 3. Drinking alcohol excessively (61%) 4. Having an abortion (52%) 5. Smoking marijuana (50%) 6. Homosexual behavior (50%) 7. Telling lie to spare someone’s feelings (43%) 8. Sex between unmarried adults (35%) 9. Gambling (35%) 10. Overeating (32%)
Only just over a third of Americans consider extra-marital sex to be wrong? And yet, adultery is still overwhelming condemned. Is this a cognitive dissonance, or proof that Americans, despite their single behavior, still honor marriage? And two our of three see no moral problem with gambling, evidence that what the law allows does shape people’s personal values. Over half believe abortion is immoral, which is higher than the percentage who want Roe v. Wade overturned, which shows that many people disapprove of abortion while still wanting it available.
What else can we learn from these statistics?
Posted by Veith at 07:35 AM
Christmas in March
The discussions we get on these posts keep going and going, sometimes for weeks! That’s good, so if there is one you were invested in, keep checking. (To access old threads, use the “Search” function.) Anyway, we just got a new comment on Santa Claus, Heretic Slapper first posted way back on December 8, 2005. Damon Hickey offers another revision of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” based on the historical fact that the real St. Nicholas whapped the heretic Arius up the side of the head for denying the deity of Christ. Damon’s Christmas song is quite good, so, assuming most readers are not checking posts from four months ago and to get you in the Christmas spirit for Easter, I offer it here. Click “continue reading.”
_‘Twas the night of the Council,_When all through the hall,_The bishop’s were whisp’ring,_“Of all of the gall!”
The soldiers were stationed_Outside of his cell_To keep old Saint Nicholas_From ringing the bell
Of a bishop called Arius,_Who said he believed_That John in his Gospel_Had tried to deceive
Believers by saying_That Jesus was God,_And not just a man_(“That John was a fraud!”).
Old Nicholas replied_With a slap in the face,_In front of the emperor—_Oh, what a disgrace!
Now, locked in his cell,_Bishop Nicholas saw_The Virgin and Jesus,_Who laid down the law,
“No slapping of heretics,_“Bishop or priest!_“Show love to our enemies,_“And you’ll be released.”
To the emperor and bishops_These Blessed Ones came,_“If Nicholas is sorry,_“Restore his good name.”
So then in the Council,_Saint Nicholas said,_“I’m sorry, your highness,_“For losing my head.
“For Arius I’ll pray now_“And hope that he’ll see_“That God, who is One,_“Is the Trinity,
“And Jesus, though man,_“With a body like ours,_“Is True God of True God,_“With all of God’s powers.
“To God the Father,_“All creatures shall raise_“Their hymns of joy_“And unceasing praise.
“To God the Son,_“To Jesus, our King,_“Our unending praises_“We also will sing.
“And to God the Spirit,_“The Three in the One,_“Our praises unending_“Will never be done.”
Posted by: Damon Hickey at March 28, 2006 02:42 PM
Posted by Veith at 07:25 AM
March 28, 2006
But would illegal immigrants make better citizens?
What would you say to the argument that an influx of Hispanic immigrants would be good for American culture? Hispanics typically have stronger families, a better work-ethic, and are more religious than most of those who currently constitute American culture, which is becoming increasingly decadent. Maybe if we welcome them–giving them the economic and political liberty denied them at home and which they clearly value in coming here–their influence could save America from our current cultural malaise.
Posted by Veith at 07:29 AM
Reconquista?
So, the House passed a bill that would make illegal immigration a felony, while the Senate is debating a bill that would make it legal. Meanwhile, the mass demonstrations, attended by hundreds of thousands of both legal and illegal Hispanic immigrants, show just how many there are, intimidating vote-hungry politicians and further alarming those who worry for the future survival of Anglo-American culture. (Especially worrisome are the “Reconquista” signs, from radicals who insist that California, Texas, and much of the rest of the American West belong to Mexico and want to re-conquer it. But I thought it belonged to American Indians!)
Posted by Veith at 07:15 AM
Freedom of the Internet
The Federal Election Commission ruled that campaign finance laws will not apply to internet communications, with the exception of paid ads. That means that, contrary to what had been feared, bloggers, e-mailers, and the like can still talk politics without fear of federal regulators.
One part of the ruling gave bloggers the same exemptions from campaign laws as print journalists. The FEC chairman said, “There will be no second class citizens among members of the media.”
Posted by Veith at 06:50 AM
To Command and Forbid
Read Canadian conservative Mark Steyn on Islam’s demand for Abdul Rahman’s death (even from Muslim “moderates”), along with the Danish cartoon controversy. A sample:
Unfortunately, what’s “precious and sacred” to Islam is its institutional contempt for others. In his book “Islam And The West,” Bernard Lewis writes, “The primary duty of the Muslim as set forth not once but many times in the Quran is ‘to command good and forbid evil.’ It is not enough to do good and refrain from evil as a personal choice. It is incumbent upon Muslims also to command and forbid.” Or as the Canadian columnist David Warren put it: “We take it for granted that it is wrong to kill someone for his religious beliefs. Whereas Islam holds it is wrong not to kill him.” In that sense, those imams are right, and Karzai’s attempts to finesse the issue are, sharia-wise, wrong.
I can understand why the president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would rather deal with this through back channels, private assurances from their Afghan counterparts, etc. But the public rhetoric is critical, too. At some point we have to face down a culture in which not only the mob in the street but the highest judges and academics talk like crazies. Abdul Rahman embodies the question at the heart of this struggle: If Islam is a religion one can only convert to, not from, then in the long run it is a threat to every free person on the planet.
HT: Michelle Malkin
Posted by Veith at 06:50 AM
Rahman finally freed
Abdul Rahman, the Afghani Christian who faced the death penalty for his faith, was finally released and will reportedly leave the country. Italy is offering him asylum.
Posted by Veith at 06:45 AM
March 27, 2006
German epic on TV tonight
“The Dark Kingdom,” a two-part series based on the ancient German epic the “Niebelungenlied,” will air tonight on the SciFi channel (9:00 pm ET). With its magic ring, cursed treasure, and dragon, this saga was hugely influential in the imagination of J. R. R. Tolkien. Reportedly, this version focuses on the ‘human” drama rather than the gods. That’s like a movie of “Moby Dick” that leaves out whales. But I’m curious to see it. The only other dramatization I’m aware of is Wagner’s opera, in which the music and the bombast get in the way of the tale.
Posted by Veith at 08:04 AM
Afghanis drop case against Christian
The case against Abdul Rahman, threatened with the death penalty for becoming a Christian, was dropped by Afghani prosecutors, who cited a lack of evidence. How’s this for evidence?:
Rahman, meanwhile, said he was fully aware of his choice and was ready to die for it, according to an interview published Sunday in an Italian newspaper La Repubblica. “I am serene. I have full awareness of what I have chosen. If I must die, I will die,” Abdul Rahman told the Rome daily, responding to questions sent to him via a human rights worker who visited him in prison.”Somebody, a long time ago, did it for all of us,” he added in a clear reference to Jesus.
The prosecutor reserved the right to re-open the case, pending a new investigation, including the question of whether Rahman is, in fact, a citizen of Afghanistan. Though released from prison, Rahman does not want to leave the country. It could be that the Afghani people, as the clerics threatened, will enforce the penalty of Islamic law themselves.
UPDATE: It appears that Rahman has NOT been freed. Thousands are protesting in the streets against the government for dropping the case. Michele Malkin’s headline is telling: The Lynchmob Is Ready.
Posted by Veith at 08:00 AM
No, not all gods are the same
Cyberbrethren takes up the question of whether Muslims and adherents of other religions worship the same God that Christians do. After all, so goes the argument, Romans 1 talks about a natural knowledge of God. And Muslims are monotheists, claiming adherence to the God of Abraham. Well, read this, which includes some amazingly prescient comments from Luther on the violent piety of the Turks, who were then on the verge of conquering Europe. For example:
“When the Turks go into battle their only war cry is “Allah! Allah!” and they shout it till heaven and earth resound. But in the Arabic language. Allah means God, and is a corruption of the Hebrew Eloha. For they have been taught in the Koran that they shall boast constantly with these words, “There is no God but God.” All that is really a device of the devil. For what does it mean to say, “There is no God but God,” without distinguishing one God from another? The devil, too, is a god, and they honor him with this word; there is no doubt of that. Therefore I believe that the Turks’ Allah does more in war than they themselves. He gives them courage and wiles; he guides sword and fist, horse and man. What do you think, then, of the holy people who can call upon God in battle, and yet destroy Christ and all God’s words and works, as you have heard?” (American Edition 46:183).
Posted by Veith at 07:40 AM
Yale’s history with fascists
Yale is very hard to get into, but the university has admitted a former Taliban propagandist from Afghanistan with only a 4th grade education. This article puts that decision into context, showing how Yale has a history of welcoming fascists, though usually on the faculty. The most notorious was literary critic Paul de Man, the inventor of deconstruction. Somehow, the intellectual establishment thinks that denying that a text has any objective meaning is liberal and progressive. They are oblivious to the way the notion that meaning is a construction and an act of power is, in fact, part of the fascist metaphysic. That, by the way, is the subject of my book Modern Fascism.
Posted by Veith at 07:17 AM
March 24, 2006
Churches that break the law
National Review’s Kathryn Lopez writes about how many churches and Hispanic ministries are openly welcoming and aiding illegal aliens. The new Immigration Reform Act, if it passes, will punish that sort of thing. Both Catholic and evangelical churches are doing this. Ms. Lopez cites an article in Christianity Today, quoting a number of evangelical pastors who admit aiding and abetting illegal immigration. The Cardinal of Los Angeles has ordered his priests to defy any new law against aiding illegal immigrants.
Ms. Lopez calls these churches to account, saying they need to obey and uphold the law. A pastor involved with Hispanic ministry cites Leviticus 19:34: “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” What do you think about this?
Posted by Veith at 08:20 AM
Sgt. York’s battleground discovered
A team of Tennessee researchers has located the site of one of history’s most remarkable military exploits: Sgt. Alvin York’s single-handed defeat of an entire German machine gun line. During the WWI action, then-Corporal York picked off 20 gunners, whereupon 132 others surrendered or were captured to this one Tennessee rifleman. He then marched all of these POWs–by himself–back to the American lines.
The archeologists discovered a trove of .30-06 shell casings, the sort that would have been used in York’s Lee-Enfield Model 17 rifle, buried 9 inches on the forest floor, in an area pinpointed by inputting historical details from contemporary reports into a computerized map, which was then downloaded into a GPS positioning device. Check out the project’s website. It includes a provocative quote from Voltaire: _”GOD IS ON THE SIDE OF NOT THE HEAVY BATTALIONS, BUT OF THE BEST SHOTS.” Can anyone think of other, non-military applications of this maxim?
Posted by Veith at 07:59 AM
Afghanis demand the Christian’s death
Abdul Rahman, who faces the death penalty for converting to Christianity, is still in grave jeopardy, with Afghan clerics rejecting an insanity plea or letting him leave the country.
“Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die,” said cleric Abdul Raoulf, who is considered a moderate and was jailed three times for opposing the Taliban before the hard-line regime was ousted in 2001.
He is one of those Muslim “moderates” we have been looking for! Click “continue reading” for even more chilling rhetoric.
From the AP story:
Diplomats have said the Afghan government is searching for a way to drop the case. On Wednesday, authorities said Rahman is suspected of being mentally ill and would undergo psychological examinations to see whether he is fit to stand trial.But three Sunni preachers and a Shiite one interviewed by The Associated Press in four of Kabul’s most popular mosques said they do not believe Rahman is insane.
“He is not crazy. He went in front of the media and confessed to being a Christian,” said Hamidullah, chief cleric at Haji Yacob Mosque.
“The government is scared of the international community. But the people will kill him if he is freed.”
Raoulf, who is a member of the country’s main Islamic organization, the Afghan Ulama Council, agreed. “The government is playing games. The people will not be fooled.”
“Cut off his head!” he exclaimed, sitting in a courtyard outside Herati Mosque. “We will call on the people to pull him into pieces so there’s nothing left.”
He said the only way for Rahman to survive would be for him to go into exile.
But Said Mirhossain Nasri, the top cleric at Hossainia Mosque, one of the largest Shiite places of worship in Kabul, said Rahman must not be allowed to leave the country.
“If he is allowed to live in the West, then others will claim to be Christian so they can too,” he said. “We must set an example. … He must be hanged.”
The clerics said they were angry with the United States and other countries for pushing for Rahman’s freedom.
“We are a small country and we welcome the help the outside world is giving us. But please don’t interfere in this issue,” Nasri said. “We are Muslims and these are our beliefs. This is much more important to us than all the aid the world has given us.”
Posted by Veith at 07:50 AM
Boondocks update
The annoying Boondocks is still there this morning, but Sunday is going to be its last day before a 6-month hiatus. (Sometimes those keep going indefinitely, which we can only hope.)
Posted by Veith at 07:46 AM
March 23, 2006
Giving up terrorism
The Basque terrorist group the ETA, which has killed some 600 people since the 1960s, has announced that it will give up violence and try to work for Basque independence from Spain through political means. The Irish Republican Army also seems to have gone the route of laying down their arms. This shows that terrorists can finally give up that tactic. But I suspect Islamic terrorism will be more pervasive. Nationalist movements have a political goal, which may use violence as a tactic that they can abandon if it doesn’t work. But jihadist violence seems to exist for its own sake, with no perceivable goal they are even trying to achieve, except for killing non-Muslims as a sort of religious sacrifice that will cause them to merit eternal life.
Posted by Veith at 08:24 AM
Leaving the Boondocks
The comic pages got a little less annoying today, as Aaron McGruder takes a six month hiatus from his black militant cartoon strip The Boondocks. That opens up a space for newspapers to replace it with a new cartoon, at least for awhile. Any suggestions?
Posted by Veith at 08:17 AM
Non-Christians and Lent
An increasing number of non-liturgical Christians and even non-Christians are giving up something for Lent. This fits with my thesis that the best way to present Christianity to a secular culture is not to make it more secular (as is the current practice) but less secular (bringing back the classic mysteries, disciplines, and mind-blowing teachings).
Posted by Veith at 08:03 AM
How bird flu works
A team of scientists led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka from right here in Wisconsin has published a paper in “Nature” detailing how bird flu operates.
To understand why it’s been so difficult for H5N1 to spread between people, Kawaoka and his colleagues asked the question: What are the molecular barriers that limit this transmission? To answer that, they examined cells on tissue samples taken from the respiratory tracts of eight people. They were looking for specific receptors – or surface molecules – that are known to bind to H5N1 influenza viruses.
They discovered that only cells located in the deep, dark recesses of the human lower respiratory tract could bind to avian flu. Those in the upper respiratory tract, where human flus are carried, could not._Human flus, which can be contracted through the air, generally move between people by catching a ride on the currents of sneezes and coughs. But because the avian flu is lodged so deeply in the lungs, once it’s in, the virus has a difficult time climbing back out. The finding may also explain why the disease manifests itself as a deadly pneumonia.
The good news, according to the research, is that the virus would have to go through several distinct mutations–not just one, as many have feared–before it could be transmitted from human to human, which would make possible a deadly pandemic.
Posted by Veith at 07:52 AM
March 22, 2006
Insanity plea
The president of Afghanistan is in a dilemma over what to do about the prosecution of Abdul Rahman for converting to Christianity (see yesterday’s post). For a Muslim to become a Christian demands the death penalty under Islamic law. President Karzai does not want to inflame his people, mostly devout adherents of that religion of peace and tolerance. Nor does he want to inflame the people of those Western nations that keep his government in power. In the words of an Associated Press story, “A Western diplomat in Kabul and a human rights advocate — both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter — said the government was desperately searching for a way to drop the case because of the reaction it has caused.” So, the Kabul government is floating the possibility of an insanity plea:
But prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari said questions have been raised about his mental fitness. “We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn’t talk like a normal person,” he said in an interview. Moayuddin Baluch, a religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, said Rahman would undergo a psychological examination. “Doctors must examine him,” he said. “If he is mentally unfit, definitely Islam has no claim to punish him. He must be forgiven. The case must be dropped.”
Michelle Malkin links to a video of Rahman confessing his faith. She asks, which sound more insane, Rahman or his jihadist persecutors?
Posted by Veith at 07:41 AM
The Return of Chef
I am NOT recommending “South Park,” the twisted cartoon show with the potty-mouthed fourth-graders whose satire, while being very funny, considers nothing sacred. (Of course, what our culture holds to be sacred these days is not religion at all, but the whole range of politically-correct pieties, all of which “South Park” targets, which makes it a favorite of many conservatives.) But since on an earlier post we talked about how Isaac Hayes is quitting doing the voice for Chef because the show lampooned scientology, I would be journalistically remiss if I did not point out that tonight, on the Comedy Channel at 10:00 p.m. ET, “South Park” will air a quickly-put-together episode called The Return of Chef!. And I would be critically remiss if I were not interested in how the writers are going to slice and dice Mr. Hayes and the religious cult to which he has sworn allegiance.
Posted by Veith at 07:28 AM
Caught/cot pen/pin
One of the sound shifts taking place in Midwestern accents is the “Low-Back” merger, in which the vowel sound articulated way at the back and lower part of the mouth–the “au” sound–disappears and is replaced by the next closest vowel sound: the short “o” sound. So that “caught” and “cot” are pronounced exactly alike.
I’m an Oklahoman and my speech has this feature. I had assumed that this was a Southernism, but the article linked below says that it comes from the WEST. (The Western dialects have been even less studied than the Northern ones, but I’m sure their time is coming.)
Another trait I have is that I pronounce “pin” and “pen” the same. This is a “High-Front” merger, from where those vowels are articulated, the opposite of what happens with “caught/cot,” though I suspect they go together, as in my case. I’m not sure if they always go together, or if “pin/pen” is Southern or Western or what. Let’s do some research of our own, using this internet technology. Do any of you have this “pin/pen” merger? If so, where are you from? If you do, do you also say “caught/cot? the same?
For more traits of these dialects, click “continue reading.” The list does not include the way Northerns do not pronounce the combination “wh,” so that they tend to merge “wail/whale,” “witch/which.”
From Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Native Wisconsinites pronounce some words a little differently than their peers across the country._Milk can sound more like melk._Bag can sound more like beg.
Two dramatic linguistic shifts are pushing toward the state from opposite sides. From Minnesota to the west comes the shift known as the Low-Back Merger. In this shift, the “o” sound is merging with the “au” sound. Example:_Caught is sounding more and more like cot.
From the Southeast comes what linguists call the Northern Cities Shift. Examples:_Cot is sounding more like cat._The female name Dawn is pronounced more and more like the male name Dan._The name Dan, in turn, is pronounced more like Don.
Posted by Veith at 07:11 AM
Northern accents
It has always amused me that Northerners often think they don’t have a regional accent, even though it is every bit as distinctive and noticeable to outsiders than the Southern accents. Finally, linguists–who have concentrated on studying the East and the South–are turning their attention to the various Midwestern accents (and there are many, just as there are many Southern accents). Scholars are currently witnessing a major linguistic collision here in Wisconsin:
Thomas Purnell, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, ran to the office of colleague Joseph Salmons. Excited and out of breath, Purnell managed to say, “You won’t believe what I just heard.”
Purnell had been walking down a hallway behind a couple of female undergrads who were discussing a party that one had been to but the other had not. “One of them says to the other, ‘Eck-tually, it was ax-cellent,’ ” Purnell explained.
That snippet of overheard conversation – trivial to the untrained ear – demonstrated the forces of linguistic change bearing down on Wisconsin. The unusual vowel sounds are hallmarks of a change coming at us from the Southeast, the so-called Northern Cities Shift in which “aa” and “eh” sounds are being reversed.
This change, however, is moving head-on toward another vowel change coming from the West, the so-called Low-Back Merger. In this second change, words such as caught are being pronounced increasingly like the word cot. In other words, Wisconsin is at the epicenter of a linguistic collision.
When we first moved here 20 years ago, I heard on the radio someone talking about how his neighborhood was fighting crime by organizing a “black watch.” I couldn’t believe such blatant racism and that a radio would air that kind of talk! Then, after listening some more, I realized that he was trying to say “block watch.”
Posted by Veith at 07:03 AM
March 21, 2006
Afghan Christian faces execution for his faith
In Afghanistan, where we supposedly brought freedom, Abdul Rahman faces the death penalty for having converted to Christianity. Here is an account from the Toronto Globe and Mail:
The judge deciding whether an Afghan man should be executed for converting to Christianity does not understand what all the fuss is about.
“In this country, we have [a] perfect constitution. It is Islamic law and it is illegal to be a Christian and it should be punished,” Judge Alhaj Ansarullah Mawawy Zada said in an interview yesterday. “In your country, two women can marry. I think that is very strange.”
Judge Zada, head of Kabul’s primary court, has already heard initial evidence in the case of Abdul Rahman, a 41-year-old who converted to Christianity from Islam more than 14 years ago. The judge is expected to deliver his verdict within two weeks.
Mr. Rahman converted while in Pakistan where he worked for a Christian aid agency. He was arrested after he returned to his birthplace and tried to regain custody of his daughters, who had been living with his parents. His family turned him in, and he was arrested with a Bible in his possession.
“It is a crime to convert to Christianity from Islam. He is teasing and insulting his family by converting,” Judge Zada said. “The Attorney-General is emphasizing he should be hung.”
If sentenced to death, Mr. Rahman has two avenues of appeal: to the Provincial Court and to the Supreme Court. The death sentence also would need President Hamid Karzai’s approval to be carried out.
Prosecutor Abdul Wasi said the charge would be dropped if Mr. Rahman converted back to Islam, which he has so far refused to do.
Posted by Veith at 06:44 AM
“The Unit”
There’s a show on tonight that most of you will really like. Here is my review, which will be in the upcoming WORLD:
The recently-cancelled Over There was a lugubrious military drama about how terrible it is that our boys have to fight, what a horrible toll it puts on the families, and how war is Hell. But now we have The Unit (Tuesdays, 9:00 ET, CBS), a show that does not hide from the dangers of war and the difficulties it imposes on military families, but that celebrates the courage, skills, and prowess of American soldiers.
The series is based on Inside Delta Force by Eric Haney, one of the founding members of that elite—and secret—special forces unit. Mr. Haney is a series producer and technical advisor to the series, which is the creation of David Mamet, a Pulitzer Prize winning playwrights and one of America’s best filmmakers (Glengarry Glenn Ross, The Spanish Prisoner, Wag the Dog). Mr. Mamet has the reputation of being a liberal, but he has created a series that conservatives will love.
While their wives have to adjust to a life of utmost secrecy, their husbands set off on hair-raising missions—lighting up Taliban targets for smart bombs in Afghanistan; rescuing hostages on an airliner seized by suicide bombers; battling Latino drug lords. We see the cool professionalism and ingenious tactics of these well-trained, heroic Rangers. The scenes jump back and forth between the men on their mission and their families back at the base, showing the valor necessary on both fronts.
What a good filmmaker like Mr. Mamet can do with this kind of material is evident in the scene when Sgt. Jonas Blane, the formidable leader of the team (played by Dennis Haysbert, President Palmer on 24), breaks into the terrorist-held airliner packed with passengers. The action would only last for a few heartbeats, so Mr. Mamet switches to slow motion, showing with skillful editing each decision Sgt. Blane has to make. As he fires his pistol, he has to pick out who is a terrorist and who isn’t, shoot to miss the human shields but hit their captors, and stop the terrorist who holds the detonator. All of which he does, within seconds. The Unit will inspire viewers to not only support the troops but appreciate them.
So tune in, or, better yet, set your Tivos.
Posted by Veith at 05:33 AM
March 20, 2006
30th Anniversary for the Homeless
Thirty years ago, in the case Lessard v. Schmidt, originating here in Wisconsin, the Supreme Court ruled that mentally handicapped individuals who were not dangerous could not be held against their will in mental hospitals. So those hospitals emptied, then closed, sending untold numbers of mentally handicapped folks onto the street. In many cases, there was no place else for them to go, which was the beginning of our homeless problem. Others did go to group homes, but, as a series of articles in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is showing (linked above), many of them are in nightmarish condition. An excerpt:
A 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving Alberta Lessard, a West Allis schoolteacher who had been hospitalized against her will, changed civil rights for people with mental illness across the country.
Before the Lessard case, Wisconsin – like most other states at the time – had a loose standard for commitment, requiring only that a person be “a proper subject for custody and treatment.” Opportunities for abuse by unhappy spouses or disgruntled family members abounded. Federal judges in the Lessard case ruled that the government had to prove a person was an imminent danger to himself or herself or to others, in an adversarial court proceeding much like a criminal trial. The person who was being considered for commitment was entitled to legal representation, and the state would have to make its case in a particular time frame and with definite standards of what constituted dangerousness. The Lessard case became the new benchmark in mental health law. People all over the country who had lived their entire adult lives in locked hospital wards essentially were set free.
The number of long-term psychiatric beds at Milwaukee County’s facilities dropped from about 4,000 at that time to roughly 100 today.
But when social engineers pushed the idea of closing mental hospitals and delivering health care in the community, they overlooked a critical element: Where would these people live? Who would take care of those who could not take care of themselves?
“It was simply assumed that there would be housing for these folks,” said Hlavacek, the former Mental Health Task Force chairman. “It was a huge disconnect.”
The problem was – and is – that there is not enough safe, affordable housing for people whose income today is limited to the roughly $700 a month they get in Social Security or disability payments. That’s $8,400 a year, or about 15% below the federal poverty guideline.
Might this be something churches could help with?
Posted by Veith at 07:00 AM
Job hunters
French university students–hundreds of thousands of them–have been rioting, protesting changes in France’s employment laws. Under that welfare state, it is almost impossible to fire anyone. So employers are leery about hiring young people, since they might get stuck with a real slacker. Consequently, the unemployment rate for young people ranges from 26% to 50% in some neighborhoods. The changes in the law would permit employers to fire people under 26 during the first two years. The measure is meant to help France’s poor (such as those who rioted last time), but the university students–who do get jobs–don’t want it used against them. So they have been burning books, smashing windows, trashing shops, and stoning police. I can’t imagine why employers wouldn’t want to hire them.
Posted by Veith at 05:57 AM
March 17, 2006
From TV to Tivo
In light of yesterday’s discussion about television: I hate to offer a technological solution to a moral problem, but if you are troubled with various aspects of television watching and struggling over the question of TV or not TV, digital video recorders (DVR), aka “Tivo,” really help. For less than $100 and $5 a month, your cable or satellite provider can hook up your set to this gizmo that will automatically record just the shows that you choose, allowing you to watch them whenever you want to.
This potentially frees you from television’s knack of tyrannizing your time. You set your own priorities, and then fit in your favorite shows as you have time. No more scheduling your activities around television, at the expense of more worthwhile activities and the responsibilities of your callings.
You choose the shows you want you and your family to see. You decide what you find acceptable for your kids’ viewing. Have them watch only from the Tivo. You can still watch live TV, of course–in fact, with this technology you can even pause live television, further liberating your time–but you never have to miss anything good. Even if it is on after you normally go to bed, or when you have to work, or when you have family commitments. You can become selective in your TV watching. And when you watch, you can zap through the commercials.
Some of you alluded to your use of Tivo, which is to the VCR what the computer is to an abacus. This is invaluable to me, of course, in my role as WORLD’s TV critic. I set the machine to record new shows, so I can see several episode at one time when I get to that task. I also skim the Sunday TV guide in the newspaper to see if anything interesting will be on that week, so I set the machine. In general, there are just a few series my wife and I follow: Lost, Monk, Numb3ers, House. We usually watch them on Friday nights. And that is usually the only evening we have the TV on. In addition, she has her science fiction shows and Law & Order; I have my History Channel documentaries and offbeat comedies (King of the Hill, Simpsons, Office, Monty Python). She watches hers on Saturdays and when I am gone; I watch mine late at night.
Obviously, you can still watch too much TV with Tivo, and the watching images vs. reading words issues still apply. But at least Tivo technology puts the viewer in control of the medium, rather than the other way around.
Posted by Veith at 08:07 AM
The true meaning of St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day should remind us that even white people first came to Christianity through missionaries. I propose that we promote the true meaning of St. Patrick’s Day, getting beyond the ethnic trappings to devote this holiday to honoring the calling of the missionary. We can observe this day by praying for missionaries and sending them a check. By witnessing to somebody. By wearing the green, which we can reinterpret to symbolize the new life in Christ.
Posted by Veith at 07:27 AM
Why the Irish?
It’s fine to honor the Irish on this St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve got a little Kerr blood myself. But why does that ethnic group and no other get to dictate the color of people’s clothing on their saint’s day? Does anyone know why the Irish get this special treatment?
OK, I know why the Germans don’t. Italians used to have Columbus Day, but that holiday was transformed into a Monday to celebrate European guilt over treatment of indigenous populations. The British we had a revolution against. Eastern Europeans were mostly communists. There are the French. . Scandinavians, though, are for the most part likable. We have some sad immigration tales with the Africans, Hmong, Vietnamese. Hispanics do keep up their customs. Then there are the Koreans, Chinese. I guess the Irish, who mostly came here to escape starvation, were (with the Africans) about the only immigrants who didn’t WANT to leave their old country. So they continued to feel nostalgic about it. And they let other Americans from other ethnic groups play along.
Posted by Veith at 07:14 AM
March 16, 2006
TV, or not TV; that is the question
Rev. Ingqvist raises an intriguing question, in the course of our discussion of “American Idol,” in which a number of you talk about how you foreswear TV:
Never seen an episode. I’m Cable free, rather spend the money on books, plus I just don’t have the time. Dr. Veith perhaps you could comment if there is any sort of vocational commitment of watching TV, that is keeping up with pop culture beyond culture watchers as yourself. In my case, as a pastor, should I feel guilty for not watching?
Of course no one should feel guilty for not watching TV. Nor should one feel guilty for watching it, assuming the viewing does not provoke you to sin (which many shows arguably do), nor take you away from your other vocations (which many shows certainly do). This is certainly in the realm of Christian freedom (a much neglected doctrine). Yes, some vocations demand it (I’m WORLD’s designated TV critic–some of the commenters said how they feel they need to keep up with pop culture to be aware of the culture of their kids). I
In general, I would say that reading is a more salutary activity than TV watching. And if you are the one of the fathers who spends less than five minutes a day with your children, you should definitely turn it off. I think NOT watching TV can be problematic if it makes a person feel self-righteous, or if it is part of a person’s larger rejection of engagement with the culture, the monastic impulse that thinks withdrawal from the sinful world is how to be spiritual. The doctrine of vocation says that we do have a calling to be citizens in our society, and that we need to be “in the world,” fighting it when necessary, but not retreating into social isolation, nor into a Christian subculture, which soon can become just as worldly. Rather, we should understand that God reigns too in the secular arena, even among those who do not know Him, and that His gifts are found everywhere, so that even an enjoyable performance on “American Idol” can be an occasion to praise Him, who has given such gifts to His creatures.
That’s my take on the question. What do the rest of you think?
Posted by Veith at 08:46 AM
Nashville Star
After watching “American Idol,” I also chanced across “Nashville Star,” which is the same thing only with country music. A long-haired country boy thrashed and flailed through a Southern rock tune. He was then asked why he wasn’t wearing any shoes. Instead of saying that he was paying tribute to the noble tradition of hillbilly music, he launched off into a testimony about the grace of God who gives us the gift of music. So when I go out on stage, he said, I consider it to be “holy ground.” So, like Moses before the burning bush, he takes off his shoes.
The celebrity judges were the country head-bangers Big and Rich, who were surprisingly sound in their judgments. John Rich complained that one performer was insufficiently country. His flamboyant partner “Big” urged performers to show a little more restraint. If only they would take their own advice.
The contestants mostly sang covers of other people’s contemporary country tunes. (Why don’t these shows delve into real talent and give us singers who write their own songs?) But one young woman did a sultry rendition of the classic “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,’ complete with yodeling! The Simon Crowell-like mean judge, Anastasia Brown, a Music Row producer, chastized her harshly for her song choice. “This is Nashville,” she admonished. What, Nashville is now too sophisticated for yodeling? But it took the host of the show, Wynona Judd (a true talent) to acknowledge the tribute to the great Patsy Montana, the first female solo act in country music. Most of these country music types didn’t even know their own history.
Posted by Veith at 07:36 AM
NCAA tournament
The NCAA basketball tournament begins today, one of the great events in sports. It is played by college students, not professionals. The championship is earned by one team beating everyone else, not assigned by a poll or computers. And there are always surprises. So, who do you think will make it to the Final Four? Who will win it all? After this is all over, we can come back to this site and see who was correct, making this another game, like the NCAA basketball championship, with an objective, verifiable winner.
Posted by Veith at 07:09 AM
March 15, 2006
George Clooney, Neocon
You’ve got to read this, arguing that judging from the actual contents of his movies, archliberal George Clooney is really a neo-conservative.
Posted by Veith at 07:16 AM
American Idol
Judging from the ratings, I was the only person in America who had not seen any of this season’s “American Idol.” So yesterday, I caught at least some of it. Since I was also doing other things at the time, I didn’t see all of the performers–down to the final twelve–but I was pretty impressed. The assignment was for each of the contestants to work up a Stevie Wonder song. Those are complex, with all kinds of jazz key changes, and it forced the different singers to work with material that was not necessarily part of their signature style. The results were intriguing and revealed big talent gaps. The one who did the best, in my opinion, was 17-year-old Paris, who showed amazing phrasing and syncopation (not just pouring on the note-bending ON EVERY NOTE that has become the baleful influence of this show, even in church singing). The bald headed guy–Chris?–was pretty good too.
I approve of “American Idol.” In the judging phase, at least, it reinforces the notion that there are, indeed, objective aesthetic standards. No, you are not good just because you try real hard or are sincere or have a dream or think you are. Simon shoots down that subjectivist mindset with commendable force. The competition is rigorous, and–though the judgments are turned over to the masses who do have their heartthrobs and subjective sympathies–at the end of the game, the best artists so far have indeed risen to the top.
So, here on this blog, we can play the same game taking place over the watercoolers across the country: Who do you think should win? Who do you think will win?
Posted by Veith at 06:45 AM
If you have trouble posting a comment
Try eliminating your ellipses. Our filter seems to have a tender conscience when it comes to ellipses, not believing in them and insisting on censoring the things, lest they corrupt the youth. If that doesn’t work, just tinker with other punctuation (such as eliminating semi-colons, which our filter also considers obscene) and formatting (changing two paragraphs into one), and it will usually go through. We are working on the problem, but this is a quick, if annoying, fix.
Posted by Veith at 06:39 AM
March 14, 2006
Scientologist leaves “South Park”
Those of you for whom “South Park” is a guilty pleasure will be sad to learn that Isaac Hayes, who voices the character Chef, is quitting the iconoclastic cartoon show. His reasons are noble: The show often satirizes religion.
“There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins,” Hayes said in a statement after he announced he had been asked to be let out of his contract.
“Religious beliefs are sacred to people, and at all times should be respected and honoured,” he added. “As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices.”
The problem is, Mr. Hayes’s scruples did not arise until the show started making fun of his own religion, Scientology. Says the show’s creator Matt Stone, “This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology. He has no problem–and he’s cashed plenty of checks–with our show making fun of Christians.”
Posted by Veith at 08:02 AM
Dispensing with Lent
Catholics used to not be allowed to eat meat on Friday, but today that obligation only applies during Lent. But this year St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Lenten Friday! How can good Irish Catholics eat their corned beef and cabbage, much less perform the customary green-beer revels? They can come to Milwaukee. The city’s archbishop, Timothy Dolen, an Irish-American himself (who is also commendably conservative), has granted a dispensation that allows Catholics in his jurisdiction to suspend the usual fasting requirements so that they can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Some 60 bishops across the country have done the same.
Posted by Veith at 07:47 AM
Put Barry Bonds down the memory hole?
A majority of fans, 52%, want Barry Bonds’ records, including his 73 home runs, expunged from the record books if it is established that his achievements were aided by steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.
But wouldn’t this have to mean also altering the records of all of the pitchers who threw against him, revising virtually everyone’s ERA, home-runs allowed, and walks-given-up statistics? Plus, going back and revising the historical record seems too Orwellian to me.
Posted by Veith at 07:37 AM
World Serious
The best baseball team in the world right now, judging from the World Baseball Classic, is Korea. With a record of 5-0, Korea is the only undefeated team in the tournament, after trouncing the American major league all-stars 7-3. The Americans–with their team of superstars including Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey, Jr.–have already lost twice. One more puts them out of the tournament.
Posted by Veith at 07:25 AM
March 13, 2006
Rock Paper Scissors
Forget the NCAA basketball tournament. Forget major league baseball with its steroid scandals. Forget the NFL with its labor disputes. We have a new sport, suitable for our couch potato ways: A national Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament is underway at bars and taverns across America. The regional finalists have now been determined, and they will compete in April in Las Vegas for a $50,000 purse.
Here is a sport in which steroids are no advantage. No one has to worry about injuries. It does not discriminate against the physically unfit. Schools and kids’ sports programs need to adopt this game and throw out those dangerous ones. We need to start the process to make this game, which can be played in both winter and summer, an Olympics sport.
Posted by Veith at 08:08 AM
What church do they go to?
You have got to visit adherents.com, where you fill find a vast collection of information about what church people belong to. You can find lists of famous people from different traditions (though it stretches: to my shock, I found my own name there as a famous Lutheran!), science fiction writers from the different traditions (Lars Walker, commenter on this blog, is there), citations from novels about different traditions (those about Lutheranism show authors’ general ignorance about this tradition, though there is an interesting strain relating the Lutheran understanding of the Sacrament to quantum theory), and on and on. There is even a section giving the religious affiliation of comic book characters. (Superman is a Methodist; Batman is a lapsed Episcopalian; Jimmy Olsen is a Lutheran. Lex Luthor is NOT Lutheran, but a ‘Nietzschean atheist.”)
Posted by Veith at 07:53 AM
Iraqi politics
Charles Krauthammer reports that in the parliamentary stalemate in the new Iraqi government, the Kurds are shifting their support to the Sunnis. That would give a Sunni, Kurd, secularist coalition a majority over the Shiites, who–with the encouragment of the Shiite insurgent al-Sadr– want to keep the ineffectual al-Jafaari as their prime minister. But the Iraqi constitution requires a two-thirds super-majority to form a new government and for other important decisions.
Mr. Krauthammer believes the Kurd shift is good news, giving Sunnis–and Kurds are Sunnis too–a stake in the government that might quell the insurgency. Then again, if the Shiites think they have been cheated out of their majority status in the government they elected, they could mount a new insurgency of their own. At any rate, Mr. Krauthammer’s column is an instructive look at the political issues being sorted out in Iraq. The key fight is over who controls the Interior Ministry, which controls not national parts as here but the police, and the Defense Ministry, which controls the military. Neither side trusts the other to bear the sword, frankly, with good reason.
Posted by Veith at 07:28 AM
What jihadists do to anti-war activists
The Christian peace activist Tom Fox, one of four members of the Christian Peacemakers Team being held hostage in Iraq, was found dead. He had been tortured and then shot. This is another sad example of how jihadists are happy to kill pacifists, liberals, anti-war activists, and even Westerners who are on their side. Imagine what they would do to their defenders in the West–such as the groups on college campuses that also champion gay rights and feminism–should they ever get a chance.
Posted by Veith at 07:18 AM
March 10, 2006
LCMS in orbit
And in yet more space news, a Missouri Synod Lutheran, Jeff Williams, is going into orbit. This summer he’ll begin a six-month stint in the International Space Station.
I met Jeff, who had a previous flight in the Space Shuttle, and he is a really great guy. He’s solid theologically–a fan of my writings, even–and an old school astronaut with all the right stuff. I got him to speak at Concordia Wisconsin’s commencement and interviewed him for WORLD. I am thrilled that he got the assignment for this new mission. Jeff also understands the doctrine of vocation in a profound way, appreciating his unique calling of being an astronaut.
Posted by Veith at 09:09 AM
Mars invasion
In other space news, a new probe is scheduled to go into orbit over Mars at 4:24 pm ET today. Other times we tried this, the satellites mysteriously disappeared, proving the possible existence of an extraterrestrial skeet shooter. (Actually, we are two for four in this attempt.)
Posted by Veith at 08:49 AM
Jumping from extraterrestrial water to life
The internet was abuzz with rumors that NASA had discovered extraterrestrial life. What NASA had discovered was extraterrestrial water, with the space probe Cassini spotting what appear to be geysers on the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. If confirmed, that would be the first discovery of liquid water anywhere else than Earth in the universe, since if you get much closer to the sun it evaporates and if you get much farther away it turns to ice. Somehow–as a result of pure chance according to the randomnists who do not allow for any evidence of intelligent design–Earth is situated “just right” for water and other necessities for life.
But now extraterrestrial life fans are excited again, thinking that water might herald something more. That’s fine. I would love for someone to discover life on another world. That would not shake my creationist beliefs one iota. Should it? Some of the rumor-mongers seem to think it would. It is as if their own zeal to discover Sci-Fi life has some kind of religious motivation.
Posted by Veith at 08:25 AM
March 09, 2006
From the arsonists’ facebook
When young people go wrong, they are at least easy to learn about, since they have the habit of telling everything about themselves on the internet! Fox News just reported on what one of the church burners posted on his Facebook account. (The report is not yet posted on Fox for me to link to, and the students’ webpages have now been taken down.) But here is how these affluent, privileged young students at a Methodist-related college think:
2006 is here, it is time to reconvene the season of evil. [Note: I consider comma splices to be evil.]
Let us defy the very morals of society instilled upon us by our parents, our relatives and of course Jesus.
Another of the students identified himself as a “Satanist.”
Posted by Veith at 09:42 AM
Escalating transgression
I remember reading a literary critic decades ago. He was commenting on how sexual descriptions had become so commonplace in fiction that they were losing their impact. He predicted that sex in literature would have to get more and more extreme to achieve that desired tang of transgression. He said that the pornographic imagination depends on finding taboos and then violating them. He predicted–quite correctly, as it turned out–that the next frontier would be depictions of sex with children.
This is a profound insight into just how depraved our sinful nature is. It is precisely the violation of a moral absolute that gives some people at least their pleasure. Normalizing a sin, as is happening to homosexuality, will yield ever-more more bizarre perversions, as already evident in the vogue of sado-masochism in the gay community. One sin leads to another, dragging the sinner farther and farther down. Romans 1 talks about this, of course, showing our desperate need for deliverance, which Christ alone has achieved on our behalf.
Meanwhile, today’s critics play around with “the aesthetics of transgression,” praising “transgressive” art. And those three college students burn churches. So much for their movie careers. My point is, we play with fire and are surprised when we get burned. Christ, have mercy!
Posted by Veith at 08:29 AM
Living out their lack of faith
We’ll probably learn more about the motives of the church burners, blogged about below, but it sounds reminiscent of the Leopold and Loeb case, in which two affluent students from the University of Chicago in 1924 committed a murder just for the philosophical thrill of it. They were defended by Clarence Darrow, in whose summation speech that got them off of the death penalty, he said, “Is any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it? … it is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university.”
Alfred Hitchcock dramatized this motive in his experimental thriller “The Rope.” So, of course, much earlier, did Doestoevsky in “Crime and Punishment.” I suspect other, less dramatic transgressions, grow out of this desire to try out a Godless philosophy. And yet, reality, which is not Godless at all, then comes crashing down.
Posted by Veith at 07:43 AM
Smells like Teen Nihilism
They caught the arsonists who burned nine churches in Alabama, three college students with artistic pretensions. They wanted to be actors and filmmakers. On the day they were arrested, the student newspaper at the school they attended, Birmingham-Southern, did a story about them, going on about their acting performances in college plays, the documentary they were working on, the movie they hoped to screen next fall. They claimed that their church-burnings were just a “joke,” a prank that got out of hand. Officials say the arsons do not seem to be part of an anti-religious conspiracy. But these were not drive-by fire-bombings. The pattern was to break into the churches, then set the fire by the altar.
The thing is, I know the type. Bright, creative young people convinced of their own superiority who become first cynics and then nihilists. They don’t believe the liberal pap their teachers tell them, which they can see through. Nor do they believe in conservative ideals. They come to scorn the church–which they blame for not understanding or appreciating them–and then react against it in sometimes blasphemous ways. They cope by laughing, mockery, irony, and theatrical self-displays. Their attitude is re-inforced by their music. Yes, it’s a stage, and many such adolescents get through it, but sometimes the Devil takes them.
Any ideas–perhaps born from experience–about how parents and churches can get through to kids like this?
Posted by Veith at 07:11 AM
March 08, 2006
Living in cathedrals without the faith that built them
The estimable Thomas Sowell discusses the firing of Harvard President Lawrence Summers and the state of America’s cultural infrastructure, tossing off these trenchant lines:
David Riesman said that we are living in the cathedrals of learning, without the faith that built those cathedrals. We are also living in a free society without the faith that built that society — and without the conviction and dedication needed to sustain it.
[HT: The Pearcey Report]
Posted by Veith at 10:07 AM
Enforcing feminism
Feminism is floundering, says Linda Hirshman in the American Prospect, and so must move into a new phase. Before, the ideology was for women to “choose.” If they chose a career, fine; if they chose an abortion, fine; and if they chose to get married and have children, that was fine too. But the problem is, most women are still choosing marriage and children. Ms. Hirshman has found that among “elite” women–the wealthy and well-educated–as many as 85% “do not work outside the home,” which to Ms. Hirshman does not count. She says that feminists must eliminate all of this “whatever you choose is fine” nonsense. She says that just as earlier feminism took on the workplace, today feminists must take on the institution of the family.
Ms. Hirshman grudgingly and with great reluctance acknowledges the necessity of reproduction. But she offers a series of “rules” (none of those optional “choices,” but “rules”) for women to follow. Among them: Do not be a liberal arts major. Yes, women are better in liberal arts fields, but if you go to college, major in something that will get you a good job and make you a lot of money. Also, if you must have a baby, only have one.
But here is my favorite: Women should “marry down.” That is, they should get married to a man who is of an inferior social position to her own. Make sure he is poorer. It will also help if he is very much younger than she is. This way, the woman can make the most money and thus exercise the control.
Ms. Hirshman and the “elite” wealthy feminists who will be trolling after young cowboys and construction workers to be sperm-donor drones to their Queen Bees apparently do not realize how proletariat men will respond to that sort of thing. [HT: Susan Olasky at the main WORLD blog]
Posted by Veith at 09:05 AM
World Series
Are you following the World Baseball Classic? I happen to think it’s a great idea, an even better one since baseball has been exiled from the Olympics. In its first game, the USA beat Mexico 2-0. Beware of the Dominicans, who dispatched Venezuela 11-5. The big story to watch is Cuba, who plays Panama today at 1:00 p.m. ET in San Juan Puerto Rico (to be televised on ESPN). The big questions: will communist-ball turn Cuba into a powerhouse, and how many of their players will defect?
Posted by Veith at 08:32 AM
Kirby Puckett
It’s sad that Kirby Puckett died. He was only 45. Playing for the Minnesota Twins, Milwaukee’s big rivals back in the American League glory years, he was a real Brewers killer. I don’t know how many times I watched him beat the Brewers with a great defensive play, a clutch hit, or a home run. But he was so likeable, such a hard player with such a genial personality.
Have there been any studies about the longevity of professional athletes? One would think they would tend to be in top physical shape, and yet they do not seem to have longer life spans than non-athletes, and indeed often die relatively young. Kirby illustrates one of the glories of baseball, that any body type can play, but still.
Posted by Veith at 08:24 AM
March 07, 2006
Consecration by DVD
So some congregations are wanting to put the Communion service on DVD, then play it back in their homes over bread and wine to thus consecrate the elements. Some must think this would be a great solution to the pastor shortage! Just put entire services on video and play them back over the big screens that now dominate many chancels. We’d only need one pastor, really. All of the services could thus be uniform (solving the worship wars), the sermons would all be the same (unifying our church teachings), and of the same high quality (so no one could complain that one pastor has better sermons than another). Think of the money we would save. And we could save even more money by getting rid of our buildings. Everyone could just play the videos at home.
The theological issue for Lutherans would switch from the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament to the real presence of the pastor in the church and the real presence of worshippers in the congregation. But alas and thank God, the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations has forbidden the practice of virtual consecration. Click here to download the report.
Posted by Veith at 07:56 AM
Clash over “Crash”
The elements of the Cultural Elite are attacking the members of the Motion Picture Academy who voted for “Crash” over “Brokeback Mountain,” accusing the Hollywood rank and file of being homophobic! Read the account and the response from Roger Ebert.
Posted by Veith at 07:51 AM
Terrorism here
The Iranian student at the University of North Carolina who rented the largest SUV he could and ran it into a crowd of students, injuring six, did it for the usual jihadist reasons. So Islamic terrorism is taking place on our soil, though in very minor and so-far inconsequential ways. I suspect there have been others, though the media does not want to use the T-word. But we had better brace ourselves and be super-vigilant.
Posted by Veith at 07:44 AM
South Dakota’s anti-abortion law
South Dakota governor Mike Rounds signed a bill outlawing abortion in his state, except to save the life of the mother. This sets up a showdown in the courts over Roe v. Wade.
Pro-abortionists are consoling themselves that the case might never reach the Supreme Court, that a lower court will just strike it down and the Supreme will refuse to review it. Maybe, but a refusal to hear the case will have the effect of affirming Roe v. Wade just as surely as a written ruling. And they might uphold the law, allowing states to make their own decisions on whether or not to legalize abortion. I say it’s worth a shot, and I salute South Dakota for taking a stand. If other states would do the same, it would raise the issue of federalism that might be hard for the court to ignore.
Posted by Veith at 07:30 AM
The Supremes uphold language
In upholding a law requiring colleges that accept federal aid to allow military recruiters on campus, the new Roberts Supreme Court has upheld the meaningfulness of language. Chief Justice Roberts, in his first written opinion for the court, said that “speech” means “speech.”
Roberts said the policy doesn’t force schools to adopt any message with which they disagree. He said schools are free to criticize the “don’t ask, don’t tell” gay policy, as long as they provide equal access.
“The Solomon Amendment neither limits what law schools may say nor requires them to say anything,” Roberts wrote.
Roberts said the focus of the law was conduct, not speech, making the case different from past “compelled speech” fights.
Previously, the court has been extending “speech” protections to virtually every kind of expression and behavior. Also, the vote on this seemingly controversial issue was 8-0. The decision to throw out persecution of pro-lifers with racketeering conspiracy laws was also unanimous. Competing ideologies are still present on the court, but if they can start agreeing on following the language of the law, that would be a huge improvement.
Posted by Veith at 07:14 AM
March 06, 2006
The Costco alternative
Costco, a warehouse wholesaler similar to Walmart’s Sam’s Club, pays its workers as much as $20 an hour with generous benefits, which is more than twice as much as Walmart and other competitors pay. But the company is succeeding and claims that paying its non-union workers so much pays off in retention, loyalty, and productivity. Read this.
Posted by Veith at 01:42 PM
Yay for Crash
As it happened, L’Abri hosted a movie night on Saturday, featuring the viewing and discussion of “Crash,” the film that last night beat out “Brokeback Mountain” for the best picture Oscar. Earlier we had discussed the curiosity of how “Crash” was making both the “best” lists and the “worst” lists. Despite the views of people I respect, such as Bunnie Diehl, I found it to be an excellent movie. Yes, it was about racism, but it was remarkably even-handed, saving some of its best blows for the racism of liberals (in their condescension, the unintended but real consequences of their white guilt, the injustices of many affirmative action programs). But it was about more than racism. It was about the human condition, how sin causes other people to sin, how people are isolated until they “crash” into each other, and–yes–it was about vocation. We see how parents and children, masters and servants, and Romans 13 offices can be both violated by sin and fulfilled in love and service to the neighbor. I’m glad it won “Best Picture.”
Posted by Veith at 01:09 PM
Back, finally
Sorry for the late blogging. I just got in from L’Abri. I left yesterday in snow and ice, going 35 m.p.h. and glad for my Subaru’s all-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes. I made it as far as the Wisconsin Dells before I decided to just spend the night and complete my journey thte next day, once Wisconsin’s crack road crews fulfill their vocations. This is what I did, and I just got in the door. Thanks to L’Abri and all the people I met at Rochester for a great time.
Posted by Veith at 12:49 PM
March 03, 2006
Chambers vs. Rand
To honor its 50th anniversary, National Review is reprinting online some of its key articles over the years. A must-read is Whitaker Chamber’s review of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” This ex-Communist turned Christian refutes beautifully Rand’s “objectivist” philosophy, which many conservatives embraced, for all its atheism and its “virtue of selfishness.”
Posted by Veith at 03:50 PM
Oscar Commentary
For this weekend’s Oscars, here is one movie to root for: Sophie Scholl, a German movie up for Best Foreign Film. It’s about a young woman who got involved with an organization called the White Rose, a group of Christian university students who opposed Hitler. Reportedly, Sophie’s motivation from her faith comes out loud and clear. The movie will soon be released in this country, and WORLD is trying to get a screening so we can review it. If it gets an Oscar, the release will probably be more extensive. Anyway, the story of the White Rose is a very inspiring and almost unknown part of our recent Christian heritage.
As for other Oscars, I did see a bunch of the movies this year, thanks to my duties reviewing movies for WORLD and often getting stuck with the unpleasant ones. I am rooting for “Capote” for best picture. Even though it featured the openly gay Truman Capote, the message was quite conservative, about crime, human depravity, the dignity of ordinary people, and a hot-shot culturally-elite author learning some important lessons.
Feel free to comment here about your Oscar opinions.
Posted by Veith at 11:31 AM
Christian leader update
Jerry Falwell now believes that Jews can go to Heaven without believing in Christ. A surprising number of other Christian leaders also subscribe to this “two covenant” theory.
In the meantime, Pat Robertson has been thrown off the board of the National Religious Broadcasters Association for his recent series of strange and inflammatory remarks.
UPDATE: Thank, commenters, for pointing out that Mr. Falwell is denying this report. See the links they provide.
UPDATE: I’m leaving this post up, with apologies to Mr. Falwell who says that he does NOT believe the position being ascribed to him by people who DO believe in the ‘New Covenant” theology. This latter position IS held by many people today–from evangelicals to Roman Catholics–and the discussions about it in the comments have been helpful.
From “The Jerusalem Post”:
Televangelist John Hagee and Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, whose Cornerstone Church and Rodfei Sholom congregations are based in San Antonio, told The Jerusalem Post that Falwell had adopted Hagee’s innovative belief in what Christians refer to as “dual covenant” theology.
This creed, which runs counter to mainstream evangelism, maintains that the Jewish people has a special relationship to God through the revelation at Sinai and therefore does not need “to go through Christ or the Cross” to get to heaven.
Scheinberg said this has been Hagee’s position for the 25 years the two have worked together on behalf of Israel and that Falwell had also come to accept it. Falwell sent a representative to the San Antonio launch of Christians United for Israel in early February, as did popular televangelist Pat Robertson.
Hagee, who will serve as CUFI national chairman, says the new organization aims to be a kind of “Christian AIPAC” (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) through which every pro-Israel Christian organization and ministry in America can speak and act with one voice in support of Israel on biblical issues.
The main issue, following disengagement from the Gaza Strip, is not to give up any more of the Land of Israel, he said.
Many Christian denominational leaders – who represent some 30 million evangelical Christians in the US – have expressed support for CUFI in writing. These include such names as Dr. Jack Hayford, president of the Foursquare Gospel Church; Paul Walker, assistant general overseer of the Church of God; international Pastor Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church; Benny Hinn; George Morrison; Kenneth Copland; Steve Strang; Matt Croutch of the Trinity Broadcasting Network; and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, president of the Family Research Council.
The latter is the Washington-based lobbying arm of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.
Scheinberg said he had worked with Hagee since 1981, when the pastor first broached the idea of organizing a night to honor Israel, which has become an annual event.
“He came to the Jewish community and of course they were skeptical, they were a bit suspicious, anxious about whatever agenda he might have,” the rabbi recalled. “He took public positions against proselytizing the Jews, which some of his own colleagues at that time criticized him roundly for; for example, Falwell was at that time very critical of his nonconversionary statements regarding the Jews. But that’s not the case now though. Falwell has changed his position,” he said.
Hagee has been consistent in this theological position, Scheinberg said, and this was reflected in both the declared policy of CUFI and at the public launch of the organization last month.
“It seemed there was a great deal of unity – not unanimity – on nonconversion, a nonproselytizing agenda, that the Jews have a special covenant, and this was stated over and over,” the rabbi said.
“It was stated in Hagee’s opening speech, in his opening statement, and then repeated again. And when there was a question period later, no one asked about this. It seemed to be understood that any hidden agenda, any attempt at conversion, would undermine all their efforts, would be counterproductive, and that’s not what they are about.
“There was always concern on the part of the Jewish community that there’s a hidden agenda now, to convert now, to proselytize now. And regarding that, Hagee was very strong in saying no, we are not proselytizing,” Scheinberg said.
Scheinberg, the only rabbi at the CUFI launch, senses there has been a downplaying of traditional evangelical theology in favor of something more concrete – supporting Israel. He associates this phenomenon of “Christian Zionism” with God’s promise in Genesis 12:3 that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed.
Posted by Veith at 11:23 AM
The wrath of small town America
I spoke at St. Olaf last night. I had not realized that it was in Northfield, Minnesota. In 1876, Jesse and Frank James joined with Cole Younger and a gang of five other men to rob the Northfield bank. These outlaws had terrorized the West. But this time they met the wrath of small town America. When it was apparent that their bank was being robbed, the menfolk of the whole town got their guns. A huge gunfight broke out. When the smoke cleared, two of the outlaws were dead, and all six of the others were wounded. Two townsfolk were killed. The townspeople proceeded to chase down the survivors, managing to catch the Younger brothers once and for all. Only Jesse James and his brother Frank managed to escape, barely and bleeding. The good folks of Northfield defended their town and defeated the most notorious criminals of the day.
That, in turn, reminded me of my great-great-I-don’t-know-how-many-times uncle or something on my grandfather’s side, Napoleon Sutton, known as “Pony.” He homesteaded in Kansas in the 19th century. One day a stranger rode up to his farm and asked for shelter. Pony and his wife extended their hospitality, giving him something to eat and letting him sleep in the barn. Then Pony recollected as to how he saw that man’s picture on a “wanted poster.” He was a member of Jesse James’ gang. The next morning, Pony took out his shotgun, faced down the man in his barn, disarmed him, tied him up, and marched him into town, where he turned the outlaw over to the authorities. Later, for this exploit in bringing in a member of the James gang, the people in the county elected Pony sherriff, and he kept the peace for many years.
Put these accounts together, and you have a good illustration of vocation. The community has the right and the obligation to enforce law and order. Typically, then, it calls someone to exercise that authority on its behalf. Sort of like congregations calling a pastor.
Posted by Veith at 10:35 AM
March 02, 2006
Conservative Oscars
American Film Renaissance, a conservative group, announced its own list of the best movies of the year. Here are the top ten, in order:
CINDERELLA MAN
2nd The Chronicles of Narnia
3rd Walk the Line
4th Crash
5th Downfall
6th Pride and Prejudice
7th Batman Begins
8th The World’s Fastest Indian
9th Capote
10th King Kong
Posted by Veith at 08:40 AM
Pro-life victories
The Supreme Court threw out the use of anti-racketeering laws that have been used to silence, prosecute, and persecute those who demonstrate against abortion. And this was a unanimous decision! In the meantime, Mississippi is poised to join South Dakota in banning abortion. This sets up a Supreme Court showdown over Roe v. Wade.
Posted by Veith at 08:13 AM
Getting another call
So, what advice would you give someone who has the opportunity to go to another job, who gets, as it were, another “call”? This is an issue, of course, for pastors, when they receive a call from another congregation. I heard that some pastors, at least in the olden days, would always take that new call, seeing it as new marching orders from the Lord. The usual approach today is to consider that they now have “two calls,” and they must then wrestle with which one to take. I would assume that something similar is involved with a teacher getting a job offer to sell insurance, or the like.
In that struggle, what facts enter in? Is it just an inner feeling or conviction? Or are the normal external factors–the money, family issues, personal ambitions–the best way to sort it all out?
Posted by Veith at 08:00 AM
To L’Abri & St. Olaf
Tonight at 7:30 p.m., I’ll give a talk on “C. S. Lewis & Lutheran Spirituality” at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. (“Christian News” should send a correspondent: I’ll be talking about the shortcomings in Lewis, as well as where he gets it right.) Then on Friday night at 7:30 in Rochester, MN, I’ll be talking about Vocation at L’Abri. It’s always an honor to speak at L’Abri, where Francis Schaeffer once trod, the man who did so much to show how Christians can engage and critique contemporary culture.
Posted by Veith at 07:37 AM
Are your comments getting blocked?
I’ve heard that at least some of your comments are getting blocked as spam. Has that happened to you? If so, please say so in a comment. . . .Oh, wait, that won’t work. (You might try, because I suspect it is a sporadic thing.) Anyway, I’m asking our IT people about it.
Posted by Veith at 07:34 AM
March 01, 2006
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down
Today is Ash Wednesday, a time for repentance and reflection. I love Lent. I know even the Catholics are saying we should do something positive, not just “give something up,” but I think giving something up is very salutary, at least for me. Lent is a time when I at least try to whip my normally self-indulgent flesh into shape. And the pangs from the little fasts do remind me of Christ and of the season. So have, not so much a Happy Ash Wednesday, but a Somber Ash Wednesday!
Posted by Veith at 08:57 AM
What kinds of music we like
Many of you commenters, before offering your always excellent insights, have been prefacing your remarks on these Nashville posts with how you don’t like country music. Such sweeping judgments mystify me. It is like saying, “I don’t like rock music,” when that genre embraces so much, everything from the Beatles and Buddy Holly to Death Metal. Country music too has just as much variety and different styles.
I’m curious, you country music haters: Do you really not like to listen to Patsy Cline (“I Fall to Pieces,” “Crazy”)? What exactly besides his politics, looks, and behavior do you find unlistenable in the music of Willie Nelson (who wrote “Crazy”)? Do you seriously dislike Johnny Cash? What is wrong with Bob Wills’ Western Swing (“San Antonio Rose”)? Are you telling me you cannot appreciate the virtuosity of blue grass music? I dislike LOTS of country music (see the post below), but I find the genre as a whole fascinating, a place for “adult” music, as opposed to our strange cultural habit of letting adolescent children determine our nation’s musical tastes.
I have found that people who dismiss whole classes of music tend to do so for extra-musical reasons. People hate rock because it embodies “rebellion.” People hate country music because it is lower class. (Never mind that all distinctly American music came from the lower class: poor southern Blacks invented the blues, which later begat such forms as jazz; poor southern Whites gave us country music, then married it with the music of poor blacks to give us rock ‘n’ roll.)
I am the last to put Buck on a par with Bach, but a healthy culture needs not only a high culture but a folk culture (that of ordinary folks), and this survives to a certain extent in country music. What it does not need is a pop culture, which–concerned as it is only with making money by achieving a superficial and change-with-every-fashion popularity–tends to drag down everything else (including the high culture, as evident in what pop culture has done to the realm of education). The antidote to pop culture is to cultivate both the high culture and the folk culture.
Posted by Veith at 08:24 AM
Murder on Music Row
Our final musical experience at Nashville was a mainstream big star performance, the sort of music that afflicts country radio at a slick, highly-commercialized and high-tech venue. It was, overall, vulgar dreck. It was juvenile, annoying, grating, and (to repeat) vulgar. I started to say it was as country as a Rolling Stone concert, but the Rolling Stones are far more country, with all of their references to the Mississippi Delta. Here the musicians obviously aspired to be rock stars, probably embarrassed with their country label, to the point of making their finale an actual Aerosmith anthem. First they stripped off their country-flavored constumes so they could show their bare muscles and get sweaty. The idiotic fans–who were rushing the stage and throwing up devil fingers during the whole show as if they were at a heavy metal fest–went wild.
The irony is that these performers–who do have talent (so I am not mentioning who they are)–got started in some of the same more authentic venues we had been enjoying for most of our Nashville sojourn. Now they have arrived. They are successful. Rich. Famous. But look at what has happened to their music. Their soul. I don’t blame them so much, but I blame the whole commercialized pop art mentality that is ravaging our culture on every level. They have become not artists but “acts.”
And this gives us a good Lenten meditation. What if we DID achieve our dreams? What would that do to us?
For what has happened to country music, see the song Murder on Music Row, written by Larry Cordle (a regular at Station Inn, blogged about below). It was performed by two big stars who have kept their integrity, Alan Jackson and George Strait. (Do click the link for the lyrics. They are priceless.)
Posted by Veith at 08:03 AM
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February 28, 2006
It’s the writers
I have previously ranted on about how people seem to think the ACTORS make up their lines, asking them about what the story really means, seeking from them wisdom, and even refusing to go to Christian-themed film if they do not approve of the actor. But stories come from WRITERS. Yes, directors have creative control, so they get the artistic credits. But I wish the screenwriters would be listed on the movie ads, so that we could follow certain writers whose storylines have moved us.
The same is true of music. It’s not just the performers, though they make the big bucks. I admit that an effective performance can make or break a song. But the words and the music come from the person who conceived of them and put them on paper for the performer to sing. It is in the writers that the deepest creativity resides. (The performers I most respect write their own songs, though even they often sing songs written by someone else.)
So a key starving artist demographic in Nashville is songwriters. They flock here, where most of the nation’s big music publishing companies have offices on Music Row, and they work hard to not only write music, but get it published, get an artist to record it, so that they can get a few pennies of royalties everytime it is performed or the record gets sold or played on the radio. There is money in it, if you write a hit record, but it’s also a hard,angst-ridden row to hoe.
Anyway, if you come to Nashville, besides the Grand Ole Opry, the other must-see is the Bluebird Cafe. Here, songwriters–after a winnowing process of auditions–play their wares. When we were at the Bluebird, we heard three songs apiece from nine songwriters. They were all up-and-comers, except for the last one, who, by tradition, is an established and successful writer (who got to play an extra song). Some of the new songs were cliched and too much like everybody else’s, but many of them were memorable, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear them on the radio someday. A lot were touchingly honest confessions of life’s mistakes, some were funny, some were about church, faith, and Jesus. (One songwriter even included the date he became a Christian–a recent event he was still happy about–on his bio.) Again, examples of God-given talent and vocation (including bearing the Cross in vocation).
Posted by Veith at 09:34 AM
Music City
We went to Station Inn, a tiny little place in Nashville not even mentioned in the tourist brochures, at the urging of my bluegrass-picking brother, who goes there every night when he comes to Nashville, which is every chance he can get. Here, he said, you can hear really good music in a place where musicians go to hear good music. And so it was. The band was a Western Swing group called the Time Jumpers and consisted of what had to be studio musicians of the sort celebrated in the song Nashville Cats.
They had two women singers–one who sang luscious country like Patsy Cline and the other who was a straight jazz stylist–and the combination of those styles, along with the Western sounds of the twin fiddles, defines Western Swing. This group did Bob Wills numbers, but also jazzed up hard country and countrified jazz tunes like “Route 66.” They took a tune, then took turns improvising, dissolving everything in jazz effusions then putting it all back together again. Total virtuosity.
Anyway, I noticed a guy in a cowboy hat playing with them, just sitting at the back of the stage strumming rhythm guitar. And I saw, to my wonderment, as was later confirmed, that it was Ranger Doug, of the cowboy supergroup Riders in the Sky! Someone said that when he isn’t on tour, he sits in with this band every night at their weekly performance at the Station. And though the band called him up to do a couple of songs, he did not take center stage. He just stayed in the background and played. Here was a big star, clearly in it just for the music. There are lessons about vocation here.
Posted by Veith at 09:16 AM
Traditional, Liturgical, Caring
Sunday in Nashville, we looked for a church to go to. To our surprise, there were quite a few Lutheran-Missouri Synod congregations. One of them had a little ad in the phone book that said,”Traditional, Liturgical, Caring.” We thought, two out of three ain’t bad, so there we went. It was a wonderful service. The place was packed out, with people of all ages, racially diverse. The sermon was rich, helping us reflect on how Christ’s glory (that day being Transfiguration Sunday) now gives way to His disfigurement on the Cross, in which is all our hope. We had the Sacrament, which is given every Sunday.
As we left, we visitors were given a goodie bag with a church coffee cup, scripture magnets, information about the congregation and its beliefs, and a paperback Bible. Oh, yes, visitors had their own specially-labled parking places close to the entrance.
The young pastor, in his manner and how he conducted the service, did exude “caring.” And I can see how that is an effective tactic in being “traditional” and “liturgical.” The bulletin patiently explained what liturgical worship is all about, how most of it is nothing other than passages from the Bible, and how it is arranged in terms of God’s speaking to us, followed by our response. The bulletin gently explained close communion, stressing how, no, we aren’t saying that you aren’t a Christian if you belong to another denomination,but in the Lord’s Supper we have to consider our agreement in doctrine. The pastor was not a stickler for the liturgical fine points–he had a children’s sermon and things like rising for the doxology in a hymn were passed over in that congregation. Clearly, in Tennessee even the non-churched and non-Christians know the frame of reference needs to be the Bible, and they might not be ready for High Church flourishes. But this pastor, not too many years out of seminary, was bringing his people along. He was practicing church growth sensitivities in a good way that was clearly effective, while still being “Traditional” and “Liturgical.” In fact, he put that right out in front, qualities that I think themselves can attract people looking for something more than they have known either in the world or in some of their churches.
Posted by Veith at 08:49 AM
February 27, 2006
A night at the Opry
Being in Nashville over a Saturday night, we, of course, could not pass up going to the Grand Ole Opry. I’ve attended before at the new all-duded-up Opryland site, but this month the Opry was being held at the site where it blossomed, the Ryman Auditorium. Back in the 1920s, the place was a church, and it still looks like one, with its pointed roof, stained glass windows, and the audience sitting in pews. The space, with semi-circular rows and a huge balcony, seems small–heralding back to the time when even big churches wanted to seem like small churches (rather, than is the case now, the reverse)–so everyone is relatively close to the stage and up close and personal with the performers.
The Opry is still a radio show, with interruptions for commercials, but it has to be the greatest on-going concert in America. In one evening, we listened to SIXTEEN performers, ranging from legends of the past to the latest new artists. One of the things I love about country music is the commerce between the past and the present, which is what constitutes a living tradition. We heard old-timers like Little Jimmy Dickens, performers who have attained the status of “classic” like Connie Smith, established superstars like Vince Gill and Alan Jackson, and promising up-and-coming talents like Andy Griggs and Raul Malo. Also Bill Anderson, whose greatness lies in his songwriting ability. This guy has written songs going way back to the Opry’s early days and he is STILL writing hits that get played on today’s radio.
For the new acts to get on the Opry is a huge honor, that institution holding high standards, not only artistically but morally. Songs that aren’t suitable for the whole family are forbidden, though the place is not nearly as strict as it used to be. But the young performers are clearly in awe to be there (especially at the Ryman) and they pay respect to their elders, who constituted the tradition they are trying to continue.
The Opry also exemplifies what I appreciate most about country music and what Christians can learn from and apply in other art forms and in their relationships with the culture: the easy interplay between the sacred and the secular. Opry sets (and the country music repertoire in general, from Bluegrass to today’s radio hits) include songs about sin AND salvation. Yes, there are songs about cheatin’, drinkin’, and runnin’ wild–though these are just as often mournful songs of regret–but the songs that celebrate marriage, family, raising kids, are just as prominent. And songs of faith ring out, ones that explicitly hail Jesus (often moreso, someone has pointed out, than many contemporary Christian songs). At our night at the Opry, superstar Alan Jackson sang nothing but old hymns (e.g., “‘Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus”). But even a single country song is likely to make casual references to church, prayer, preachers, and the Lord, all as part of the ordinary texture of everyday life. Not all of country music is morally upright–there are songs of sex and violence and moral nihilism as bad as anything in hip-hop–but Christian conviction and ideas are allowed at the table, without discrimination or embarrassment, and the Christian worldview often prevails, even with the “secular” subjects.
Posted by Veith at 09:28 AM
Support Live Art
Waiting for my daughter to get to Nashville, I went into a little non-descript cafe to grab a bite to eat. To my surprise (forgetting where I was), it had live music. A fellow, no longer young, with a guitar was covering George Strait and Elvis tunes, playing for tips. Hardly anyone was in the restaurant, and the makeshift stage was by the smoking section, putting the few customers far away from the music. But I grabbed a table close by so I could not only hear the guy but watch him play. (I have a rudimentary knowledge of the guitar, so I like to watch the chord changes, and whether the musician can really play the instrument or is faking it with three chords and a capo.) Anyway, I enjoyed my dinner tremendously, much more than with the usual canned music or silence.
During a break, the guitarist came up to thank me for paying attention. He’s a songwriter too, he said, been in Nashville for years. So far his work is on “independent labels,” but he’s looking for his break, waiting to be discovered, paying his dues, like hundreds, maybe thousands of artists who come to Nashville, for most of whom it never happens.
Cities and towns trying to attract tourists, restaurants wanting to attract clients, bring in live music! Look what it has done for Austin, Texas, where every BBQ joint and chili parlour has a band, featuring just about any kind of music someone might want to hear. In Austin, there are so many musical venues that a musician can make a living without scoring a big recording contract and selling out to the pop culture. It would be culturally healthy if individual creativity and aesthetic appreciation could permeate through the grass roots of the culture, instead of being under the control of the cultural elite and the corporate bottom line.
As for Christians wanting to influence the arts, give artists what they need and what is so often very hard for them to find: an audience, with the influence coming from being an audience that upholds positive standards. Get musicians, not records, to play at your functions. (There are likely already some in your church.) [Even high school proms now nearly always use DJ's spinning records rather than bands.] And for the other arts, buy it! Adorn your home with works actually painted by someone. (There are likely already artists in your community, and even in your congregation.) And churches have what artists crave: walls. I’ve known of churches that sponsor art exhibits on their wall space, highlighting art of the community, sponsoring competitions (say, in art with a religious subject, landscapes, portraits, etc.), becoming a real way to reach out to artists, some of whom subsequently have been reached with the Gospel. And even if that does not happen, those of us in the audience can make it an occasion for praise to God who has given such gifts to human beings.
Posted by Veith at 08:59 AM
Guitar Town
Since I was speaking in the Chattanooga area, I decided to drive a little ways to Nashville, where I rendezvoused with my daughter Mary, on her spring break from deaconness school at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Nashville is a cultural epicenter, home of much of the Christian publishing and recording industry, as well as country music (and even non-country music, since this is where most of the big music publishers are headquartered). In sphere after sphere, the traditional and the contemporary clash, compete, and are sometimes reconciled. So excuse me while I blog what the truckers and Steve Earle call “Guitar Town.”
Posted by Veith at 08:49 AM
February 25, 2006
Outlawing abortion?
So what do you think about South Dakota’s bill outlawing abortion, an attempt to force the hand of the newly-conservative Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade? Is the timing right? Might it instead cause the Supreme Court to definitely affirm legalize abortion? I’ve got to say that I admire the great state of South Dakota, in any event.
Posted by Veith at 12:22 PM
February 24, 2006
Shiites vs. Sunnis
Here are some quotes from Sunnis and Shiites?’)”>the letter referred to in the post below:
Zarqawi, in a 2004 letter, said he wanted to create a civil war in Iraq. He called Iraq’s Shiites “a greater danger and … more destructive to the nation” than U.S. forces.
The Shiites “in our opinion are the key to change,” he said in a the letter, which was found in Iraq and released by the Pentagon. “I mean that targeting and hitting them … in (their) religious, political, and military depth will provoke them to show the Sunnis their rabies.
Notice the hatred these Muslim sects have for each other. The Shiites make up only 10-15% of the Muslim world, but they hold the majority in Iraq, Iran, and Syria. They believe that Mohammad’s son-in-law Ali was his legitimate successor and that the leadership of Islam should reside in the descendants of the prophet’s family. The last of these, Ali’s son, Husayn, was murdered by the faction that believed the Caliphate should be chosen, not inherited and that would later constitute the majority Sunnis. But the Shiites have never forgiven this, marking the “martyrdom” of Husayn every year by flogging themselves to suffer with him. There is no longer a true Imam on earth, but he will come again after a period of chaos, a time the president of Iran has said that he believes is near.
Sunnis reject this kind of messianic belief and believe the Shiites are idolatrous, in, for example, their devotion to shrines. Such as the Golden Mosque, blown up by Iraqi Sunnis, which contained nothing less than the tomb of Ali.
CORRECTION: The Golden Mosque contains the tombs of the 10th and 11th Imam, not Ali, the first imam. The12th imam disappeared, and he is the one who is expected to return. This is in the city of Samarra (anyone know Somerset Maugham’s ultra-short, one-paragraph-long story “Appointment in Samarra”?). The tomb of Ali is in Najaf. It too has been attacked. It was the site of the bloody standoff with the Shiite insurgent al-Sadr. I’m researching the difference between Shiites and Sunnis and coming up with some fascinating material that I’ll be writing about in my column for WORLD.
Posted by Veith at 08:11 AM
Civil War in Iraq
Remember that intercepted letter from Iraqi al-Qaida leader al Zarqawi that said how his strategy was to provoke civil war between Sunnis and Shiites? Well, he may have attained his goal. Blowing up the Golden Mosque, perhaps the Shiites’ holiest site, has sparked that sect to retaliate against the minority Sunnis (Saddam Hussein’s sect responsible for most of the insurgency). At least 100 Sunnis have been killed, as many as 168 of their mosques have been attacked, and at least 10 imams have been killed. The question is, can the new Iraqi army restore order? But it too is wracked by the same religious divisions and may fragment. And can the U.S. military impose order on both sides?
Posted by Veith at 07:56 AM
February 23, 2006
Willie,now Dolly
Another country music icon has pledged her solidarity with the gay and, in this case, transgendered community. Dolly Parton wrote and sang “Travelin’ Thru” for the movie about a sex-changed father and his/her son, “Transamerica.” The tune is up for an Oscar, and Dolly will perform it at the awards ceremony. In the link, Dolly brags about all of her gay fans and urges tolerance.
With all of these recent incursions into the heartland, I think homosexuals are winning the culture war. In a few years, we may expect to see total social acceptability of the homosexual lifestyle, including legalized gay marriage. Only conservative Christians will be holdouts–and there will not be that many of them, since even evangelicals are going the way of changing to fit the culture–and those few dissenters will be hated, marginalized, and punished. Am I wrong?
Posted by Veith at 09:13 AM
Tone deaf politics
I don’t know who is showing the more tone-deaf political tactics, President Bush for threatening to use his never-before-exercised right of veto if Congress blocks Dubai’s ownership of those port operations. Or former Cornhusker coach Tom Osborn for getting his hated rival Barry Switzer, former coach of my Oklahoma Sooners, to campaign for him for governor.
Posted by Veith at 09:07 AM
The global economy comes home to port
Under our globalized economy, the USA is one of the few safe harbors for investments from overseas. Half of our national debt is held by foreign investors, buying up government bonds. The stock market, big corporations, and the real estate market all are bolstered by foreign money. Those oil-rich little Muslim countries have nowhere to park their money, much less invest it at home, so they buy assets everywhere else. Now that the British company that has run a number of our sea ports has been bought by a company owned by the government in Dubai, it is hard for us to complain.
But it is indeed a concern. It probably isn’t as major a concern as many people are making it out to be. The same people will be running the ports as before. Just the top ownership has changed. And security will still be the job of the Coast Guard. But still, this is an example of economic globalization that might be a problem for us. And if we kick out the United Arab Emirates, it would be a big blow to our economy if they and others like them dumped their investments here and took them elsewhere. (On the other hand, where else could they get a good return on their money? France? Iraq?) By the way, still-Communist China may be an even bigger owner of American assets, including financial stakes in some of our seaports. Help me out here. How should we handle this?
Posted by Veith at 08:31 AM
February 22, 2006
“God doesn’t like people to draw”
Muslims don’t believe in pictures of their prophet, but many don’t believe in any artistic depictions at all. So how do you teach required art classes to Muslim children in American schools? Michelle Malkin has a fascinating post about this.
Along that same line, Jihad Watch tells of going to an art museum in the Netherlands. While the streets outside were packed with burqa-clad Muslim women, there were NO Muslims, as far as he could tell, in the art museum. He uses that illustration to show how the treasures and the heritage of Western Civlization really are at stake in the current cultural clash.
But note the different cultural influences of different religions.
Posted by Veith at 02:30 PM
Not Dead Yet
Not all of the horrific stories of what went on in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina were true, but apparently doctors did euthanize patients in the course of evacuating at least one hospital. A disability group with the great name Not Dead Yet claims these were not just mercy killings as the waters rose to cover the patients’ beds. The killings took place on the seventh floor. The staff apparently did it so they could get out of there.
The NPR report states, “According to statements given to an investigator in the attorney general’s office, LifeCare’s pharmacy director, the director of physical medicine and an assistant administrator say they were told that the ‘evacuation plan’ for the seventh floor was to not leave any living patients behind, and that ‘a lethal dose would be administered’, according to their statements in court documents.”
Commenting, Not Dead Yet, says, “In other words, the only way the staff could evacuate was if they could report there were no more living patients to take care of. This was not about compassion or mercy. It was about throwing someone else over the side of the lifeboat in order to save themselves.”
Posted by Veith at 02:12 PM
Tennessee traveler
Sorry for the late blogging. I’m on the road again. Really early in the morning, I caught a plane and now I’m in Tennessee. The Lily Foundation has funded a bunch of programs in Christian and church-related colleges on “Vocation,” which is quite welcome, though the understanding of that concept is not consistent, I’ve noticed. Still, I’m doing what I can to clear up the matter. Tonight, I’m giving a “Vocation” lecture at Lee University in Cleveland, not too far from Chattanooga. Then tomorrow night, after talking to a group of students, I’ll be giving the Humanities Lecture on “The State and Potential of Christian Higher Education.” But I should have plenty of time to do my blogging and my writing for WORLD in this beautiful Smoky Mountain setting, away from the snows of Wisconsin.
Posted by Veith at 01:38 PM
February 21, 2006
Two Discordant Masters
In a comment yesterday, Rick Ritchie gave a link to something he posted on his excellent Old Solar blog, quoting from “Notebook of a Colonial Clergyman” by the patriarch of American Lutheranism Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. In the passage I just linked to, Muhlenberg is struggling over the Romans 13 issues involved in the Revolution. He is sympathetic to the patriots (such as his son, discussed below), but he recognizes the force of the Scriptural command to obey existing authorities. He tells about leading prayers for soldiers of both sides. He concludes with this interesting Two Kingdoms remark:
If God’s governance ordains or suffers that a king or a parliament or a congress should have power over me, then I must be subject to and serve two discordant masters at the same time.
The King was an authority over him. AND the new American congress was an authority over him. Particularly in his office as a pastor, he is resolved to serve them both.
Muhlenberg here gets into the “Christ and Culture in paradox” dimension of the Two Kingdoms, the awareness of conflict and tension this often entails in the real world. This would have also been an issue for southern pastors during the Civil War. Can you think of any situations today where we might be under “two discordant masters” and how that can be lived out?
Posted by Veith at 07:51 AM
Leaving the pulpit to bear the sword
The talk about Lutherans in the time of the Reformation raises an interesting case-study of vocation. John Peter Muhlenberg was a Lutheran pastor sympathetic to the American Revolution. After service one Sunday, in front of his congregation, he took off his vestments to reveal the uniform of an officer in the Continental Army. He announced that he was leaving the congregation to accept a commission in the military. He went on to become a staff officer with George Washington, a Brigadier General, and a hero of the war. But do you think he violated his vocation as a called and ordained servant of the Word to leave his congregation in order to fight in the war?
To bring this to our own times, when a person leaves a secular vocation when he is called into the ministry, this is seen as a good thing. An army officer who goes to seminary and becomes a pastor is certainly lauded. But a pastor who leaves the ministry to follow some secular calling is often looked down upon. We are taught that all vocations are equally valid before God. And yet the pastoral office has a uniqueness. Help me out here. I’m not sure myself.
Posted by Veith at 07:39 AM
February 20, 2006
A Lutheran on Washington’s faith
Looking for the first name of that Lutheran cleric who exchanged his vestments for the uniform of the Continental Army, I came across this , which also details some key Lutheran contributions to the Revolution and to the new nation it produced:
Henry Melchior Muhlenberg was one of the founders of the Lutheran Church in America. His son John Peter, was a pastor, promoted to Major-General in the Continental Army and then elected to Congress. Another son, Frederick, was a pastor who became the first Speaker of the House. Both sons served in the first U.S. Congress and helped pass the First Amendment. Henry Muhlenberg pastored the German congregations near Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. In The Notebook of a Colonial Clergyman, Henry Muhlenberg wrote: “I heard a fine example today, namely that His Excellency General Washington rode around among his army yesterday and admonished each and every one to fear God, to put away wickedness that has set in and become so general, and to practice Christian virtues. From all appearances General Washington does not belong to the so-called world of society, for he respects God’s Word, believes in the atonement through Christ, and bears himself in humility and gentleness. Therefore, the Lord God has also singularly, yea, marvelously preserved him from harm in the midst of countless perils, ambuscades, fatigues, etc., and has hitherto graciously held him in his hand as a chosen vessel.”
Here we have the Bible, the ATONEMENT, and also the doctrine of vocation! That same site also gives one of Washington’s prayers, which is Trinitarian and Gospel-centered. Another echoes Luther’s morning prayer and, again, shows a consciousness of vocation as God working through his daily taks:
From George Washington’s private prayer journal. “O most glorious God … Direct my thoughts, words and work, wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the Lamb, and purge my heart by thy Holy Spirit…. Daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy Son Jesus Christ…. Thou gavest thy Son to die for me, and hast given me assurance of salvation….”
“Almighty God…I yield Thee humble and hearty thanks that thou has preserved me from the danger of the night past, and brought me to the light of the day, and the comforts thereof, a day which is consecrated to Thine own service and for Thine own honor. Let my heart, therefore, Gracious God, be so affected with the glory and majesty of it, that I may not do mine own works, but wait on thee, and discharge those weighty duties thou requirest of me.”
Posted by Veith at 01:29 PM
But was he a Christian?
More thoughts on Washington’s faith (with applications to similar questions about other people). The Father of our country was not a Lutheran and surely could have benefited from theology lessons from his staff officer, the ex-pastor Peter Muhlenberg. Nor was he a Baptist, and so may be lacking in a dramatic conversion experience. But every Sunday, when he attended his Anglican church as we know he did frequently, he would confess his faith in the words of the Apostle’s or the Nicene Creed. Is there a basis for thinking that “I-cannot-tell-a-lie” George was being insincere, indeed, lying, when he would make that public confession?
True, someone could say those words without really believing them. And one can rhapsodize about a conversion without really having one. One can take communion unworthily (I didn’t know that Washington didn’t commune, something that often comes from being afraid to), or despise one’s own baptism (a sacrament Washington seems to have honored). The point is, we can never know outwardly the state of a person’s faith with complete surety, but we seldom need to, this perhaps being part of the scriptural warning against “judging”. But what we have is surely enough for our purposes, the person’s baptism and public confession. Isn’t that enough?
Posted by Veith at 01:10 PM
Washington’s God
National Review Online posts a fascinating interview with Michael and Jana Novak, author of the new book Washington’s God, focusing on the religious beliefs of the Father of Our Country. They conclude that he was indeed a church-going, praying, devotional Christian. He was not a Deist, though like many Christians at the time he tended to use philosophical terms for God (“Providence,” “Supreme Author of All Good”) as the Deists did. The huge difference is that Deists assumed God did not interfere in the affairs of men, whereas Washington emphatically did, and was always praying. The Novaks also discuss his membership in the Freemasons and tell some revealing anecdotes. Read the interview, linked above.
Posted by Veith at 08:52 AM
Presidents’ Day honorees of the future
The next presidential election in 2008 is wide-open. This may be the election in which someone relatively known today rises to the top. Who is there in either party–besides Hilary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice–that seems to have presidential timber?
Posted by Veith at 08:17 AM
A Holiday in Need
Happy Presidents’ Day, a national holiday that we will all celebrate by not getting any mail. Seriously, this is a national holiday that has not penetrated our national culture. Holidays need rituals of some kind. On Thanksgiving, we feast; on Independence Day we shoot off firecrackers; on Memorial Day we have a parade and decorate graves. We may not know exactly what we are celebrating on Labor Day, but at least we take advantage of it by having the last cook-outs of Summer. But Presidents’ Day has nothing.
If we had kept it to just honor George Washington, it would be easier. We could eat cherry pie and have facsimile silver dollar throws. Go around wearing tricorne hats. Throw tea in large bodies of water. Row boats across February’s icy waters. Washington was our only bi-partisan president, who truly was the father of our country. Adding in Abraham Lincoln to the holiday hurt it. Lincoln was a great and noble man, but he presided over the dissolution of our country, rather than its founding, and he held office in a sad time and was a tragic figure. But then throwing all of the presidents into the holiday–relatively few of whom are worth celebrating–diluted it beyond recognition. And untying it from a specific day with historical meaning (such as Washington’s birthday) and putting it on Monday, so as to give federal workers a long weekend, just made it seem like a day for federal workers to have off.
But we’re stuck with it, and we might as well make it meaningful if we can. Can anyone think of rituals, customs, or other kinds of observances to celebrate Presidents’ Day? (Both serious and satirical suggestions are welcome.)
Posted by Veith at 08:03 AM
February 17, 2006
WORLD vs. the Religious Right
WORLD has an investigative reporter, Jamie Dean, who has uncovered connections between indicted lobbiest Jack Abramoff and Christian right strategist Ralph Reed. It seems Mr. Reed was running state anti-gambling campaigns with money from Indian casinos that just wanted to preserve their gambling monopolies. Mr. Abramoff was the channel for hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mr. Reed’s organization. He also “delivered” anti-gambling advertisements from other Christian activists and organizations, such as Focus on the Family. You need to read Jamie’s article here, and, for more supporting evidence, here. No one has accused him and his organization of wrongdoing. He seems to have been used by Ralph Reed. So why isn’t he mad at Ralph Reed instead of WORLD? Part of the issue seems to be the assumption in most “Christian journalism” that Christians should always defend each other, no matter what, that Christian publications should not air dirty laundry in the church. WORLD, though, has always resisted that assumption, believing that part of the vocation of a Christian journalist is to uncover the truth, even when that truth is not flattering to Christians.
Indeed, the left-wing press has seized on WORLD’s initial reporting to discredit the religious right, with a story in The Nation.
So give us guidance here. Did WORLD do right or do wrong?
UPDATE: You have got to read WORLD editor Marvin Olasky’s response to the complaints of Focus on the Family, including e-mail evidence of the shenanigans Jamie Dean has uncovered.
Posted by Veith at 10:00 AM
DNA proves Indians aren’t Jews, disproving Mormonism
The Mormons believe that American Indians are descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel, the saga of which is recorded on those plates discovered by Joseph Smith and translated into the Book of Mormon. But now D.N.A. evidence has established that the American Indian tribes came from Asia, rather than the Middle East. This would seem to be scientific evidence that Mormonism isn’t true. But that is not necessarily shutting down or even slowing down the religion.
“This may look like the crushing blow to Mormonism from the outside,” said Jan Shipps, a professor emeritus of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, who has studied the church for 40 years. “But religion ultimately does not rest on scientific evidence, but on mystical experiences. There are different ways of looking at truth.”
Meanwhile, Mormon scholars are trying to address the findings with a higher-critical revisionist approach to the Book of Mormon:
Unofficially, church leaders have tacitly approved an alternative interpretation of the Book of Mormon by church apologists — a term used for scholars who defend the faith.
The apologists say Southerton and others are relying on a traditional reading of the Book of Mormon — that the Hebrews were the first and sole inhabitants of the New World and eventually populated the North and South American continents.
The latest scholarship, they argue, shows that the text should be interpreted differently. They say the events described in the Book of Mormon were confined to a small section of Central America, and that the Hebrew tribe was small enough that its DNA was swallowed up by the existing Native Americans._”It would be a virtual certainly that their DNA would be swamped,” said Daniel Peterson, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, part of the worldwide Mormon educational system, and editor of a magazine devoted to Mormon apologetics. “And if that is the case, you couldn’t tell who was a Lamanite descendant.”
Southerton said the new interpretation was counter to both a plain reading of the text and the words of Mormon leaders.
“The apologists feel that they are almost above the prophets,” Southerton said. “They have completely reinvented the narrative in a way that would be completely alien to members of the church and most of the prophets.”
The church has not formally endorsed the apologists’ views, but the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — http://www.lds.org — cites their work and provides links to it.
(HT: Susan Olasky on the main World site)
Posted by Veith at 08:51 AM
Anti-Christian violence here
“Boston Globe” columnist Jeff Jacoby points to the hate crimes against Christians in rural Alabama, where 10 rural churches have been torched. Five have been predominately white churches and five have been predominately black, all Baptist.
But out of the ashes of these churches is rising the phoenix of racial reconciliation. These counties have a history of bitter segregation and racial violence. But now the white congregations and the black congregations targeted by the arsonist are pulling together, helping each other deal with the damage and worshipping together. Read this touching account.
Posted by Veith at 08:39 AM
Wisconsin gets back to normal
Here in Wisconsin we have been enjoying global warming, with the temperatures reaching a for-us balmy 30 degrees every day this winter, a record 57 straight days. But yesterday we had about 12 inches of snow, at least half of it coming in a real Little-House-on-the-Prairie style blizzard. I couldn’t see anything past the house next door. The snow was accompanied with thunder and lightning. Now the cold has set in, with promises of 10 below zero tonight.
And did we have what less hardy Americans enjoy as a “snow day”? Are you kidding? Cancel school and shut everything down for a little snow? Our schools here let out early, but our heroic unsurpassed road crews had the roads in driving shape in no time. I salute them in their vocations.
Posted by Veith at 08:23 AM
February 16, 2006
Legalize organ sales?
Two American doctors are calling on governments to allow people to sell their organs for transplants. There are not enough kidneys,for example, to meet the need for kidney transplants, a black market has already arisen, and, after all, “individuals [are] entitled to control their own body parts.” Critics say that legalizing organ sales would exploit the poor. Advocates say that the poor might be helped if they could get $50,000 for an extra kidney. Besides, making more organs available would save lives, etc., etc. How would you untangle the ethical issues here? Selling one’s organs strikes me instinctively as wrong, but is it, and if so, why?
Posted by Veith at 08:07 AM
What about them high-heel boots?
As a country music connoisseur, I of course like Willie Nelson, and I was not at all surprised that he did a tune on “Brokeback Mountain” and is now releasing a song about gay cowboys. Willie has always been a counter-culture, dope-smoking leftwinger. His long-hair hippie look is no act. It has always amused me how for decades culturally-conservative country fans have given him a pass for all of this. And rightly so, if we look only at his music, with its country sensibility, unusual-for-country jazz chords, and lovely melodies. And his songs have not been that political. He even did a great anti-terrorism song with right-winger Toby Keith, a Texas Ranger vigilante ditty called “Beer for My Horses.”
So I’m curious to see how country fans–who rose up against the Dixie Chicks for opposing the Iraq war–will deal with “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other)”, with its immortal line, “Inside every cowboy there’s a lady who’d love to slip out.” The song was not written by Willie, but by Ned Sublette in 1981. Willie’s Brokeback song was “He Was a Friend of Mine.” For more lyrics, go here. (By the way, for those who say “Brokeback Mountain” is not about gay COWboys, since they were herding sheep, in the movie after the two had their mutual shepherding experiences, they both went into the cattle business, one as a ranch hand, and the other as a rodeo cowboy and then farm machinery dealer.)
What I want to see is if Willie’s stunt will hurt him with his country music fans, and, even more importantly, will all of this gay talk affect the image of the cowboy? Will ranchers and honky-tonkers get embarrassed to wear those high-heel boots and embroidered shirts? Or will the traditional icon of masculine heroism prevail? Or is acceptance of homosexuality going to finally win over the country music crowd?
Posted by Veith at 07:24 AM
Books for dhimmis
It is clear that most people in the West do not understand and are not sensitive to the sensibilities of Muslims. So I propose a series of books that will help Westerners adapt to the new world order. Some titles:
“Islam for Dhimmis.” (Islam is a religion of peace. And if you don’t think so, we’ll kill you.)
“Cartoon Drawing for Dhimmis.” (Islam forbids graven images of the deity. Muhammad is not divine, but we do not allow images of him either. Other prophets listed in the Quran–Jesus, Moses–it’s OK to draw and ridicule them.)
“Cooking for Dhimmis.” (Islam does not allow the consumption of pork. So if you eat pork, you are offending 2 billion Muslims and deserve to die.)
Can anyone think of other titles for our series?
Posted by Veith at 07:15 AM
February 15, 2006
“Allah in Heaven, Hitler on Earth”
As some of you know, one of my research interests is the intellectual roots of Fascism and how the very same ideas that gave us Hitler and the concentration camps have developed into postmodernism. In a geneology that stretches from Nietzsche through Nazi activists such as Martin Heidegger, the existentialist philosopher, and Paul de Man, the founder of deconstruction–all three considered very cool and authoritative today–those old fascist ideas about culture, identity, moral relativism, euthanasia, and “the triumph of the will” are still very much with us. Liberal theology also played a role then and now, beginning with those higher critics of the Bible who sought to purge Christianity of its “Jewish [that is, Biblical] elements.” (The book in which I demonstrate all of this is Modern Fascism.
Now Chuck Morse has written a book entitled The Nazi Connection to Islamic Terrorism. I just ordered it, based on this op-ed sampling. ‘Islamo-fascism” is not a metaphor, but an actual tradition with historical links to the Nazi party. Click “continue reading” for some samples from the article.
(HT: The Pearcey Report)
From “Undeniable Historical Links” by Chuck Morse and Carol Greenwald, in the “Washington Times,” 9 February 2006:
Nazism held a genuine appeal for the Arab populace, who were attracted to its messages of rejection of democracy, recovery of past military glory and Jew-hating. In 1935, Reza Shah, the ruler of Persia, changed the country’s name from Persia to Iran to reflect that they, like the Nazis, were Aryans. A popular Arab song during the war went, “Allah in heaven, Hitler on earth.”The historic Nazi connection to today’s Islamic terrorism is Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem. He became a Nazi agent after meeting Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Holocaust, in Palestine in 1937, and with Nazi funds organized the Arab Revolt of 1936-39 which led to the British closing Palestine to Jewish immigration. This facilitated the “Final Solution” by closing off the avenue of refuge. In 1941, the mufti orchestrated a short-lived Nazi-backed generals’ coup in Iraq. One of the participants in that coup, Gen. Khayrallah Tulfah, was Saddam Hussein’s uncle and mentor.
The Iraq coup was followed by the Farhud, a pogrom against Baghdad’s Jews, an event viewed by Sephardic Jews as comparable to the German “Kristallnacht,” but never mentioned by the museum. The Mufti obtained Hitler’s assurance in November 1941 that after dealing with the Jews of Europe, Hitler would treat the Jews of the Middle East similarly. Husseini promised the support of the Arabs for the Nazi war effort. In Berlin, Husseini used the “sonderfund,” money confiscated from Jewish victims, to finance subversive pro-Nazi activities in the Middle East and to raise 20,000 Muslim troops in Bosnia, the infamous Hanjar S.S. Waffen, who murdered tens of thousands of Serbs and Jews in the Balkans and served as police auxiliary in Hungary.
There is no mention of the grand mufti in the museum’s permanent exhibit, although only Hitler received more pages in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.
But the Mufti’s Nazi heritage did not end with the Holocaust. Nazi war criminals found employment in Arab capitals as advisers in murder. The notorious SS killer Alois Brunner was the personal adviser to Hafez Assad’s brother, who was in charge of the Syrian security forces. Husseini, Yasser Arafat’s mentor, brought former Nazi commandos to Egypt to teach Mr. Arafat and others how to become terrorists.
Note how Arab hatred of and violence against Jews PRE-DATED the founding of the state of Israel.
Posted by Veith at 09:33 AM
The Top 10 Most Dangerous Professors
The indispensible David Horowitz–former Black Panther radical (though white and Jewish) and now born-again conservative–posts a list of America’s Top 10 Most Dangerous Professors. I was relieved to see that I did not make the list, nor did my dissertation advisor or any of my other former teachers, though based on my time in the academic world I can say that this list is indeed representative of what you will find there. The list includes, for example, Gayle Rubin, an activist for sadomasochism and defender of pedophilia. She is an anthropology professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where good Midwestern folks pay her salary. If any of you have had any of these professors, or anyone like them, please comment about the experience. (Click “continue reading” for the list.)
(HT: The Pearcey Report, a site worth checking frequently.)
10. “bell hooks”
Born Gloria Watkins, spells new name in lower case. Has written, “It is difficult not to hear in standard English always the sound of slaughter and conquest” and “I am writing this essay sitting beside an anonymous white male that I long to murder.” hooks is a distinguished professor of English at City College in New York.
9. Amiri Baraka
Born Everett Leroy Jones in 1934, adopted current name after converting to Islam in 1968. Former poet laureate of New Jersey. Has written: “… the white woman understands that only in the rape sequence [by a black man] is she likely to get cleanly, viciously popped” and “I got the extermination blues, jewboys. I got the hitler syndrome figured.” Baraka has received a series of academic appointments at prestigious universities throughout the U.S.
8. Tom Hayden
Former leader of the 1960s-era radical group Students for a Democratic Society. Calls for an antiwar “strategy” to defeat the U.S. in Iraq. Lecturer in politics at Occidental College, California. Hayden has no scholarly publications, nor does he have any training beyond a B.A. that would qualify him to teach.
7. Joseph Massad
Calls for the destruction of “the Jewish State.” Believes the “Jewish state is a racist state that does not have the right to exist,” and “the Jews are not a nation.” Massad teaches modern arab politics and intellectual history and an introductory course on Israeli politics at Columbia University.
6. Jose Angel Gutierrez
A former judge for Zavala County, Texas. Established the militant La Raza Unida (“the Unified Race”), an association dedicated to the belief that the Southwest does not rightfully belong to the U.S. Once said, “We have got to eliminate the gringo, and what I mean by that is if the worst comes to the worst, we have got to kill him.” Gutierrez teaches political science at the University of Texas, Arlington.
5. Armando Navarro
Advocates the overthrow of the U.S. government by Latinos, and Mexico’s reclaiming the Southwestern U.S. In 2002, sworn in as a member of the State Central Committee for the Party of Democratic Revolution, a Socialist party in Mexico. Navarro teaches ethnic studies at the University of California, Riverside.
4. Gayle Rubin
Recipient of the Woman of the Year Award from the National Leather Association, a sadomasochist, fetish, bondage organization. Proponent of pedophilia. Argues that the government’s crack-down on child molesters is a “savage and undeserved witch hunt.” Rubin teaches anthropology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
3. Angela Davis
Former member of the Communist Party and Black Panthers. Once on the run from the FBI. Indicted, but acquitted (her trial was a farce), for involvement in the death of a California judge and three others outside a courthouse in Marin County, Calif. Received the Lenin Peace Prize from the former Soviet Union. Davis teaches the history of consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
2. Bill Ayers
Former commander in the Weather Underground. Spent most of the 1970s on the run from the FBI. In a coincidence, rich in irony, he was interviewed in the New York Times on 9/11 and said, “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” Ayers teaches early childhood development at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
1. Bernardine Dohrn
A leader of the Weather Underground. Spent most of the 1970s on the run from the FBI. Once said of the Manson murders of actress Sharon Tate and others: “Dig it! First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them. They even shoved a fork into the victim’s stomach! Wild!” The stomach was that of pregnant Sharon Tate. Dohrn teaches law at Northwestern University.
Posted by Veith at 09:13 AM
Cartoon jihad moves to the internet
Michelle Malkin reports that Muslims are launching major hacker attacks on websites, including hers, that have posted the Muhammad cartoons. Servers and bloggers are also getting personal threats. Michelle posts some examples of the e-mails she is getting, promising to murder her.
Posted by Veith at 09:07 AM
February 14, 2006
Dhimmitude
As a companion piece to the article posted about below, you have got to read Diana West’s column:
We need to learn a new word: dhimmitude. I’ve written about dhimmitude periodically, lo, these many years since September 11, but it takes time to sink in. Dhimmitude is the coinage of a brilliant historian, Bat Ye’or, whose pioneering studies of the dhimmi, populations of Jews and Christians vanquished by Islamic jihad, have led her to conclude that a common culture has existed through the centuries among the varied dhimmi populations. From Egypt and Palestine to Iraq and Syria, from Morocco and Algeria to Spain, Sicily and Greece, from Armenia and the Balkans to the Caucasus: Wherever Islam conquered, surrendering dhimmi, known to Muslims as “people of the book [the Bible],” were tolerated, allowed to practice their religion, but at a dehumanizing cost.
There were literal taxes (jizya) to be paid; these bought the dhimmi the right to remain non-Muslim, the price not of religious freedom, but of religious identity. Freedom was lost, sorely circumscribed by a body of Islamic law (sharia) designed to subjugate, denigrate and humiliate the dhimmi. The resulting culture of self-abnegation, self-censorship and fear shared by far-flung dhimmi is the basis of dhimmitude. The extremely distressing but highly significant fact is, dhimmitude doesn’t only exist in lands where Islamic law rules.
She goes on to argue that the Western habit of submitting to Islamic sensibilities is, precisely, the behavior conquering Muslims recognize as dhimmitude:
We have watched the Muslim meltdown with shocked attention, but there is little recognition that its poisonous fallout is fear. Fear in the State Department, which, like Islam, called the cartoons unacceptable. Fear in Whitehall, which did the same. Fear in the Vatican, which did the same. And fear in the media, which have failed, with few, few exceptions, to reprint or show the images. With only a small roll of brave journals, mainly in Europe, to salute, we have seen the proud Western tradition of a free press bow its head and submit to an Islamic law against depictions of Muhammad. That’s dhimmitude.
_Not that we admit it: We dress up our capitulation in fancy talk of “tolerance,” “responsibility” and “sensitivity.” We even congratulate ourselves for having the “editorial judgment” to make “pluralism” possible. “Readers were well served… without publishing the cartoons,” said a Wall Street Journal spokesman. “CNN has chosen to not show the cartoons in respect for Islam,” reported the cable network. On behalf of the BBC, which did show some of the cartoons on the air, a news editor subsequently apologized, adding: “We’ve taken a decision not to go further… in order not to gratuitously offend the significant number” of Muslim viewers worldwide. Left unmentioned is the understanding (editorial judgement?) that “gratuitous offense” leads to gratuitous violence. Hence, fear — not the inspiration of tolerance but of capitulation — and a condition of dhimmitude.
How far does it go? Worth noting, for example, is that on the BBC Web site, a religion page about Islam presents the angels and revelations of Islamic belief as historical fact, rather than spiritual conjecture (as is the case with its Christianity Web page); plus, it follows every mention of Mohammed with “(pbuh),” which means “peace be upon him”—”as if,” writes Will Wyatt, former BBC chief executive, in a letter to the Times of London, “the corporation itself were Muslim.”
Is it? Are we? These questions may not seem so outlandish if we assess the extent to which encroaching sharia has already changed the Western way. Calling these cartoons “unacceptable,” and censoring ourselves “in respect” to Islam brings the West into compliance with a central statute of sharia. As Jyllands-Posten’s Flemming Rose has noted, that’s not respect, that’s submission. And if that’s not dhimmitude, what is?
Posted by Veith at 08:30 AM
The Muslim conquest of the West
For important historical context to the current war between Western civilization and Islam, you must read David Pryce-Jones’ article in “The New Criterion” entitled Muslims: Integration or Separatism?. He discusses the distinction in Islam, which our commenter Solon has pointed out, between “the House of Islam,” where Muslims rule, and everywhere else, which is called “the House of War,” and is thus the object of conquest.
Pryce-Jones gives an overview of the recent relationship between these two realms (including the fascinating detail that Napoleon III, in his understanding of colonialism, gave as his goal establishing France as a Muslim empire). Postwar Europe needed labor, so imported Muslim workers. The first generation more or less chose the path of assimilation, but their children have embraced the model of conquest. European Muslims have formed their own separate governing bodies and often reject the authority of the nations in which they live. They now are embracing the model of conquest.
And just as leftists became apologists and fellow-travellers for communism, they are now–in thrall to the fuzzy-minded ideology of multi-culturalism and antagonism to their own heritage–supporting the Islamic radicals. Many European countries are now giving Muslims special rights and changing their own practices, in deference to Islamic sensibilities. (For examples, click “continued reading.”) To Muslims, this is the proper submission on the part of the House of War to their Islamic conquerors.
From David Pryce-Jones, “Muslims: Integration or Separatism,” linked above:
In this phenomenon, apologists pretend that there is no connection between Islam and those who practice terror in its name, as though terror were incidental, a passing aberration; they also say that measures of self-defense are nothing but “state terrorism”—as bad as Islamist terror, or worse. Day after day, in one detail after another, European authorities and decision-makers, some of them at a high level and others local, degrade the values and practices of their societies by currying favour with Islam in politics, the media, cultural, and behavioral issues, and even the law—a British judge prohibited Hindus and Jews from sitting on the jury in the trial of a Muslim. Robin Cook, at the time British foreign secretary, told a Muslim audience, “Islam laid the intellectual foundations for large portions of Western civilization,” when in simple fact Muslim scholars were part of a chain transmitting knowledge from classical Greece and Rome, from Persia, and from the Judeo-Christian tradition.
At the memorial service for a British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, in St. Margaret’s Westminster, perhaps the most select of London churches, the Saudi ambassador read from what The Times Social Register called “The Holy Qur’an and from the sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.” Muhammad is now among the twenty most popular names in Britain. The mayor of London, a critic of the Iraqi campaign and a notorious Jew-baiter to boot, shared a platform with Sheikh Qaradawi, and praised him as a great Muslim scholar, although Qaradawi is wanted for murder in his native Egypt, calls for the assassination of homosexuals, and is on record as describing suicide bombings as “heroic operations of martyrdom.” The British bishops have gathered to pontificate that “Democracy as we have it in the West at the moment is deeply flawed and its serious shortcomings need to be addressed.” Their recommendation is “a public act of repentance” made to senior figures from the Muslim community. In medieval Spain, King Ferdinand III fought the Moors for twenty-seven years, and recently the municipality of Seville removed him as the patron saint of their fiesta, for fear of offending Muslims—at the moment when Osama bin Laden was speaking on a video released to al-Jazeera television of his intention to liberate Andalusia, to give Moorish Spain its Muslim name. An imam in Spain published a book on how a man may beat his wife without leaving marks on her body: “The blows should be concentrated on the hands and feet using a rod that is thin and light.” He was sentenced to fifteen months in prison for this, but a judge released him after twenty-two days on condition that he study three articles in the constitution and the universal declaration of human rights.
In Italy, Islamists have threatened to destroy the cathedral of Bologna because a fifteenth-century fresco on its wall depicts the Prophet Muhammad in the circle of Hell where Dante relegated him. The German state of Saxony-Anhalt has become the first European body to issue a sukuk, or Islamic bond. In several countries, crucifixes have been removed from schools or hospitals to spare Muslims the sight of them. Double standards are in play: Saudi Arabia can finance the costs of as many mosques as its pleases in the West, yet no Christian church is allowed to be built there; Christian worship, even possession of the Bible, is illegal, and recently some Pakistani Christians were publicly beheaded for it.
Even worse than these concessions is what has happened in our own hemisphere in Canada, in which Muslims are allowed to apply Islamic law–rather than the laws of Canada–to family issues, setting up special Islamic courts whose decisions will be ratified by Canadian justices. Canada and even Australia–normally a sensible and tough-minded country–have “anti-defamation” laws that criminalize critcism of Islam. I think of a political cartoon I saw recently, showing Muslim-intimidated journalists hiding under a desk, with one of them, a woman, asking “Do burqas come in sizes?”
Posted by Veith at 08:26 AM
Winter Olympics convert
I had the Winter Olympics on in the background last night, and I got drawn in. I was amazed by those teenage girls flying through the air on their snowboards. And while I am predisposed to scorn figure skating, I caught the clip from just over a year ago when that Russian was holding his slip-of-a-girl partner over his head, then slipped and fell forward, casting the girl hard onto the ice. The clip showed her unconscious and bleeding, with this poor guilt-ridden guy futilely trying to help her until she was ambulanced to a hospital. NBC then showed an interview with the still angst-ridden Russian (and few people can be as tormented emotionally as a Russian) who talked about his guilt and fear of doing this again, how the girl stayed with him, and how hard it was to start over again to rebuild their mutual confidence. How he was still trying to get the accident out of his mind, though, of course, that’s all reporters keep asking him about. Then NBC got back to the night’s action, whereupon the two won the gold medal. (After their performance, their last, the man knelt before the woman and, in a touching old-world gesture, kissed her hand–in gratitude, he said later, for sticking with him despite what he had done to her.)
Immediately after that, I watched these two Chinese skaters. Another little slip-of-a-girl got launched into the air trying something no one had ever done before. She wiped out, coming down hard on her knees. Again, her partner agonized over her, she was helped away, crying. But then, six minutes later, she insisted on coming back! She limped onto the ice. The music started and they picked up where they left off, performing flawlessly. To the point that despite her fall, they won the silver medal!
So, yeah, I agree now that figure skating is a sport.
Posted by Veith at 07:23 AM
February 13, 2006
Another non-violent religion attacks Christians
I received this from a missionary organization called Gospel for Asia:
In the past few weeks, we have received a growing number of reports from India about increased persecution of believers. It seems as if the radical Hindus have all but declared war on Christians.
In the latest incident, two of our missionaries in Haryana were attacked as they were showing the Man of Mercy film about Jesus. More than 200 villagers had gathered to watch the film in the courtyard of a believer’s home when a group of young Hindu militants attacked and started beating the missionaries.
One, named William, is the pastor of a Believers Church, and the other, Eno, works in the Gospel for Asia film ministry.
Some of those watching the film tried to rescue the believers, but they, too, were cruelly beaten. The police came and took control of the situation, but as soon as they left, about 1,000 radicals surrounded the house, shouting anti-Christian slogans and threatening the believers. Miraculously, God intervened and the owner prevented them from entering his property.
My friend, if this were an isolated incident, it would still be extremely serious. But it is worse. All across India, Hindu radicals are openly attacking Christians, and the situation is getting more and more difficult for the believers.
_Please let us pray for this particular situation and plead for God’s divine intervention. Pray for William and Eno, that they will not be discouraged and may be strengthened to carry forward His ministry.
And please pray that all across India, God’s love will touch and transform those who would spread the darkness of hate over the nation.
Yours for the lost of Asia,
K.P. Yohannan_Founder & President_Gospel for Asia
P.S. Even in the midst of these problems, God is working His miracles. Click this link to read about the miraculous release of the native missionary who was kidnapped in late January._http://www.gfa.org/latestnews020906________________________
:_Gospel for Asia_1800 Golden Trail Ct._Carrollton TX 75010_800-WIN-ASIA
Posted by Veith at 12:56 PM
Lord of the Rings, the Musical
A stage version of The Lord of the Rings is in production in Canada. The show, a musical, depicts the whole of Tolkien’s trilogy in a little over three hours. The production cost a whopping $23 million. If you go to Toronto, you can get tickets to the shakedown preview currently underway. The show opens formally in March, and if it does well, it goes to London, and from there to Broadway. The production is not based on the movie, but on a script developed from the book in the 1990s.
Posted by Veith at 08:16 AM
The Feast of St. Darwin
Hundreds of churches celebrated Evolution Sunday yesterday, to stand up for the contributions of Charles Darwin and to disassociate themselves from creationists. Sunday would have been Darwin’s 197th birthday. Putting him on the liturgical calendar and thus, in effect, making him a saint was part of a concerted effort against “fundamentalism” by members of liberal denominations. Some 10,000 ministers have signed a letter affirming evolution to be a “fact,” an action similar to subscribing to a doctrinal confession of faith.
If any of you readers observed this day in your church, I would greatly appreciate your comments about how Darwin was celebrated in your worship service. Did you leave out the part in the creed about the creation? To whom and for what did you pray? Apparently lots of churches used that hymn about “loud boiling test tubes.”
Posted by Veith at 07:56 AM
February 10, 2006
Oh yeah, the Olympics
It almost slipped my mind that the Winter Olympics are starting this weekend. Do you care? Will you be watching?
Posted by Veith at 11:56 AM
Lutheran clerics incite riots
I feel obliged to show you this offensive publication from someone in Iowa. From internal evidence, it is clear that he has been to Wisconsin, though without learning how to spell our place names. I will post excerpts, but for the whole thing (and indeed it goes on and on) you need to go here. (HT: Michelle Malkin)
Like a pot of bratwurst left unattended at a Lambeau Field pregame party, simmering tensions in the strife-torn Midwest boiled over once again today as rioting mobs of green-and-gold clad youth and plump farm wives rampaged through Wisconsin Denny’s and IHOPs, burning Texas toast and demanding apologies and extra half-and-half. Cartoon that shocked Midwest
The spark igniting the latest tailgate hibachi of unrest: a Texas newsletter’s publication of caricatures of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.
Protestors demonstrated against the images throughout the Badger State yesterday, with violent egging and cow-tipping incidents reported in Oconomowac, Pewaukee, Sheboygan, Ozaukee, Antigo, Oshkosh, Waubeno, Wauwautosa, Waunewoc, Wyocena, Waubeka, and Washawonamowackapeepee.
Some of the most dramatic skirmishes were centered around Kenosha, where a mob of masked snowmobilers invaded the Texas Roadhouse on I-94, briefly holding the margarita machine hostage. They were later seen storming the beverage department at Woodman’s, where they purchased several cases of Point and a pack of Merit menthols, and later at the Brat Stop classic rock/sausage outlet, where they were reported angrily “boogie-ing out” on air guitar to featured entertainment Molly Hatchett.
But by far the fiercest demonstration took place in Green Bay’s Lambeau Shrine parking lot where throngs of Packer faithful burned Texas flags and effigies of Roger Staubach as Lutheran pastors led them in chants of “Those who defame the Vince suck” and “Favre is Great.” Many of the frenzied demonstrators were seen ritualistically beating themselves with mozzarella sticks.
……….
_Over the past five years, the volatile Midwest has produced violent rage like the knockwurst output at Milwaukee’s venerable Usinger’s — sudden, repeated, and in long unbroken strings. One of the principle catalysts was the rise the Uff Da insurgency, led by the enigmatic Pastor Duane Gunderson, who seek a unified Lutheran caliphate stretching from the Great Plains to Lake Huron, and the banning of non-Big 10/Pac 10 apostates from the Rose Bowl. Gunderson remains in hiding, but his influence was seen last year in the widely publicized Lutefisk desecration riots that rocked the Heartland amid the pancake breakfast holidays.
Still, outside of the Dells and a handful of violent outposts near its western Mississippi River border, Wisconsin remained a relatively calm exception to the Midwestern maelstrom surrounding it — a fact that experts attribute to subtle differences in culture and religion.
“Unlike the ultra-extreme, radical Lutheran sectarians of Iowa and Minnesota, most ethnic Wisconsinites belong to the Wisconsin Lutheran Synod,” said Joseph Killian, a Midwestern Studies professor at Emory University in Atlanta. “And if you add in three Super Bowl titles, easier access to beer, and walleye fishing, and you’re going to have a much calmer and more stable culture.”
All that would change in November with the publication of four cartoons in a Texas office newsletter — cartoons that today have brought this once happily beer-goggled society to the precipice of all-out culture war.
……….
_”While Wisconsin culture is tolerant compared to, say, Iowa, what many outsiders don’t understand is that its ultimate taboo is graven images of Lombardi,” said Nigel Rhys-Jones of Harvard’s Institute of Primitive Anthropology. “The only Lombardi iconography allowed is allegorical, in throw blankets or needlepoint appliques, and must be purchase at craft fairs from chubby Lutheran women in windbreakers. For a Cowboy fan to make cartoons of the Vince is… let’s just say the ultimate sacrilege.”
……….
_The appearance of the cartoons in Wisconsin media sparked a angry reaction in the Packer street, a reaction that some say radical Lutheran clerics were more than happy to foment and nurture with every Packerless playoff game.
……….
_Numerous request to Texas Governor Rick Perry to execute or extradite Davidson to Wisconsin have thusfar gone unheeded, but it is unclear whether the Governor can withstand the growing political pressure for a cathartic public beheading. With nearly one million ethnic immigrant Midwesterners now living in Texas, experts say Perry risks alienating an important voter bloc. More troubling, some analyst believe that south Texas is currently infiltrated by a sleeper cell of tens of thousands of elderly Midwestern snowbirds, each of whom is armed with a Winnebago capable of smashing into a fast food restaurant.
Posted by Veith at 08:18 AM
Hack your kids
Teenagers today have websites, face-books, and blogs where they often write what once would have been private diaries–often detailing their bad, illegal, or disturbing behavior–for the whole world to read. So some of them are now getting more hits: from school officials, cops, and parents. These are calling the kids to account for their misdeeds and “meddling” with the emotional problems they are recording online. Now some of these young bloggers are complaining that their privacy is being invaded!
Young bloggers: When you post something on the internet, it is NOT private. If you don’t want people to read it, don’t put it on the universally-accessible WORLD WIDE web. There is a bit of hardware, though, that you can buy if you want your musings to be private: It’s called a diary. A book with a little lock on it. But I think it’s a good idea for parents to monitor their kids’ sites. Isn’t it?
Posted by Veith at 08:07 AM
Suburban kids’ new drug of choice
is HEROIN. Even here in the upright Midwest, in one of the most affluent and Republican counties in Wisconsin, we have had two young people recently die of a heroin overdose.
Posted by Veith at 08:02 AM
February 09, 2006
Evangelicals’ Climate War
Some prominent evangelicals have organized to teach, preach, and launch TV ads against global warming. The Evangelical Climate Initiative calls for the government to take measures to stop man-made climate change. Click for the statement. Click here for the signatories, which include 39 college presidents and several megachurch pastors, including bestselling author Rick Warren.
But another group of evangelical leaders is opposing this cause. In a separate action, the group has urged the National Association of Evangelicals NOT to take a stand on the global warming controversy. The 20 signatories of that document include Chuck Colson, James Dobson, James Kennedy, and Donald Wildmon.
Who is right? Or, could it be that the church has no particular expertise on this issue, that none of these leaders have standing to speak for the church as a whole, and that pre-occupation with such political/scientific questions on the part of churches is an inappropriate mingling of the Two Kingdoms?
Posted by Veith at 09:41 AM
What does Islam teach about bearing false witness?
Demonstrating their old Lutheran “Here I Stand” spirit, Danish journalists have been digging into the reasons why the Muslim world is in a conflagration over cartoons printed four months ago. It seems a head of the Danish Muslim community went on a tour of Muslim countries not only displaying the cartoons, to which he had included some quasi-pornographic drawings of the prophet that Danish papers never published, but he also included some other out-and-out lies.
Michelle Malkin reports:
I just received a tip from a reader in Denmark with more info about the lying delegation of Danish imams who fabricated anti-Muslim artwork and pinned it on the Jyllands-Posten in December to stoke the jihadists.
In addition to the fake drawings and photos and the other lies included in the Danish imams’ propaganda pamphlet posted over at The Counterterrorism Blog, my reader reports that Danish radio has enumerated additional falsehoods.
The imams reportedly spread lies that the Jyllands-Posten had 120 cartoons, not 12, and that the paper was owned by the government. (There are no state-run newspapers in Denmark.) In addition, the imams reportedly claimed that the Danish government would censor the Koran, burn the Koran, and that Danes were planning to make a blasphemous movie about Mohammed.
Posted by Veith at 08:05 AM
Self-censorship
Remember a post a week or so ago about those Swedish kids hawking the jeans with anti-Christian messages? They said they were going to branch out into anti-Hindu messages. But when asked if they were going to do anti-Islam messages they quickly changed the subject? That is a good example of what Europeans, especially European journalists, are recognizing as “self-censorship.” They recognize that they have been giving Muslims a free pass, not saying what they really think out of sheer, unadulterated FEAR.
THIS is what the Danish cartoonists and the editor were defying when they dared to draw Muhammad as they would feel free to treat any other figure.
The Assist News Service has an informative article on how fear of Muslim retaliation is stifling free speech in many countries, a number of which have gone so far as to pass “anti-vilification laws,” actually PROSECUTING people for criticizing Muslims. It also has some interesting examples that I had not heard, such as the Muslim actor Omar Sharif (always a favorite of mine) being marked for death by Al Qaeda for playing the role of St. Peter.
[That begs for comparison with the gay actor kerfluffle in "The End of the Spear." Conservative Christians blamed the production company, but didn't criticize the actor for taking the job, much less call for his murder. Although maybe we had better find out what the movie was in which a Muslim was cast as St. Peter so we can boycott it.]
Click “continue reading” for the entire article, republished with permission.
ASSIST News Service (ANS) – PO Box 609, Lake Forest, CA 92609-0609 USA_Visit our web site at: www.assistnews.net — E-mail: danjuma1@aol.com
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS, FREE SPEECH RIGHTS UNDER PRESSURE FROM RADICAL ISLAM_Intimidation factor is real following riots and death threats
By Mark Ellis_Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
WASHINGTON (ANS) — Riots throughout the Middle East in response to cartoons published in a Danish newspaper increase the climate of intimidation slowly suffocating free speech rights, one terror consultant believes.
A dozen cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad first published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Poste in September, then reprinted by a Norwegian newspaper last month, launched a violent wave of recent protests against the two countries throughout the Middle East.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a Washington D.C.-based counterterrorism consultant, says the rationale behind the publication of the cartoons is misunderstood. “A lot of people don’t understand the context, including the U.S. State Department and Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary,” he suggests. “There’s a very real pattern of people criticizing Islam being threatened and physically assaulted, so there is a resulting self-censorship.”
The newspapers were not attempting to bash Islam, but to affirm free speech rights, he believes. “This was not an Islamophobic outburst,” Gartenstein-Ross says. “The Dutch newspaper wanted to test this article of self-censorship in order to reaffirm the primacy of free speech.”
Europeans have been going down the wrong path, according to Gartenstein-Ross, by asking if self-censorship might be an acceptable accommodation to maintain social peace. Religious vilification laws, which make the slander of a religion punishable as a crime, have been passed in several European countries. A number of other countries are considering such laws in hopes they will produce social harmony.
“Religious vilification laws are part of the problem,” Gartenstein-Ross believes. “It sends a signal to Muslims that criticism of a religion can be punished through the legal system,” he notes. “We don’t want the state to be the arbiter of acceptable religious discourse.”
“Christians who engage in apologetics will be silenced,” he predicts. “This is happening in both Europe and the U.S.”
Gartenstein-Ross cites the example of Pastor Daniel Scot, convicted of violating Victoria, Australia’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act passed in 2002. Scot fled his native Pakistan in 1987 after they adopted a far-reaching blasphemy law, which prohibited any speech that directly or indirectly defiled the Prophet Muhammad.
Believing Australia would allow him more freedom of expression, Scot engaged in a series of lectures exploring the differences between Christianity and Islam, where he pointedly criticized Islam’s treatment of women and jihad movements. “Whether you agree with his points about the status of women or jihad, they were all legitimate arguments appropriate for religious debate,” Gartenstein-Ross notes. “These were within the bounds of apologetics.” But Scot was convicted—his case is currently under appeal.
In France, actress Bridgette Bardot was fined in 2004 for her outspoken comments against the “Islamization of France” and the “underground and dangerous infiltration of Islam.” Noted Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci will go on trial in June over charges she defamed Islam in her book “The Force of Reason.”
While religious vilification laws may dampen religious dialogue, threats of violence may produce an even greater self-censoring effect. Author Salman Rushdie was forced into hiding after the publication of his book “The Satanic Verses” led to a fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini, requiring Rushdie’s execution for blasphemy against Islam. Last year, Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie was reaffirmed by Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
After the fatwa, Rushdie’s Japanese translator was stabbed and killed in Tokyo, and his Italian translator was beaten and stabbed in Milan. Rushdie’s Norwegian publisher William Nygaard was shot in an attack outside his home in Oslo.
In 1993 Rushdie’s Turkish translator, Azia Nesin, was attacked by a mob who gathered around the Madimak Hotel in Sivas, Turkey, where he was staying. The crowd set fire to the hotel and 37 died as a result, but Nesin managed to escape.
Last October, actor Omar Sharif—a Muslim convert—was threatened with death after he played St. Peter in an Italian television film and made positive comments about the role. An al Qaeda web posting said: “Omar Sharif has stated that he has embraced the crusader idolatry…I give you this advice, brothers, you must kill him.”
Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered in 2004 on a street in Amsterdam after he directed the film “Submission,” which criticized the treatment of women in Muslim families. Islamic radical Mohammed Bouyeri shot Van Gogh eight times before slitting his throat with a kitchen knife and stabbing him in the chest.
The murderer was born in Amsterdam, well-educated and appeared to be well-integrated into Dutch society, but he also had terrorist ties with the Dutch Hofstad terror network.
Gartenstein-Ross does not expect riots in the U.S. because the Muslim population is smaller and better integrated socially, but he does expect more terror attacks. “There is less chance of dramatic attacks like 911, but there is a greater chance of attacks like the ones in Britain on July 7,” he says.
“We must dramatically reassert the importance of free speech and the notion that in a society with vibrant free speech no religion can be above insult.”
Mark Ellis is a Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service. He is also an assistant pastor in Laguna Beach, CA. Contact Ellis at marsalis@fea.net
** You may republish this story with proper attribution.
Posted by Veith at 07:48 AM
February 08, 2006
Collectivists vs. Individualists
I actually know SOME of the answers to the questions I raise in the post below. Back in the 1980′s, lots of students from Muslim countries came to the United States to study in American colleges and universities. (That number has drastically dwindled since then.) We had a lot of them at Concordia University Wisconsin where I was an English professor. (One of them explained why they preferred our school to the other Milwaukee institutions. “Marquette is a Catholic school, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a Jewish school.” A Lutheran school was not nearly as bad, in their way of thinking, as either of those. They considered UW-M Jewish because of the large number of Jewish professors, as well as the fact that the library is named after Milwaukee-native Golda Meier.)
Anyway, these Middle Eastern students went through my English class. And because they had to write essays about what they thought, I learned quite a bit about the Muslim mind. And because they usually needed help, I worked quite a bit with them after class and got to know them on a more personal level. (They appreciated the help. I still have the prayer rug and this tiny, beautifully decorated Q’uran they gave me.)
Everytime they had a chance, depending on the essay assignment, they would write about wanting to kill Jews. They even brought up all of the old Nazi-era anti-semitic slanders. (Maybe that was another reason they wanted to go to a German-heritage Lutheran school!) I admonished them, reasoned with them, called on their own ethical principles, witnessed to them but I could not get these nice, affable, friendly young men to tone down their murderous venom. But in a conversation with one of them, I learned a key insight. “To kill a Jew,” he said, “is our way of striking against Israel. It doesn’t matter if the Jew is an American or if he has nothing to do with Israel. Jews are all connected with each other, so to strike one is to strke them all.”
In other words, this young man and the culture he comes from is a collectivist. They do not see individuals, as such. A Danish aid worker in Iraq is like a cell in the body of Denmark, so that killing him does strike at the other cells that drew those cartoons. They do not see just individual guilt but corporate guilt. And, of course, Americans and Europeans have joined the Jews as legitimate corporate targets of Muslim wrath.
We in the West are arguably TOO individualistic. (The Bible says a great deal about our corporate identity–in Adam, in Christ, in the Church.) Collectivists can be found not only in ancient and tribal cultures, but in modern ideologies such as Fascism and Communism. But looking at people as individuals and not just as groups (encouraged greatly by the Reformation, for instance) is a key facet of Western civilization and is integral to our understanding of freedom, human rights, politics, law, etc., etc. Bringing freedom and democracy for Muslims is well and good, but it will not work to our satisfaction if they remain collectivists and are blind to the individual.
Posted by Veith at 09:10 AM
Questions for Cartoon Rioters
It’s interesting to listen to Muslims explaining why they are rioting, burning, and demanding murder in response to the Danish cartoons. “You do not understand,” they say, “how these pictures of the prophet offend Muslims.” Yes, you are clearly VERY offended. But then it is surely a separate question to examine your behavior when you are offended. Why, when you are offended, are you rioting, burning, and murdering? As opposed to other reactions, such as just getting angry without hurting anyone, writing polemics against idolatry, praying for Allah’s judgement, or vowing to separate from an infidel society?
Also, we now know that your religion forbids making images of the prophet. Muslims may not do this. But do you expect non-Muslims to follow Islamic teachings? The Q’uran forbids the eating of pork. So are the non-Muslims who do eat pork also insulting Islam?
And if your religion demands the idolaters be punished, then I can understand why you want to kill the cartoonists and the newspaper editors who published them. But why are you attacking Danes and even other Europeans who had no connection with the cartoons? The people working in the Danish embassies in Syria and Lebanon did not draw or publish the cartoons. Nor did that priest in Turkey who was killed–he wasn’t even Danish–nor did those German tourists who were kidnapped. You are not harming the guilty by harming the innocent.
Posted by Veith at 08:53 AM
W.W.M.D.?
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has put out an Op-Ed piece being printed in many newspapers that takes a page from American evangelicals by asking, What Would Muhammed Do? The piece quotes a number of examples of the prophet’s benevolence when treating those who insulted him. It’s good to have a Muslim group trying to put out the cartoon fires. CAIR is the source of much of the “Islam is a religion of peace” talk in this country, a case that is increasingly difficult to make.
Posted by Veith at 08:46 AM
February 07, 2006
Lessons in crime
Criminals are reportedly learning from the popular police forensics shows CSI how to cover their tracks. The show has taught them, for example, that bleach destroys DNA, so they are increasingly using bleach to try to clean up the crime scene.
Posted by Veith at 09:13 AM
Muhammad’s image
is on the facade of the Supreme Court building, along with other “lawgivers,” such as Moses with the 10 Commandments. HT to Michelle Malkin, who posts the picture and asks if Islamic rioters will now attack the Supreme Court.
There has been a movement to take out representations of the 10 Commandments from court houses. Defenders of having them there have pointed to this frieze, which depicts the Mosaic Law on our nation’s highest court. Those sculptures are not so much “interfaith” as bearing testimony to what our commenter Kobra keeps bringing up as the “natural law” common to everyone, which is, however, an expression in the created order of the transcendent moral law grounded in the righteousness of God. But maybe we should sandblast that whole frieze away, so as to placate the secularists, the anti-natural law Christians who would object to the “ecumenical” nature of the display, and the radical Muslims.
Posted by Veith at 08:50 AM
The joy of the Lord is your strength
Please indulge me with another foray into another obscure but wonderful text of Scripture. In my Bible read-through discipline, I came last night to Nehemiah 8. A group of exiles has come back from Babylon to Jerusalem and just finished re-building the wall. Nehemiah gathers everyone together and has the priest Ezra read to them the Torah, the books of Moses. (I have the text for you. Click “continued reading.”)
Look at what all is here. Ezra read the Law, but his fellow priests and the Levites “helped the people understand it” and “gave them the sense.” (Preaching.) This makes the people weep. (They are pierced by the Law.) The priests and Levites then comfort the people. (Bringing to them the promises of the Gospel. Emphasizing the holiness of the day also speaks to us of what happens when we go to church.) Specifically, they gave them a powerful Word of God that we all can cling to in our weakness and troubles: “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
_Nehemiah 8
8:1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, [1] helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, [2] and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Posted by Veith at 08:35 AM
Ibzon, Elon, and Abdon
Paul S chastized me (more harshly than he intended to, he said) about contemplating three obscure Judges when we could have been discussing something more relevant. (That was in a comment to yesterday’s “Zoroastrianism” post, in reference to the recent “Law or Gospel” post asking for what we can learn from Judges 12: 8-15.) But I can’t think of many things more relevant, either to our culture or our everyday lives, than these judges, who apparently never did anything worth recording beyond having large families.
They testify to the spiritual significance of ORDINARY LIFE. The daily substance of our lives, as well as our culture, is taken up with just ordinary activities, not the spectacular sins and good works and challenges that most of the Judges had to deal with. And that, as this text shows, that ordinary life is in need of the judgment of God’s Word, and these three obscure men were used by God to bring that Word to His people. (I’d think pastors slogging away in their parishes would love Ibzon, Elon, and Abdon.)
They took care of their families, married off their kids, and then they died. But they were part of the chain of God’s promises that found their culmination in Christ. (My take does indeed parallel what a lot of you said.) Ibzon, Elon, and Abdon are indeed great testimonies to the doctrine of vocation.
Posted by Veith at 08:20 AM
February 06, 2006
Church growth for Zoroastrians
The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating article on how Zoroastrians (subscription required) are trying to keep their religion alive.
Zoroastrianism is older than Christianity, going back 3,500 years. Its adherents live mostly in India and Iran, as well as places where these folks have immigrated, including the United States. They essentially worship fire, venerating also the other ancient elements. They have the curious burial practice of neither burying nor cremating their dead (which would contaminate either the sacred earth or the sacred fire). So they build special structures called “towers of silence” that facilitate the body’s being eaten by vultures.
The problem is, there are only about 200,000 Zoroastrians left. They do not allow for converts. (If they did, they would probably get some. Freddy Mercury, the late singer for Queen–”We are the champions,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” etc.–was a Zoroastrian apparently in the only way that is recognized, by birth.) And their centuries of in-breeding has created fertility problems. So Zoroastrians today are using the internet for matchmaking and fertility clinics to increase the number of baby Zoroastrians being born.
Notice that, despite the common perception, not all religions ARE the same. But maybe they just need to update their worship, use some praise songs, and hire a church growth consultant.
Posted by Veith at 12:45 PM
Baby Boomers turn 60 without growing up
This is the year the first wave of baby boomers born after World War II turn 60. I am not there yet, but I’m talkin’ ’bout my generation. My fellow 60′s veterans, I appeal to you: Just give it up! Let go. We had our time. Let the younger generations have their time. We are going to be making the rest of the world very sick of us, at this rate.
This spectacle of the Rolling Stones playing Super Bowl XL was just too much. (Again, note the baby boomer’s postmodernist indifference to meaning: The mini-concert had no connection to football, to America, or even to Detroit. If anyone wanted 60′s music, why not a tribute to the Mo-town sound?)_As Mick Jagger himself pointed out, they could have been singing the same songs at Super Bowl I. We baby boomers still listen to the same songs as when we were adolescents! And, worse, we still think we are cool!
Posted by Veith at 09:02 AM
Postmodernism & the Super Bowl: Commercials
No Super Bowl commentary is complete without saying something about the commercials. This year the admen were trying way too hard, to the point that few of them were interesting, witty, or even mildly amusing. But note the postmodern phenomenon of how the image is everything, with NO concern for content or even meaning. Could you tell what product the commercials were advertising?
The vulgar commercial with the woman’s blouse strap straining, then breaking might have inspired you to buy the product it advertised (though it is hard to see how), but it had nothing to do with the product that GoDaddy.com sells. (I’m sure hardly any of the viewers has any idea what that product is. Something about internet domain names, I believe.) But, I guess, the company spent $2.5 million for every 30 seconds it aired in order to have a “sexy” image, something apparently prized by computer nerds.
And what was the connection between mortage insurance and that tasteless scene of a doctor zapping a bug and making a little girl think her daddy is dead?
These commercials are only symptomatic of what is happening throughout our culture, including the church: Substance doesn’t matter. Just image, sensation, and making an impression.
Posted by Veith at 08:31 AM
The Agony of Defeat
Weighing the arguments of the various sides posted on the “How do you decide who to root for” post, I decided to root for the Seattle Seahawks. Now I’m miserable. And I didn’t even really care!
Back when the Milwaukee Brewers were in the World Series in 1982, they got beat by St. Louis. But still, they were in the World Series. Everybody felt great about it. The team was given a tickertape parade and a hero’s welcome.
But in football, it is not enough to get into the Super Bowl if you don’t win it. When the Packers lost to Denver in Super Bowl XXI (that is, to use another calendar,1997 A.D.), the whole state of Wisconsin and Packer fans in the diaspora were devastated. (That game, by the way, had many similarities to Super Bowl XL, from the way Coach Holmgren managed the clock to the way his team was inches and penalties away from a victory. The Seahawks are indeed Packers West.) So condolences to Seattle fans. And congratulations to Pittsburgh. I did like that team, as I was watching them. Too bad I wasn’t rooting for them!
Posted by Veith at 08:20 AM
February 03, 2006
How do you decide who to root for?
The people I know in Seattle and Pittsburgh are all fired up about the Super Bowl, and I’m glad for them. But what about the rest of us? Usually, one just doesn’t watch a game in which one has no dog in the fight. But it’s a national ritual to watch the Super Bowl, and doing so as a mere disinterested objective observer–or someone who just wants to watch the new commercials–seems to miss the point of what is, in fact, a football game.
So I’m curious how people without any particular ties to either of the teams choose which side to be for. Do you go for the underdog? Or the overdog? Do you decide on which city you like best? Or which city you like least? Or, in a variation, which inhabitants you would like to endure the agony of defeat (Seattle’s Bill Gates or Pittsburgh’s ketchup magnate Mrs. John Kerry)? The team with some sort of tie to the team you do follow? Or the team with a coach or player who interests you for some reason? Or what?
In my case, as a bereft Packer fan, I am torn. The city of Pittsburgh is more like Milwaukee, a blue-collar but also completely under-rated city with all those good Midwestern values. That gives it a big leg up over Seattle, which is way too trendy, with all of those rich computer geniuses, grunge rockers, and expresso coffee shops. (Sorry for the stereotyping, friends in that part of the country, which also in its favor has Boeing, loggers, and the Columbia River, but I am just showing how my mind works on this issue.) Then again, the Seahawks and the Packers have had a symbiotic relationship over the last few years. The Seahawks have been taking the Packers of their last Super Bowl era (coach Mike Holmgren, Favre’s backup quarterback Mike Hasselback). And the Packers have taken cast-off Seahawks (now ex-coach Mike Sherman, once good but short-lived running back Desmond Howard, new general manager Ron Thompson). So I’m leaning towards the Seahawks for their Packer connections. But I could be wrong. And I could change my allegiance if someone gives me a better argument.
Posted by Veith at 11:54 AM
Another unlikely convert?
The Lord likes to bring people we would never expect to Himself, from St. Paul to Anne Rice, and lots of us. Now the radical feminist author Naomi Wolf is saying that she has had a transforming encounter with Jesus. Read this with commentary from John Mark Reynolds, the blogger on WORLD’ Zeitgeist site. Here is a sampling of what Ms. Wolf is saying:
“I was completely dumbfounded but I actually had this vision of … of Jesus, and I’m sure it was Jesus.” Anticipating a raised eyebrow, she adds quickly: “But it wasn’t this crazy theological thing; it was just this figure who was the most perfected human being – full of light and full of love. And completely accessible. Any of us could be like that. There was light coming out of him holographically, simply because he was unclouded. But any of us could become that as human beings.”
Although disturbed , she was also elated. “On a mystical level, it was complete joy and happiness and there were tears running down my face. On a conscious level, when I came out of it I was absolutely horrified because I’m Jewish. This was not the thing I’m supposed to have confront me.”
What do you think about this? Anne Rice came to Christianity from reading the Bible. God does not HAVE to work through means. Perhaps a Road to Damascus vision might be needed to get through to some people, though St. Paul was immediately directed to an ordinary churchman for Baptism and instruction. And I don’t see that Ms. Wolf’s encounter entailed repentance and clinging to Christ’s forgiveness. This kind of mystical experience is favored today, of course, but it seems incomplete. But I don’t want to minimize the possibility that Ms. Wolf may be becoming a Christian. Maybe now that Ms. Wolf thinks she has seen Jesus, she will listen to Him, read what He has to say in His book, and be received into a good church.
Posted by Veith at 10:22 AM
Law, Gospel, or What?
As part of a project that I’m not prepared to explain right now, I am studying the Book of Judges. I was asked,among other things, to apply that most illuminating paradigm of Law/Gospel in unpacking these wonderful, yet often strangely disturbing narratives. Keeping in mind also what 1 Timothy 3:16 says, that ALL Scripture is profitable for us, what would you do with Judges 12: 8-13? All it does is cite three judges–Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon–saying nothing about them other than that two of them had very large families, and that they judged Israel, died, and buried. I actually came up with something to say about this passage, but I’m curious what you all might do with this.
Posted by Veith at 10:22 AM
New Lutheran book site
Here is a new blog to bookmark and visit frequently: Luther Library. It will be a forum for reviewing, recommending, and discussing books. Also film and software. A bunch of the bloggers on the Cranach roll at the right of this page, as well as regular commenters, are going to be involved with this. Including me. So join the party.
Posted by Veith at 09:00 AM
Google helping keep Christianity out of Chiina
The Junkyardblog tested the Chinese version of Google, programmed to keep the still-Communist government happy and in control. It does, he found, filter out most (though not all) searches relating to Jesus Christ and Christianity.
I wonder if Google’s recent precipitous stock plunge–in which company shares lost some 9 billion dollars–had anything to do with the perception that Google, whose motto is “Don’t Be Evil,” has sold out in censoring China (while at the same time refusing to co-operate with US child pornography investigations). The word in the Wall Street Journal was that the company’s posted earnings were not as much as people expected, but those earnings were still huge, not meriting such a sell-off. Google is partially a mystique stock for some people, who may sell their shares when they get mad at a company.
(HT: Michele Malkin)
Posted by Veith at 08:00 AM
February 02, 2006
The Kennewick Man
In 1996, just outside of Kennewick, Washington, some college students found a skeleton in the Columbia River. Archeologists determined that it was some 9,000 years old, making the Kennewick Man one of the oldest human beings ever discovered in the Americas. Then the archeologists made a further discovery. He was Caucasian.
If he was not a forebear of American Indians, what was he and how did he get there? Are the “native Americans”–with all of their claims to the land based on being the original inhabitants–not native at all? Did they invade across the landbridge and wipe out an earlier population related to Western Europeans? Or was Kennewick a prehistoric Columbus, coming here before the invention of the wheel? And if so, how did he manage that? And if he was some kind of European, how did he get all the way to the West Coast?
Indian tribes in Washington State quickly invoked the laws protecting tribal remains, calling him one of their own and insisting that his body must not be studied. But scientists contested that position. A judge ruled in favor of the scientists, the Indian appeals have now been exhausted, and the studies are just getting into gear.
One of them, being conducted at the University of Wisconsin, is especially intriguing. It seems that tooth enamel takes on the mineral profile of the region where one was born. Scientists can actually tell, by studying the isotope ratios in your teeth, whether you were born in Texas or Wisconsin, Europe or Asia. The Kennewick man’s teeth will tell us whether he was born in Europe, Asia, or Washington state, or wherever. (This will be cross-checked with data from the teeth of mammals from all of these areas dating from the same period of time.) Tooth study can also tell us what he ate–was he a hunter? a gatherer? a farmer?–and thus about his culture.
This is a scholarly mystery worth following.
Posted by Veith at 09:01 AM
Cruel and unusual punishment
Four male prison inmates are suing the state of Wisconsin for the right for hormone therapy and a sex-change operation. Failure to provide this treatment, according to the American Civil Liberties Union which is representing the prisoners, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
This is not just a frivolous suit from jailhouse lawyers. One of the men, serving 123 years for armed robbery and a stabbing, was diagnosed as having “gender identity disorder” and has been receiving female hormones 1999. When the state legislature heard about this use of taxpayer money, it passed a bill forbidding such treatment for prisoners. A federal judge, though, refused to allow the law to come into effect. So the prisoners–now four of them–are still getting their female hormones until that same judge rules on the constitutionality of the statute. If they win–and the judge seems sympathetic to their cause–prisoners across the nation may find themselves with a new constitutional right. And, presumably, more transfers between men’s and women’s prisons.
Posted by Veith at 08:21 AM
The cartoon revolution
I’m not saying it’s a good idea for newspapers to publish inflammatory cartoons blaspheming someone’s religion (see yesterday’s post and updates). The European press is exhibiting a sort of childish and thus naive glee in shouting “in your face, Muslims!” It is motivated by that aggressive, anti-religious secularism that we blogged about some time ago. And because it knows nothing of religion, the Europeans do not realize the consequence of what they are doing in stirring the hornet’s nest of religious fanaticism. Now Europe can expect not just boycotts and complaints but terrorist attacks, including social disorder from their own substantial Muslim populations.
But the cartoons and the violence sure to come will at least put the Europeans back on our side. Not that the Europeans will help us any more in Iraq (though the Danes have 500 troops there as part of our coalition of the willing). The anti-religious secularists think we are too religious too, like the Muslims, which is a major reason why Europeans tend not to like us anymore. And despite the left’s portrayal of our efforts in Iraq as a sinister imperialistic oil grab, in reality it could be faulted more rationally for being too idealistic in assuming Islam can be the basis for a free society. True anti-Muslims think that is impossible. Whether it is or not remains to be seen. We at least are fighting radical jihadists with military power. The Europeans will soon see that fighting them with insulting cartoons is not going to be enough.
Posted by Veith at 08:03 AM
February 01, 2006
Danes getting drawn into the Clash of Civilizations
Denmark is a country with a rich Christian–and Lutheran–heritage, which–following the trends of the rest of Europe–it has been jettisoning in favor of bland secularism, leftist ideology, and politically-correct omni-tolerance. But now, against their will, Danes are being dragged into the conflict with radical Islam.
A Danish newspaper and its cartoonists have been printing drawings of Muhammed. Visual representations of religious figures are forbidden in Islam as idolatrous. So Muslims around the world are rioting, burning Danish flags, and threatening economic boycots and physical violence against Denmark.
But the Danes, in their public opinion, are defiant. Even the prime minister, Fogh Rasmussen, is backing the newspaper and refusing to back down. The newspaper yesterday did print an apology, which a Danish Muslim group has accepted, but other Muslims–from Saudi Arabia to terrorists in Iraq–are still irate. For the controversy and the exceedingly mild cartoons, click here.
The cartoons show the Prophet with a blanked-out face, which is the convention used in Muslim countries to avoid violating the Koranic prohibition of images. But, of course, that does come across as more mockery. It is worth asking about our reaction to irreverent depictions of Christ. But that happens all the time, including in Muslim newspapers. Christians are right to be offended. But is our anger directed not just at the perpetrators but at the COUNTRY where the perpetrators live?
UPDATE: Now newspapers in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain are reprinting the cartoons, in support of freedom of the press. So did a newspaper in France, but the editor got fired for offending Muslim sensibilities. But everywhere else, Europeans are supporting the cartoons, while Muslims worldwide–already organizing boycotts of Danish products–are spreading their outrage. How odd that cartoons are proving such a catalyst.
UPDATE: Now, newspapers in Iceland, Finland, and Mexico have printed the cartoons. But as of right now, American newspapers have not! (If you see any sightings, let us know.)
_(HT: Michelle Malkin)
Posted by Veith at 09:41 AM
Christian as the New Gay
Read my post below. And, having said that, I can’t resist posting this quote from Hanna Rosin, writing in the recent Slate. She discusses the phenomenon showing up on many TV shows of having a conservative Christian as a minor character, more or less sympathetically (though often ignorantly) portrayed:
For the scriptwriters and the producers, being so openly, conventionally, religious is a mark of their authenticity and great sensitivity. Writing a God-fearing character into a script these days gives you the right to feel brave and worthy, just as writing a gay character did a decade ago.
It may be that the secular culture is seeing Christians as so reviled, so strange, so “other,” that they become legitimate objects of tolerance! (HT: Greg Jones from the main World Blog site)
Posted by Veith at 08:30 AM
Morality and Religion
I accept revcwirla’s rebuke on yesterday’s “Learn from the Gays” post that I should not have made a dichotomy between “Homosexuals” and “Christians.” Of course there are Christians who struggle with homosexual desires. I also agree with Rick Ritchie and Kobra that religion and morality are two different categories. In Christianity, as I have often written, morality (the Law) is indeed for everyone of all faith or no faith–grounded as Kobra says in the Creation itself–while what makes us Christian is not some different morality that we follow but the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through which we are forgiven for our IMMORALITY.
The way Christians try to frame moral issues as religious issues has indeed brought in the “separation of church and state” claim to keep Christians out of the legitimate moral debates that need to be going on in our culture. It also has completely confused the secular world. If you have done any witnessing lately to non-Christians, you will note that most of them have no idea that Christianity is about grace, forgiveness, the Incarnation, and the Atonement. They assume, based on the impression they have picked up, that Christianity is all about strict moralism. They do not realize that there is any such thing in Christianity as the GOSPEL.
So, the public dismisses us as “haters” and gets scared of us. Talk about Christians having a “poor witness”! This confusion has done more to marginalize Christianity and prevent Christian influence than anything else, in an area that really matters, namely, the salvation of sinners.
Posted by Veith at 08:00 AM
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January 31, 2006
For cultural influence, learn from the gays
The Wall Street Journal published a fascinating analysis (subscription only) of how the gay-cowboy flick “Brokeback Mountain” was marketed, how it broke out of the expected art house and gay market into the mainstream, where it is now poised to collect an armload of Oscars and where it is influencing the whole culture for the gay agenda.
How did “Brokeback” break out? By surgically targeting where the movie would play in its initial release; selling it as a romance for women rather than a controversial gay-bashing tale; and opting out of the culture wars rather than engaging them.
Careful theater-by-theater release in sympathetic, but non-gay markets built up its word-of-mouth reputation. The trailers were carefully constructed so as to appeal to women, presenting the film as a “romantic love story,” which women are apparently suckers for, even if the romance is between members of the same sex. (I am not saying this! The marketers are!) And the marketers skillfully avoided any big culture war flap, not allowing the movie to be used by gay rights activists to push their political agenda. (After all, the cultural agenda is far more important, since politics follows culture.)
Let’s compare that to how the Christian missionary movie “The End of the Spear” was handled. I don’t believe “Brokeback Mountain” fans turned against the movie because its star Heath Ledger is a hetereosexual. Nor did they demand ideological purity. (In “Brokeback,” the gay lovers also have heterosexual relationships, dating cowgirls, getting married, having kids–despite the party line that homosexuality is part of a person’s unalterable identity.) And they certainly did not stir up a controversy about the movie in their own ranks, organizing boycotts and denouncing their own side.
Homosexuals have done an unparalled job of influencing the culture. In just a few years, they have changed their image to one of strong cultural sympathy and approval. Christians too want to influence the culture, but our image keeps getting worse. As Our Lord himself said, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).
Posted by Veith at 09:53 AM
The WORST movie nominees
Perhaps more satisfying than the Oscar nominations for the reportedly “best” movies of the last year are the Razzie nominations for the “worst.” Click “continue reading” for that list. We are accepting nominations or seconds from the floor.
The Razzie nominations
Worst Picture
Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo _Dirty Love _Dukes of Hazzard _House of Wax _Son of the Mask
Worst Actor
Tom Cruise – War of the Worlds _Will Ferrell – Bewitched and Kicking & Screaming_Jamie Kennedy – Son of the Mask _The Rock – Doom _Rob Schneider – Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo
Worst Actress
Jessica Alba – Fantastic Four and Into the Blue _Hilary Duff – Cheaper by the Dozen 2 and The Perfect Man _Jennifer Lopez – Monster in Law _Jenny McCarthy – Dirty Love _Tara Reid – Alone in the Dark
Most Tiresome Tabloid Targets
Tom Cruise & His Anti-Psychiatry Rant _Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Oprah Winfrey’s Couch, The Eiffel Tower & “Tom’s Baby”_Paris Hilton and…Who-EVER! _Mr. & Mrs. Britney, Their Baby & Their Camcorder _The Simpsons: Ashlee, Jessica & Nick
Worst Screen Couple
Will Ferrell & Nicole Kidman – Bewitched _Jamie Kennedy & ANYBODY Stuck Sharing the Screen with Him – Son of the Mask _Jenny McCarthy & ANYONE Dumb Enough to Befriend or Date Her – Dirty Love _Rob Schneider & His Diapers – Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo _Jessica Simpson & Her “Daisy Dukes” – The Dukes of Hazzard
Worst Remake Or Sequel
Bewitched _Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo _Dukes of Hazzard _House of Wax _Son of the Mask
Posted by Veith at 09:29 AM
Academy Award nominations
The Academy Award nominations were released. I list them all after “continue reading.” The best picture nominations are ALL politically-charged flicks, except for “Capote” (which would get my vote–yes, the character is flamboyantly gay, thus fitting in with the other politically-correct nominees, but the movie itself was about crime and the corruption of writing). “Chronicles of Narnia” got three technical nominations: for sound mixing, make-up, and special effects (a good one, I suppose, these days). Your opinions on these nominations are welcome.
_List of the 78th annual Oscar nominations
_1. Best Picture: “Brokeback Mountain,” “Capote,” “Crash,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Munich.”
2. Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Capote”; Terrence Howard, “Hustle & Flow”; Heath Ledger, “Brokeback Mountain”; Joaquin Phoenix, “Walk the Line”; David Strathairn, “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
3. Actress: Judi Dench, “Mrs. Henderson Presents”; Felicity Huffman, “Transamerica”; Keira Knightley, “Pride & Prejudice”; Charlize Theron, “North Country”; Reese Witherspoon, “Walk the Line.”
4. Supporting Actor: George Clooney, “Syriana”; Matt Dillon, “Crash”; Paul Giamatti, “Cinderella Man”; Jake Gyllenhaal, “Brokeback Mountain”; William Hurt, “A History of Violence.”
5. Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, “Junebug”; Catherine Keener, “Capote”; Frances McDormand, “North Country”; Rachel Weisz, “The Constant Gardener”; Michelle Williams, “Brokeback Mountain.”
6. Director: Ang Lee, “Brokeback Mountain”; Bennett Miller, “Capote”; Paul Haggis, “Crash”; George Clooney, “Good Night, and Good Luck.”; Steven Spielberg, “Munich.”
7. Foreign Film: “Don’t Tell,” Italy; “Joyeux Noel,” France; “Paradise Now,” Palestine; “Sophie Scholl – The Final Days,” Germany; “Tsotsi,” South Africa.
8. Adapted Screenplay: Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana, “Brokeback Mountain”; Dan Futterman, “Capote”; Jeffrey Caine, “The Constant Gardener”; Josh Olson, “A History of Violence”; Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, “Munich.”
9. Original Screenplay: Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco, “Crash”; George Clooney & Grant Heslov, “Good Night, and Good Luck.”; Woody Allen, “Match Point”; Noah Baumbach, “The Squid and the Whale”; Stephen Gaghan, “Syriana.”
10. Animated Feature Film: “Howl’s Moving Castle”; “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride”; “Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit.”
11. Art Direction: “Good Night, and Good Luck.,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “King Kong,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Pride & Prejudice.”
12. Cinematography: “Batman Begins,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Good Night, and Good Luck.,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “The New World.”
13. Sound Mixing: “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “King Kong,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Walk the Line,” “War of the Worlds.”
14. Sound Editing: “King Kong,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “War of the Worlds.”
15. Original Score: “Brokeback Mountain,” Gustavo Santaolalla; “The Constant Gardener,” Alberto Iglesias; “Memoirs of a Geisha,” John Williams; “Munich,” John Williams; “Pride & Prejudice,” Dario Marianelli.
16. Original Song: “In the Deep” from “Crash,” Kathleen “Bird” York and Michael Becker; “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from “Hustle & Flow,” Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman and Paul Beauregard; “Travelin’ Thru” from “Transamerica,” Dolly Parton.
17. Costume: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “Walk the Line.”
18. Documentary Feature: “Darwin’s Nightmare,” “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “March of the Penguins,” “Murderball,” “Street Fight.”
19. Documentary (short subject): “The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club,” “God Sleeps in Rwanda,” “The Mushroom Club,” “A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin.”
20. Film Editing: “Cinderella Man,” “The Constant Gardener,” “Crash,” “Munich,” “Walk the Line.”
21. Makeup: “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Cinderella Man,” “Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith.”
22. Animated Short Film: “Badgered,” “The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation,” “The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello,” “9,” “One Man Band.”
23. Live Action Short Film: “Ausreisser (The Runaway),” “Cashback,” “The Last Farm,” “Our Time Is Up,” “Six Shooter.”
24. Visual Effects: “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “King Kong,” “War of the Worlds.”
___
Academy Award winners previously announced this year:
Honorary Award (Oscar statuette): Robert Altman.
The Gordon E. Sawyer award (Oscar statuette): Gary Demos.
_
Posted by Veith at 08:24 AM
Mozart and 2 Live Crew
No one could figure out the allusion in the title of the “Go Mozart, Go Mozart” post. The reference is to a rap by hip-hop artist Luther Campbell, formerly of 2 Live Crew’, entitled “It’s Your Birthday” released in 1994. It contains the immortal lyrics:
“Go Freddie! Go! Go! Go Freddie! Go! Go! Go Freddie! It’s your birthday. It’s your birthday. It’s your birthday.”
It then keeps repeating with various other names (“Go Sheila! . . .Go Derrick! . . .) Don’t ask me how I know this. I hope you appreciate the great range and scope of this blog. Mozart, rap, baptism, firearms, law, humor, foreign policy, literature, chicken fried steak.
Posted by Veith at 06:42 AM
January 30, 2006
EAT cafe makes Gourmet Magazine
I grew up in Vinita, Oklahoma, a little town on the old Rt. 66 with about 6000 people, when everyone is at home. The place where everyone went to eat is Clanton’s Cafe. It’s in a building painted bright green and is adorned with a big neon sign saying “EAT.” Clanton’s is a real down-home place, with some of the best breakfasts you’ll ever eat and a chicken fried steak that is so good it would make you cry. When I was a kid, I pretty much took it for granted, though we make a point of eating there everytime we go back to Vinita for a visit.
Well, Clanton’s Cafe with its big EAT sign is written up in this month’s GOURMET MAGAZINE! That’s right. An issue that also discusses Jovia and the Pegu Club in New York City and Da Alceste al Buon Gusto in Rome devotes nearly two pages to Clanton’s. Two food writers were cruising the old Rt. 66 and obeyed Clanton’s sign. Now they are rhapsodizing in print over that chicken fried steak. And rightly so. (Sorry, but GOURMET MAGAZINE does not post its articles on the web.)
If the nation’s gourmands want to travel to a culinary mecca now that New Orleans is out of commission, I would recommend going to Vinita. Another place connoisseurs should try, in addition to Clanton’s, is Big Dawgz. I can see why GOURMET MAGAZINE missed it because it’s tucked inside a convenience store called Shout ‘n’ Sack. Big Dawgz has THE best BBQ ribs ever. They are huge, Flintstone size, smoked to the point of sublimation, and rubbed with the most perfect of spices. (Gourmet tip: Skip the sauce. Properly smoked and seasoned BBQ does not need it.) Big Dawgz also has the best hamburgers in America, somehow cooked on the same smoker.
If you know similar places that deserve writeups in GOURMET MAGAZINE, please post them here.
Posted by Veith at 10:25 AM
The freedom of pornography, but not the freedom of speech
According to Wisconsin election law, anyone who spends more than $25 a year advocating the election or defeat of a particular candidate must register as an independent committee, disclose all financing, and follow other campaign regulations. That would seem to include blogs.
Thus far, the Federal Election Commission has given blogs a “press exemption,” giving them the same rights as the news media to express an opinion. But a federal judge has questioned that ruling. Campaign finance law fans are seeing this as a loophole, allowing free advertising for candidates. After all, TV campaign ads are tightly regulated, so why not blogs?
Today, advocates of “free speech” are expending their energy defending the right to pornography. While political speech is increasingly controlled and restricted by the federal government, to the great benefit of incumbent lawmakers. But which kind of speech do the think the founders had in mind when they passed the First Amendment? Which is more important to maintaining a democratic republic?
Posted by Veith at 08:37 AM
Country of refuge
Illegal immigrants crossing from Mexico into the USA is not our only border problem. Illegal Americans crossing from the USA into Mexico is another. Mexico has a law forbidding the extradition of anyone facing the death penalty. So killers from the USA are getting off scot free just by going to Mexico. Other criminals too are finding Mexico a safe haven, though the country is willing extradite some of them, an expensive, laborious, and often futile process for American prosecutors. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a provocative article about this issue. Currently Milwaukee police have 23 homicide suspects at large. Twenty of those are known to be in Mexico.
Posted by Veith at 08:25 AM
January 27, 2006
Found on Lost
We Tivo the shows we want to watch so we can see them at our leisure. And our only leisure is Friday nights. We just watched “Lost.” The episode hinged on and culminated in baptism! Both the mother and her baby. It was spoken of in terms of Christ freeing people from their sins. What with the wise, loving, yet macho African who always quotes the Bible–a rare POSITIVE portrayal of a Christian on TV–and now adding the sacramental dimension so often missing even on “Christian” television, “Lost” may be the most Christian program on TV!
Posted by Veith at 06:17 PM
Go Mozart, Go Mozart
Happy birthday to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who turns 250 today. Here is a tip for anyone wanting to upgrade their musical taste to classical music: start with Mozart. His tunes are so fast, so rhythmic, so happy, that, I venture to say, anyone will love them. He is more accessible than Bach or Beethoven. Those who have tried to listen to classical music and found it “boring” were probably listening to some of those slow 19th century romantics. But Mozart is never boring. On the contrary, he is precisely stimulating. (It was Mozart music playing in the background that raised those kids’ math scores. His music somehow manages to be both soothing and stimulating at the same time.) Try Mozart. Then you can go move on to the harder stuff.
Posted by Veith at 08:45 AM
Canada Dry political satire
This brings together two previous threads: laugh inducers and Canadian politics. The Rev. Steven Weiss (a former student who managed to make something of himself) in his comment to the former topic said that a reliable laugh inducer is the Canadian columnist Mark Steyn. Judging from what he had to say about the recent Canadian elections, I would have to agree. Here is a sampling, from a column printed in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required). [I have ethical qualms about copying articles from for-pay sites, so I'll just share with you some excerpts]:
Remember the conventional wisdom of 2004? Back then, you’ll recall, it was the many members of George Bush’s “unilateral” coalition who were supposed to be in trouble, not least the three doughty warriors of the Anglosphere — the president, Tony Blair and John Howard — who would all be paying a terrible electoral price for lying their way into war in Iraq. The Democrats’ position was that Mr. Bush’s rinky-dink nickel-&-dime allies didn’t count: The president has “alienated almost everyone,” said Jimmy Carter, “and now we have just a handful of little tiny countries supposedly helping us in Iraq.” (That would be Britain, Australia, Poland, Japan . . .) Instead of those nobodies, John Kerry pledged that, under his leadership, “America will rejoin the community of nations” — by which he meant Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schröder, the Belgian guy . . .
Two years on, Messrs. Bush, Blair, Howard and Koizumi are all re-elected, while Mr. Chirac is the lamest of lame ducks, and his ingrate citizenry have tossed out his big legacy, the European Constitution; Mr. Schröder’s government was defeated and he’s now shilling for Russia’s state-owned Gazprom (“It’s all about Gaz!”); and the latest member of the coalition of the unwilling to hit the skids is Canada’s Liberal Party, which fell from office on Monday. John Kerry may have wanted to “rejoin the community of nations.” Instead, “the community of nations” has joined John Kerry, windsurfing off Nantucket in electric-yellow buttock-hugging Lycra, or whatever he’s doing these days.
It would be a stretch to argue that Mr. Chirac, Mr. Schröder and now Paul Martin in Ottawa ran into trouble because of their anti-Americanism. Au contraire, cheap demonization of the Great Satan is almost as popular in the streets of Toronto as in the streets of Islamabad. But these days anti-Americanism is the first refuge of the scoundrel, and it’s usually a reliable indicator that you’re not up to the challenges of the modern world or of your own country. In the final two weeks of the Canadian election, Mr. Martin’s Liberals unleashed a barrage of anti-Conservative attack ads whose ferocity was matched only by their stupidity: They warned that Stephen Harper, the Conservatives’ leader, would be “George Bush’s new best friend”! They dug up damaging quotes from a shocking 1997 speech in which he’d praised America as “a light and inspiration”! Another week and they’d have had pictures from that summer in the late ’80s he spent as Dick Cheney’s pool boy.
Mr. Harper, the incoming prime minister, will not be “George Bush’s new best friend” — that’s a more competitive field than John Kerry and Jimmy Carter think. But at the very least a Harper government won’t rely on reflexive anti-Americanism as the defining element of Canadian identity. No cheery right-wingers south of the border should exaggerate what happened on Monday. It was an act of political hygiene: The Liberal Party was mired in a swamp of scandals, the most surreal of which was a racket to shore up the anti-separatist cause in Quebec by handing out millions of free Canadian flags, a project which so overburdened the domestic flag industry the project had to be outsourced to overseas companies, who at a cost of $45 each sent back a gazillion flags that can’t fly. That’s to say, they had no eyelets, no sleeve, no halyard line for your rope and toggle and whatnot. You have to lean a ladder up against the pole and nail it into position, which on a January morning at Lac St-Jean hardly seems likely to endear nationalist Quebecers to the virtues of the Canadian state. Millions of dollars were transferred to “advertising agencies” and “consultancies” run by the party’s pals and in return they came up with a quintessentially Liberal wheeze: Even if you wanted to salute it, you can’t run it up the flagpole. As a forlorn emblem of Trudeaupian nationalism, that’s hard to beat.
. . . . . . . . . .
_On missile defense, the Conservatives will string along with Washington because it’s the easy option and we’ll be covered by it anyway: Even Canadians aren’t prepared to argue that, if there’s something headed toward Winnipeg or Montreal, we’d rather the Americans minded their own bloody business and didn’t tell us about it. But it’s a good gauge of the deterioration in U.S.-Canadian relations that a quintessential piece of postmodern, humbug multilateralism — an issue that required Canada to be minimally supportive without being helpful, at no political cost and in return for some lucrative contracts for northern defense contractors — was whooped up by the Liberals into a big scare about Washington’s plans for the “weaponization of space.” On missile defense, Mr. Harper will be more down to earth in every sense.
But will there be Canadian troops in Iraq or wherever’s next? No, not in any meaningful sense. The sad fact is, even if we’d wanted to liberate Baghdad, we have an emaciated military worn to the bone. But it goes beyond the lack of equipment and lack of transport that now afflict what was, 60 years ago, the world’s fourth largest military. In April 2002, the Pentagon wished to confer the Bronze Star on five snipers from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Afghanistan for their service in . . . killing the enemy. Ottawa put the request on hold, relenting grudgingly only after the matter was made public. It seems the Canadian government’s main objection was a reluctance to let it be known that our military still, er, shoots people, and extremely accurately. The backs of our five-dollar bills celebrate the armed forces, but they’re all unarmed — peacekeepers, elderly veterans, etc.
Like much of the European Union, we’re so heavily invested in the idea that we’ve found a kinder gentler way we can scarce bear to contemplate the reality. At the Washington state/British Columbia border this week, two guys on the lam were hightailing it through Blaine heading for the 49th parallel with the cops in hot pursuit. Alerted to what was coming their way, Canada’s (unarmed) border guards walked off the job. For a country whose national anthem lyrics are mostly endless reprises of the line “we stand on guard for thee,” we could at least stand on guard. A few years back, I was chatting with a border guard at the Derby Line, Vt./Rock Island, Quebec crossing. A beat-up sedan came hurtling northward and we jumped out of the way. She sounded a klaxon. By then the driver was halfway up the Trans-Quebecoise autoroute and, if he ever heard her stern warning, he declined to brake and reverse back to the post to show his papers. “Oh, well,” she said to me, “it’s probably nothing.”
Canadians have been reluctant in the last four years to accept that we no longer live in an “it’s probably nothing” world.
Posted by Veith at 08:39 AM
The John Wayne factor
Liberal columnist Richard Cohen laments why Democrats are doomed. They do not, he observes, have anyone remotely resembling John Wayne. Whereas polls show that John Wayne remains one of Americans’ favorite stars, liberals said that theirs was Johnny Depp! (Women prefer Tom Hanks.)
But it is Wayne who both fascinates and, as usual, commands. He personifies the gender gap, the virtually habitual way white men vote Republican. There are many reasons for this — Democratic feminism, affirmative action, etc. — but one of them surely is that the John Wayne-style of the GOP appeals to the cowboy in most men. Even I, Eastern dude that I be, dispatch some awfully mean hombres in the occasional daydream, and if I’m going to seize a beachhead, I’d rather follow the Duke than, say, Johnny Depp. Sorry, my man, but that’s the way it is.
Mr. Cohen says that Republicans do draw on the John Wayne factor–Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Dick Cheney, John McCain–whereas Democrats have such anti-Waynes as Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Al Gore. Mr. Cohen–himself a liberal Democrat, mind you–says that Democrats will never attract the votes of white males unless they can cultivate a less wussy image.
Posted by Veith at 08:17 AM
January 26, 2006
Google-eyed view of freedom
Blogger Steven Kellmeyer gets the prize for the most trenchant commentary on Google’s commitment to the freedom of information:
Google America fights the US government’s attempt to get a list of key words that would help fight child porn. Google China, “will base its censorship decisons on guidance provided by Chinese government officials.”
Posted by Veith at 09:09 AM
Jihadist democracies
At first, news reports on the Palestinian West Bank elections said that the “moderate” Fatah party would keep control, despite a strong showing by the radical Hamas. Now, the reports are saying that Hamas has won an outright majority. The Israelis say they will not negotiate with Hamas terrorists, so there goes the peace plan (possibly). Similarly, the democratic elections in Egypt recently elevated the radical Muslim Brotherhood.
This is the dilemma of our policy in promoting democracy in the Middle East. The autocratic rulers had an interest in keeping their Islamic radicals more or less in check. But let the people rule, and this is what may well happen, the victory of populist Islamic jihadists. And this may be happening in Iraq. I’m not giving up completely on democracy in the middle east–though democracy needs to be accompanied by freedom and the rule of law if it is to be a good thing–but this is our problem. It may also be our exit strategy for Iraq: I predict that the new Iraqi government will vote to send us home. And, to show that we are not an occupying army but an enabling, liberating force, we will comply.
Posted by Veith at 08:55 AM
The End of the Rifle
After 150 years, the Winchester, “the rifle that won the West,” is going out of production. The rifle had its beginning back in 1849. Its lever action cleared the spent shell, loaded a new bullet into the firing chamber, and cocked the weapon in one smooth motion, which could be done without taking the aimed rifle off the shoulder. The Winchester could be fired at a rate of 30 shots per minute, an exponential improvement over what muzzle-loading muskets could do. The Winchester that you could buy at the local hardware store, up until now, is essentially the same device used in the cowboy days. Says Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post:
It’s doubtful any other complex machine has a longer record of manufacture. Think about it: Today, in the age of the iPod and robots wandering Mars, essentially the same rattly contraption that felled troopers at the Little Bighorn is still found brand-new and brightly packaged on the shelves of most Western, Southern and Midwestern hardware stores.
Posted by Veith at 08:42 AM
Back blogs
Someone pointed out to me something I didn’t even realize, that this blog is different from most in the way it encourages comments and provokes discussions. Most blogs throw out the opinion of the blogger, who often cares less about any comments that people might care to make. And conversely, many of the commenters on many of those blogs just give visceral–and often profane–reactions rather than thoughtful discourse. This blog is indeed different, particularly in the quality of the comments. I guess it’s the old professor in me, liking to get discussions going. And the classical educator in me, for whom “understanding” grows out of “dialectic”–that is, dialogue, questions & answers, and conversation–the “logic” dimension of the liberal arts as seen, for example, in catechesis.
Anyway, another difference with this blog is that the topics are not time-bound. People are still discussing some of these topics for days, even sometimes weeks, after the chronological blog postings move on. So when you get a chance, scroll down to previous entries to see what people have said about them. “Privatizing marriage” is still generating both heat and light. The “End of the Spear” discussions go beyond just the controversy surrounding that movie but how and whether Christians should interact with the world. New comments on “Bach and Death” will introduce you to even more good music and show how its forms can express faith. And feel free to chime in.
Posted by Veith at 08:25 AM
January 25, 2006
Ben Franklin’s scheme for moral perfection
Ben Franklin is on people’s minds these days. Last week, January 17, was his 300th birthday. A new biography is getting good reviews. And the anti-war crowd is trumpeting a mangled and out of context version of something he said about not trading liberty for security. Franklin was indeed a great American and a scientific and engineering genius. Moreover, his “Autobiography” is a literary classic. It’s hilarious, both intentionally and unintentionally. When I see people trying to achieve moral perfection by their own efforts–thinking it possible and thinking they have achieved it–I think of Franklin’s systematic scheme to perfect his morals. This is what that randy Deist came up with (from his Autobiography):
It was about this time I conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I bad imagined. While my care was employ’d in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct. For this purpose I therefore contrived the following method.
In the various enumerations of the moral virtues I had met with in my reading, I found the catalogue more or less numerous, as different writers included more or fewer ideas under the same name. Temperance, for example, was by some confined to eating and drinking, while by others it was extended to mean the moderating every other pleasure, appetite, inclination, or passion, bodily or mental, even to our avarice and ambition. I propos’d to myself, for the sake of clearness, to use rather more names, with fewer ideas annex’d to each, than a few names with more ideas; and I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr’d to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express’d the extent I gave to its meaning.
These names of virtues, with their precepts, were
1. TEMPERANCE._Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. SILENCE._Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. ORDER._Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. RESOLUTION._Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. FRUGALITY._Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
6. INDUSTRY._Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY._Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE._Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. MODERATION._Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS._Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
11. TRANQUILLITY._Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. CHASTITY._Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
13. HUMILITY._Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I judg’d it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time; and, when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another, and so on, till I should have gone thro’ the thirteen; and, as the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arrang’d them with that view, as they stand above. Temperance first, as it tends to procure that coolness and clearness of head, which is so necessary where constant vigilance was to be kept up, and guard maintained against the unremitting attraction of ancient habits, and the force of perpetual temptations. This being acquir’d and establish’d, Silence would be more easy; and my desire being to gain knowledge at the same time that I improv’d in virtue, and considering that in conversation it was obtain’d rather by the use of the ears than of the tongue, and therefore wishing to break a habit I was getting into of prattling, punning, and joking, which only made me acceptable to trifling company, I gave Silence the second place. This and the next, Order, I expected would allow me more time for attending to my project and my studies. Resolution, once become habitual, would keep me firm in my endeavors to obtain all the subsequent virtues; Frugality and Industry freeing me from my remaining debt, and producing affluence and independence, would make more easy the practice of Sincerity and Justice, etc., etc. Conceiving then, that, agreeably to the advice of Pythagoras in his Golden Verses, daily examination would be necessary, I contrived the following method for conducting that examination.
I made a little book, in which I allotted a page for each of the virtues. I rul’d each page with red ink, so as to have seven columns, one for each day of the week, marking each column with a letter for the day. I cross’d these columns with thirteen red lines, marking the beginning of each line with the first letter of one of the virtues, on which line, and in its proper column, I might mark, by a little black spot, every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue upon that day.
[He gives an illustration of his chart.]
_I determined to give a week’s strict attention to each of the virtues successively. Thus, in the first week, my great guard was to avoid every the least offence against Temperance, leaving the other virtues to their ordinary chance, only marking every evening the faults of the day. Thus, if in the first week I could keep my first line, marked T, clear of spots, I suppos’d the habit of that virtue so much strengthen’d and its opposite weaken’d, that I might venture extending my attention to include the next, and for the following week keep both lines clear of spots. Proceeding thus to the last, I could go thro’ a course compleat in thirteen weeks, and four courses in a year. And like him who, having a garden to weed, does not attempt to eradicate all the bad herbs at once, which would exceed his reach and his strength, but works on one of the beds at a time, and, having accomplish’d the first, proceeds to a second, so I should have, I hoped, the encouraging pleasure of seeing on my pages the progress I made in virtue, by clearing successively my lines of their spots, till in the end, by a number of courses, I should he happy in viewing a clean book, after a thirteen weeks’ daily examination.
. . . . . . . . . .
I enter’d upon the execution of this plan for self-examination, and continu’d it with occasional intermissions for some time. I was surpris’d to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined; but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish. To avoid the trouble of renewing now and then my little book, which, by scraping out the marks on the paper of old faults to make room for new ones in a new course, became full of holes, I transferr’d my tables and precepts to the ivory leaves of a memorandum book, on which the lines were drawn with red ink, that made a durable stain, and on those lines I mark’d my faults with a black-lead pencil, which marks I could easily wipe out with a wet sponge. After a while I went thro’ one course only in a year, and afterward only one in several years, till at length I omitted them entirely, being employ’d in voyages and business abroad, with a multiplicity of affairs that interfered; but I always carried my little book with me.
He kept getting so many black marks that he had to buy new notebooks!
Posted by Veith at 09:14 AM
Porn on the job becoming OK?
Pornography keeps getting more and more socially acceptable. But watching it while you are supposed to be working and downloading it on company computers continues to be a firing offense. But even that may be changing. Here in Wisconsin, a probation officer was fired last year for watching porn on the job for four hours a day and once for ten hours (he got overtime for that). But now a binding arbitration ruling has demanded that he be re-instated and given a year’s back pay.
And now, here in our little burg, the School Board has fired a high school science teacher for downloading porn–to the extent of crashing the system several times–and for keeping on his school computer pictures of his female students in bikinis, from when he chaperoned a class trip to Hawaii. But the teacher’s union, of which this teacher once was the president, is rallying around him and protesting his dismissal!
Posted by Veith at 08:09 AM
January 24, 2006
Liberals kicking themselves
Columnist James Pinkerton of Newsday has an unintentionally amusing column about how Democrats are kicking themselves for the way they handled the Alito confirmation hearings.
It seems the Democrats attended a seminar led by several leftwing law professors, who told them that they could successfully oppose even well-qualified nominees if they would just keep hammering on the possibility they might turn the Supreme Court in a conservative direction. The Senators slavishly followed this playbook, only to find that, like most nostrums from leftwing law professors, it doesn’t work.
The Democrats are also miffed that the usually reliable mainstream media let them down. The major networks showed the Senators bloviating and Mrs. Alito running crying from the room. That made us look bad! Jon Stewart even made fun of us on the “Daily Show”! How dare they! Whose side are these people on, anyway?
Mr. Pinkerton thinks a better strategy would be for Democrats to just let Republicans do their worst. Let the new Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, he says. THEN there will be an anti-Republican, pro-abortion backlash that can sweep Democrats back into power. So he thinks. But it would indeed be good if Democrats would adopt the strategy of capitulation, since nothing else is working. But they are going to have to keep their leaders off of TV.
Posted by Veith at 08:57 AM
Privatizing Marriage
Some libertarians are making the case that the government should just stay out of marriage. Law professor Colin Jones proposes privatizing marriage. Break up the “government monopoly” on marriage, he says, and let couples just work out their own contracts.
“Couples entering into marriage should be able to use a partnership agreement that is tailored to their own circumstances and aspirations, one that reflects the values and expectations that they themselves attach to marriage,” writes Jones in an op-ed in the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE.
Ending the government’s monopoly on marriage, Jones argues, would foster innovation in the design of marriage contracts, resulting in better legal and relationship counseling — and perhaps better marriages. Marital corporations — for-profit or non-profit organizations of members that share common values about marriage — might also evolve to cater to the needs of different kinds of couples. This privatization of marriage, Jones argues, could also help defuse the controversy over same-sex marriage because the opponents and proponents of sex-same marriage would join separate marital corporations and thus would feel less threatened that their version of marriage was threatened.
Do you see what is wrong with this? It would, of course, at a stroke legalize gay marriage, polygamy, and whatever, using an argument designed to appeal to conservatives. But the point is that marriage is, precisely, not private! The family is the basic unit of society. Cultures and governments rest on the family. If we are going to have a society–and not just individuals living Cyclops-like in their caves (bonus points if you can identify that allusion)–the family, intelligently designed to engender and care for children, must have priority and must apply to everyone.
I am hearing a related argument from Christians. Well, let the government do what it wants about gay marriage and the like. We Christians will have our own marriages. That is all that counts. No, it doesn’t. Roman Catholics, who believe marriage is a sacrament, MIGHT be able to live with that, but non-Catholics can’t. God established marriage for the whole human race, not just for Christians. It is part of God’s created order, the “kingdom of the left” in Lutheran parlance, through which He reigns and bestows His gifts in the secular realm. _A “Christians-only” view of marriage only solidifies the tendency in American Christianity to withdraw from the larger society, which cannot and should not be done. Meanwhile, our calling to love and serve our neighbors in the world means that Christians should work to protect the family. Tinkering with the foundation of society can only have disastrous results for all.
Posted by Veith at 08:25 AM
Last of the Carter Family Dies
The last surviving member of the Carter family, Janette Carter, died Sunday at 82. She was the daughter of A. P. and Sara Carter. This was a mountain family in Virginia, but A. P. had a hobby of collecting the old songs, and then with the help of his extended family performing them, mainly at church socials. But then in 1927, Ralph Peer came from the big city with his new-fangled tape recorder, setting it up in Bristol, Tennessee, fishing for new music. Lots of talented folks showed up, but the big discoveries were troubadour Jimmy Rodgers and the Carter Family. Mr. Peer made records of their music, they sold big time, and country music was invented.
The Carters, known for tunes such as “Keep on the Sunny Side” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” were not just historical curiosities from the hills. They were virtuoso artists. Maybelle Carter invented a way of playing the guitar–picking out the melody with her thumb while strumming the chords with her other fingers–that has influenced guitarists ever since. Her daughter June–who married Johnny Cash–was a gifted musician, as well as a pioneering comedienne. And Anita and Janette had the loveliest of voices. Tough-minded songs of faith, intermixed with songs of love and tragedy, were at the rock-bottom of their repertoire. Now, the Circle will be unbroken.
Posted by Veith at 07:28 AM
January 23, 2006
Get rich by putting yourself on ice
Here is a sure-fire scheme to become wealthy beyond your wildest dreams: (1) Sell everything you have and put the money in an investment trust. (2) Die (3) Have yourself frozen. (4) Have yourself thawed out, healed, and revived after 100 years. (5) By the magic of compound interest, re-invested dividends, and the stock market of the future, your initial investment will have become enormous, possibly making you one of the richest people of the 22nd century.
According to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), a growing number of people are pinning their hopes on exactly this scheme. Cryogenics gives them a hope of everlasting life and streets paved with gold, with none of that religion stuff! But even if this were possible, why would anyone bother to defrost these guys after a century, let alone using the projected medical advances by that time to repair them and bring them back to life? These people are trying to “take it with them”–that is, come back for it–instead of bequeathing their money to their children and other worthy beneficiaries. But people are actually doing this. Click “continue reading” for a sampling of the article.
A Cold Calculus Leads Cryonauts To Put Assets on Ice
With Bodies Frozen, They Hope to Return Richer; Dr. Thorp Is Buying Long_By ANTONIO REGALADO _Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL_January 21, 2006; Page A1
_You can’t take it with you. So Arizona resort operator David Pizer has a plan to come back and get it.
Like some 1,000 other members of the “cryonics” movement, Mr. Pizer has made arrangements to have his body frozen in liquid nitrogen as soon as possible after he dies. In this way, Mr. Pizer, a heavy-set, philosophical man who is 64 years old, hopes to be revived sometime in the future when medicine has advanced far beyond where it stands today.
And because Mr. Pizer doesn’t wish to return a pauper, he’s taken an additional step: He’s left his money to himself.
With the help of an estate planner, Mr. Pizer has created legal arrangements for a financial trust that will manage his roughly $10 million in land and stock holdings until he is re-animated. Mr. Pizer says that with his money earning interest while he is frozen, he could wake up in 100 years the “richest man in the world.”
Though cryonic suspension of human remains is still dismissed by most medical experts as an outlandish idea, Mr. Pizer is not alone in hoping to hold onto his wealth into the frosty hereafter.
“I figure I have a better than even chance of coming back,” says Don Laughlin, the 75-year-old founder of an eponymous casino and resort in Laughlin, Nev. Mr. Laughlin, who turned a down-and-out motel he bought in 1966 into a gambling fortune, plans to leave himself $5 million.
At least a dozen wealthy American and foreign businessmen are testing unfamiliar legal territory by creating so-called personal revival trusts designed to allow them to reclaim their riches hundreds, or even thousands, of years into the future.
Such financial arrangements, which tie up money that might otherwise go to heirs or charities, are “more widespread than I originally thought,” says A. Christopher Sega, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University and a trusts and estates attorney at Venable LLP, in Washington. Mr. Sega says he’s created three revival trusts in the last year.
In December, a trusts expert from Wachovia Trust Co., part of Wachovia Corp., participated in the First Annual Colloquium on the Law of Transhuman Persons held in Florida. His PowerPoint presentation was titled “Issues Facing Trustees of Personal Revival Trusts.” A Wachovia spokesman confirmed the bank is named as trustee in one cryonics case but declined to comment further for this article.
To serve clients who plan on being frozen, attorneys are tweaking so-called dynasty trusts that can legally endure hundreds of years, or even indefinitely. Such trusts, once widely prohibited, are now allowed by more than 20 states — including Arizona, Illinois and New Jersey — and typically are used to shield assets from estate taxes. They pay out funds to a person’s children, grandchildren and future generations.
The chilling new twist: In addition to heirs or charities, estate lawyers are also naming their cryonics clients as beneficiaries. If they come back to life after being frozen, the funds revert back to them. Assuming, that is, that there are no legal challenges to the plans.
Thomas Katz, an estate planner at the law firm Ruden McClosky in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., believes cryonics could raise fundamental legal quandaries. Upon coming back to life, for instance, would a person have to repay their life insurance? “Our legal notion of death is pretty fixed. The scientific notion might not be as time goes by,” Mr. Katz says.
. . . . . . . . . .
The cryonics-trust phenomenon dates back at least to 1989, with the formation by two American entrepreneurs of the Reanimation Foundation, a trust based in Liechtenstein, the tiny European principality known for its liberal tax rules. It offers memberships to people willing to put in as little as $25,000, say clients. According to a promotional flier, which asks “How Rich Will You Be?,” a $10,000 investment could grow to $8,677,163 in 100 years. “You’ll be able to buy youth and perfect health for centuries,” says the pitch.
. . . . . . . . .
No one knows just what future technology may bring, or what form a new existence could take. Mr. Laughlin confronted that issue in a meeting last August with his lawyers while drafting a trust. Mr. Laughlin opted against allowing a mere biological clone to get his money. He insisted whoever gets the funds should have “my memories.”_. . . . . . . . . .
Despite the uncertainties, cryonauts are choosing their investments carefully. Edward O. Thorp, a hedge-fund industry pioneer, created a cryonics trust in 1997 funded by a $200,000 life-insurance policy. At 73, he says he’s now arranging a larger trust — of between $1 million and $50 million — which he will direct to invest in no-load index-tracking mutual funds to avoid management and trading fees. He puts the odds of a person frozen today coming back at 2%. “I figure it’s worth a lottery ticket,” says Dr. Thorp, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics. The Orange County Business Journal estimated his net worth to be more than $100 million to $300 million.
In Arizona, Mr. Pizer says he hopes his wife will join him in cryonic storage. And even if his trust money is somehow lost or stolen during his time on ice, he’ll be content just as long as he returns to life. If he does, he says he’d use the opportunity to work hard and create new businesses. “I made it the first time from nothing, and I could do it again.”
Posted by Veith at 08:43 AM
33 years of Abortion
Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Today lots of pro-lifers will be rallying across the country to commemorate and protest that black day in our history.
They should celebrate some recent victories. We are getting closer to a pro-life majority in the Supreme Court. The recent decision in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood upholds the right of states to regulate abortion with parental notification laws and mandatory waiting periods. Those and similar regulations (such as requiring abortion clinics to measure up to hospital standards, requiring abortionists to have local medical certification, requiring women who want abortions to be informed about the state of their child, including viewing ultra-sounds) have been dramatically successful in decreasing the number of abortions in states that have them. In Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota, all but one abortion clinic have been put out of business.
As the battle shifts to the states, where grass roots action has more influence, the militant pro-abortion group NARAL has given 19 states an “F” in “protecting abortion rights,” which means these states are protecting unborn children’s rights. The pro-death crowd is publically worrying that while Roe v. Wade and legalized abortion may still be on the books, abortion just won’t be available. On this 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we should pray they are right.
Posted by Veith at 07:45 AM
An Important Election Day
Today is an important day for Democracy, as voters in a troubled land will have the opportunity to throw off a corrupt, radical regime, bringing freedom to a nation that has suffered economically and culturally for over a decade. No, I’m not talking about the Palestinian Gaza Strip–that will be Wednesday. I’m talking about Canada.
And it looks like the Conservative party, under the rather impressive Stephen Harper, is going to oust the Liberals this time. Oh, Canada: I understand that you do not want to be like the United States, and I respect that. But why do you want to be like Europe, in all of its welfare state, politically-correct, culturally-suicidal excesses? (E.g, gay marriage, outlawing criticism of homosexuality even by pastors, outlawing criticism of Islam, giving Muslim courts the legal authority to impose Koranic Law on immigrant families.) Find your own way. Be Canadian.
Posted by Veith at 07:29 AM
January 20, 2006
Still see “The End of the Spear”
Finally, a movie comes out that carries the Gospel as its theme, that presents Christians and even missionaries in a positive light, that shows how Christianity can transform a culture. And yet CHRISTIANS are boycotting it because it has a gay actor.
People, actors make no difference to the story! Actors are people who perform characters and recite lines that someone else has written for them. I agree that this gay actor now opening his mouth should not have been hired, but I doubt that the filmmakers knew his sexual orientation when they cast him or, since this is the first venture of a tiny, Oklahoma-based Christian company founded by a man who himself is so conservative he never even went to movies, were wise to the ways of Hollywood. If this had been made by the secular movie industry, such as those that made the Narnia movie, would there be such an outcry? If one of the actors in the Narnia movie were gay–as I’m sure must be the case–would that lessen the positive impact of the movie?
I noticed NO ONE commented on my story about “The End of the Spear.” Lots of you commented on the gay actor post, nearly all of you saying that having him in the movie does taint it for you. But there is nothing pro-gay in the movie, nothing negative, only morality, inspiration, and truth.
Our local newspaper did not deign to review the movie, probably because of its Christian content. We can expect the secularists to ignore it. If Christians refuse to see it because of a single casting decision, oblivious to the story as a whole, then that will be the end of the movie and probably other movies with an explicit Christian message that could follow, if this one were a success. That, of course, plays into the hands of those who oppose Christianity, including the gay militants. Such an outcome would be a shame.
I hope that at least some of you will see “The End of the Spear” this weekend. When you do, please post a comment here so that we can talk about it.
Posted by Veith at 10:21 AM
The good part of the Supremes’ abortion ruling
When the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, news organizations didn’t seem to know how to describe what happened. Some headlines spun it as a victory for abortion, others as a victory for pro-lifers, with others saying the court had dodged the issue. Then both pro-life groups AND pro-abortion groups hailed the ruling.
What the decision did was UPHOLD parental notification and mandatory waiting periods, while requiring exceptions for medical emergencies. That latter clause–what constitutes a medical emergency–is problematic, but upholding parental notification and waiting periods is huge for the pro-life cause. Those have been among the state regulations that have radically cut the number of abortions in states that have them, to the point that Mississippi–and I believe other states– has only one abortion clinic left, which is itself on the verge of going out of business. Pro-abortionists are afraid that while abortion is legal and Roe v. Wade is upheld, abortions may become impossible to get. The Ayotte ruling opens the door for activists on the state level to push for parental notification and waiting periods–even with the required exceptions–and thus is very significant.
Posted by Veith at 08:58 AM
Osama has a point
For Osama bin Laden’s message to the American people, click here. He concludes:
Failing to carry out jihad, which is called for in our religion, is a sin. The best death to us is in the shadows of swords. Don’t let your strength and modern arms fool you. They win a few battles but lose the war. Patience and steadfastness are much better. We were patient in fighting the Soviet Union with simple weapons for 10 years and we bled their economy and now they are nothing. In that there is a lesson for you.
Osama basically draws on the much-heralded position in jihadist circles that Americans cannot take casualties, whereas the jihadists can. Kill a few Americans, according to the strategy, and public opinion in the US will demand their withdrawal. Here he pretty much nails the anti-war sentiment in this country. But he is also right about the necessity–for our side–of “patience and steadfastness.”
Posted by Veith at 08:37 AM
January 19, 2006
Laugh inducers
Paul S writes, commenting on the Hugh Laurie post a couple of days ago, writes:
Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories are the comfort food of literature they always satisfy.
My top four favorite humor writers (four is all I could come up with) in no particular order PG Wodehouse, Jean Shepard, Mark Twain, and Patrick Reusse (a Twin Cities sports writer)
Who are some other humorists worth reading?
Good question. I would add Robert Benchley. Who else have you found capable of inducing a laugh? Let’s include movies and TV shows. I’ll get the ball rolling: “Fawlty Towers” (“Don’t mention the war!”).Posted by Veith at 09:35 AM
Why euthanasia is so monstrous
If, as the Bach cantata posted about below suggests, death is not necessarily so bad for a Christian, why is euthanasia so repellant? Of course, death is the wages of sin, and so is intrinsically horrible, though through faith in Christ, it becomes a transition into everlasting life. But what makes euthanasia so monstrous is not so much the death but the killing, the harm not so much to the victim as to the killer. The victim of euthanasia is indeed to be pitied, but the one who commits euthanasia is harmed spiritually in a radical way. The doctor who does this betrays his vocation, which is to heal rather than kill. And the killer typically considers his sin of murder to be a good work, an act of mercy, thus shutting out repentance.
Posted by Veith at 08:05 AM
Bach on Death
I just heard a most remarkable piece of music performed by the Schola Cantorum, a choir from Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. It’s Bach’s Cantata No. 8, and it’s about death. The piece, whose words Bach draws from an obscure hymnwriter, gives the whole range of reactions to death–fear, guilt, world-weariness, confidence, yearning, hope–resolved in a joyous faith in Christ and His promises. And the music that goes with the words, while expressing the whole gamut, ends up with what I can only be described as serious joy. For a description and, if you register, samples of the music, click here. Click “continue reading” for an English translation. This has to be one of the great artistic handlings of death. It would be good music to listen to at any time, especially on your deathbed.
Translation from Emmanuel Music:
_”Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben?”_BWV 8
Cantata for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
_1. Chorus _Dearest God, when will I die?_My time runs away continually,_and the old legacy of Adam,_which includes me as well,_has this as its inheritance;_for a little time_to be poor and wretched on the earth_and then to become earth itself.
2. Aria T _Why should you recoil, my spirit,_when my last hour strikes?_My body bows itself daily to the earth,_and there must my resting-place be,_to which so many thousand are borne.
3. Recitative A _Indeed my weak heart feels_fear, worry, pain:_where will my body find rest?_Who will yet_from its overlaid burden of sin_release and free my soul?_All that is mine will be destroyed,_and what will become of my loved ones,_in their grief_cut off, exiled?
4. Aria B _But hence, you foolish, useless worries!_My Jesus calls me: who wouldn’t go?_ Nothing that delights me _ belongs to the world. _ Dawn on me, blessed, joyful morning, _ transfigured and glorious, standing before Jesus.
5. Recitative S _Keep then, o world, my possessions! _You take indeed my flesh and my bones,_so take also these poor belongings;_it is enough, that from God’s abundance _the greatest good must come to me, _enough, that I shall be rich and happy there. _What else is there to inherit from me, _other than the fatherly love of my God? _This is renewed every morning _and can never die.
6. Chorale _Sovereign over death and life,_make my end a good one,_teach me to resign my spirit_with a well-composed courage._Help, that I might have an honorable grave_next to righteous Christians_and also at last, in the earth,_nevermore be dishonored!
Posted by Veith at 07:36 AM
January 18, 2006
Lutheran movie enshrined as classic
Every year a select number of movies that are deemed especially significant artistically, historically, and culturally are put on the National Film Registry. These are set apart and preserved through the Smithsonian Institute. This year, out of the 1000 films nominated, only 25 were chosen. One of them was “A Time for Burning,” a 1966 documentary about how a church in Nebraska comes to terms with the Civil Rights movement. It was made by Lutheran Films Associates, a venture sponsored by various Lutheran denominations, including the Missouri Synod. This was the same outfit that made the classic black-and-white “Luther” in 1953.
There was a time when Christians did make good use of the mass media and the arts. Those were the days when the LCMS hired one of the world’s greatest architects, Eero Saarinen–who built the St. Louis arch, as well as key buildings such as the airport terminals in New York and Washington–to design what is now the Concordia Theological Seminary at Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Also, to this day the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod owns KFUO (FM), the award winning classical music station in St. Louis.
I have not seen “A Time for Burning.” Have any of you seen it? The DVD is supposed to be released this month.
Posted by Veith at 08:24 AM
But it has a gay actor
It would be helpful for our culture if movies like “The End of the Spear,” posted about below, would be supported by Christians at the boxoffice. But after I wrote my article, posted below, the news came out that one of the actors in the movie is gay. Many Christians now believe that taints the film. Do you think so?
My own view is that actors are primarily line-readers, with usually little or nothing to do with the meaning of the movie. And that there are so many gays in Hollywood that hardly any production drawing on professionals in the film industry is without their presence somewhere. I hope the controversy will draw lots of gays to the film, where–like the Waodani tribes–they will learn about a Gospel of forgiveness.
Posted by Veith at 07:51 AM
How murdered missionaries changed a culture
This weekend, you have got to see The End of the Spear, a drama based on the true story of the five missionaries who were killed 50 years ago in the Ecuadorean rainforest by the most violent tribe ever recorded. The film focuses, though, not just on the killings but on the way family members of the slain missionaries reacted with forgiveness, moved in with the dangerous killers, and brought them the Gospel, which changed their whole culture of death.
The backstory of how the movie was made is also very interesting. I wrote about it for WORLD, as linked above. I talked with the producer, the director, the son of one of the murdered missionaries, and even one of the Waodani tribesmen who speared his father. It would be helpful for our culture if movies like this would be supported by Christians at the boxoffice. I’ll post my whole article after ‘continue reading.”
Walk this way
“End of the Spear” depicts the agony—and mercy—in massacre aftermath | by Gene Edward Veith
In January 1956, the death of five missionaries at the hands of the Waodani tribe of Ecuador was big news around the world; 50 years later End of the Spear, opening Jan. 20 in 1,200 theaters nationwide, recaptures that agony and the astounding change that followed as the power of forgiveness became evident (see “Radical tactic”). But this first dramatic product of a new movie company is also one more example of how Christians are adding to American culture rather than merely trying to subtract harmful elements of it.
Mart Green, an Oklahoma City businessman whose family owns the Hobby Lobby craft chain and the Mardel Christian bookstore chain, founded the new company, Every Tribe Entertainment, in 1998. He told WORLD, “I was raised never to go to movies,” and at age 35 “had never been in a theater.” But he saw the effect of media on his children and also witnessed the commitment of Bible translators in Guatemala. During conversations at a meeting of the North American Forum of Bible Agencies, the account of the five slain missionaries and the aftermath kept coming up.
Even WORLD played a role, with a Joel Belz column (“Courage for cowards,” May 30, 1998) pointing him to Hugh Hewitt’s The Embarrassed Believer, a book that encourages Christians to make positive contributions to American culture. Then, one day in his car, Mr. Green heard a tape of Steve Saint, the son of Nate Saint, one of the five murdered missionaries, telling his story. Mr. Green pulled into a Wal-Mart parking lot weeping and decided to make the movie himself.
Mr. Green brought on board director Jim Hanon, who had made commercials for his company, and producer Bill Ewing, a Christian with 43 years of experience in the Hollywood film industry. Together they formed Every Tribe Entertainment with the goal of making a movie that would focus not on the martyrdom of the missionaries but on the Waodani (known to neighboring tribes as “Auca,” meaning “savage”) and how they changed. “We went down to Ecuador, flew out to the bush, backpacked out, and asked the permission from the Waodani,” Mr. Green said.
At first the tribal elders were unwilling. Then the conversation turned to the then-recent Columbine school shooting. “We know the anger and hate that go with that,” the elders said. “If our story can help North America, fine.”
Mr. Hanon recalls, “We lived with the Waodani for 17 days. . . . We bathed in their river and ate monkey and ate in their huts. The simplicity of their faith and their lifestyle was such an interesting and unique thing for us.” The first project was Beyond the Gates of Splendor, a documentary released last year (“Radical love and forgiveness,” Oct. 8, 2005). Then came the feature film, End of the Spear, filmed in the jungles of Panama. Professional actors portrayed four of the Indian roles, but the rest were members of an indigenous tribe, the Embera.
Although the Embera had never seen a movie before and didn’t know how to act, Mr. Hanon said “they were able to understand what their character was feeling and portray it. It made it not about what was said but about the delivery, the intent, the emotion.” Much of the film is in the Embera language: “Doing it in their language also created a great relationship with them. Usually they had to learn the other language.”
The documentary and the feature film together cost $20 million to make. The feature film crew spent 90 days in Panama, with 58 of those days in the jungle. “Shooting in a jungle is difficult,” Mr. Hanon said. “If you put up a light, you must hack a way through to lay a line.” They battled insects, heat, and disease: “At one point as many as 25 percent of our crew were down with being sick. We just had to keep shooting.” They were shooting aerial footage near the border of Colombia, the drug haven: “Small planes flying in the jungle is something people keep an eye on.”
Despite or because of the difficulties, the result is exquisite. With the cameras capturing the lush beauty of the rain forest, End of the Spear (rated PG-13 for violence) evokes two different worlds that first clash and then are reconciled, and tells the story from two alternating points of view. We get the perspective of Mincayani (based on the real-life Micaye), first shown as a child whose parents are killed in a tribal vendetta and then as the warrior who kills Nate Saint. We also see the point of view of Steve Saint, first as a 5-year-old boy in a missionary household and later as an adult.
Movies generally depict tribal people as indistinguishable stereotypes, but this film brings alive unique personalities within the Waodani tribe. The film shows them smiling, playing, worrying, and being likeable—except for that habit of killing each other. Director Jim Hanon coaxes remarkable performances from the indigenous people who make up most of his cast.
The film also captures the feel of the 1950s in its portrayal of the missionary household, as little Stevie in his cowboy hat overhears the missionaries making their plans and worries about his dad. After the slow-motion scene in which the five missionaries die, we see his grief. Then we see him living with the tribe, playing with the Waodani children, and gradually developing a life-long friendship with Mincayani, who struggles to accept his forgiveness.
The real-life Steve Saint, a missionary pilot like his father, flew the planes in the movie and commented on the script as it was developed. Mr. Saint said that when he lived with the Waodani as an adult, he and his wife showed them movies, with as many as 100 people crowding around the screen in their home. The Waodani said of Hollywood violence, “We killed people we hate, but the foreigners kill people they don’t even know.”
Mr. Saint showed End of the Spear to the real-life Micaye, wondering whether he would comprehend it. A little way into the movie Micaye said, “Look! That’s like me!” Mr. Saint replied, “And see that little boy, he’s like me!” Micaye kept up the thrill of recognition, saying throughout the movie, “And that’s like . . .”
“When it got to the killing scene,” Mr. Saint said, “I held my breath and prayed he wouldn’t be offended.” Micaye was somber as the movie depicted his character killing the missionaries. “This is our history,” he said, “but other people are pretending to be us.”
At the end of the movie, Micaye said he felt “very much well.” Why? “Maybe now the foreigners who are living angry and killing will see there is a better trail and they will want to walk this good trail.”
•_Copyright © 2006 WORLD Magazine_January 21, 2006, Vol. 21, No. 3Posted by Veith at 07:40 AM
January 17, 2006
Supremes OK euthanasia
The Supreme Court upheld Oregon’s euphemistically titled “physician-assisted suicide law,” thereby legalizing euthanasia. The vote was 6-3, with newly-confirmed Justice Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia dissenting. Expect other states to pass similar laws. Remember the case: Gonzales v. Oregon, which is the new Roe v. Wade in our ever-expanding culture of death.
Posted by Veith at 10:41 AM
Bertie Wooster gets his Golden Globe
And now, having possibly ruined your day by making you worry about a jihadist nuke, for something completely different. Hugh Laurie won the Golden Globe for best dramatic actor on TV for his role on “House.” Good for him, I say. I have been a Hugh Laurie fan for his totally drop-dead hilarious COMIC acting. His portrayal of the sublimely stupid Prince of Wales on BLACKADDER was priceless. But then he found the role of his life as Bertie Wooster in the BBC production of P.G. Wodehouse’s JEEVES tales. (Sidethread: Are there any P. G. Wodehouse fans out there? Do you not agree that they are funniest literature ever?) [The Blackadder and Jeeves series are out on DVD. They will cheer you up no matter how bad your day went, and so are an excellent investment.]
And then, as many British actors do, Laurie came to the US to make his fortune. As a fan of British comedy and low-budget but good shows like DR. WHO, it has pained me over the years to see great actors in England come here to get bit parts in bad movies. But Laurie got the role of Dr. House, and it proves his acting greatness. Dr. House is the exactly OPPOSITE of the roles that Laurie had always performed until then. House is cynical, bitter, serious, depressed, intelligent, whereas Bertie is good-hearted, cheerful, unintentionally funny, and as dumb as a piece of cork. Also, Bertie British, whereas House is American. And Laurie just nails the American accent. House is the anti-Bertie. An actor who can play both polar opposite extreme characters deserves the Golden Globe.
Posted by Veith at 08:31 AM
The Jihadist Bomb
I once interviewed Cold Warrior John Stormer who said that the struggle with radical Islam is going to be more dangerous than the struggle with Communism. He said that the Communists, materialists that they were, feared death. It was possible, with the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction, to have a nuclear stalemate that averted nuclear war. The radical Muslims, though, do not fear death. They crave it. If jihadists get the Bomb, they are likely to use it.
So, what to do about Iran, defiantly going ahead with its nuclear program in a way that has even the Europeans scared to death? Can the civilized world–yes, I know that Islam has produced great civilizations, but the jihadists with their contempt for the most basic social order are not civilized–allow a ruler who has said he wants to wipe Israel off the map and who believes in ushering in his messiah by instigating a world-wide chaos to acquire nuclear weapons?
What are our options? Yes, diplomacy, sanctions, pressure from the Russians, helping pro-Western elements take power, whatever peaceful means are available. But if that doesn’t work, which would be best? (1) A pre-emptive Iraq-type war and occupation (2) A quick conquest, which our military is so good at, as with Afghanistan and Iraq, but then leave, letting the people rebuild their own country with the threat that we can always come back (3) Waiting for Iran to nuke Israel, and then we nuke them (4) Letting Iran nuke Israel and waiting for them to nuke us, and then we nuke them (5) Giving a nuclear-armed Iran whatever it wants.
Are there other options? What should we do? I’d really like to hear from opponents of the Iraq War. We thought Saddam was getting nukes, so we took him out. We didn’t find any, though many think Saddam himself was a weapon of mass destruction waiting to happen, and, besides, we can make Iraq democratic. But it appears that Iran will very soon actually have nuclear weapons. I’m curious about and totally open to arguments from anti-war folks about what they think might work if Iran gets nuclear weapons.
Posted by Veith at 08:12 AM
January 16, 2006
Rule of Law
In a provocative column in the Wall Street Journal F(subscription required), Jonathan Adler points to the literal lawlessness evident in the debates over Judge Alito’s confirmation. All sides look for the results of his past decisions (how many times has he ruled in favor of a criminal’s rights, and how many times has he ruled against them? Is he pro-civil rights or anti-civil rights? Is he pro-woman or anti-woman? Have his decisions been pro-abortion or anti-abortion?) The issue of whether or not in each case he followed the LAW has been ignored. A rule of law and conservative jurisprudence means that judges apply the law as written and do not try to make it up to achieve some desired result.
Obviously, this handicaps conservatives wanting to undo abortion on demand. Abortion is legal, unfortunately. That means even judges on our side will be hesitant to overturn it. We actually WANT an activist judge on this issue. The way our system is supposed to work, though, we wouldn’t look to judges to settle matters of law. That’s the job of legislatures. In the meantime, until the balance is restored, I fear that a conservative Supreme Court will not do everything we hope for. If it upholds the rule of law, though, that will be something, if then we have an avenue for changing the law.
Posted by Veith at 12:29 PM
Is it the worst movie or the best movie?
Scott Foundas,film critic for the LA Weekly has named “Crash” the year’s worst movie. But Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times, has named it the best movie. The African American Film Critics Association has called it the best. Bunnie Diehl has called it the worst. Read this for the conundrum.
How can experienced and knowledgable film critics disagree so profoundly? Do not say that “it’s just their opinion,” or “tastes differ.’” Beauty, like truth and goodness, is an absolute. Contrary to postmodernism, the three are not “relative.” It seems that when this happens, people are fixating on different elements that they “like” or perhaps “don’t like,” as opposed to the objective merits. Crash is about race. Roger Ebert’s defense of his praise is on the order of “sometimes a movie comes along that can make us more tolerant and strike a blow against racism.” He likes the message, so he says the movie is good. Others, I suspect, are annoyed with the film’s racial stereotyping and labored political correctness. I haven’t seen the movie, but attention to aesthetic merit–the acting, the writing, the cinematography, etc.–would look beyond the movie’s politics. Or is there some other factor in such radical disagreements?
Posted by Veith at 10:01 AM
January 13, 2006
My take on “The Book of Daniel”
I keep drawing the unpleasant assignments in what I review for WORLD. Here is what I had to say about “The Book of Daniel.” You can see the second episode tonight on NBC. From the latest WORLD:
The Hollywood moguls who gave us The Book of Daniel (NBC, Fridays, 9:00 ET) probably think they are presenting Christianity in a positive light. Church people are not freaks. They are just like everybody else, having the same values and problems as the Hollywood moguls.
The Book of Daniel is about an Episcopal priest named Daniel Webster. He is addicted to pain pills. His daughter sells drugs. One son is gay. The other is promiscuous with women. His supervisor, a female bishop, is having an affair with his father, who is also a bishop cheating on his Alzheimer’s-afflicted wife. He has a friend who is a local Catholic priest connected with the Mafia.
In his ministry, Daniel presides at plug-pullings at the hospital and gives sex tips to unmarried couples. One of his sermons is titled “Temptation: Is It Really a Bad Thing?” No, it isn’t, he proclaims, since good needs evil in order to be good. “If temptation corners us, maybe we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for giving into it,” he concludes, as a girl in a pew looks knowingly at her boyfriend. “And maybe we shouldn’t ask for forgiveness from a church or from God or from Jesus or from anyone, until we can first learn to forgive ourselves.”
_The storylines center on church, but no one demonstrates any reverence or devotion. No one, including the philandering bishops, has any guilt. No one has a sense of transcendence. For the members and leaders of this congregation, their religion makes absolutely no difference in their lives. They live exactly as non-Christians do, if not somewhat worse, and none of it seems to bother them.
But Daniel does have a personal relationship with Jesus. The Son of God appears to him as he drives in his car or reaches for his pills. They have friendly chats. The show portrays Jesus as a bearded flower-child who goes oh-wow at the clouds. He is always laughing. At crucial moments, He gives Daniel the thumbs-up sign with both hands.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus preaches the beatitudes. In The Book of Daniel, Jesus preaches the platitudes. Here are some actual sayings of this Jesus, which in context the show presents as being profound and wise: “Life is hard.” “Let him be a kid.” “Everybody’s got to go through it.” “I’m a good listener.” “You should laugh more.” “Everybody’s different.”
The whole show is so banal and trivializing, so blasphemous toward the Christian faith and insulting to those who hold it, that many Christians are up in arms over the series, calling for boycotts and demanding that local NBC affiliates stop airing the show.
And yet, those critics are wrong when they say that The Book of Daniel does not accurately reflect America’s churches. It actually captures very well many of America’s churches. At several points, the clergymen and clergywomen in the show refer to the current conflict in the Episcopal church between orthodox believers and progressives like themselves. “We have an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire,” exclaims Daniel, defending his son’s homosexuality. “It’s time we stumble into the 21st century.”
Daniel is simply the face of liberal theology. The same kind of worldliness, cultural conformity, sexual permissiveness, and baptized secularism is rampant in mainline Protestantism. And it is creeping into evangelical circles.
The show might even be useful as a lampoon of theological liberalism, were it not so bad artistically. A drama needs conflict, but everyone here is blissfully unconflicted, and the characters are nothing but attitude and stereotypes. There is nothing to like about any of them. This Daniel would rather play golf with the emperor than go anywhere near a lion’s den.
If I am wrong about this show–if I am missing some redeeming value–or if you have noticed other problems with it, please comment._
Posted by Veith at 11:54 AM
The Essential Christian Paintings
We’ve been talking about the importance of art for the church. The blog site Faith and Theology, run by Benjamin Myers, with the help of Kim Fabricius, has posted the Twenty Most Essential Works of Art for Theologians. You click the title, and (in most instances) you will see the work.
People will have different opinions about all such lists. Blake and Dali are way too gnostic, in my view. I’d like to see the greatest Christian artist of the 20th century represented, namely, George Rouault. Also, of course, Lucas Cranach. For example, his Altarpiece at Wittenberg. Here is a famous detail. Cranach shows how the Biblical realities are applied to people today through preaching the Word of God and the administration of the Sacraments.
Any other suggestions for this list? (A big tip of the hat to Paul McCain at Cyberbrethren. Be sure to bookmark his new site.)
Posted by Veith at 11:03 AM
New political alignments?
Watching the Democratic inquisition of Judge Alito made me stop worrying that old line liberalism will rise back in power. These guys are just too bombastic, idea-free, and repellant when the public sees them close-up. It isn’t just compelling leadership and compelling ideas the Democrats lack. The old Welfare State ideology is just irrelevant today. Yes, there are some economic issues they might be able to ride–such as healthcare–but there are not enough poor people to pander to or affluent guilty liberals to win them national power. (Yes, there are desperately poor people in need, but even the old Marxist proletariat has attained a middle class lifestyle. The USA has a middle class culture, and the old class rhetoric still employed by so many Democrats just falls on deaf ears.)
I think, as Welfare State liberalism follows socialism to the ashbin of history, that new political and ideological alignments will form, along the lines of the fissures in conservatism that we discussed with the Jeffrey Hart article: Cultural conservatives vs. Libertarians; Big Government conservatives vs. Little Government conservatives; Status Quo conservatives vs. Reformist conservatives; Isolationist conservatives vs. Interventionist conservatives.
What the Democrats should do is just adopt one of these kinds of conservatism. Since they are unlikely to get in power again anyway, they could embrace libertarianism. They already uphold “lifestyle libertarianism,” with the pro-abortion, pro-gay, and anti-traditional morality votes giving them what little hold they still have on the electorate. It will be hard for the party of big government and controlled economy to embrace small government and free market economics, but they aren’t going to get to run that government anyway, and their supporters are the wealthy uppercrust, so that could work for them. (I know there are Christian libertarians, with a fierce contingent of Lutheran libertarians–whom I greatly respect–who would not go along with the lifestyle policies, but they’ll have to do the best they can.)
Posted by Veith at 08:38 AM
January 12, 2006
Cranach-influenced artists “the hottest thing on earth”
The New York Times Magazine has a long article on the New Leipzig School of artists, a group of anti-abstract, figurative artists from east Germany who trace their influence to Lucas Cranach (Luther’s artist pal and the patron of this blog).
The article quotes an expert who says the artists are “suddenly the hottest thing on earth.” Their art is both realistic and dreamlike. down-to-earth and mysterious, incorporating symbols and historical allusions. Of course that also describes Lucas Cranach’s greatest works.
Here is “Behind the Reeds” by Neo Rauch:
Here is “Park Pond” by Peter Busch:From The New York Times Magazine article “The New Leipzig School” by Arthur Lubow (January 8, 2006):
When the painters who are now the young lions of the international art scene enrolled at the venerable Art Academy in Leipzig in the early 1990′s, they wanted to study art as it was taught for centuries – drawing from nude models, mastering the rules of perspective and analyzing formal composition. The ascendance of abstract painting in the years after World War II had eroded that tradition in the West, elevating originality and authentic feeling over technique and lifelike depictions, and reducing the word “academic” to a slur. But the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall were effective windscreens, blocking artistic change from ruffling the German Democratic Republic. Figurative art that was deprecated as hopelessly passé in Paris and Düsseldorf never lost its grip in Leipzig. The city prided itself on being the birthplace of Max Beckmann and (if you looked back a few centuries and across Saxony to Wittenberg) on a painterly lineage begat by Lucas Cranach. “The disadvantages of the wall are well known,” says Arno Rink, a 65-year-old recently retired professor of painting who served as director of the academy in Leipzig both before and after the wall came down. “If you want to talk of an advantage, you can say it allowed us to continue in the tradition of Cranach and Beckmann. It protected the art against the influence of Joseph Beuys.”
Joseph Beuys is the influential artist who did things like take ordinary objects and sign them, making them his “art,” and setting up blocks of fat in galleries. When they grew rancid, that was his “art.”
On how the East German artists employed symbolism under communism, including their use of Christian imagery:
Paradoxically, while the artists of the old Leipzig School didn’t discuss subject matter when they taught, they ruminated over it endlessly when they painted. They resorted to symbols to express a veiled criticism of their society without sacrificing their privileged status. “That was a possibility, using multiple layers, because the functionaries weren’t the brightest people,” Arno Rink says. “Icarus plays an important role in Leipzig painting. He is able to fly – you can see it as a motif of fleeing – and he gets too close to the sun and falls down, like people who got close to power. Heisig, Rink, Tübke – everyone used Icarus, because it looked good as a figure and it also had another meaning.” Mattheuer liked the biblical tale of Cain and Abel and the mythological character Sisyphus, who was fated to push a boulder up a mountain only to see it roll down before reaching the top. Tübke favored Christian references, like the Pietà. “These were used in a very intelligent way and could be read by people who were intelligent and had a higher level of education,” Rink says. “Nobody paints a Sisyphus or Icarus anymore. Artists are free to interpret the world without enigmatic tools.” Rink was a lifelong party member, but people on all sides of the political debates miss the days when both politics and painting seemed important. “Back then, there were problems we had to cope with,” Rink says. “I think society today is quite superficial in many ways. It is only normal that painters include this superficiality in their work.”
Posted by Veith at 12:54 PM
How can you lie if truth is relative?
The literary world is in an uproar at revelations that one noted author does not exist and that one acclaimed, Oprah-approved non-fiction book was apparently made up.
J. T. LeRoy presented himself as a young man in his 20s, a homeless victim who made his living as a male prostitute. He has published several hard-hitting works of fact-based fiction, opening up that seamy side of life to critical acclaim. In his appearances and interviews, he has long blonde hair and always wears sunglasses, adding to his mystique. Now, it turns out that “he” was being played by an actress! And no one can figure out who wrote those books!
Meanwhile James Frey’s bestselling memoir of his struggles with drug addiction and crime, “A Million Little Pieces,” is being shot down as investigators are finding no evidence in police records of his malfeasance. (There was a time when people tried to cover up their bad behavior, rather than their good behavior, but that’s another thread.)
But in the climate of postmodernism, in which all truth is seen as a construction, the boundary between fiction and non-fiction blurs. Here is what Frey’s publisher, Random House, is saying about the revelations that their bestseller may be a hoax: “Recent accusations against him notwithstanding, the power of the overall reading experience is such that the book remains a deeply inspiring and redemptive story for millions of readers.” Even though what it says didn’t really happen!
Posted by Veith at 09:01 AM
Christians on TV
Someone has pointed out that when you see a clergyman on TV, he is modeled after either Elmer Gantry (Sinclair Lewis’s corrupt hypocrite) or Father Mulcahy (the nice but ineffectual chaplain from M.A.S.H.). [In the movie version, didn't he always tell people not to call him "Father" because he was Lutheran, but he made so little impression that everybody, assuming he was Catholic, kept calling him that?] Now we have another variation, in which the clergyman is both corrupt and ineffectual, as in Father Daniel on the awful-on-so-many-levels “Book of Daniel.” [I had to review that too for WORLD. I'll post it once the issue is published.] I have noticed too that a reliable way to predict the true bad guy on the various “Law and Order” shows is to pay attention to which character is the most religious. He or she is nearly always the heinous killer.
Finally, though, there is a strong and admirable Christian in the TV universe: Eko, the Nigerian survivor on “Lost.” For all of his toughness, he is always quoting the Bible in a way that sheds light on situations. Last night, the series–one of the few I like on TV today–filled in his back story. Yes, he had been a guerilla, a killer, and a drug smuggler, but at the end of the episode his conversion seems complete. He takes on the mantle of his slain brother, the priest. (Eko has always sounded pretty Protestant, but this episode shows him as Catholic. Another TV quirk: Pretty much the only Christians Hollywood can conceive of are Catholics.)
The positive portrayal of African Christianity in Eko dovetails too with the open, fervent–and often tested-in-fire–piety that you do find in real life when you talk with an African Christian. African Christians are the ones holding the line against the collapse of orthodoxy in mainline Western denominations (such as Anglicanism and even state-church and liberal Lutheranism). The center of gravity of Christianity really is shifting to the former mission fields. The rest of us can learn from them.
Posted by Veith at 08:37 AM
January 11, 2006
My take on “Brokeback Mountain”
I had to review “Brokeback Mountain” for WORLD. Here is what I had to say about it:
Pundits are hailing Brokeback Mountain (rated R for explicit homosexual and heterosexual sex, male and female nudity, and bad language) as having the potential to do for homosexuality what Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner did for race. The love story it presents is so sympathetic, goes the conventional wisdom, that even denizens of red states will be won over to accept gay love. But the movie is too condescending to ordinary Americans and too anti-marriage to make such an impact.
Two down-to-earth cowboys get jobs herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain and become friends. One night, after drinking too much whiskey, they have sex with each other. After awhile, they come down off the mountain, back to their petty lives in small-town Wyoming. They marry women, have kids, and work hard to make a living. But every few months they get together again, go to the mountains, and renew their romantic sexual relationship. Life with their families is all crying babies, demanding wives, and hard, frustrating work. Gay sex with a kindred spirit in the glorious outdoors is portrayed as so much better.
But the symbolism is all wrong. The movie associates homosexuality with nature—magnificent mountains, big sky, clear blue water, teeming forests—as contrasted with the constraints of a tacky, empty civilization.
But whether you are a creationist or a Darwinist, having children and struggling to survive are what’s “natural.” Leaving your family for escapist, sterile sex is literally “unnatural.”
Heath Ledger does a fine piece of acting as the taciturn, conflicted Ennis. But Michelle Williams as his hurt, rejected wife makes a powerful case for family values.
Posted by Veith at 11:02 AM
Conservative churches
Thanks, everyone, for a profitable seminar over the last few days on what it means to be conservative. I learned that for Christians, the point is not to be either liberal or conservative but Biblical. I suppose Luther was condemned for the medieval equivalent of being “liberal,” since he indeed changed things. But, to use one of the concepts introduced in one of the comments, he was actually being “radical,” which means neither really liberal nor really extreme, but “returning to the roots.” Luther returned to the Bible, which set him against both the traditionalists (Rome) and the innovators (the enthusiasts) of his day.
As for the conservative movement today, we see that it comes in different varieties,from Jeffrey Hart’s patrician pragmatism to reforming activists, with libertarians, pro-lifers, capitalists, Ayn Randians, and Christian rightists all in this big tent. So can we apply any of this discussion to conservative churches?
Could we say that conservative Christianity today is hindered by some of the same misconceptions that hamper conservative politics? Is there a risk of Christians also focusing too much on “democracy” (the will of the people) as opposed to “constitutionalism” (adherence to the Bible)? Do churches also focus too much on the “free market economy” (growth, affluence, money, material success) as opposed to deeper values (beauty, truth, goodness)? Is our theology shaped more by human measures (whether intellectual or emotional, traditional or innovative) than by the Word of God?
Posted by Veith at 08:38 AM
Mainstream
I’m in the People’s Republic of Madison, tagging along with my wife who has a meeting here. Last n