March 25, 2008

The Washington Post, in a useful exercise, asked spokesmen for each of the three presidential candidates about what each of them would do to address our current economic problems. Go here, then click each candidate in turn.

The notion that Obama and Clinton have virtually the same policies does not hold, at least for this issue. And it is certainly not true that McClain is just like the Democrats. He stands for conservative free-market economic policies, addressing our problems through tax cuts, letting those who made bad investments fail, and refusing to bail out the financial industry. Obama offers a series of ingenious “incentives and guarantees” that would protect the little guys caught up in all of this, policies that would increase government’s impact in the economy, but which sound like they respect a free market and a free society. Clinton’s proposals, though, are full of government fiats: She would impose a 90 day moratorium on home foreclosures. The rhetoric is about what the government should permit and not permit. (E.g., “Complex lending vehicles for sophisticated financiers must ultimately be shown to benefit America’s working families”–shown to whom? who is going to have the power to approve or disallow such investments?) The point is, Clinton sounds far more hard-core statist than Obama does.

December 10, 2007

CRANACH OLD BLOG SITE ARCHIVE – 2007LUCAS CRANACH THE ELDERPosts from the old WORLD site 

October 26, 2007

CRANACH has a new home

Just as my wife and I have just moved into a new home, so has the Cranach blog. As I said would happen, WORLD’s sub-blogs are being kicked out of the nest, which is a good thing. I have my own domain, even, which will make possible my doing other things on the web. Cranach’s new address is www.geneveith.com.  Please bookmark this new site and visit often. This site will still be up for awhile, as the discussions keep going on. It will also take me awhile to move the archives and the blogroll. But do move with us as Cranach goes into its new phase.
Posted by Veith at 09:34 AM
 October 25, 2007
The Faith-Based Rockies
The Colorado Rockies are getting criticized for crediting their astonishing ascension to the World Series to God’s blessing. To the point that the major league website has censored out the God-talk from an interview with Oklahoma-slugger Matt Holliday. But the Rockies go beyond making the sign of the cross when they go up to bat. As a policy, they have instituted what they term “character” practices:  General Manager Dan O’Dowd, in an interview with USA Today before the streak, said: “You look at some of the moves we made and didn’t make. You look at some of the games we’re winning. Those aren’t just a coincidence. God has definitely had a hand in this.”

The article, parts of which Rockies players said were overstated, reported that the team doesn’t allow Playboy in the locker room, players are encouraged to attend chapel on Sunday, and Bible studies on Tuesday nights are packed. The team doesn’t listen to obscenity-filled rap music in the locker room like most other teams, either.

The Rockies are the only team in the majors with a paid chaplain on staff. And players share their testimonies with fans after the game on Faith Day, which includes a postgame concert and discounted tickets.
. . . . . . . . . .
Within a single strike of being eliminated from playoff contention a few weeks ago, the Rockies are now headed to the World Series for the first time in the short 14-year history of the franchise. They were in fourth place in the National League West when they began their streak a month ago. They then proceeded to win 13 out of the last 14 regular-season games and didn’t lose a game in their postseason series against both the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks. No team has ever won so many games in a row this late in the season. No team has ever made fewer errors in a season than the Rockies have this year.
“When a player’s playing really well, it feels really mysterious. It’s like a religious experience,” says historian Warren Goldstein, who has written books on both baseball and religion.

The difference between failure and success at the pro level is so minuscule that when things really click for a baseball club, people feel they’re in a kind of a zone where the normal rules don’t apply. “And that feels to a lot of players as though it’s a religious thing, like a religious experience,” says Goldstein. “In a way, I’d be astonished if they didn’t think they were getting some kind of extra, supernatural help.”

The Rockies had their road-to-Damascus conversion three years ago when pitcher Denny Neagle was caught soliciting a prostitute. Rockies Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Charlie Monfort released him three days later, swallowing $16 million of his contract. Monfort’s own faith intensified after he was put on probation for driving while impaired, and he changed the way he ran his club.
“We started going after character six or seven years ago, but we didn’t follow that like we should have,” he told USA Today. “I don’t want to offend anyone, but I think character-wise we’re stronger than anyone in baseball. I believe God sends signs, and we’re seeing those.”
 I think this is an example of very appropriate piety on the part of the baseball players. We should all praise God when things go well in our lives and our vocations. And here is another and perhaps better way to look at it: Maybe good character and moral self-discipline make for winning athletes.
The usual response to all of this is that God surely doesn’t care about mere sports! “Are you saying God loves the Rockies more than the Red Sox? Or that God is judging the Rockies because they were crushed in the first World Series Game 13-1? Or that He has something eternally against the Cubs?” No, not at all. These are mysteries. But why should God care about the fall of a sparrow? Or how many hairs you have on your head? And yet, He does. He seems to be interested in EVERYTHING!
Posted by Veith at 06:31 AM

The scary evangelical is not an evangelical
Have you read any of the stories on Erik Prince, C.E.O. of the Blackwater security company, recently in the news for nefarious deeds in Iraq? One motif of those stories is to associate Mr. Prince with the conservative evangelicals, which have become the boogie-men that secularists like to scare themselves with. The picture of Mr. Prince is of a “theo-con” with a private army, out to take over the world. But, as Mollie Hemingway points out, Mr. Prince is a Roman Catholic! The mainstream media doesn’t even understand the difference!
Posted by Veith at 05:57 AM

October 24, 2007
The Eugenics Agenda

James Watson won the Nobel Prize in 1953 for discovering the structure of DNA, a feat he popularized in his book “The Double Helix.” Lately, he has been spouting off about how black people are genetically inferior. Michael Gerson gives more details and raises the spector that looms behind such comments, the new biology’s penchant for eugenics. Gerson goes on to show that science alone can recognize NO BASIS for equality, human rights, or protecting the weak. For that you need to believe in something “transcendent”:

In 2003, Watson spoke in favor of genetic selection to eliminate ugly women: “People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great.” In 2000, he suggested that people with darker skin have stronger libidos. In 1997, Watson contended that parents should be allowed to abort fetuses they found to be gay: “If you could find the gene which determines sexuality and a woman decides she doesn’t want a homosexual child, well, let her.” In the same interview, he said, “We already accept that most couples don’t want a Down child. You would have to be crazy to say you wanted one, because that child has no future.”
. . . . . . . .
“If you really are stupid,” Watson once contended, “I would call that a disease.” What is the name for the disease of a missing conscience?
Watson is not typical of the scientific community when it comes to his extreme social application of genetics. But this controversy illustrates a temptation within science — and a tension between some scientific views and liberalism.

The temptation is eugenics. Watson is correct that “we already accept” genetic screening and selective breeding when it comes to disabled children. About 90 percent of fetuses found to have Down syndrome are aborted in America. According to a recent study, about 40 percent of unborn children in Europe with one of 11 congenital defects don’t make it to birth.
. . . . . . .
British scientist Robert Edwards has argued, “Soon it will be a sin of parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease.” A sin. Which leaves disabled children who escape the net of screening — the result of parental sin — to be born into a new form of bastardy and prejudice.
. . . . . .
Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a rising academic analyst of these trends, argues: “Watson is anti-egalitarian in the extreme. Science looks at human beings in their animal aspects. As animals, we are not always equal. It is precisely in the ways we are not simply animals that we are equal. So science, left to itself, poses a serious challenge to egalitarianism.”
“The left,” Levin continues, “finds itself increasingly disarmed against this challenge, as it grows increasingly uncomfortable with the necessarily transcendent basis of human equality. Part of the case for egalitarianism relies on the assertion of something beyond our animal nature crudely understood, and of a standard science alone will not provide. Defending equality requires tools the left used to possess but seems to have less and less of.”
Posted by Veith at 07:12 AM

World Serious
My favorite sentence in a sports commentary this year is by Dave Sheinin, on the Colorado Rockie’s last 22 games: Win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, loss. Win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win.
Make your World Series predictions here.
Posted by Veith at 06:23 AM

California update
Now a million people have been evacuated due to the wildfires in California, the biggest mass evacuation in California history.
Posted by Veith at 06:08 AM

October 23, 2007
The Christian Right’s Candidate?
As I blogged about earlier, leaders of the Christian right met in Washington to try to decide what presidential candidate to rally around. The results of the straw poll, with 5,776 votes cast:
First place: Mitt Romney (1,595)
Second place: Mike Huckabee (1,565)
Rudy Giuliani only won 107 votes, but that was more than John McCain’s dead-last showing at 26.
Posted by Veith at 07:15 AM

A new tactic for the Revolution
Still-Communist China is buying a big stake in the major investment bank Bear Stearns. This to go with earlier purchases of the private equity firm the Blackstone Group and the British establishment bank Barclay’s.
This is a brilliant tactic that Marx and Lenin never dreamt of! Become the proletariat of the whole world and make so much money that you can just buy the Capitalists!

(Whenever I bring this sort of thing up, some of you maintain that China isn’t really Communist any more, that what we are seeing is the victory of capitalism. I’m telling you that China is indeed Communist and that its leaders have simply devised a hybrid of market-based development within an overarching socialist ideology. That is, a Communism that works. Or, more precisely, a National Socialism.)
Posted by Veith at 07:04 AM

California burning
Southern California is on fire. A quarter of a million people have been evacuated, the most since Hurricane Katrina. Wildfires are ravaging San Diego, Orange County, Malibu, and many other beautiful places, including Pepperdine University. Hundreds of homes, churches, and other buildings have been destroyed, and one person so far has been killed.
We’ve got lots of blog readers in those areas. Someone who has been evacuated into some big basement or whose home has been burned down is unlikely to have internet access, so I don’t expect first-hand reporting, but I’d like to hear from you if possible about how things are. The rest of us should pray for them and their fellow-Californians.
Posted by Veith at 06:52 AM

October 22, 2007
What do you need in a Pastor?

The North Carolina conference this year was about the Office of the Ministry. I had been asked to approach the topic as a layperson and to suggest what we lay people need from our pastors. I was rather uncomfortable with that assignment, not wanting to be a pastor critic as I’ve been a movie critic, but I came up with some things to say.

I can’t believe I didn’t ask this sooner so that I could have used it as research for my presentation, but I’d like to know (especially since the seminary profs there said that I need to convey my message to their students so I might talk about this some more), what do you need in a pastor and what do you not need?
Posted by Veith at 08:20 AM

Scaerisms
Last weekend I spoke at the annual Luther Lecture program sponsored by Salem Lutheran church and Mt. Olive Lutheran church in North Carolina. Another one of the speakers was Dr. David Scaer, the renowned theologian and professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN.

The organizer of the event, Rev. Ray Ohlendorf, had to high-tail it out of there to get to his grandson’s baptism in Wisconsin, so it was left to Dr. Scaer to run the whole Sunday service, beginning with Bible class. Dr. Scaer is an irascible, witty, satirical kind of guy, known for giving individuals a hard time. (“But I just do it for sport,” he said as we were driving. “I don’t really mean it.”) His lecture style is digressive, to say the least, but in the pulpit he was all-business.

But whether he is tormenting someone or off on a tangent lecturing or preaching or telling anecdotes, Dr. Scaer tosses off profound theological insights as if they were afterthoughts. Here are some from the weekend:
Against the common evangelical assumption that very young children, being unable to reason, cannot have faith: Jesus commends the great faith of someone three times–the Syro-Phoenician woman, the centurion, and, as a group, CHILDREN.
On Thanksgiving coming up: To ‘thank” is a transitive verb; without saying whom we are thankful TO, just being thankful is an incomplete thought.
On Prayer: God comes to us in His Word and sacraments, but in prayer, we come to HIM.

On Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the LORD: Prayer is hand-to-hand combat.
Do any of you, particularly his students, have memorable Scaerisms of your own?
Posted by Veith at 08:00 AM

October 19, 2007
Suburban radicalism

Michael Gerson observes how his local suburban coffee shop is decorated with left-wing slogans and sells anti-Bush T-shirts and projects this whole bohemian revolutionary kind of vibe. This in fact has become a commercial fashion:
However you judge its authenticity, this brush fire of suburban radicalism is part of a trend. Mall mainstays such as Urban Outfitters have sold shirts sporting the CCCP logo (for the young or forgetful, this was an acronym for the Soviet Union), along with kaffiyehs to show solidarity with the Palestinians. Every store that hawks bath salts seems anxious to prove the connection between long soaks and social sensitivity. Images of Che Guevara adorn bikinis — more than slightly incongruous for one of the fathers of the Cuban labor camp system. Last year, the actress Cameron Diaz got into trouble in Peru for carrying a purse decorated with a Maoist slogan in a nation that suffered 70,000 deaths from a Maoist insurgency. (She later apologized.)

Marketing experts call this kind of social appeal “emotional branding.” Since it is difficult to gain consumer loyalty based on the virtues of clothing produced by the same Chinese manufacturers, companies compete for customers by reflecting their lifestyles and aspirations. People are shopping for “symbolic benefits” such as a feeling of sophistication, not just real benefits such as, well, coffee. And there seems to be a close tie between emotional branding and leftism. In the world of marketing, radical politics seems to be a symbol for rebellion, anger, individuality and artistic self-expression — the main preoccupations of youth culture. I have never been in a coffeehouse that displayed posters of Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. There actually was a time when conservatism was fashionable, and it is a bad herald that liberalism has become trendy again. Notice that ideas and arguments do not matter, just the coolness factor.

The irony, though, is that this so-called suburban radicalism, based on displaying one’s political righteousness on one’s consumer goods, is so capitalist to the core, turning ideologies into commodities to buy and sell in the marketplace. Affluent slaves to fashion who express their political zeal by buying $5 lattes pose NO threat to the established order.
Posted by Veith at 08:08 AM

Krauthammer’s razor
In an excellent column on Nancy Pelosi’s bewildering crusade to pass that resolution condemning Turkey for genocide, Charles Krauthammer sets forth a general principle:  I fall back on Krauthammer’s razor (with apologies to Occam): In explaining any puzzling Washington phenomenon, always choose stupidity over conspiracy, incompetence over cunning. Anything else gives them too much credit.
Posted by Veith at 08:03 AM

Woes of the Christian Right
Christian activists are holding a big conclave in Washington today, trying to figure out what to do about the presidential election. I don’t understand why they aren’t rallying around Mike Huckabee, whom even the secular media is praising as a candidate, and who is not just trying to get the Christian conservative votes but is a Christian conservative himself. The argument that he can’t win is ridiculous at the primary stage. Of course he can’t win if people who like him won’t vote for him because he can’t win. Vote for the person you agree with and maybe he will. Some of the same people who think this way about Huckabee are contemplating a Third Party candidate–do they think he can win?

Meanwhile, according to the linked article, Bob Jones III, the fundamentalist and arch-separatist, has endorsed the Mormon Mitt Romney! If Bob Jones can endorse a Mormon, anything can happen.

And while the leaders fret, the folks in the pew–half of them, according to polls–support pro-abortion but tough-on-terrorism Rudy Giuliani. My prediction is that, if abortion is taken off the table, with the choice being between two pro-abortion candidates, many conservative Christians will just revert to their former and in some ways more culturally-natural home in the Democratic party.
What do you think this election will do to Christian political activism?
Posted by Veith at 07:49 AM

October 18, 2007
The Woodstock Generation of politicians

In the earmark orgy, in which Congressmen pad legitimate bills with pork barrel spending of taxpayer money for special interests back home, the Senate is poised to allow Mrs. Clinton to give $1 million to an upstate N.Y. museum commemorating the Woodstock concert. The museum is already funded by a billionaire, but the Senate wants you to fund it too.

Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma congressman who deserves some kind of award for his lonely battle against this sort of thing, has been trying a new strategy, offering bills to take that money instead and use it for causes beloved by Democrats, such as “helping the children,” but even that doesn’t work.
Posted by Veith at 07:21 AM

Photo IDs for voters
I once wrote a monthly column for a local newspaper. I did a series of pieces on some deplorable racial issues that earned me all kinds of plaudits. Then, after an election marred by voter fraud, I did a column on the necessity of requiring voters to prove their identities with photo ID cards. Then some of the very people who had praised my crusade against racism attacked me, assuming that my desire for clean elections proved that I was a racist after all. So it was with some sense of vindication that I read this column about a court ruling that laws requiring voters to prove their identities are constitutional. The issue was clinched when the litigators arguing about how oppressive the measure is were unable to turn up EVEN ONE individual who would be burdened by this law:  After two years of litigation, neither the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) nor the other organizations who brought the Georgia suit could produce a single individual who did not already have a photo ID or could not easily get one. The claims that large numbers of voters lack a photo ID were dismissed by the court when the plaintiffs were unable to produce evidence.
As the judge noted, “although the Plaintiffs claim to know of people who claim that they lack Photo ID, Plaintiffs have failed to identify those individuals”the failure to identify those individuals ‘is particularly acute’ in light of plaintiffs’ contention that a large number of Georgia voters lack acceptable Photo ID.”
The case now goes before the Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the arguments and settle the question once and for all.

When an individual can vote more than once in different precincts and claiming different identities, as has been happening, that cancels the vote of rightful citizens of every race. It destroys democracy. All Americans of every party, group, and political persuasion, should support voter identification.
Posted by Veith at 07:04 AM

October 17, 2007
History in a broken plate

Archeologists rummaging around in James Madison’s garbage dump at his estate Montpelier have found a broken piece of china that apparently once belonged to the executed French queen Marie Antoinette. The relic, identified by its designer, jibes with oral accounts according to which the Father of our Constitution bought them from another founder James Monroe, who picked up the dishes when he was our diplomatic representative in France. Monroe sold them, among other keepsakes, when, in the absence of expense accounts, he was raising money to go back to France to buy the Louisiana Purchase!
Posted by Veith at 08:47 AM

Truth or Consequences
Congressional democrats are pushing for a non-binding resolution condemning Turkey for genocide against the Armenians. It is true that 1.5 million Christian Armenians were slaughtered in the early part of last century, though Turkey insists that they were largely casualties of starvation, disease, and war, since the Armenians were fighting on the side of the Russians during World War I against their own country.

I am sympathetic with the Armenians, but why pass a resolution now? Turkey, hyper-sensitive about the issue, is threatening to invade the Kurdish region of Iraq, the Kurds (like the Armenians) wanting their own country that includes part of what is now Turkey. The Iraqi Kurds have been sending guerillas–or call them “terrorists”–into Turkey to try to raise a rebellion. (Now Turkey knows how Israel feels.) So what happens if Turkey sends troops into Iraq and they cross our troops? The situation is incendiary.

This kind of feel-good legislation, oblivious to consequences, is what we can look forward to if and when the Democrats finish their takeover. There is a reason the Constitution entrusts the conduct of diplomacy and foreign relations to the Executive Branch.
Or do you think Congress should just go on record about the truth, regardless of the consequences?
Posted by Veith at 08:19 AM

Playoffs
Has there ever been a team as hot as the Colorado Rockies? And I feel good for Cleveland, a Milwaukee-type city. And there is Kenny Lofton, 15 years after a one-season wonder from thke Brewers, Pat Listach, beat him out for Rookie of the Year, still playing well, hitting home runs and stealing bases at the age of 40.
Posted by Veith at 08:12 AM
October 16, 2007

Relativism vs. Islam
Another cultural problem we have in prosecuting the war in Iraq and the larger war against Islamic terrorism–despite our military prowess–is articulated by Mark Steyn in “The Washington Times”:

One reason is we’re not really comfortable with ideology, either ours or anybody else’s. Insofar as we have an ideology, it’s a belief in the virtues of “multiculturalism,” “tolerance,” “celebrate diversity” — a bumper-sticker ideology that is, in effect, an anti-ideology that explicitly rejects the very idea of drawing distinctions between your beliefs and anybody else’s.

This was emphatically not the case, Mr. Steyn shows, during the Cold War , when Americans of all stripes–liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans–agreed on a clear ideology arrayed against Communism.
I would add, from remembering those times and from recently watching old Twilight Zone reruns, that this ideology emphasized the values of personal liberty, capitalist economics, and transcendent religion.
Posted by Veith at 07:01 AM

Dignity vs. Democracy
Columnist David Ignatius quoting counter-insurgency expert Lt. Col. David Kilcullen on the cultural divide in our actions in Iraq: “We talk about democracy and human rights. Iraqis talk about justice and honor.”

I would add that tribal societies are especially fixated on their honor, which explains why families in such socieites are often willing to kill their own children for violating their family honor in marrying the wrong person, or converting to Christianity, or other transgressions.

Ignatius emphasizes the “dignity” angle, observing, rightly, that our very presence in Iraq violates that people’s sense of dignity. This is why occupying powers always have such problems defeating native insurgents and why our problems in Iraq are so intractable.Posted by Veith at 06:25 AM

Military Victories
In most wars, the press covers the nation’s victories, in which the public takes satisfaction. In the Iraq war, coverage is mostly limited to how many of our soldiers got killed. Even when “good news” gets reported, it has to do with our soldiers building schools and helping kids. Not killing the enemy. But here the anti-war “Washington Post” tells a story of note, that our troops, for all of their problems with other factions, have come close to defeating Al-Qaida in Iraq.
Posted by Veith at 06:25 AM

October 15, 2007
Living Wills
No one ever accused “The Washington Post” of being pro-life, but the lead column on Sunday’s opinion sections was Charlotte F. Allen’s catchily-titled Back Off! I’m Not Dead Yet. It draws on her experience as a cancer patient about how people are subjected to intense pressure in hospitals to sign “Living Wills,” giving permission for doctors to start refusing care at various points so the patient can die. While not objecting to the principles behind the Living Wills as such, the author makes the case that in the way they are being promoted, they amount to propaganda and legal cover for euthanasia, which she shows is more common than we realize.
Posted by Veith at 07:12 AM

Hard Times Cafe
I’ve got to add another restaurant to my list of favorites: The Hard Times Cafe. It’s in Alexandria, though I see in the website I just linked there are some other locations. It’s modeled after the classic chili parlours of Oklahoma and Texas, but this one features three versions of this delicacy: Texas style, Cincinnati syle (!), and (my favorite) Terlingua Red. Not only that, but it has the best jukebox ever, playing vintage artists like Hank Williams and contemporary artists in that tradition, such as Wayne the Train Hancock and the Jimi Hendrix of country music, Junior Brown. (Also rockabilly and boogie, as well as Elvis and Bob Dylan, who are correctly placed in this overarching genre.) Hard Times also occasionally sponsors Western Swing or Alternative Country bands giving a concert out back in the parking lot.

I’ve eaten there several times now, underneath a faded Oklahoma flag. Sunday after church my wife had a meeting at her school, so after eating our Frito Pies, I stayed behind to watch the Packers beat the Redskins on the muted TV, with Johnny Cash wailing in the background. It couldn’t get much better than that for me.
Posted by Veith at 06:54 AM

Objective Justification
It was good to be back at our new church home on Sunday, after a spell, which will resume, of weekend travelling. One thing that struck me was an excerpt from Henry Eyster Jacobs’ “Elements of Religion” (1894), which we get from the excellent Scholia resource service and print on the backs of our bulletins:
Every human life that enters this world is that of a redeemed child of God.
He or she is also a child of wrath, Eyster explains, but Christ has died for the sins of the whole world. Therefore, everyone has been redeemed. The child of wrath simply needs to receive that redemption through the means of grace (the Word and Sacraments) and the saving faith in Christ whom they communicate.
Eyster is referring to a neglected teaching of Lutheran orthodoxy: the doctrine of objective justification. Christ has already justified the world. Each person now needs “subjective justification,” the personal appropriation of Christ’s work. But we can look at each person we see, including non-Christians, as one of Christ’s redeemed children.

Calvinists, of course, who believe Jesus died only for the elect, will not agree with this, of course, and I’m not sure how Arminians or other evangelicals take this. But I think this is an important teaching that can help us perceive the lost in a more loving way.

Correct me if I’m misconstruing objective justification or leaving something out. Also, feel free to comment on what YOU learned in church this week.
Posted by Veith at 06:41 AM

October 12, 2007
Terrorist mastermind converts to Christianity?

According to this report, Ramzi Yousef, who organized the first attack on the World Trade Center (not 9/11, but the earlier bombing in the parking garage) claims to have become a Christian. The terrorist, now in a Supermax prison in Colorado, claims this, but the warden accuses him of just playing games. But for a Muslim–who used to pray every hour when he first got there–to even say such a thing would be unthinkable unless it were true. The terrorist and his prison will be featured on this Sunday’s “60 Minutes,” which will air what the warden says. I suspect the program is missing the full magnitude of this possibility, which, if true, would be dramatic evidence of the grace of God changing a very hardened heart.
Posted by Veith at 07:56 AM

Nobel Prizes
So Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize? For his movie? If there were a Nobel Prize for environmentalism, OK, but what does that have to do with Peace, except in some metaphorical or indirect sense? And Doris Lessing gets the prize for Literature? I cannot speak of the other prizes, though one of the science awards went to the person who pioneered the technology that lets us download music.
Who would YOU nominate for a Nobel prize? (Both serious and satirical candidates are welcome.)
Posted by Veith at 07:44 AM

Bad Principles vs. No Principles
Which is better, or rather the lesser of two evils? A leader with bad principles, who would thus systematically and regardless of consequences enact bad policies? Or one with no principles, who might occasionally do something right out of opportunism, pressure, or self-interest?

Conservative pundit Charles Krautthammer says this about Hillary Clinton:
I could never vote for her, but I (and others of my ideological ilk) could live with her — precisely because she is so liberated from principle. Her liberalism, like her husband’s — flexible, disciplined, calculated, triangulated — always leaves open the possibility that she would do the right thing for the blessedly wrong (i.e., self-interested, ambition-serving, politically expedient) reason.
I’m not convinced, despite Mr. Krauthammer’s examples that he gives, that Mrs. Clinton is NOT ideologically motivated. But still, what do you think about the philosophical question–which has many applications–that this poses?
Posted by Veith at 07:33 AM
 October 11, 2007
Your kind words
In answer to some of your kind words upon my return: The best way to read academic books, such as my out-of-print and now expensive book on George Herbert, is to check it out of a library. Libraries are the custodians for books like that. Most big and university libraries have it already, but any library can get it for you via interlibrary loan. Same with my book on the Hudson River artists. And I actually am toying with someone else on the possiblity of a Herbert collection.

And, yes, I’m a big P.G. Wodehouse fan.  Thanks for your offer, Mark. I’ll get back to you, but I must set off for another busy day.
Posted by Veith at 07:14 AM

Hope for Europe and the rest of us
In London the Montgomeries took me to the Evensong service at St. Paul’s cathedral. Then in Salisbury I went to morning and evening services in the cathedral there, which is one of the most magnificent of all gothic structures. I had been to both places before as a tourist, but to experience them for the purpose for which they were built was overwhelming. With the ethereal voices of the children’s choir chanting the Psalms, the rich Biblical language of the Book of Common Prayer, and the extensive Bible readings, those transcendent structures were filled with the Word of God.

The cathedral services had no sermon, which I considered a good thing, given the current state of Anglican theology. But no one could deny, being in those cathedrals at worship, that Christianity is a formidable, profound, culture-creating religion, with a palpable presence.

Yes, Christianity is in a bad way in the West. Paul McCain reports in Cyberbrethren that ministers are being warned not to wear their clerical collars outside official functions, since there have been so many violent attacks on the clergy. But aren’t we told that Christians are BLESSED when we are unpopular, spit upon, and despitefully used? Doesn’t cultural hostility always bring out the best in the church, while cultural acceptance always makes the church weaker and less faithful?

My observation from the conference, after meeting many faithful Christians from England and elsewhere around the world, is that in countries where the church is culturally unpopular, ONLY those who are true believers bother to go to church. The intensity of faith increases.

The hope for Christianity in Europe is not in the numbers of people currently in the pews but that the Word of God is there. Europe has the infrastructure for reformation and revival. That the Word of God is still present means that God has not abandoned the West and that its time will come again.
Posted by Veith at 06:52 AM

October 10, 2007
The Conference
The conference on George Herbert–who is arguably the greatest Christian lyric poet–was at Salisbury, an easy train ride from London. Herbert’s tiny church, St. Andrews, was just a couple of miles from the city (I thought it was way out in the country), accessible via a very pleasant walk. (It’s still an active parish, with the members giving the 60 or so attendees from 9 countries a fine presentation on Rev. Herbert and their church. They included fascinating and, I think, otherwise unknown details, such as his custom of ringing the bells every morning, at which time he would pray for his parishioners and they would pray for him. This custom of mutual prayer continued for centuries until WWII, at which time the bell was melted down for the war effort.)

It was very gratifying for me to get back into Herbert scholarship. My dissertation led to my first book, “Reformation Spirituality: The Religion of George Herbert.” At that time, scholars tended to interpret Herbert in terms of medieval Catholic meditative practices. I made the obvious point that Herbert was, rather, shaped by the Reformation, with his poems all about the conflict between sin and grace, depicting justification by faith, and just about every other facet of Reformation piety. (My paper this time was on Herbert and the doctrine of vocation.)
I was pleased to see that now my position is generally accepted. (Other scholars around that time also were making similar points.) Big name scholars came up to me saying how they were influenced by that book, with one saying “it changed my life.” How amazing it is to me whenever I hear from someone who was positively affected by something I have written! How amazing it is to me to have actually had an impact on the scholarly world.

I met lots of fine scholars, a good number of which are devoted Christians. I met a professor from Japan whose research interest is Luther’s influence on Herbert. (This may be another example of Christian evangelism in Japan happening through Christian artists, such as Bach and writers such as Herbert.) Anyway, going to this conference was very good for me, as I get back into academia.
Posted by Veith at 06:44 AM
The Club
In London, I met up with my new colleague John Warwick Montgomery, who, with his charming wife Lany, took me out to dinner at his club. No, not the Drones, as would befit me better, but the Atheneum, where Dickens and Thackery reconciled, which has a bulging scrapbook of all of their members who won Nobel prizes. (The Atheneum actually has swept those prizes, taking one in every category, including the Peace prize [Churchill, I believe] and Literature [Kipling; T. S. Eliot].)

“The Atheneum was posh and flash and all that, with its dark panels and obliging attendants, but it was also kind of shabby with its well-worn furniture and the way everything was so, so old, making it quite comfortable even for this Oklahoma country boy. The place was thick with history, as is England in general. The best part, though, was conversation with the Montgomeries, something I’m looking forward to doing even more of this side of the pond.
Posted by Veith at 06:32 AM

Thrill of Victory, Agony of Defeat
I can’t believe I didn’t include a “you be the blogger” category for Sports, especially since so much has happened while I’ve been gone. So go ahead and take this space, you woeful Cubs fans, optimistic Brewers fans, surprised Packer fans, jubilant Red Sox, suicidal Yankees, etc., etc.
Posted by Veith at 06:29 AM

I’m back!
I’m back from England (more on that later) and I now, finally, have an internet connection at our new house. I still need a new home for this blog. Being able to archive the thousands of back pages may be more challenging than I thought. I’d be glad to hear of any servers or services any of you might recommend.
Posted by Veith at 06:25 AM

October 01, 2007
Disruptions

Sorry you had trouble getting onto the blog today. WORLD is re-doing its website presences and the sub-blogs, of which is this one, will be affected. We will soon have a new server, so stay tuned. We need to move everything over, and then I hope you will re-do your bookmarks. Anyway, stay tuned. If you click the old link and miss the memo about the new one, just do a search for CRANACH and you should find us. In the meantime, things should work as usual until further notice.
Posted by Veith at 07:30 PM
 September 28, 2007
You be the blogger week
Well, we’ve sold our house in Wisconsin, closing this morning, and we’re buying a house in Virginia, closing this afternoon. So this weekend will be all about moving. I’m not sure when our DSL line will be activated. And as if settling into a new house were not making for a busy enough week, Tuesday night I’ll be headed to merry England, where I was invited to give a paper on George Herbert, arguably the greatest Christian poet, at an international conference being held in his honor at the site close to where he lived. (The title of my paper: “”Brittle, Crazy Glass’: George Herbert, Vocation, and the Two Priesthoods.”) So that will be great fun, though I regret the timing and feel guilty leaving my wife behind to unload boxes. Anyway, this will all mean that I won’t be blogging next week.
I hate it when the blogs I read take off, person of habit though I am. (I miss Bunnie Diehl, who has never come back from her vacation, and I check Luther at the Movies every day in the so far vain hope that his hiatus to take care of a sick relative–is it Katie? Little Hans?–whom I pray for will soon get back to blogging.)

So if you are in need of a Cranach fix, let’s do this: I will set up posts for some of our familiar categories. I will turn them wholly over to you, notable readers and incredibly insightful commentators who carry this blog anyway. (I mean, really. Two posts on Jesse James turned up veritable experts on the man, including Roger who actually attended his second funeral!) Find a subject on which you have something to say, start some threads, provoke some discussions, and I’ll leave you to it until I return.
Posted by Veith at 05:47 AM

Culture warriors/culture worriers
Posted by Veith at 05:07 AM

Vocation
Posted by Veith at 05:05 AM

Theological topics
Posted by Veith at 05:04 AM

Movies, Books, & Music
Posted by Veith at 05:04 AM

Pro-Life topics
Posted by Veith at 05:03 AM

Political topics
Posted by Veith at 04:02 AM

September 27, 2007
To our agnostic reader
Lively discussion continues to rage on the post about “Brights,” a.k.a. atheists, a couple of days ago. The comments include one from the Brights’ webmaster, who took umbrage at the way I was making fun of the atheists’ self-chosen moniker. But I appreciate SteveG, an agnostic who reads this blog, for weighing in.
SteveG, if the only Christianity I knew was mainstream liberal Protestantism, I would be like you. I’d much rather be an agnostic–or even a “bright”–than a theological liberal. Theological liberals don’t believe Christianity either, gutting it of the good parts (the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Gospel) and leaving only religiosity and do-gooderism. I have no respect for that. You are better off leaving, as you did.

As a Lutheran, I confess, in the words of our catechism, that “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.” Luther continues: “but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Faith is a gift. I can’t help having it.

Why do I have it and you don’t? I don’t know. It is certainly not because I am better than you. It is probably because I am worse than you. I suspect that you consider yourself to be a good person and are fairly satisfied with your life. If so, you are right. Christianity has nothing for you.

If, however, you do not live up to your own standards, if you have known guilt and failure, if you ever feel lost in the cosmos, if you struggle with the meaning of life and death, then the message that God became a human being; that somehow He took into Himself your griefs and transgressions; that God died for you; that He rose from the dead and somehow carries you with Him. All of that can become quite compelling. Not as an intellectual theorem but as something–rather, someone–that possesses you.

I know Christ not just as some idea to be debated, nor even just as a historical fact, nor even as an imaginary friend inside my head. He is outside myself, but really present. I hear His voice everytime I open my Bible or hear good preaching. I can pray to Him and I have the sense that He is listening. I encounter Him, not abstractly, but in His body and blood when He gives Himself to me again in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

I can’t explain this, and I’m not saying it makes sense, but this is a genuine conviction, the evidence of something not seen, a kind of trust and relationship that is faith. Not faith in an emotion or a choice or an idea but faith that has the object of God enfleshed and nailed to a cross.Posted by Veith at 05:50 AM

The hidden agenda in the embryonic stem cell debate
Here is a powerful article by Julia Gorin on the fact that stem cells from embryos are not working to treat the ailments they are supposed to, but that only adult stem cells are actually showing therapeutic promise. And that the hidden agenda of the activists calling for the harvesting of embryos for their stem cells is to further dehumanize the fetus and to thus further legitimize abortion on demand.
The article is from several years ago, so the science may not be up to date, but she also addresses other arguments in the debate that I have not seen before and that cut through to the heart of the issue. I’ll post the whole thing after “continue reading.”

From Jewish World Review, October 15, 2004:
Christopher Reeve’s untimely death this week no doubt will endow the fight for embryonic stem-cell research with that much more sanctimony, and will inspire even more voters to heed Ron Reagan’s Democratic Convention call to “cast a vote for embryonic stem cell research” next month.

But the widespread lust to create and destroy embryos borders on creepy. While the world fixates specifically on embryonic stem cells, the cells cultured from adult and umbilical cord tissue have been making all the breakthroughs — just as one questioner cited at last week’s presidential debate.

The embryonic stem cell controversy is as charged as it is not because of religious right-wing zealots, as proponents of the research would have us believe, but because of abortion-on-demand zealots: it’s a sneak tactic to reinforce dehumanization of the embryo. But the successful right-wing-zealot spin on the debate has more than half of Republicans supporting taxpayer funding of it.
The record on embryonic stem cells is this: Stem cells extracted from embryos lack appropriate developmental instructions. In English, that means they’re so malleable that when a Parkinson’s patient in China was implanted with them a few years ago, her brain grew a cancerous cyst of human bone, hair and skin. Does Ron think his father should have had a Siamese twin in his head to keep him company during Alzheimer’s?

Speaking of Alzheimer’s, the experts say it’s unlikely that the cure for that particular disease lies in stem cells at all.  “I personally think we’re going to get other therapies for Alzheimer’s a lot sooner,” stem cell researcher Michael Shelanski told the Washington Post in June. The paper goes on: “…Given the lack of any serious suggestion that stem cells themselves have practical potential to treat Alzheimer’s, the Reagan-inspired tidal wave of enthusiasm stands as an example of how easily a modest line of scientific inquiry can grow in the public mind to mythological proportions. It is a distortion that some admit is not being aggressively corrected by scientists.”

But the public likes fairytales, and counts on the magic wand of government money to deliver them.

Recall when the issue of the day was experimentation using aborted fetal tissue, a precursor to the embryonic stem cell debate. According to that study, done at the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, CA and published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 200l, when brain cells from aborted fetuses were used to treat Parkinson’s patients — who had the usual tremor-type symptoms — the patients could now add uncontrolled writhing, twisting, chewing, wrist-flexing, head-jerking and arm-flinging to the roster.

In contrast, a patient named Dennis Turner testified at a Senate Hearing in July about the adult stem-cell treatment he received for Parkinson’s four years ago. He related that his shaking had improved to the point that not only was he able to go back to doing big game photography, but also to escape from a charging rhinoceros.

In June, 2002, the most flexible adult-derived stem cell was discovered in bone marrow, capable of transforming into just about any of the body’s specialized cells. In 2001, when an Israeli girl’s own white blood cells were implanted into her spine to treat paraplegia, she regained bladder control and limb mobility that stopped just short of the ability to walk — precisely the hoped-for benefits of embryonic stem cell therapy that are a decade or more away if at all.
Meanwhile, there is no law against private funding for embryonic stem cell research. Yet PPL Therapeutics, the British company that created Dolly the sheep, shut down its stem cell research program after it failed to find a buyer. Today PPL focuses on what it calls “more profitable markets” like protein treatments for lung disease and cystic fibrosis.

In contrast, BBC.com reports that Britain’s National Health Service “has recently invested large amounts of money into storing cord blood from newborn babies, and a number of private companies in the US and Europe are also offering cord blood storage services.” That’s because U.S. researchers have successfully used stem cells from umbilical cords to treat genetic diseases in children. The Duke University researchers had been using cord blood but, continues the report, “until now have been unsure as to why their treatment was successful.”

Perhaps it’s because they’re not using aborted fetuses or farmed embryos. Perhaps science is trying to tell us that the difference between an umbilical cord from a live birth, and a discarded fetus or embryo isn’t subtle. Perhaps the ethical way may also prove to be the most expedient way. Perhaps science is reminding us that it has ethical lines that shouldn’t be crossed — something that we used to be aware of.

The science-above-all argument is that in research, all avenues must be explored; one cannot pick and choose among them — regardless of whether the most promising of those avenues is capable of producing the desired result on its own.
But when did farming embryos for research and disposal become a legitimate avenue of research? If scientific research means pursuing all avenues, why not experiment on lunatics? Death row inmates aren’t busy either. Nor, for that matter, are the terminally ill or the elderly. These people have far less life potential than an embryo, anyway. If advancement is the priority, why not take an example from the Germans and Japanese, especially since our research is for creating cures and not plagues?

Naturally, prisoners — and most lunatics — would never consent to being experimented on. And their advocates would defend their civil rights. Conveniently enough, embryos can’t give or withhold consent, and their rights advocates are dismissed as fanatics.

But who are the real fanatics? When the debate is embryonic stem cell research, its proponents place science above everything else. When the debate is abortion — and science itself gives us ever clearer and earlier glimpses of “what” is growing in a uterus — the science-above-all crowd dismisses the science, even vociferously contradicting it.

So what we have is this: In the case of stem cells, all moral questions are abandoned supposedly in the furtherance of science. In the case of abortion, science is abandoned in the furtherance of an agenda. But the agenda is one and the same in both cases, and “science” is merely its pawn.
Posted by Veith at 05:44 AM

September 26, 2007
Vocations that are not callings
The Jesse James discussions raise an important issue about vocation. Since the purpose of every calling is to love and serve our neighbors, occupations that involve harming and using our neighbors are not true callings. God did not call Jesse James to rob or shoot his neighbor. So being a criminal is not a valid vocation.

That should be obvious, but there are also lawful professions that also involve harming one’s neighbor. An abortionist misuses his physician’s calling to heal by killing his patients. A pornographer makes a living by causing his neighbors to sin.

The early church had to contend with this with their catechumens, insisting, for instance, that Christians could not be gladiators, who kill their neighbors for sport. Being a soldier, though, does love and serve his neighbor, according to Luther, by defending his country, even though his calling entails killing his enemy.

There are some fine lines and no doubt disagreements about this. I once spoke about vocation in Nevada, where the question arose about the vocation of the blackjack dealer. Does she love and serve her neighbor as an entertainer, or harm her neighbor by winning his money? And what does a church in Nevada do with many members who have a part in the gambling industry?

Can you think of other lawful occupations that are not true callings from God and that Christians would do well to leave?
Posted by Veith at 06:18 AM

Book reviews
Thanks too for the book suggestions. You mentioned some I want to read. And thanks for the kind words about some of my books. I just finished another one, and it’s encouraging that people read them and find them helpful. I’m also glad some of my former students read this blog. One would think they would have had their fill of my digressions.
Posted by Veith at 06:14 AM

Jesse James, again
Thanks for the substantive and informative comments about Jesse James on yesterday’s post. To tell the truth, I’m not nearly finished with Hansen’s book, so I’m not sure what’s in it later. I’m glad to hear that he is a Catholic who has indeed treated Christian themes in literature–I want to read those others–so perhaps Jesse’s spiritual bent will come out later. But what I wish the author would have done, for a beginning, is simply tell us what church he went to. Was he a Baptist who believed “once saved always saved,” interpreting that (wrongly) as a license to do whatever he wanted to do? Or was he a Methodist always re-committing his life to Christ whenever he killed an innocent man in cold blood, as he did often? Was he an antinomian Lutheran? (My impression from the book is that Jesse was so self-righteous he never considered anything he did as wrong, an ugly dysfunction that can crop up in all denominations, but which does not get past God.)

So I appreciate very much Roger Moldenhauer’s contribution, that Jesse’s father was a Baptist pastor who was one of the founders of William Jewell College! More amazement! I envy Roger for attending his re-burial service, a regular gospel-preaching Baptist funeral. My mind continues to boggle.
And it keeps boggling that he remains a folk hero in Missouri and that people still defend him. One of the themes of Hansen’s book is the way Jesse became a celebrity and the way the dirty little coward who laid poor Jesse in his grave (who knows my allusion?) wanted to be a celebrity, motivated not just by the governor’s reward money but by the chance to be famous. Robert Ford went on the road re-enacting his assassination on the stage, but the public soon turned against him big time.

I’m also encouraged that Lars Walker wants to write a Western and has already done research on the Northfield bank incident, including seeing the skeleton of whoever it was. (My mistake, not Hansen’s: The skeleton in life belonged to Clell Miller.)
Posted by Veith at 05:48 AM
September 25, 2007
Read any good books lately?
Enough about my reading. Have you read anything you’d like to recommend?
Posted by Veith at 06:42 AM

War and/or Peace
I am happy to report that I have taken upon myself a project that I have long anticipated, as I discussed some time ago on this blog: I am reading Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” It’s before-bed reading, so I am taking it slowly, in it for the long haul. I admit that I am tempted to skip the Peace part and go right to the War. The first hundreds of pages take place in drawing rooms and at balls, but I see that Tolstoy is patiently building characters that I’m sure will pay off.
I have learned that Boris and Natasha from the old and great “Rocky & Bullwinkle” show were named after a couple in “War and Peace.” And I am curious how the stout, bespectacled, good-natured but clueless Pierre will do once he goes to war. Right now, he is actually sympathetic to Bonaparte. In fact, all of these Russian aristocrats are always speaking French and love all things about that country. Tolstoy is setting up some major ironies.
Posted by Veith at 06:41 AM

Jesse James, the Christian outlaw
I’ve been reading Ron Hansen’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” Not because it was made into a Brad Pitt movie to be released soon but because it was recommended as a good example of a genre I’m interested in, a rigorously accurate piece of history told with the narrative techniques of the novel. As the title indicates, the book is about the famous outlaw and the dirty little coward that laid poor Jesse in his grave.
The character of Jesse James is fascinating. He was a Bible-reading choir director who just happened to make his living robbing trains, sticking up banks, and murdering some 17 men. But he was a man of principle, refusing to rob preachers and widows. He would write letters to newspapers about how God will continue to protect him as long as he continues to serve Him.
He is a study in false piety. He seemed to rationalize his predations with a defeated-confederate loyalty, a modern Democrat’s hostility to corporations, and–above all–a sense that the world disrespects him and so deserves every blow he can give it.

Like most modern authors, Hansen does not really know what to do with religion, so I don’t think he really captures Jesse’s character, with its mixture of sanctimony and cruelty, hypocrisy and lawlessness (qualities that really do go together, though usually in a milder concoction than we see with Jesse James).
I’d like to see what an author who does understand Christianity could do with this character. Maybe we could lure Lars Walker into the task by appealing to his Minnesota nationalism. He could center on the James and Younger gangs’ disastrous attempt to rob the bank in Northfield, Minnesota. In that best of arguments for the Second Amendment, the townspeople got their guns and blasted these high-powered criminals to kingdom come.
I blogged about that event before, occasioned by my visit to that fair and brave little city, but Hansen provides some priceless details. When word spread that the bank was being robbed, the townspeople ran home to get their guns or, if they didn’t have one, rushed into the general store to make a purchase. The only ammunition one defender had was birdshot, which, while not lethal, absolutely tortured the bad guys trying to run away. The town’s mild-mannered physicians, Dr. Wheeler, went to the second floor of his building and from his window picked off one legendary outlaw after another. When the smoke cleared, the town donated the bodies of the slain malefactors to science. After the nearby medical school was finished with them, Dr. Wheeler procured the skeleton of one of the Younger brothers whom he had killed and kept it on display as a medical reference in his examining room.
A fiction writer couldn’t make up details as good as what actually happened.
Posted by Veith at 06:18 AM

September 24, 2007
Comments on Vocation

Read the comments on the weekend’s post about the vocation of actors. These are unusually insightful–even for this crowd of insightful readers–on the value of the arts and the nature of vocation.
Yes, “vocation,” meaning “calling” is technically reserved for those who have been “called by the Gospel,” but other terms, such as “office,” can apply to non-Christians as well. I was particularly intrigued by Lars Walker’s point about how those who put on a play all have to work together for a common goal–including making each other look good–as an image of how other callings also ought to function. Frank’s point about how “play” relates to all vocations was also helpful to me.
Posted by Veith at 08:53 AM

Ken Burns’s “The War”
Did you see the opener of Ken Burns’s new documentary on World War II, “The War”? I didn’t, but would like to hear from those who did. From what I read, it sounds rather like a pacifist screed, focusing on the horrors of war (which are certainly real), while downplaying the heroism and the morality of those who fought such a just war. Or does the heroism and morality come through? The filmmaker’s treatment of the Civil War was outstanding, but that really was a tragic conflict. I am hoping that he might hit the right notes with WWII. Did he?
Posted by Veith at 08:37 AM

Prospects for the “Brights”
As I blogged about recently, atheists are starting to call themselves “brights.” My colleague David Aikman is writing a book about the new atheists, and I heard him recount a comment from a pundit making fun of the term. He said that by calling themselves “brights,” the atheists are implying that everyone else is “dim” and stupid. The atheists might as well just refer to themselves as “smarty-pants.”
If there is one thing today’s postmodernist public cannot abide is anyone implying that they are better than anyone else. This antipathy, of course, also applies to Christians, whose belief in morality is often interpreted as some kind of moral superiority. (I heard that a contestant in one of those reality-based model competitions was a Christian who refused to pose in revealing outfits. She was soon voted off the show because he acted like she was better than anyone else.) Certainly, Christians who want to be convincing to the public today, so as to evangelize them, would do better to confess their sinfulness rather than their virtues.

But the neo-atheists are going to have the same problem in their anti-evangelism. This is not their only problem in reaching postmodernists. They are arguing on the basis of absolutes. They are saying Christianity is not true. They are arguing that Christianity is not good. Neither line of thought carries much weight in an age of relativism.

Even worse for the cause of the brights is that they are militant in wanting people to abandon their different faiths and to embrace atheism. That’s proselytizing. It’s also, by today’s standards, intolerant.
The brights can be seen as atheistic fundamentalists (people who think they have the only truth when it comes to religion), or as atheistic jihadists (people trying to stamp out the religions that oppose theirs).
Maybe the brights should talk with some church growth consultants. To reach people today they need to incorporate some catchy pop songs, meet felt needs, and downplay their doctrines.
Posted by Veith at 08:12 AM
September 21, 2007

The Vocation of Athlete
Now do the exercise described below, in the previous post, to the vocation of the professional athlete.
Posted by Veith at 08:10 AM

The Vocation of Actor
The post below raises an important theme for this blog, the doctrine of vocation. According to Luther, vocation is “God’s mask,” in which He is hidden but through which He works to give His gifts and govern His creation. God gives us this day our daily bread through the vocation of farmers, millers, and cooks. He grants healing through the vocation of doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. He creates new life through the vocation of mothers and fathers, etc., etc. So he also works through us in our various vocations in the church, the household (including the workplace), and the state. And our purpose in all vocations is to love and serve our neighbor.
Ironically, the workplace vocations that most immediately and most importantly serve the neighbor are those that often receive the least esteem from the world, as well as the lowest pay (garbage collectors, farm workers, physical laborers). Whereas those that arguably do little earthly good (entertainers, athletes) have the highest status and paychecks.

But I do think entertainers and athletes have a legitimate vocation from God. What are the implications of the doctrine of vocation, say, for actors? What is their proper work. Who are the neighbors they are to love and serve, and how can they do that? What temptations do they face to misuse their vocation?
Posted by Veith at 08:01 AM

British actors vs. American celebrities
Nearly a third of the new television series premiering this Fall feature British actors. This article amounts to an interesting consideration of the acting vocation. It seems in England, acting is taken as a serious profession, involving extensive training, discipline, and hard-work. In America (though that older tradition still exists, especially in the theater), the emphasis is often on becoming or creating a celebrity.

Now Hollywood is discovering that England has a legion of skilled professionals who, by American standards, have a “fresh face.” Which is ironic, because my wife and I, being BBC aficionados, have noted how we keep seeing the same faces, from Dr. Who episodes to Masterpiece-theatre historical extravaganzas. We have also noticed how some of them have come to America to seek their fortunes, with many of these virtuosos appearing in bit parts.

Now at least some of them are getting good roles. The ground-breaker, as the linked article says, was Hugh Laurie, who, as I have written before, is a COMIC actor who, as Dr. House, plays totally against type and with a dead-on American accent. Click “continue reading” for a telling comparison of actors from the two countries.

Referring to Kevin McKidd, who played the centurion in the terrific HBO series “Rome”:
“We have a star culture — in Europe, it’s a profession.”
Case in point:
“Journeyman” star McKidd explained to critics at the press tour that his native Scottish accent is “completely impenetrable.” So when he went to drama school in Edinburgh, he was trained in a “very middle-class kind of neutral Scottish accent,” after which — at British drama school, “which is theater-based and Shakespeare-based” — he learned “what they call ‘RP,’ which is ‘received pronunciation,’ which is what the news readers over there speak.” And now, he said, he’s learned a “West Coast American accent” for his “Journeyman” role.
“I’m from the East Coast,” his American co-star Gretchen Egolf prattled merrily when he was through, flipping her hair. “I haven’t thought one minute about changing my accent to the West Coast American accent — you’re doing a much better job than me.”
See what we mean?
Posted by Veith at 07:47 AM

September 19, 2007
Investing in rope to hang capitalists
Still-communist China is launching a huge high-tech surveillance program to keep tabs on dissidents, questioners, and Christians. To buy, sell, and develop the necessary technology, the still-communist government has started a for-profit corporation, China Security and Surveillance Technology.
This corporation will soon be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It has already attracted some $110 million FROM AMERICAN INVESTORS!
Comments columnist Harold Meyerson (linked above):

To be sure, leading American companies have a long and sordid record of investing in totalitarian states, including Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and axis-of-evil Iran (hello, Halliburton). But, distinguish as we must among the various levels of hell, at least those American companies did not invest in the Gestapo, the Stasi, the KGB, the Revolutionary Guard. Maybe that was only because it was hard to turn a buck on the Stasi. Once China turned communist repression into an investment opportunity, however, capitalism responded as capitalism is supposed to respond: It wanted in. There are mega-bucks to be made, the hedge funds concluded, in hedging against democracy.

Capitalism is global now; democracy is not. We are moving toward one unified world market that is home to democratic and authoritarian systems alike. The Chinese model of Leninist capitalism poses a systemic challenge to the democratic capitalism that the West espouses. It promises continuing power and greatly increased wealth to the ruling elites of developing nations. Which means that America must disenthrall itself from one of its most cherished myths: that capitalism and democracy go hand in hand, that the spread of markets inevitably means the coming of democracy. That was a key argument that proponents of extending permanent favored trade status to China made during the 1990s. In fact, the creation of the Chinese-American economic entity that followed — in effect, moving our manufacturing belt from the Midwest to Shenzhen — has demonstrated the opposite. Leading American companies such as Microsoft, Google and Yahoo have acquiesced in Chinese Internet censorship. China’s nonexistent standards of product safety — the direct consequence of its absence of democracy — became our standards, too.

And now, some of Wall Street’s smoothest operators are investing directly in China’s suppression of speech, worship and the right to assemble.Posted by Veith at 07:12 AM

Re-education camps
In Iraq, we are currently holding some 25,000 detainees–rounded up insurgents, including over 800 juveniles–which gives us the opportunity to re-shape their thinking. From an article on the subject:
The U.S. military has introduced “religious enlightenment” and other education programs for Iraqi detainees, some of whom are as young as 11, Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, the commander of U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, said yesterday.

Stone said such efforts, aimed mainly at Iraqis who have been held for more than a year, are intended to “bend them back to our will” and are part of waging war in what he called “the battlefield of the mind.” Most of the younger detainees are held in a facility that the military calls the “House of Wisdom.”

The religious courses are led by Muslim clerics who “teach out of a moderate doctrine,” Stone said, according to the transcript of a conference call he held from Baghdad with a group of defense bloggers. Such schooling “tears apart” the arguments of al-Qaeda, such as “Let’s kill innocents,” and helps to “bring some of the edge off” the detainees, he said.
. . . . . . . . .
Psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and interrogators help distinguish the extremists from others, he said. 

After reassessments and interrogations, Stone said, some detainees are recommended for release. “If a detainee is an imperative security risk . . . then I’m going to reduce that risk and I’m going to replace that destructive ideology,” he said. “And then when he’s assessed to no longer be a threat, I’m going to release the detainee being less likely to be a recidivist.”
Since May, Stone said, he has released about 2,000 detainees “and we’ve not had any coming back.”
 Propaganda, re-education camps, brain-washing, and government-sponsored teaching of religion–does this bother you, even though it seems to “work”?
Posted by Veith at 06:59 AM

September 18, 2007
The Return of Ayn Rand

Another factor in the rise of atheism, described below, is what we might call the second coming of Ayn Rand. Read this for how high-powered executives and entrepreneurs are embracing her writings. (A major acolyte is former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan.)

According to Rand and her “objectist” philosophy, the only virtue is selfishness. She advocates radical libertarianism and laissez faire economics in every sphere of life. She attacks belief in God and altruism of every kind. Her novels, though, celebrate the entrepreneur who rises above the crowd. She thus has great appeal to many conservatives, some of whom glom onto her celebrations of freedom and free enterprise without buying completely into her ideology. Still, the Randian mindset is very insidious.

There is an atheism that attacks Christianity on the grounds that it is not true. The new atheism, described below, attacks Christianity on the grounds that it is not good. But Rand’s atheism, with that of her mentor Nietzsche, is far more devastating, attacking Christianity on the grounds of its strengths. The ethic of “love,” they claim, inhibits the natural law of survival of the fittest, making successful people feel guilty, and draining the culture of its strength, with Christian compassion begetting expensive welfare programs, protectionist economic policies, and other misguided attempts to prop up failures, etc., etc. And unlike most atheists, she offers a positive ideology to fill the void she creates.
When I was in high school, a good friend got way into Rand and this kind of thinking. It challenged my then rather minimalistic faith more than anything else. Trying to answer her led me to C. S. Lewis, among other writers, and drove me deeper into Christianity. But it is driving even more away.
Posted by Veith at 09:08 AM

Atheism is back in vogue
Read this article and this article, which chronicle the new upsurge of atheism.
Five recent books attacking religion (such as Christopher Hitchen’s “God Is Not Great”) have become bestsellers, outselling titles by the Pope and Tim LaHaye. Today, 5 million Americans claim to be atheists. Throw in agnostics and you have 20 million. But more and more are coming out of the closet, admitting their unbelief, thanks in part to the backlash against all “fundamentalism” after 9/11 and the surging unpopularity of conservative Christians.
Meanwhile, atheists are organizing into associations. Among other things, they are devising ceremonies for weddings, the birth of babies, and funerals. (Remind you of any other institution?)

And, to give themselves a better connotation, they are following the model of homosexuals who started calling themselves the more cheerful word “gay.” The atheists are calling themselves “brights.” (This signifies also that they think they are brighter and smarter than people who believe in religion.)
Posted by Veith at 07:10 AM

September 17, 2007
McCain’s church-hopping

Evidently, Episcopalians don’t have a confirmation vow. John McCain says that he is no longer an Episcopalian but a Baptist. But that’s he’s still Episcopalian.
Posted by Veith at 07:40 AM

Overcome with Faith
Don’t get me wrong, from the post below: Other Christians also are willing to suffer all, even death, for their faith. I salute these faithful Presbyterians: Details have emerged about how those South Korean Christians were treated by the Taliban. They were beaten, put through mock executions, and threatened with death if they did not convert to Islam. This entailed reciting a particular prayer. Apparently, none of them did, and two of their number were killed. Killer quote in the article, as the leader of the group was led away to his death: “overcome with faith.”
Posted by Veith at 07:21 AM

To suffer all, even death
Our transfer finally went through, so yesterday my wife and I were formally received into membership at St. Athanasius Lutheran Church. The service drew on the Baptism and Confirmation liturgies. We renounced the devil and all his works, we affirmed our belief in the Holy Trinity, we accepted the authority of the Bible, and we confessed that the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is drawn from the Bible and is “faithful and true.” After agreeing to hear the Word of God, receive the Lord’s Supper, and live according to the Word of God “in faith, word, and deed,” we were asked this:

Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?
We answered, “I do, by the grace of God.”

I don’t believe we were asked that when we first became Lutherans years ago, nor in the other churches we transferred to. As I blogged some time ago, that confirmation vow is very powerful, making us feel a solidarity with those through the ages who did suffer death rather than deny that confession. I think of the Inquisition, whose original target was believers in the “Lutheran heresy,” the cities in the Thirty Years War whose inhabitants were put to the sword for believing the Augsburg Confession, the members of the “Confessing Church” who opposed the liberal, Nazified state church of Germany that formally rejected the Scriptures for being “Jewish,” the Lutherans being killed by Muslims in Africa today (a land that has far more Lutherans than America does).

Becoming a Lutheran is a big commitment in this time of church shopping and generic Christianity. I can understand someone not wanting to be a Lutheran, but I can’t understand how anyone who took that vow could join some other church or would want to, given how Word-centered, Christ-centered, and Gospel-centered this theology is.
Posted by Veith at 06:47 AM

September 14, 2007
Our little controversy

On the “Having Discussions” post: I do not have time to engage in Matthew 18 controversies with people I don’t even know and on internet accounts I don’t even have time to keep up with. I don’t think Matthew 18 should be used as a shield to ward off criticism in intellectual disputes, and, besides, as Luther’s Large Catechism (to which I must confessionally subscribe) it doesn’t apply here because public offenses may be publically rebuked. (Luther didn’t need to travel to Rome to discuss his disagreements with the Pope privately before publishing his 95 Theses.) But even setting aside all of this and assuming Matthew 18 does apply, Manxman was the one who attacked ME!

And it wasn’t because of his “manner.” It was the substance. He claimed I believe things I do not believe, that I was going soft on an issue that I was not going soft on. I keep explaining that, but he and some of his defenders still do not understand. Whoops, I used a confusing word. Let me explain: Wanting to “understand” something is not that same thing as “understanding” in today’s therapeutic tolerant sense. Rather, it is what I am obliged to try to do in my vocation as a scholar. Asking a question is not the same as “questioning,” but is what I am obliged to do in my vocation as a teacher.
Manxman did not apologize, except in a sense that makes him get to be Martin Luther and me get to be Neville Chamberlain. He is clearly not sorry for what he said, nor does he think he needs my forgiveness. But I don’t care. I’ll forgive him anyway.
You’re not banned, Manxman.
Posted by Veith at 08:59 AM

How the government solves a problem
It has been discovered that prison libraries had a big selection of jihadist literature. OK, that is a problem. So the solution was to draw up a list of 150 safe titles from each of the world’s religions. Then, all titles that are NOT on the list are to be purged from the shelves, including many innocent and edifying Christian books.
Instead of just getting rid of the books that DO incite violence, the government gets rid of a far larger number of books that DO NOT. I guess the idea was to prevent the necessity of anyone having to read any of them.
Posted by Veith at 08:40 AM

Animal/Human Embryos
British scientists are getting ready to generate the first embryos that are hybrids of human beings and animals. British regulators have given permission for human cells to be imprinted in a cow’s egg, which will then be destroyed after 14 days.

Please notice, these will not be just cells, but EMBRYOS. By pro-life doctrine, an embryo is life to be protected. These will be hybrids, not chimeras (in which species are mixed on the level of DNA), since the DNA in these cases will all be human.

Let’s go ahead and take the next step, since scientists are sure to. If they could generate a chimeric human/cow embryo, a genuine half-man, half-cow creature, should we grant it the status of human life? Assume that it could never be brought to term, so we couldn’t know whether the man-cow would be rational or not. If you would not consider it human, does that mean there is no problem in making such combinations? (I myself am certain that such violations of nature should not be made, and if they are made, they should not be killed.)
HT: my student Ed Hill
Posted by Veith at 07:22 AM

September 13, 2007
Passing of a generation

Madeleine L’Engle died. The author of “A Wrinkle in Time” and other fantasies, L’Engle drew openly on her Christian faith. Yes, her Episcopalianism sometimes fell short of Biblical orthodoxy, but most of her works are worth reading and her influence was a good one.
Also, D. James Kennedy died. He was a major architect of the Christian right. He also developed the “Evangelism Explosion” program, which trained laymen to share their faith and sparked a mass evangelism movement.

They join Jerry Falwell, another iconic evangelical leader. Billy Graham also seems to be in his last days. Chuck Colson has retired from the helm at Prison Fellowship. Big church pastors have long gone grey. (I’m not feeling too well myself.)
What we are seeing is the passing–or retirement–of a whole generation of Christian leaders in a number of fields. Who is replacing them? What changes, for better or worse, might this herald for American Christianity?
Posted by Veith at 07:01 AM

Hope when the sun burns out!
Bracketing the secularists’ world view and ensuring their tragic sense of life is their sure and certain realization that the human race is doomed. Eventually, their scientists tell them, the sun will explode and the earth will be incinerated. Some put their hope in interstellar space travel as a way of continuing the humanist ideals, but most accepted that, ultimately, humanity has no hope.
Now, though, some astronomers are saying that maybe earth could survive when the sun becomes a Red Giant.
Watch for this possibility to manifest itself in a cheerier secularist world view. There is a new, more winning brand of atheism that is moralistic (which rejects Christianity on the grounds that it is bad, rather than that it is not true) and optimistic (yes, when we die we just return to the dust, but in doing so we achieve a mystical oneness with the universe). In the years ahead, unless churches can get their act together, this may become neo-islam’s biggest competitor.
Posted by Veith at 06:52 AM

September 12, 2007
Islam going church growth?

Islam now has a televangelist, Amr Khaled, with millions of fans. He preaches an upbeat, anti-terrorism version of Islam, speaking not only onTV but in huge halls, projecting his messsage on gigantic screens, giving humor-laced sermons, and Qu’ranic tips for successful living. The Egyptian preacher is currently on a speaking tour of the United States. He is being called the Muslim Joel Osteen.
In other words, Amr Khaled has adopted the tactics of the church growth movement and American evangelicalism in order to spread Islam!
In fact, what this article describes sounds just like what goes on in many ostensibly Christian churches! While we should appreciate his non-murderous approach to his religion, as we posted a few days ago, this kinder, gentler Islam just might catch on in our culture. And churches, many of which have watered down their Christianity into a treacly soft drink, may be ill-equipped to do anything about it.
Posted by Veith at 07:43 AM

Really bad movies
Rotten Tomatoes (a very useful resource, by the way). The critical putdown has to be an artform of its own, and the article gives some that are especially artistic.
Posted by Veith at 07:42 AM

Memorial Service
Our students at Patrick Henry, in their own inimitable way, put on a memorial service last night for the 9/11 victims. It was very moving. The speaker was a Navy commander who was on the fourth floor of the outer ring of the Pentagon. He described how he watched the airplane coming right at him, finally to crash into the building just 100 feet or so away. He lived to tell the tale, and he did so in an inspiring way. Oh, yes. He was also the commanding officer on the U.S.S. Cole, subsequent to its attack.
Posted by Veith at 07:33 AM

September 11, 2007
9/11 Remembered

Today we remember September 11, 2001, how we could see on television the plane crashing into the building, watching those towers fall, hearing the reports of the crash into the Pentagon and into a field in Pennsylvania, wondering what else would happen. Remember the day of horrors.
But remember too how we Americans were all unified, how we were bound together in love and compassion and mercy for the fallen and in the desire to defend our civilization against barbarians. Do you remember that? And how we honored the firemen, police, and rescue workers for their vocations and how they sacrified their own lives to save others?

Do you remember the moral clarity? How trivial and absurd relativism seemed at the time, how even avant garde artists were hailing the end of irony and cynicism. How nearly everyone realized that multiculturalism is no excuse, that all religions are not the same after all, that Western civilization is worth defending after all.
But how quickly we have forgotten, as if 9/11 had never happened.
This will be the only post today. Comment with your own reflections on the fact, the meaning, and the lessons of that September 11 six years ago.
Posted by Veith at 09:13 PM

September 10, 2007
Al Qaeda the Political Party

Osama bin Laden’s latest tape makes him sound like a presidential candidate. He stakes out positions against global warming and big corporations to woo the left. AND to woo the right, he comes out against high taxes. In Islam, he says, there are no taxes. Just a mandatory alms of 2.5%.
I’m telling you, a slightly kinder and gentler Islam will have a lot of appeal in our post-Christian culture. If Al Qaeda would move from terrorism to politics, perhaps with the help of a good political consulting firm, the sky would be the limit.
Posted by Veith at 06:04 AM
Having Discussions
A unique feature of this particular blog is that it is not just me giving my opinions; rather, it is a discussion blog. The best part about it are the discussions I provoke, and we have had some very good ones, thanks to you readers and commenters, who have kept up an unusually high level of discourse, again, in stark distinction to that on many blogs.
It seldom advances a discussion to just rant and rave about how terrible something is. We often know that already. On the “Victimless Crimes?” post a few days ago, I did not want us to get bogged down on the obvious evil of sex in public bathrooms. I was trying to see if anyone–especially those who go on and on about the need to legalize “victimless crimes”–can rationalize any kind of justification for this kind of lewd behavior.

But to say that my attempts to “understand” in any way condones such behavior is ludicrous, insulting, and unworthy. What especially sticks in my craw is when the commenter said, “As Mr. Veith pursues his vocation, he needs to evaluate just exactly what kind of fruit his efforts in doing so are producing.” Casting doubt on my calling and its effect strikes me where it hurts.

In general, I will not allow “flames” on this blog, and I see no reason why I should allow myself to be flamed on my own blog. It’s fine for commenters to disagree with me, but in this case there was no disagreement! The commenter was misrepresenting me, saying I was soft on an issue that I am not soft about.
The commenter who said this has been a long-time reader and commenter, and he has often contributed excellent points, so I hesitate to ban him. But I’m close to doing that. If he apologizes, I am eager to forgive him in the name of Christ. If he doesn’t, or if I get another vitriolic response, he’s gone from this forum.
Posted by Veith at 05:59 AM

Church Report: Death by Communion
I visited another fine church in the area, Our Savior Lutheran Church, in Winchester, VA. The pastor, John Sound, who hails from India, invited me to talk about my book “The Spirituality of the Cross,” which a book study group will be studying.

Anyway, during Communion, an odd thing happened to me, which had never happened before. I breathed in a crumb of the communion wafer and started choking! No Heimlich maneuver was necessary, as the event passed quickly after a few coughs, but how strange! If I choked to death having Holy Communion, I suppose that would be a good way to die, if there is such a thing. I’m trying to figure out how to interpret this experience.
Posted by Veith at 05:51 AM

September 07, 2007
Is America in decline?

There was a time when Greece dominated the known world. Persia (now Iran) had a turn. So did Babylon (now Iraq). Spain was once the world’s superpower. France played that role. England outdid just about everybody else in global hegemony. Now the United States of America is the world’s megapower. But a number of books and articles are claiming that America has started its decline. Some say China will be next. Or a revitalized Russia. Or the European Union.
People from both the left and the right are saying this. The left still dislikes nationalism. The right decries American decadence.l
This article by Joel Aschenbach sums up those predictions, but makes the case that the USA is still going to be dominant over the next half century.

What do you think? Will America still be the world’s dominant economic, technological, military, and cultural player in 50 years?
Posted by Veith at 06:45 AM
Luther’s writing for children
As alluded to yesterday, here is Luther writing to his little son Hans, 4 years old:
Grace and peace in Christ be with thee, my dear little son! I am very pleased to see you so diligent, and also praying. Continue to do so, my child, and when I return I shall bring you something from the great Fair (Messe ).
I know a beautiful garden, where there are many children with golden robes. They pick up the rosy — cheeked apples, pears, plums, etc., from under the trees, sing, jump, and rejoice all day long. They have also pretty ponies with golden reins and silver saddles. I asked whose garden it was, and to whom the children belonged. The man said, “These are the children who love to pray and learn their lessons.”
I then said, “Dear sir, I also have a son, Hanschen Luther; might not he too come into the garden and eat the beautiful fruit, and ride upon these pretty ponies, and play with those children?” “If he loves prayer and is good,” said the man, “he can, and Lippus and Jost; and they shall get whistles and drums, and all sorts of musical instruments, and dance, and shoot with little cross-bows.”
And he showed me a lovely lawn, all ready for dancing, where whistles, flutes, etc., hung. But it was early, and the children not having breakfasted, I could not wait for the dancing, so I said to the man, “Dear sir, I must hurry away and write all this to my dear little son Hans, and tell him to pray and be good, that he may come into this garden; but he has an Aunt Lene, whom he must bring also.” “That he can,” said the man; “write him to do so.”
Therefore, dear little sonny, learn your lessons and pray, and tell Lippus and Jost to do so too, and then you will all get into the garden together. I commend you to God, and give Aunt Lene a kiss from me.
Thy dear father, MARTIN LUTHER .
Posted by Veith at 06:18 AM
September 06, 2007
Religious Beliefs as a Scandal
Michael Gerson makes some devastating points on how Democrats in Louisiana have been using Bobbie Jindal’s Catholicism to say that the GOP gubernatorial candidate hates Protestants. We blogged on this a few days ago. Gerson observes that Democrats have been going to great efforts to portray themselves as faith-friendly, but here the Louisiana partisans go showing they do not have a clue when it comes to religion:
This Democratic ad is not merely a tin-eared political blunder; it reveals a secular, liberal attitude: that strong religious beliefs are themselves a kind of scandal; that a vigorous defense of Roman Catholicism is somehow a gaffe.
This is a strange, distorted view of pluralism, which once meant civility, respect and common enterprise among people with strongly held and differing convictions. In the liberal view, pluralism means a public square purged of intolerance — defined as the belief in exclusive truth-claims and absolute right and wrong. And this view of pluralism can easily become oppressive, as the “intolerant” are expected to be silent._. . . . . . . .
On the evidence of the Louisiana ad, Democrats have learned little about the religious and political trends of the last few decades. For all its faults, the religious right built strong ties between conservative Catholics and conservative Protestants on issues such as abortion and family values, after centuries of mutual suspicion. Evangelicals gained a deep affection for Pope John Paul II and respect for Catholic conservatives such as Justice Antonin Scalia. And conservative Protestants recognize that secularist attacks on Catholic convictions are really attacks on all religious convictions and could easily be turned their way.
“The most passionate defenders of my beliefs,” says Jindal, “have come from people who don’t share my beliefs.”
Posted by Veith at 08:49 PM
Victimless crime?
Rich Shipe asks what many of us poor, naive unsophisticates are wondering, in light of Senator Larry Craig’s arrest in the Minneapolis airport rest room. Just how common IS this? Is public restroom sex an accepted part of the gay lifestyle? Rich asks, are restrooms in airports, rest stops, and other public places safe and/or appropriate for unaccompanied children?
I’d like to ask a further question of the libertarians and gay rights advocates on this list. Is this an example of what you libertarians call a “victimless crime” that should be legalized? Would “the gay community” like to see anonymous sex in public restrooms legalized as a victory for the cause? Do you not see harmful social consequences in this sort of thing?
I don’t want any gay bashing here or discussions of Senator Craig’s guilt or innocence. I’d just like to learn how different perspectives look at restroom sex and to get my mind around how it could possibly be justified.
Posted by Veith at 11:26 AM
September 05, 2007
The little dog’s golden tail
The notable Lori Lewis is trying to identify this alleged quotation from Luther:
“Be thou comforted, little dog, Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.”
Does anyone know the source of this? I told her that my blog readers know just about everything.
Posted by Veith at 07:10 AM
America’s Most Successful Communist. . .
is Pete Seeger, according to this fascinating article by Howard Husock, who traces the party’s “Popular Front” initiative to spread Marxist ideology through popular culture. To say Seeger is a communist is not a conservative, McCarthyite smear, by the way, but a historical fact, which even today he himself affirms. This article traces Seeger’s efforts in this regard and his influence on folk and pop music, which leans left to this very day.
Posted by Veith at 06:22 AM
Ransoming the hostages
It turns out, South Korea paid the Taliban $20 million to release the 19 survivors among the Christian missionaries held in Afghanistan. The government also promised to pull out its couple hundred troops in the coalition of the willing. And to not let missionaries go to Afghanistan. This means that hostage-taking will remain a profitable enterprise for the terrorists.
Posted by Veith at 05:54 AM
September 04, 2007
Is Vocation back?
Our pastor DID tie in Labor Day to the doctrine of vocation, in his prayer and in some of the hymns. And not, I think, because of this blog. Did you hear about vocation on the Sunday before Labor Day? Are you hearing more about that critical but long-neglected doctrine? Is the church recovering that paradigm-shifting teaching, which has so much to say about the meaning of our lives and how to live as Christians? (Here it is, in a nutshell.)
UPDATE:To answer Frank’s point from yesterday, non-Christians too are used by God to give us our daily bread, to protect us, to create works of beauty and meaning, etc., etc. Technically, the word “vocation” is used to refer to those who have been “called” by the Gospel, so that Luther uses “station,” “office,” and other terms for non-Christians. Even non-believers are citizens of God’s Kingdom of His Left Hand, and He works through them as well. Labor Day is indeed a secular, national holiday, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. But we Christians can breathe meaning into it.
Posted by Veith at 07:20 AM
America is still the manufacturing leader
Yes, we know lots of manufacturing has gone overseas. But this article cites some remarkable statistics:
The United States makes more manufactured goods today than at any time in history, as measured by the dollar value of production adjusted for inflation — three times as much as in the mid-1950s, the supposed heyday of American industry. Between 1977 and 2005, the value of American manufacturing swelled from $1.3 trillion to an all-time record $4.5 trillion, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States is responsible for almost one-fourth of global manufacturing, a share that has changed little in decades. The United States is the largest manufacturing economy by far. Japan, the only serious rival for that title, has been losing ground. China has been growing but represents only about one-tenth of world manufacturing.
Not that manufacturing in America isn’t changing. Productivity gains mean fewer jobs. And those that remain require more skills and education. Technology drives America’s manufacturing industry today. Biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and other sophisticated products are making the most money. Competition is picking up, though, from countries like China, India, and Brazil. And physical labor is indeed being farmed overseas, where Chinese workers make as little as 40 cents an hour.
Posted by Veith at 07:11 AM
The Labor Union paradox
Labor unions have never been more powerful politically, with the Democratic party bending over backwards to obey their every whim. And yet, union membership in American industries have plummeted to miniscule proportions. With one rather dramatic exception. Liberal columnist E. J. Dionne gives some telling statistics:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 percent of the American work force was unionized in 1973 and unionization rates were roughly equal in the public and private sectors. The latest figures, for 2006, show a decline in unionization to 12 percent of the workforce and a radical shift in labor’s composition: Now only 7 percent of private-sector workers belong to unions, compared with 36 percent in the public sector.
The “public sector” is what is unionized! Teachers, government workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees–these, not workers in manufacturing industries, dominate today’s labor movement. And their political savvy and interests are obvious: They want more role for government.
Posted by Veith at 06:58 AM
« July 2007 | Main | September 2007 »
August 31, 2007
Happy Vocation Day
Let us engage in cultural evangelism as the church did centuries ago, co-opting non-Christian festivals and turning them into Christian feasts. Join my crusade to turn Labor Day into a celebration of the Christian doctrine of vocation.
Independence Day has its fireworks, and Thanksgiving has its turkeys. How should Vocation Day be celebrated?
How about on this holiday, though everyone has it off, revelers go to work anyway without being paid. No, I don’t think that would catch on.
Since vocation is about loving and serving your neighbors, on this one day of the year, everyone actually gets together with their next door neighbors whom they have never met before.
Let’s generate some ideas here, and maybe try them out this weekend.
Posted by Veith at 07:12 AM
The Prosperity Gospel
The good news is that Christianity is booming in Africa. The bad news is that much of it is tainted with the prosperity gospel, in which believers are promised material wealth if they only have enough faith. This is rampant too, as you can see if you tune in to the “evangelists” on TBN.
In all fairness, as the article says, in empoverished Africa, “prosperity” can mean simply a roof over your head and enough food not to starve. And an African friend of mine said that when his people become Christians, they generally do become more prosperous because they have a new work ethic, a sense of vocation, and a freedom from cultural superstitions that lead Christian areas to do better economically than the Muslim or Animist areas.
Still, the “name it and claim it” preachers from America–who are exporting their theology to Africa and also the Hispanic world–have a different gospel from Christianity.
Posted by Veith at 06:29 AM
You lucky dog
So the late Leona Helmsley left $12 million for the care of her dog. That comes to some $600,000 per year.
I’m trying to visualize what a dog could do with that kind of money. I suppose a foundation will be set up, with a legion of paid administrators. A full-time veternarian can be hired, with a staff, to feed and constantly monitor the dog’s health. (I suspect the vet will be reluctant to “put him to sleep.”) A facility can be purchased for the dog to live in, with all kinds of fun dog features. Any ideas on how to spend $12 million on a dog?
Posted by Veith at 06:02 AM
“The Island”
I stumbled across a reference to this Russian film about the Christian faith entitled The Island. Has anyone seen it?
Posted by Veith at 05:55 AM
Hypocrisy is still repellant
The case of Sen. Larry Craig, staunch conservative and family values advocate, shows again how the public will tolerate many vices, but not hypocrisy.
Posted by Veith at 05:44 AM
August 30, 2007
Christ likes small churches
A killer quote from the great anti-Nazi, anti-liberal theologian Hermann Sasse:
“Our Lord has always shown a remarkable predilection for small numbers and little flocks. Instead of organizing vast evangelistic campaigns He has, in the terms of modern missiology, wasted His time by seeking the individual, leaving the ninety-nine in the desert for the one lost sheep. We modern Christians seem sometimes to think and act as if He said: ‘Where two or three millions are gathered in my name . . . ”
HT: Paul McCain
Posted by Veith at 07:09 AM
The Art & Music Candidate. . .
. . .is Mike Huckabee, the Baptist minister who was governor of Arkansas and a favorite of Christian conservatives. A personal cause for him is encouraging art and music education.
“I call it a weapon of mass instruction. It’s a critical part of education,” Huckabee said during a visit to Northern Virginia last weekend. “A lot of education today has become left-brain only. All we’re doing is . . . nothing more than data download: taking data from the teacher and downloading it to kids. And we wonder why 6,000 kids drop out of school every day and why so many millions more kids sleep through the day with their heads down on the desk, taking the most expensive nap in America. The reason they’re doing it is not that they’re dumb but that they’re bored.”
He added: “If you don’t stimulate both sides of a human’s brain, you’re simply generating half the capacity. This whole idea that music and art are great programs if you can afford them and have room for them — that’s utter nonsense. It’s the stupidest thing we’ve done to education in the last two generations.”
He’s not talking about expensive federal programs, just using his bully pulpit. And I’m not wholly convinced by left-brain/right-brain distinctions. Still, I salute Gov. Huckabee for this.
I love it when Christians defy the stereotypes. Christians SHOULD be cultivating the arts, as they have for centuries. It’s the non-Christians who are assaulting the very concept of beauty. Many Christians today are all for truth and goodness as absolutes, but when it comes to the other and related absolute, beauty, they are just as relativist as the postmodernists they decry.
Posted by Veith at 06:54 AM
The Hostages are Free!
The South Korean Christians we have been praying for, who had been held as hostage by the Taliban since July 19, have been released! Nineteen were freed yesterday. Two were freed earlier. Two were martyred.
Posted by Veith at 06:44 AM
August 29, 2007
The truth about church growth tactics
You MUST read this article, in which a church growth contemporary-worship guru admits that megachurches attract overwhelmingly those who are already “churched,” and that the “unchurched” are utterly turned off by contemporary worship services.
HT: Paul McCain
Posted by Veith at 07:09 AM
Jack Aubrey, call your prize agent
The backstory is like something out of a Patrick O’Brien novel. British warships during the Napoleonic war intercepted three Spanish frigates. In the ensuing battle, one of the Spanish vessels, the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, exploded. It’s cargo was a million freshly-minted gold and silver coins.
And now, in something out of a Clive Cussler number, that wreck and that treasure–now worth half a billion dollars–has been discovered. An American salvage company, Odyssey Marine Explorations, after extensive research, found it. The law of the sea used to be that finders are keepers, but now the government of Spain is claiming the treasure, citing its archeological heritage laws. And in an action that would be an act of war in Jack Aubrey’s day, Spanish ships are actually blockading Odyssey’s ship at Gibraltar to prevent it from going to the site. Now it is all tied up in international courts.
If the British ships had taken the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, it and its cargo would have been a lawful prize, the wealth distributed among the sailors who won the victory. (That was a free-market incentive for warships to seek out the enemy but to do as little damage as possible.) Capturing treasure ships and winning the prizemoney (where that term comes from) happened quite a bit during the age of fighting sails. It seems anachronistic for Spain to demand the cargo from a defeated vessel back.
This case may hinge on evidence that the coins were scattered over the ocean floor, as if the crew had tossed them overboard in an attempt to lighten the ship. If so, that may constitute a voluntary renunciation of the cargo, which would make it the Odyssey’s now.
Posted by Veith at 06:41 AM
The banned cartoon
Go here for the Opus cartoon strip so controversial, so out of bounds, that 26 of the nation’s newspapers, including that bastion of press freedom the Washington Post, refused to publish it.
I have seen in these newspapers far worse and far less respectful lampoons of Christianity, conservatives, and Republicans. This one, in my opinion, is actually rather positive in its portrayal of its subject matter. What do you think? (What a great line: “the hot new fad on the planet.”)
Posted by Veith at 06:14 AM
Opening hymn lines
What a good exercise that was in yesterday’s post, to list favorite opening lines of hymns. And Organshoes was right, recalling the melody that accompanies the words is particularly refreshing. Read through all of the comments and you’ll be glad you did.
Posted by Veith at 05:15 AM
August 28, 2007
Best opening lines
Spinner.com did some sort of readers’ poll to come up with what are supposedly the best opening lines in pop music. Click here for all 25. Here are the top 10:
(1) “Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste” –The Rolling Stones’ ‘Sympathy for the Devil’
(2) [I refuse to repeat this one.]
(3) “Jeremiah was a bullfrog”_–Three Dog Night’s ‘Joy to the World’
(4) “The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves”_–Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’
(5) “Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street”_–Joe Jackson’s ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him?’
(6)”If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?”_–Lynryd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’
(7) “Wake up Maggie, I think I got something to say to you”_–Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May’
(8)”You know the day destroys the night, night divides the day”_–The Doors’ ‘Break on Through’
(9)”I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand”_–Warren Zevon’s ‘Werewolves of London’
(10) “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold”_–Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’
What narrow musical knowledge these readers are drawing on. But let that go. Let us do better. What are some of the best opening lines of hymns?Posted by Veith at 07:16 AM
Baptism by fire hose
An African-American church in Washington, D.C., conducted a mass baptism, in which 800 people were baptized using a fire hose. This church has used that method since the 1920’s.
I question the liturgical appropriateness of the method, but I praise God so many people are getting baptized. (I’m assuming the Word of God and the Triune Name of God is added to the water.) This exuberant rite strikes me as true church growth. It is not all that different from the way the Saxons were baptized,except that it wasn’t at the point of a sword, and that baptism “took,” including the ancestors of those who would form the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
In the link, notice the howler on the part of the theologically-illiterate Washington Post reporter, who says that baptism “is customarily conducted using water.”
Posted by Veith at 06:32 AM
No more French jokes
The new French president, Nicolas Sarcozy, is actually facing up to the threat from Iran and radical Islam. He’s also talking tough about Turkey and Russia.
Posted by Veith at 06:23 AM
August 27, 2007
An ex-Muslim explains
Many thanks to commenter Thabiti, an ex-Muslim, who makes the best points, borne out of experience, for why Christians should not call God “Allah”:
As a former muslim, I have to go with clarity over semantic range. Yes, “allah” is the Arabic word for God. But every Muslim you meet fills that the word “Allah” with a particular meaning, and one thing every Muslim means is that Allah is NOT triune. Christians adopting the term is needlessly confusing. Better to speak of Jesus in my opinion.
The other thing this tactic misses is that Islam sees itself and desires to steadily advance its cause and rule globally. Everywhere people and countries and cultures make concessions in the name of tolerance and plurality, we do so to an illiberal expansionist ideology. It’s a tragic and dangerous mistake.
Grace and peace.
I praise Christ for delivering you from Islam, Thabiti! Can you tell us how that happened?
Posted by Veith at 07:13 AM
Chesterton on Islam
Thanks to Allen for posting in his comment a quotation from the great G. K. Chesterton:
“There is in Islam a paradox which is perhaps a permanent menace. The great creed born in the desert creates a kind of ecstasy out of the very emptiness of its own land, and even, one may say, out of the emptiness of its own theology. It affirms, with no little sublimity, something that is not merely the singleness but rather the solitude of God.
There is the same extreme simplification in the solitary figure of the Prophet; and yet this isolation perpetually reacts into its own opposite. A void is made in the heart of Islam which has to be filled up again and again by a mere repetition of the revolution that founded it. There are no sacraments; the only thing that can happen is a sort of apocalypse, as unique as the end of the world; so the apocalypse can only be repeated and the world end again and again.
There are no priests; and yet this equality can only breed a multitude of lawless prophets almost as numerous as priests. The very dogma that there is only one Mahomet produces an endless procession of Mahomets. Of these the mightiest in modern times were the man whose name was Ahmed, and whose more famous title was the Mahdi; and his more ferocious successor Abdullahi, who was generally known as the Khalifa. These great fanatics, or great creators of fanaticism, succeeded in making a militarism almost as famous and formidable as that of the Turkish Empire on whose frontiers it hovered, and in spreading a reign of terror such as can seldom be organised except by civilisation…” (Lord Kitchener)
Posted by Veith at 07:10 AM
Hope for Republicans
Democrats will be Democrats. The Democratic National Committee has stripped Florida, the fourth biggest electoral prize, of its delegates to the convention for moving up its primary.
Both the national and the state committees can be blamed for this, but it seems to me that the Democratic party tends to be internally contentious and tone-deaf to how their politicking might be perceived by the public. Does anyone recall what Will Rogers said on the subject?
Posted by Veith at 07:09 AM
Church report: Christ in the mess
We visited Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria, VA, where my wife was installed as the church school’s interim principal. What a good church, with stellar worship and rich preaching. Pastor Esget, preaching on the healing of the deaf mute in Mark 7, talked about how Christ opens our ears and frees our tongues. He delivered a good line about how people who are squeamish about taking Communion using the common cup might be taken aback at how Jesus, in effect, spits in the man’s mouth. And yet, Jesus is always putting himself in these down-to-earth and seemingly unseemly things: the stench of Lazarus’s dead body, jamming his fingers into the deaf man’s ears, touching lepers, etc. Jesus puts himself into the mess of life.
Posted by Veith at 06:12 AM
August 24, 2007
The Liberalizing of America
A Pew Research study sees evidence that the pendulum is starting to swing back towards liberalism. More and more Americans are calling for an activist government to solve social problems and advocating moral “tolerance.”
I’m not totally convinced by the Pew numbers, though. 76% say they believe in “old-fashioned family values,” though this is down from 80% not long ago. That’s still a huge number professing conservative values, though a trend may be starting in the other direction. The same holds true for other areas surveyed, with continuing majorities holding conservative positions.
Here is an important finding, though. The study still finds high rates of religious belief, but the intensity is weakening:
Most Americans remain religious, but the number expressing strong beliefs has dropped since the mid-1990s. The percentage that says it “completely agrees” that “prayer is an important part of my life” jumped from 41 percent to a high of 55 percent in 1999. It’s now down to 45 percent. We also found small but perceptible growth over the past two decades in the numbers who identify themselves as secular — from 8 percent in 1987 to 12 percent today. Most of that growth is among young people.
What do you think might be responsible for the downward trend in “strong beliefs”?
Posted by Veith at 07:21 AM
Security Vocations
Since I’ve been in the D.C. area, I’ve been amazed at how many private firms contract to the US government for military and intelligence services. That’s fine. Privatization, on the whole, is a good thing. But this article in the “Post,” about a British company that is poised to displace an American one as the key security-provider in Iraq caught me short:
The British may have lost their empire but they have quietly established a major presence in the distant outpost of Iraq, securing lucrative contracts to safeguard not just British interests but the U.S. military. And a private British firm may be poised to land the largest U.S. security contract in Iraq.
About 15 British security contractors have set up shop in Iraq in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion. Of the estimated 20,000 private security employees operating in Iraq today, about 4,000 come from Britain, according to the British Association of Private Security Companies, an industry trade group established last year to accommodate the burgeoning international security business concentrated in London.
Isn’t it the calling of the military to protect civilians, rather than the other way around? I suppose that a lawfully contracted company can fall under the Romans 13 chain of command, according to which God works through legitimate government authorities to “bear the sword.” And tasks such as intelligence analysis can certainly be let out to experts whose vocation gives them more knowledge in a particular sphere. Still, I worry about “the burgeoning international security business.”
How do these companies fit under the doctrine of vocation? But just as there is a danger when governments take on tasks beyond what they are called to do, it seems that there is a danger of private agencies taking on tasks that are among the government’s relatively few responsibilities.
Posted by Veith at 06:59 AM
August 23, 2007
If your religion is true, others are wrong–and that’s OK!
The next generation of promising new conservative leaders includes Bobby Jindal, a bright young Congressman of East Asian descent who is currently running for governor in Louisiana. He is pro-life and a devout Catholic.
In 1996, he wrote a piece in the Roman Catholic journal “The New Oxford Review,” in which he gave his reasons for being a Catholic and why he doesn’t approve of Protestantism. Now the state Democratic party is running ads saying Jindal is intolerant of Protestants.
Look. Catholics are SUPPOSED to disagree with Protestants. And vice versa. Believing in a religion means not believing in other religions. This is true of people who have definite theological beliefs, as opposed to the nominal Christians who are willing to believe in anything and everything. And if politicians start smearing religious people for their disagreements with other religions, the result will be the hegemony of theological liberals, syncretists, and polytheists.
A similar political dirty trick occurred in Minnesota when a candidate who was a member of the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran had to face shocked, outraged ads from his opponent about how, judging from this man’s church, he believes the Pope is the antichrist! (Minnesota readers, did that guy get elected or did the religious propaganda work?)
Aren’t these examples of where a person’s specific religious beliefs really are irrelevant to their public service?
Posted by Veith at 06:48 AM
Experience or Change? Or What?
Hillary Clinton presents herself as the candidate of experience. Back Obama presents himself as the candidate of change. But Tony Blankley plays the part of the little boy looking at the Emperor’s non-existent new clothes. He points out that Hillary Clinton, whatever virtues she might have as president, HAS THE LEAST EXPERIENCE OF ANY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IN THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS. She has been a junior senator for about seven years. As First Lady, she did all the ceremonial things, but that’s about it. Before that, her last job was as a Little Rock lawyer, and most of her business was in putting her clients in touch with her husband, the governor. But she has never run anything or had any experience in what she will need to do as president.
As for Mr. Obama, again, he may have many good qualities and make a good president. But his ideas are safe and his policy proposals are conventional. There is nothing in them that remotely resembles any kind of significant change.
Posted by Veith at 06:34 AM
Teddy Roosevelt on Islam
A review in the “Washington Times” of what sounds like a very good book by Diana West, “The Death of the Grown-up,” includes this prescient quotation from Theodore Roosevelt back in 1916:
“The civilization of Europe, America, and Australia exists today at all only because of the victories of civilized man over the enemies of civilization… [including] those of Charles Martel in the 8th century [over Arab jihadists] and those of John Sobieski in the 17th century [over Ottoman Turkish jihadists]. During the thousand years that included the careers of the Frankish soldier [Martel] and the Polish king [Sobieski], the Christians of Asia and Africa proved unable to wage successful war with the Moslem conquerors; and in consequence Christianity practically vanished from the two continents; and today nobody can find in them any ‘social values’ whatever, in the sense in which we use the words, so far as the sphere of Mohammedan influence [is]… concerned.”
Posted by Veith at 06:26 AM
August 22, 2007
A Cold War vs. a Hot War
The Post’s Phillip H. Gordon says that we should conduct the war against jihadism like we did the war against communism. Avoiding a face to face war with the Soviet Union, we conducted ideological warfare. Eventually, our ideology won out over communism. He thinks we shouldn’t be fighting wars with the jihadis; rather, we should trust our ideas to eventually win the day.
He has a certain point, though if the Soviets did attack us, as the jihadists keep doing, surely we would have had to fight them too. But I would go even further than Gordon in his critique of how we are waging this conflict. We are pretending that the ideologies are the same, that Muslims want freedom, prosperity, tolerance, and all the things we do. We whitewash Islam, claiming that it really isn’t so bad. This is like fighting the Soviets while claiming that communism and capitalism are essentially the same thing.
Posted by Veith at 06:16 AM
Let’s all call God “Allah”?
A Roman Catholic bishop from the Netherlands is saying that Christians should start addressing God as “Allah.”
“Allah is a very beautiful word for God. Shouldn’t we all say that from now on we will call God Allah?” Bishop Tiny Muskens said in an interview broadcast this week. “God doesn’t care what we call him.”
Where do we even start about what is wrong with that suggestion? Let us suppose that “Allah” does just mean “God,” so that some Arabic Christians use that term in their language. Still, that doesn’t matter! One might as well say that Muslims should call their deity “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The bishop’s assumption is that we all worship the same deity. We don’t. Meanwhile, the mentality represented here–the “dhimmitude,” meaning the submission that Islam requires of all other religions–is suicidal.
Posted by Veith at 05:43 AM
Frozen Smoke
Have you heard about the new invention aerogel, also known as “frozen smoke”? It’s a wonderproduct, one of the lightest solids known to man, a super-insulator, and capable of withstanding blasts from high-explosives.
Posted by Veith at 05:34 AM
August 21, 2007
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
I finally saw “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” a movie based on the true story of a priest put on trial when a young woman he thought was demon-possessed died during the ritual. The film is an unusual combination of court room drama and horror movie. The alternative explanations for Emily’s behavior are argued in court, with flashbacks of really weird stuff. Complicating things is that the defense attorney for the priest is an agnostic, and the prosecuting attorney is a churchgoer. Meanwhile, the agnostic lawyer starts encountering “dark” phenomena and has to take stock of her beliefs. The movie presents Christianity in a strong light, with sympathy for the notion that Emily was indeed possessed by a demon.
I happen to know that the filmmaker is a Christian, for whom this flick was a real breakthrough into a big market and a chance for him to raise spiritual issues among the public. It’s a good movie, well-done and thought-provoking on lots of levels. It’s scary, though, definitely not for the kiddies. Have any of you seen it? I got a kick out of how the devil knows Latin and how tormented the demon is when someone reads the Bible at him.
The new Pastoral Care Companion to the Lutheran Service Book includes guidance on how to minister to people caught up in “occult practices and demonic affliction.” Do you think that will come in handy for pastors today, or do you think these cases are just mental illness?
Posted by Veith at 06:24 AM
A kinder, gentler fundamentalism
Long-time political pundit David Broder thinks Mike Huckabee may have a chance. He is making inroads in New Hampshire. Broder points to his “kinder, gentler fundamentalism” and to a populism that taps into the fears and frustrations of average Americans:
Huckabee comes off as the friendly, down-home country preacher, a retired Baptist minister who can soothe and entertain the congregation, not just warn them of the fires of Hell. But the message is designed to play to public discontent, especially when an overpriced housing market is once again being shaken in New Hampshire, as elsewhere, by a credit crunch.
“The economy looks good when you measure it in macro terms,” Huckabee said Thursday during a stopover in Washington, “but a lot of families are struggling just to reach the next step on the ladder.” Having grown up in a family where “you finished everything on your plate, because you never wasted a thing,” Huckabee said that he empathizes with the anxiety of “people who have no trust fund, no safety net to fall back on.”
He didn’t have to name Romney as the “trust fund” candidate in the race. The former venture capitalist’s wealth has been well publicized. All Huckabee has to say is “I’ve walked the aisles at Wal-Mart” to make his class consciousness evident.
Huckabee, like Buchanan in his time, is quick to jump on the easy foreign targets — the Chinese who are shipping unsafe toys and toothpaste to the United States, the illegal immigrants “who walk across the border without a scrap of identification and immediately go to work.”
He mixes this with a set of social-issue positions strong enough to attract the kind of religious-right support he has in Iowa but leavened with enough tolerant-sounding messages to appeal to the independents in New Hampshire. He says he speaks for a kinder, gentler fundamentalism that cares as much about fighting poverty and protecting the environment as it does about abortion and gay marriage. And he decries talk that God favors one party over another.
Posted by Veith at 06:17 AM
August 20, 2007
An athlete you’ve got to like
The “Washington Post” had an article on some of the eccentric rituals certain players–known as “flakes”– have become known for, focusing especially on Washington Nationals first baseman Tony Batista. Among other things, every time he takes the field, he goes through an elaborate “ballet,” including gestures such as bowing his head, going to one knee, and looking up into the sky, his arms reaching up. He also has become notorious during certain road trips for showing up at a local Catholic church leaving thousands of dollars of cash.
The reporter asked him what it all means. First, the outfield ritual:
That’s my prayer to God,” said Batista, a deeply religious man. “I pray for everybody in the stadium — the players, other team, the fans. I pray that nobody gets hurt and everybody plays their best game that day.”
As for the church largesse, it turns out that the Dominican believes in giving to the Lord as soon as he gets any money:
Out of every dollar he earns, 20 cents goes to the church. Immediately. If payday comes while his team is on the road, he takes a cab to the nearest church and hands over a stack of cash, or sometimes a check.
Batista has earned around $19 million as a major leaguer (before taxes), which means he probably has donated somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million to the church.
“The Bible says the tithe should be 10 percent,” Batista said. “But God has blessed me so much, I _give 20.”
What an attitude, notable not only for its piety but for its exuberant gratitude and good-heartedness!
He is the opposite of today’s unfortunate image of the athlete as spoiled millionaire and egotistical, self-centered prima donna. Tony Batista: the anti-Bonds.
Posted by Veith at 06:45 AM
Movie preachers
This weekend I watched “Pale Rider,” in which Clint Eastwood plays a gun-slinging preacher, who–in the primal Western plot–defends the peaceful settlers against the corrupt big landowner whose minions are trying to run them out. This man of the cloth is more law than gospel, but he comes off as a fascinating, complex, formidable character. What other movie preachers come off similarly well?
Posted by Veith at 06:43 AM
The Storm of God’s Wrath
In church, the reading from Jeremiah was one of the hardest-hitting proclamations of the Law ever, utterly condemning false prophets of every kind, particularly those who exalt their dreams over God’s Word. (Notice how many false religions–Islam, Mormonism–begin with dreams and visions, which are then said to be authoritative.) The passage expresses the utter fury of God’s wrath, as well as the power of God’s Word:
Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.'”
For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD_ to see and to hear his word,_ or who has paid attention to his word and listened?_Behold, the storm of the LORD!_ Wrath has gone forth,_a whirling tempest;_ it will burst upon the head of the wicked._The anger of the LORD will not turn back_ until he has executed and accomplished_ the intents of his heart._In the latter days you will understand it clearly._”I did not send the prophets,_ yet they ran;_I did not speak to them,_ yet they prophesied._But if they had stood in my council,_ then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,_and they would have turned them from their evil way,_ and from the evil of their deeds.
“Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying,’I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the LORD. Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:16-32)
Whereupon Chaplain Lingsch segued into how Jesus bore the storm of this wrath for our sake.
Posted by Veith at 06:42 AM
August 17, 2007
The new principal
The new interim principal of Immanuel Lutheran school, a classical academy in Alexandria, is my wife! I am so proud of her.
Posted by Veith at 07:50 PM
Ratatouille: Diplomacy and Vocation
France likes us again, and it isn’t just because of that country’s pro-American new president, Nicholas Sarkozy. It’s the movie Ratatouille, an animated, G-rated family flick about a rat who becomes a Parisian chef.
The French are crowding into their theatres and their critics are gushing. Said a reviewer in the stuffy “LeMonde,” “One of the greatest gastronomic films in the history of cinema.” What gourmands appreciate is that the cartoonists studied and emulated the workings and techniques of actual chefs, showing how actual restaurant kitchens operate.
Sounds like a movie about vocation to me. It also sounds like a good weekend family outing. I haven’t seen it. Have any of you?
Posted by Veith at 07:47 AM
Family life, faith, and leadership
Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani has declared his Catholic faith to be off-limits to questions, since this has to do with his personal beliefs. (A voter had asked him if he is a practicing, observant member of his church.) Today, a letter-writer to the “Washington Post,” Kenneth J. Wolfe, gives some helpful information that the theologically-clueless mainstream media has, to my knowledge, not mentioned: Mayor Giuliani has been married three times, in violation of canon law, and so he is under church discipline and may not receive Communion.
The mayor has also declared his family to be off-limits. This sounds all family values. But at least some of his children are alienated from him and two of them are publically refusing to support him.
Lots of Christians are rallying behind him, thinking he is electable and strong on terrorism. But doesn’t our faith discourage that kind of compartmentalism, in which matters of faith and family aren’t considered relevant to public affairs? (That is NOT what the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms means.) Since governmental authority flows out of that given in the family (see the explanation of “Honor thy father and thy mother” in Luther’s Catechism) and since the Bible says having a good family life is a prerequiste for church leadership, mustn’t we consider such things in choosing a presidential candidate?
Posted by Veith at 07:30 AM
August 14, 2007
Why liberals should support the war
Roger Simon believes in gay marriage, as well as women’s rights and other socially liberal causes. And this is why he supports war against jihadists.
The very people most threatened by the ideology of Islamism and the institution of Sharia law – gays, women, freethinkers – are often the very people least likely to defend themselves against it. What we have on our Left is a culture of denial equal to, if not exceeding, the German Jews of the 1930s.
My question to my liberal friends and blog readers is, what do you have to say to this? I know why most of you oppose the war–Bush lied, it’s just for oil, etc.–but are you not concerned about the plight of gays, women, artists, and social liberals under radical Islamist regimes, which would certainly take over once we are out of Iraq and receive a huge boost throughout the world? Other reasons I’ve heard, the need to respect national sovereignty and we have enough problems in our own borders, are classic CONSERVATIVE reasons to eschew foreign entanglements.
And I also have a question to my conservative friends and blog readers who support the war. Are you being pro-gay or pro-feminist in wanting to fight Islamist totalitarianism? Or do you believe in freedom after all?
Posted by Veith at 07:27 AM
Authentic drips, or forged drips?
Jackson Pollack created paintings by dripping paint randomly on canvas. One such work recently sold for $140 million. Now a cache of similar paintings purportedly by Pollack have been discovered. Some, though, believe they are forgeries. The detective work is intriguing, but the other question is, if one set of drips has aesthetic merit, why not another? Didn’t Pollack want to keep the artist out of the work? So why does the artist make such a difference?
Posted by Veith at 07:09 AM
GOP candidate update
Well, my man Tommy Thompson, the well-qualified but uncharismatic former governor of Wisconsin, has dropped out of the presidential race. See here for a tribute to the man and another lament that candidates like him do not have a chance.
Mike Huckabee did well in the Iowa straw poll, coming in second after Mitt Romney. What would be wrong with ex-governor of Arkansas Huckabee, hailed by one pundit I read as the best debater in the race, who has gotten off some of the best lines, and who, as a Southern Baptist clergyman, has impeccable Christian conservative credentials?
Posted by Veith at 06:16 AM
August 13, 2007
Myths and Facts
So, as I blogged about last week, the Mythbusters showed that a corked bat does NOT make a hit ball go farther, but actually the reverse. But will that cut down cheating? I doubt it.
The Mythbusters also showed that using electronic devices does NOT interfere with airplanes’ navigational controls. But does that mean airlines will quit making everyone shut off their electronic devices? I doubt it.
The Mythbusters also showed that cell phones will NOT ignite gasoline fumes at a service station pump. So will the service stations take down their signs giving that warning? I doubt it.
I, of course, recognize that “more studies” may need to be done by the relevant researchers. But what concerns me is our culture’s growing indifference to FACTS. A misapprehension gets going, and it just lingers, without any attempt to research the question of truth.
Posted by Veith at 08:09 AM
Golf Tulsa
It has been a thrill to see my beloved old stomping ground Tulsa, Oklahoma, being the center of the golfing universe and on TV constantly. And at that PGA championship, Tiger Woods won it, after coming from way behind and some absolutely thrilling play.
Posted by Veith at 06:19 AM
Christian hostage update
Here is an update about those 23 South Korean Christians who are being held hostage and killed one by one by the Taliban. And the media and the human rights groups are saying hardly anything. The link shows their pictures. Pray for them.
Posted by Veith at 06:08 AM
Have no fear, little flock
I’ve been travelling again, this time to St. Louis for the installation of my daughter as deaconness intern for the Board of Human Care/World Relief of the LCMS, and my new son-in-law as Vicar at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Columbia, IL.
On Sunday, in addition to the latter installation, we had a fine sermon on Luke 12:32: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We really don’t have to be afraid of anything, in light of what God has given us in Christ. It spoke to me powerfully.
And we sang one of my favorite hymns and one that is quite historically interesting: “Have no Fear, Little Flock” (LSB 735; right across from “A Mighty Fortress” in TLH). It is on that text, of course, but it has been attributed to Gustavus Adolphus, the military-genius King of Sweden who arguably saved Protestantism by defeating the Catholic Emperor’s forces during the Thirty Years War. The devout King did write hymns, but this one’s authorship is disputed (mainly because of the “Gideon” reference alluding to Gustavus, who surely would not have written this about himself). But we do know this hymn was sung by his army right before the pivotal Battle of Breitenfeld.
Anyway, it was a good weekend, and I’m very proud of my daughter and her new husband as they embark on full-time Christian service.
CORRECTION: As Pete said, “Have No Fear Little Flock” is not the Gustavus hymn. But we DID sing that one too: “O Little Flock, Fear Not the Foe.” (LSB 666)
As for why it is numbered 666, the immediate answer is that some hymn has to have that number, and this was the sequence in the topical/church year. But maybe a better answer is that Christians are going to have to be this faithful and this militant in dealing with the Antichrist.
Posted by Veith at 05:52 AM
August 09, 2007
Tourists to Saudi Arabia, take note
If you are a tourist going to Saudi Arabia, officials will confiscate your Bible.
Not just Bibles but crosses and other Christian symbols are classified with narcotics and pornography as items not allowed into this, our Muslim ally.
Posted by Veith at 08:14 AM
Mythbusting baseball
What a good Mythbusters was on last night! The subject was baseball myths. It was proven that a corked bat, far from making the ball go farther, as Sammy Sosa assumed, it actually makes the ball go HALF as far. The cork absorbs the energy from the ball, rather than transmitting it in the other direction, as an all wood bat does.
It turns out that Roger Clemens is a fan of the show, so he was there, demonstrating the physics of pitching. A physicist set up a wind tunnel, only with fluid, rigging up the ball to spin in different ways as in different pitches. Sure enough, you could see how and why a curve ball curves and a slider slides. Speaking of sliding, the mythbusters also proved that sliding into a base really is faster than running straight up.
Posted by Veith at 07:09 AM
The Blame Bush Game
Speaking of Bruce Gee, on his blog, he notes a fun new game, which some people mistake for reality. Take any problem and see how you can blame President Bush:
See what rationales you can come up with for the following scenarios:
• Bush caused the space shuttle Columbia disaster because…._• W and his minions were behind the Utah mine collapse. Did you know…?_• The low birth rate in Korea was caused by Bush’s…._• We’re eating more beets! But if it were up to Bush….
Posted by Veith at 07:06 AM
Stained Glass
Bruce Gee alerts us to a new stained glass window in the Cologne cathedral. I have actually been to this cathedral, an unusually huge and magnificent medieval gothic structure. But this new stained glass window gets rid of all of those Biblical scenes and Christian symbols. Instead, it is a pixellated computerized abstract design.
Comments Bruce:
We’re way beyond banning Christian content; now the only content that won’t offend is math and colors.
What gets me is the artistic clashing of imposing hypermodernist styles onto a medieval structure reflecting an utterly different worldview.
Posted by Veith at 06:17 AM
August 08, 2007
Major Christian thinker joins our faculty
Speaking of Patrick Henry College faculty members (in the post below), we have just pulled off a rather major coup: Joining our faculty as Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy and Christian Thought is none other than John Warwick Montgomery.
Dr. Montgomery, one of–or perhaps THE–top Christian apologists currently living, will be in residence one semester per year, starting this Spring (but the Fall thereafter), teaching a full load: our Introduction to Philosophy course, a class in apologetics, and a class in the Philosophy of Law (legal theory and human rights being another field in which he is a noted authority).
He’ll still be running the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism & Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France, with which Patrick Henry College will now be affiliated.
Posted by Veith at 07:53 AM
Christianity booming in Still-Communist China
According to this report posted by Michelle Malkin, 10,000 Chinese are converting to Christianity every day. And this in the teeth of persecution.
It would seem that the most dramatic and real church growth comes not from conforming to the culture but from standing up to a hostile culture and enduring persecution.
Michelle also cites a book by my friend and colleague at Patrick Henry College, David Aikman, who did the pioneering research on the Christian explosion in China: Jesus in Beijing: How Chrisitanity is Changing the Global Balance of Power.
Posted by Veith at 07:39 AM
August 07, 2007
Techno-Athletes
We purists are dismayed that Barry Bonds is eclipsing the home run record of the sainted Hank Aaron. (Let it never be forgotten that Hammerin’ Hank’s heroics were as a Milwaukee Brave and that he broke the home run record as a Milwaukee Brewer.) Bonds’ single-season record and now his career record are tainted, many of us feel, because of his apparent steroid use.
And yet, I think we are being kind of hard on him. That he hit more home runs than anyone else is a historical fact. How he did it might be a separate question. But of course he belongs in the record book, along with pitchers who won games before the spitball was banned.
This article raises a bigger question. Today’s professional athletes are nearly always sculpted and molded and enhanced with high-tech nutrition, exercise machines, and a whole range of abnormal regimens. These include legal performance enhancing substances.
But is there a difference between taking a performance-enhancing drug that is “natural” because it comes from a plant, and taking one that was produced in a chemistry lab?
Where can we draw the line? Should all of today’s athletic achievements have an asterix?
Posted by Veith at 07:39 AM
Bloggers United will Never Be Defeated
A group of liberal bloggers want to unionize. But. . . but. . .if you are going to have a union, you need to have an employer. And you need to get paid. And you need to made a product that people need. Do these people think a blog strike would shut down the economy?
Posted by Veith at 07:38 AM
August 06, 2007
What part of a candidate’s religion matters for politics
Michael Gerson is the talented speechwriter responsible for some of George W. Bush’s best lines. An evangelical Christian, he is now a syndicated columnist, who offers some fresh perspectives in punditry. In a column considering Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, Gerson argues that an office-holder’s faith SHOULD make a difference in the policies he promotes in the public square. He rejects the notion usually put forward religious beliefs should be purely private and make no difference in what a politician does. Gerson says, however, that there is one facet of religious belief that is purely personal; namely, what a person believes is the basis of his salvation.
Gerson says that a candidate’s anthropology (that is, his theology of man, which would include the sanctity of life, the transcendence of moral absolutes, the nature of society, etc., etc.) is relevant in evaluating a politician and in guiding his policies. The public should not, however, rule out a candidate on the basis of his soteriology, since that, properly speaking, is outside the public square. Gerson concludes that Romney’s Mormonism should therefore not disqualify him in the eyes of Christians.
What do you think of that? (Not whether we should elect a Mormon, in this post, but Gerson’s distinction between anthropology and soteriology in applying Christianity to government. Is this “Two Kingdoms” talk? Or not?)
Posted by Veith at 09:05 AM
The Kossack demographic
Conservatives have their Rush Limbaugh Show, but Liberals now have their Daily Kos, a website run by ex-Republican Markos “Kos” Moulitsas Zuniga. His site has become a forum for inciting and rallying the leftwing base–parallel to what Limbaugh has been doing–and he has been effectively holding the feet of Democratic presidential candidates to the fire. In fact, eight of the candidates showed up at his annual convention, Yearly Kos, to do obeisance to the leftwing bloggers.
The implication has been that the Kos effect is even more significant than Limbaugh. The internet is the new media. The liberal blogosphere, young and cutting-edge, represents the wave of the future.
But now it turns out that the Kossacks are mostly middle-aged, middle-class white men. Of the 1,500 attendees at the convention, there were hardly any women or minorities. And the average reader of his blog is a 43-year-old man, making $80,000 a year. Much of the convention was taken up trying to figure out how they could obtain “diversity.”
Can it be that the resurgent liberalism is indeed a resurgence of 60’s idealism, destined to die out with the rest of us baby boomers? Of course, I suspect Rush Limbaugh’s demographic is similar. My theory is that the new generation will see the political ascendancy of libertarianism, combining free market economics and smaller government (which conservatives will like), with permissive morality (which conservatives will not like).
Posted by Veith at 08:43 AM
Church report
We reflected on the “Rich Fool” of Luke 12 and on the spiritual temptations of wealth. Also, on the way to church, listening to “Stained Glass Blue Grass,” as is my custom, I caught a song that gave me a little epiphany. It was about how Christ was a carpenter and what he made with three nails and two beams of wood.
Posted by Veith at 08:15 AM
August 02, 2007
Christianity in the new Harry Potter book?
Journalist Jeffrey Weiss says that “many readers who finish the Potter saga will conclude, perhaps to their surprise, that Harry’s World is at least as Christian in its essential underpinnings as is C.S. Lewis’s Narnia.”
in Deathly Hallows, the religious identity of Harry’s family is made stunningly and suddenly explicit. He visits the grave of his parents, on Christmas Eve in a church-side graveyard, and reads the inscription on the headstone: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” While Deathly Hallows does not say so, that’s a quote from 1 Corinthians 15:26 (KJV), from a passage where Paul is discussing the resurrection of Jesus.
Much more essential than a New Testament quote to the Christian nature of the Potter saga, however, is a theme that Ms. Rowling introduced in the very first book: The greatest power in Harry’s World turns out to be the substitutionary sacrifice of one’s life, when offered only for love, and with no hope of survival.
I haven’t read it, but I know some of you have. Is he right? (Weiss cites more evidence, but he gives something of a spoiler, so I’ll post it after “continue reading.”)
This theme – the transcendent power of the freely given supreme sacrifice– is the fulcrum upon which the final battle in Deathly Hallows turns.
Harry believes that only his demise will save his friends. Like his mother, Harry is willing to choose that death without fighting. The final battle includes death and resurrection, spiritual power carried by blood, and an apparent total loss followed by ultimate victory.
Distinctly Christian? I’d say so.
At any rate, I would say that portrayals of sacrifice, death and resurrection, spiritual power carried by blood, have MORE to do with whether or not a work is Christian than the mere moralism that often passes for Christian writing.
Posted by Veith at 09:20 AM
Luther on changing a baby’s diaper
In working on an article about vocation, I was looking for the source of Luther’s famous saying about the holiness of changing diapers. I found his sermon “The Estate of Marriage” (1522) posted online here. A priceless excerpt:
Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, “Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labour at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? 0 you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful. carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.”
What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, “0 God, because I am certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers. or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? 0 how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labour, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight.”
A wife too should regard her duties in the same light, as she suckles the child, rocks and bathes it, and cares for it in other ways; and as she busies herself with other duties and renders help and obedience to her husband. These are truly golden and noble works. . . .
Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.
Notice that in Luther, for all of the late medieval era, it is the FATHER who is dealing with the baby’s diaper.
Posted by Veith at 07:20 AM
The Twin Cities Bridge
How terrible about that I-35W bridge over the Mississippi collapsing in the Twin Cities. So far, 9 are dead, 60 are injured, and 20 are missing.
UPDATE: Those casualty figures, released early, are wrong. Now they are saying 5 are dead, with 8 missing, though those numbers could change too. See this for the earthly reasons why casualties were so low: namely, stopped rush hour traffic, preventing cars from hurtling to their doom; the bridge design in which the trusses were at the bottom and the road was on top, minimizing debris that would crush people; the drought-lowered river.
I’ve crossed over on that many times myself. We have quite a few readers from that area. Lars, TK, Puzzled, others, are you guys all OK?
I wonder how the Department of Homeland Security was able to declare that the catastrophe was not due to terrorism when, by all accounts, no one knows what caused it. Actually, scarier than terrorism would be if the 40-year-old bridge failed because of structural fatigue. There are a whole lot of bridges just like it throughout the interstate highway system.
Posted by Veith at 07:15 AM
August 01, 2007
Death’s checkmate
Filmmaker Ingmar Bergman is dead. Like many others, when I first saw “The Seventh Seal,” I realized that a movie can be more than diverting entertainment; it can be a true work of art that explores the deepest issues. Bergman was the son of a Lutheran minister, and though he rebelled against that background, he could never really escape it. He was haunted by a God he refused to believe in. And his spiritual struggles are all in his movies.
Get this quote:
“It is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God… Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation.”
P.S.: In one of those remarkable conjunctions, another major European filmmaker, Michaelangelo Antonioni, died on the same day.
Posted by Veith at 08:03 AM
Get rid of the body
How to triumph over death and solve the alleged population problem, from Maggie Gallagher:
Evidence for just how much humans remain prisoners of our desires was on display at the World Transhumanist Association’s annual Transvision conference last week in Chicago. In the place of priest, Capt. Kirk (actor William Shatner) offered motivational uplift, according to Ronald Bailey’s account in Reason magazine. Leading scientists joined aging Hollywood actors in the restless search for some way to triumph over death.
Marvin Minsky, an artificial intelligence scientist who heads up MIT’s Media Lab, had one answer: Get rid of the body. Once researchers discover how brains work, “we will discover ways to upload our minds into machines,” he said.
Advances in artificial intelligence, he suggested, will soon allow us to upload the minds of 10 billion people and run them on a computer that costs a few hundred dollars, solving the world’s population problem (if not its depopulation problem).
Posted by Veith at 07:28 AM
Which is the crime?
Michelle Malkin asks, which of the following is a crime in the USA?
(a) Submerging a crucifix in a jar of urine
(b) Burning the American flag
(c) Flushing a Quran down the toilet
(answer after “continue reading”)
The answer, of course, is C. A student at Pace University in New York City is being prosecuted and faces jail time for doing this, which is considered a “hate crime.”
Mrs. Malkin comments:
Mark Steyn muses about the flushed Koran: “Obviously Mr Shmulevich should have submerged it in his own urine, applied for an NEA grant and offered it to the Whitney Biennial.”
Actually, no. The NEA would have turned Shmulevich in to the police, too. Now, if he had submerged a Bible in urine or coated a Torah in cow dung and submitted it for a federal grant, he’d be sitting pretty–and facing rave New York Times editorials instead of time behind bars.
Posted by Veith at 07:23 AM
Martyr #2
The Taliban killed their second Christian missionary hostage.
Read Michele Malkin on this topic and on the lack of outrage.
Posted by Veith at 07:11 AM
« June 2007 | Main | August 2007 »
July 31, 2007
Obscure Song contest
Yesterday’s post entitled “Looking Forward, Looking Back” ended with an unrelated challenge to see if anyone could identify the song and artist the title of the post alluded to. It provoked this exchange:
1
I wouldn’t have expected you to be an Over the Rhine fan, but being as cultured as you are, you ought to be. Their song is, of course, “Lookin’ Forward”, from the “Drunkard’s Prayer” album, which contains the line “I’m lookin’ forward to lookin’ back on this day.” Is that what you were referring to?_Posted by Philip A at July 30, 2007 10:00 AM _2
Title song of Slim Dusty’s official 100th album released in 2000. Slim Dusty was an Australian Country singer/songwriter. Could it be this? :-)_Posted by Wayne Logan at July 31, 2007 02:05 AM _3
No, Philip, that wasn’t it, though one of my students has introduced me to Over the Rhine. Wayne, Slim Dusty is who I had in mind. (Are you Australian?)
For bonus points, who can identify the allusion to “Drunkard’s Prayer”? (Not Johnny Cash: Who did the song originally?)
Try to answer without using the internet. Also, if you have any other obscure song challenges, feel free to post them.
Posted by Veith at 09:05 AM
Banking without Usury
Usury is forbidden by Islamic law. Also by Levitical and Medieval law. The moral principle is that if your neighbor needs something, you should lend it to him without charging interest. Commentators weaken the force of those laws by saying that usury refers to “excessive” interest. That may be, though by any standard the typical credit card interest rate is surely usorious. At any rate, the current Islamic revival takes the Quranic texts literally and so considers that it is unIslamic to charge interest. So how can strict Muslims participate in the modern economy?
This article explains how the new Islamic banks currently sprouting up around the world do business. Say a customer needs a mortage of $100,000 to buy a house. Instead of the forbidden practice of lending him the money at interest, the bank will do this: The bank buys the house at $100,000. Then it sells it back to the customer at $120,000.
The customer has his house, and the bank makes its money on the transaction without invoking the wrath of Allah by charging interest. Apparently, mechanisms like this for getting around the letter of the law were also practiced in Levitical and Medieval times. Pretty slick, huh? (What dynamics of legalism do you notice here?)
Posted by Veith at 08:46 AM
The UK & the USA
Read this op-ed piece in “The Washington Post” by Gordon Brown, the new Prime Minister of Great Britain. Remember, he is a member of the Labor–sorry, Labour–Party, the British equivalent of our Democrats. That he can think so clearly about the jihadist threat to Western civilization, despite his differences with the Bush administration, shows that a bi-partisan front against militant Islam should be possible. I just wish our Democrats would join in, as both parties did in the conflict with Communism.
Posted by Veith at 08:40 AM
Simpsons: The Movie
Well, I saw the Simpsons movie last night. I thought the typical half hour TV show is funnier, though my wife–no particular fan of the Simpsons–liked the movie better. To me, on the big screen it seemed harsher than the series usually us. The movie did have its moments: The film opens with the Simpson family watching a big-screen movie version of “Itchy and Scratchy.” Homer stands up in the theater and ridicules anyone who would pay money to watch a cartoon they could see on TV for free. (“And I’m talkin’ to YOU!) (Literary seminar: That sort of thing is called metafiction.) In the course of the wildly roaming plot, Springfield is going to be destroyed. When that realization hits, the people in the church all run to Moe’s bar; the people in Moe’s bar all run to church.
Posted by Veith at 08:27 AM
July 30, 2007
Open-source relgion
From Pagan to Lutheran, the blog of our good friend and frequent commenter Bruce Gee, who alerts us to the new phenomenon of what is being called Open Source Religion:
“What, exactly, is open source religion? It’s the cutting edge of individual spirituality that’s thriving outside the walls of organized religion. It’s a historic shift in power and authority from religious leadership to the consumer-oriented adherents of religious movements.”
Bruce takes that quote from Wired News, discusses how it plays itself out, and rhapsodizes on the joys of closed source religion.
Posted by Veith at 09:18 AM
Leftist coercion
Moveon.org, the Daily Kos blog, and other leftist activists are organizing boycotts against companies that advertize on Fox News, in an attempt to shut down or at least harm that conservative news channel.
Conservatives, of course, have tried boycotts–against moral offenders, not over political ideology–but they never work. This, though, is not trying to get moms to not buy a product at a grocery store. This is a return to the old hard-ball union tactics, similar to the old extortion rackets:
At least 5,000 people nationwide have signed up to compile logs on who is running commercials on Fox, Gilliam said. The groups want to first concentrate on businesses running local ads, as opposed to national commercials.
“It’s a lot more effective for Sam’s Diner to get calls from 10 people in his town than going to the consumer complaint department of some pharmaceutical company,” Gilliam said.
One forgets how coercive hardcore leftists are, how they desire not just to disagree but to monitor, silence, and destroy their enemies. Keep this in mind, America, before voting them into power.
Posted by Veith at 09:09 AM
Looking Forward, Looking Back
How often has it happened that you hear something at church that addresses exactly what you are struggling with in your own life? It happened again with me. From our church bulletin: “And one important theme will emerge for us today: the Church lives and prays not by looking forward to an uncertain future, but by looking backwards at the promises and faithfulness of God.”
P. S.: Who can identify the song and artist that the title of this post alludes to?
Posted by Veith at 09:00 AM
July 27, 2007
Christian girls are easy?
Michael Gerson discusses the troubling findings that evangelical (i.e., conservative Protestant) teenagers on the average start having sex halfway through their 16th year. This is actually EARLIER than mainline Protestant or secularist teens. (Factoring in economic and social factors, says Gerson–which I don’t think should matter–they have sex about the same time as their non-Christian peers.)
Not that faith has no effect on sexual behavior. “Intensely” religious teens put off sexual activity–until they are 17. The good news is that only 1% of young people who go to church every week end up living together without marriage, something 10% of all adults do.
I suspect that part of the problem is strictness itself, since Law alone provokes rebellion. The Biblical solution to burning with lust is marriage. Shouldn’t Christian young people be encouraged to get married earlier?
Posted by Veith at 08:45 AM
The Vocation of Lawyering
“The Washington Post” has a big article about possible presidential candidate Fred Thompson’s career as a lawyer. It reports that he has defended drug dealers and various white collar criminals.
This strikes me as unfair in the extreme. Doesn’t the vocation of a lawyer, specifically a defense attorney, REQUIRE representing criminals to the best of one’s ability? Also, are not defense attorneys more or less obliged to represent whoever comes to them for help? Do members of a law firm even have a choice in whom they defend? (You lawyers who read this blog–Kerner?–please enlighten us about this. I’m not really sure.) And surely the sophisticated “Washington Post” knows that an attorney who defends a drug dealer is not necessarily soft on drugs. This article strikes me as a way to undermine a potential conservative candidate by confusing his potential supporters, a classic hatchet job.
Posted by Veith at 07:32 AM
Saudi propaganda in our public schools
The federal government subsidizes Middle Eastern studies programs for K-12 public schools. The providers of the curriculum are the Middle Eastern Studies Centers in the nation’s universities. These, in turn, are funded by Saudi Arabia. Stanley Kurtz gives the details. This is, no doubt, a big reason why the school version of Islam is so sanitized (“religion of peace”) and evangelistic (to stretch that Christian term), with children made to perform Islamic rites and prayers.
Posted by Veith at 06:56 AM
July 26, 2007
Culture vs. Law
After a previous road trip, I blogged about how small town, rural America is now plagued with pornography shops right out in the open. The ensuing discussion was mostly about the feasibility or lack thereof of passing laws to get rid of them. But that was not my point.
After another trip to the heartland, this is my observation: A few years ago, you didn’t need laws to keep porn shops out of small towns. The culture made those ventures impossible. No local businessman would open that kind of store. He would be embarrassed and ostracized by his peers. As for the potential customers, they would be ashamed to go into one of those places. Not that they wouldn’t WANT to, internal sin being ever-present, and they might very well sneak off to the seedier parts of the big city to sample those wares. In the huge, impersonal cities, a person could be anonymous and the social sanctions of an actual community hardly existed.
I think what has happened in the small towns is that the sense of community has faded there too.
Posted by Veith at 08:29 AM
Christian martyrdom vs. Jihadist martyrdom
I’m sure the secularists who think there is no difference between conservative Christians and jihadist Muslims will look at this martyrdom talk and say, “see, there is really no difference.” Muslims laud their martyrs and so do Christians. Actually, though, these are OPPOSITES. That South Korean pastor was killed while trying to help people. The jihadists commit suicide while trying to kill people.
Posted by Veith at 08:24 AM
Martyrdom
The Taliban killed at least one of the 23 Christian missionaries they had kidnapped. The fate of the others is not known. The Afghan jihadists are trying to use them as bargaining chips to obtain the release of some of their comrades. Here is account of the pastor who was murdered:
The South Korean victim was found Wednesday with 10 bullet holes in his head, chest and stomach in Ghazni province, the region where the group was seized July 19 while riding a bus, said Abdul Rahman, an Afghan police officer. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry identified him as 42-year-old Bae Hyung-kyu. Mr. Bae, a deputy pastor and a founder of Saemmul Presbyterian Church, led the church’s volunteer work in Afghanistan. He is survived by a wife and a young daughter.
He was known for being a passionate leader of the church’s 300-member youth group, where he would lead each individual in private prayer, a church official said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the continuing standoff. Mr. Bae previously suffered from lung disease and had recovered, but was still taking medicine. He regularly traveled aboard on volunteer missions twice a year, and had planned to head to Africa after returning from the Afghanistan trip.
Posted by Veith at 08:19 AM
July 24, 2007
Martyrdom watch
I read about the 23 hostages from South Korea being held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan, but the mainstream media reports are not even mentioning, in many cases, the most salient point: This is a group of Christian medical missionaries. Their faith is what motivates the Taliban to want to kill them, despite the help they have brought to countless Afghans. They face martyrdom tonight.
Posted by Veith at 11:06 AM
July 17, 2007
On the road again
We’re getting ready to leave for a reunion of my wife’s clan. This will entail float trips, cabins on the lake, and lack of internet access. I’ll try to blog intermittently, as I can, but I don’t want to lose my laptop in the river.
Posted by Veith at 08:09 AM
A brief history of adultery
You really need to read this exceedingly odd article on adultery. It is about the public’s tolerance of sexual cheating when our politicians do it. But it further gives evidence that, in general, adultery was MORE tolerated in the past and less tolerated today. The article argues that when marriage was for life, various transgressions within marriage were not such a big deal. Spouses could forgive them and move on. But now, in the age of divorce, couples live with a one-strike and you’re out rule. An act of unfaithfulness means the injured spouse is liable to end the marriage. What you make of this article?
Posted by Veith at 07:20 AM
Nerd Nationalism
Nerds are getting militant, organizing their own subculture and launching their own bands. Read this for an account of how the socially-awkward are forming their own society, how the uncool are forging their own canons of coolness. Excerpts:
This September, the first Nerdapalooza concert kicks off in Eureka, Calif., with two days of “geek music” from more than 30 nerdcore, nerdmetal, geekpop and video-game rock bands.
. . . . . . . .
“The isolation that used to be endemic to geek culture is now an option,” said Jerry Holkins, Penny Arcade’s writer and a geek culture icon. “It started as a digital culture, where you met online because you had similar life experiences of feeling ostracized. . . . We still feel it, but now we see ourselves as part of a vast organized body. Ironically, isolation is what brought us together.”
Posted by Veith at 06:35 AM
Bush’s Success
Everybody’s down on President Bush these days, including his erstwhile loyal backers, but William Kristol points to elements that herald a successful presidency.
Posted by Veith at 06:22 AM
July 16, 2007
Suicide Cultural Bombers
The Islamic world has its suicide bombers, people willing to kill themselves–as a way to kill others–in the name of their religion. The West has another syndrome, the willingness to kill their culture in the name of–well, I’m not sure!
For example, Great Britain is gutting its educational curriculum, no longer requiring the study of specific figures such as Churchill and Hitler, in favor of spending a quarter of the school day on vague historical themes, contemporary issues, and “life skills.” Those include cooking (as if contemporary life does all that much of that), learning about immigration, studying Urdu in place of European languages, and otherwise letting the English culture go by the wayside.
Posted by Veith at 08:32 AM
Prospects for American soccer?
Do you think the arrival to the Los Angeles Galaxy of soccer superstar David Beckham and his wife Posh Puff, or whatever Spice Girl she is, will make Americans in vast numbers like soccer like the rest of the world does? I say, not a chance. (P.S.: I was making a Kleenex joke with the Posh Puff reference.)
Remember, they tried this too with the greatest of them all, Pele, to little avail. And imported stars from other countries, no matter how glamorous, will not take root in American culture as a whole, in the way baseball and (our) football have.
The Hispanicization of American culture may well make soccer more popular, but the lack of assimilation means that immigrants here tend to be boosters for their homeland teams rather than the American team.
Yes, hordes of kids play it, but I’m not sure they are becoming fans when they grow up.
Why do you think Americans are so resistant to this sport when all the rest of the world is so enthusiastic about it? And facts such as “it’s so low scoring” are not enough of an answer. The rest of the world doesn’t mind that it’s low scoring. Why do we?
Posted by Veith at 08:30 AM
Small Neighbors
Lutherans for Life offers a series of Life Quotes suitable for use as church bulleting blurbs. We had a striking one in yesterday’s bulletin:
“Thank you for being neighbor in the ‘Jesus-sense’ of that word. Thank you for being neighbor to embryos in Petri dishes and unborn children in wombs and pregnant teens in distress and post-abortive women and men in despair and families facing end-of-life decisions in doubt. Thank you for supporting Lutherans For Life as we strive to help others not just see humanity in embryos but to see neighbors in humanity.” Rev. Dr. James I. Lamb, Executive Director, Lutherans For Life. A Life Quote from Lutherans For Life / www.lutheransforlife.org / 888-364-LIFE
Posted by Veith at 06:42 AM
Church Report
In the absence of our pastor, another clergyman in our congregation, Keith Lingsch, an Air Force chaplain, led the service. He preached a fine sermon on the Good Samaritan, his angle being that CHRIST is the Good Samaritan, and WE are the person beat up on the side of the road.
I also met an Ethiopian family, in this country for just six month, who are attending our church. I look forward to getting to know them. I suspect they have some stories to tell.
Tell about your Sunday at church.
Posted by Veith at 06:35 AM
July 13, 2007
Morning After Pill
The morning after pill, which prevents fertilized eggs from implanting and is therefore an abortifacent, has been available over the counter, without a prescription, for about a year now. (Did you realize this abortion pill is now available at your local pharmacy like aspirin and toothpaste?) And, sure enough, its use is soaring.
But that is not enough. The so-called “Plan B” pill may not be sold to anyone under 18, so the pro-abortion activists are rallying to make it available to children also.
Some pharmacies refuse to carry the product, usually because of the Christian convictions of the owner. But some states have passed bills and the federal government is considering one that would mandate sale of the pill and outlaw pharmacists who refuse.
Posted by Veith at 08:09 AM
Religious Visas
One relatively easy way to enter the country legally has been to apply for a religious worker visa. So the government is cracking down on abuses by defining what qualifies. But this has sparked outrage over religious discrimination, including bias for “judeo-Christian” religious categories.
Defining religious workers as being authorized by some sort of a religious organization discriminates against non-institutionalized religions, including some evangelicals. Requirements that religious workers have some sort of religious training and institutional authorization discriminates against Muslims, Scientologists, and some evangelicals, all of whom have, essentially, lay leadership and lay ministry. (This applies to Islamic imams.) Requirement that religious workers be paid as an indication that they are, indeed, professional church workers, rules out Mormon missionaries.
Here is my favorite conundrum: The Hindu religion, for example, requires special stonemasons to make their idols. And special cooks to cook food for them. Don’t they need to be able to come into this country to serve Hindu temples?
Posted by Veith at 07:50 AM
Your unlucky day?
I do believe in Providence rather than random luck, but since we had our lucky day discussion on 7/7/7, we need to have our unlucky day discussion on Friday the 13th. If you are having bad luck today, please report. Or if you are having good Providence today, report that too.
Posted by Veith at 07:28 AM
July 12, 2007
The Pope popes
Loyal reader Rev. F. A. Bischoff suggested that we discuss Pope Benedict’s announcement that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church after all.
Well, of course he would say that. While disagreeing with him utterly, I am actually glad that the church is taking a conservative turn. It is far better to be so exclusive than to be so inclusive as to include even non-believers, which had been the tendency in Catholic ecumenism.
I am glad the pope is allowing the Latin mass and seemingly reversing Vatican II, since the vernacular masses, with their flat language and awful pop guitar strains, are often even worse than when Protestants try to be contemporary. Being contemporary is not in the Catholic nature–nor is it in the Lutheran nature–and when we try to be, we are awkward and off-key. And the theology of worship that came out of Vatican II has been a baleful influence that has plagued even Protestant theologies of worship and that, as at least some have pointed out, have opened the door to contemporary worship.
So, if there has to be a pope, let him be a pope, bringing out the teachings of Rome clearly for all to see.
Posted by Veith at 06:29 AM
Harold O. J. Brown
Harold O. J. Brown–religion editor of “Chronicles,” former writer for “Christianity Today” in its good old days, a heavy-weight defender of the inerrancy of Scripture, and one of that generation who showed that you could be a conservative Christian and a true intellectual–died after a long struggle with cancer.
I met him, and our paths crossed numerous times, including running into each other at airports. He was a good guy, the only theologian I knew who sported a dueling scar, which he acquired in one of those German student fraternities when he was studying over there.
Posted by Veith at 06:23 AM
July 11, 2007
The grading war
Young people in Iraq, as in other nations besides the USA, have to pass a national examination before they can go to a university. But it turns out that many teachers who grade the exam are flunking students who belong to the other Muslim sect. Both Shi’ites and Sunnis are doing this. The graders can tell what sect a student belongs to by his or her name. They are going so far as to change right answers to wrong answers. The graders are even admitting what they are doing and justifying it:
One Shiite teacher, who was dismissed, told investigators: “I gave bad marks to those with Sunni names because I lost one of my sons in al-Adamiya city [a hardline Sunni area of Baghdad]. He was killed there because he is a Shia.”
As a teacher, I consider grading and the fairness and integrity of my grading to be a nearly sacred trust. That teachers would do this tells me that a civil society in Iraq is impossible.
Posted by Veith at 08:41 AM
Biting the hand that wants to feed them
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is championing the poor, advocating anti-poverty programs and taking up their cause in every speech he makes. And yet, poor people are refusing to vote for him.
In the most recent Washington Post-ABC poll, the former senator from North Carolina was trounced by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents with household incomes below $20,000. Clinton had the support of 55 percent, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) drew 20 percent and Edwards 10 percent.
. . . . . . . . .
Despite Edwards’s devotion to discussing poverty issues, 40 percent of independents from households earning less than $20,000 said there is no chance that they would back him in November 2008 if he were the Democratic nominee.
It appears that voters do NOT always vote their own self-interests.
Posted by Veith at 08:23 AM
“Is” vs. “Should”
The former Surgeon General, Richard Carmona, is griping that the Bush administration was rejecting science in not letting him advocate embryonic stem cell research, in its insistence on abstinence in sex education, etc., etc.
But a Surgeon General–as well as Al Gore and everyone else saying that Bush is “anti-science”–should know that it is impossible to go directly from an “is” to a “should.” Science can say how to manipulate stem cells. But whether we SHOULD manipulate them is something science cannot answer. We are talking about two different realms and it is unscientific to confuse them.
Posted by Veith at 08:16 AM
July 10, 2007
Today’s two theologies
Dissident ELCA theologian Karl Donfried notes that there are now two different theologies in contemporary Christianity: a theology of redemption, about how Christ saves sinners, and a “theology of inclusion,” about the need for the church to accept people as they are. Justification as the chief article of the church is being replaced by Acceptance, as the doctrine that trumps all others.
Dr. Donfried is referring to mainline protestant churches, but I am seeing this in conservative and evangelical circles as well. I see this shift, for example, in the New Perspective on Paul, which interprets away the Apostle’s words on justification so that they refer mainly to who gets to belong in the church.
Go here for his address.
HT: Paul McCain
Posted by Veith at 09:34 AM
Fairness at the All-Star game
One of my numerous pet peeves is the careless way people throw around the word “fair.” When they don’t get what they want, they invoke some sort of fairness doctrine, when what they really want is not justice but mercy. (As we all need to.)
Every year at the All-Star game, people start complaining about the players who don’t get voted in, but, arguably, should. Maybe certain players had better seasons than others who were named All Stars, but that doesn’t mean the process is unfair. Fans vote for their favorites, then coaches fill out the roster. The process is the same for everyone and thus, unless someone is excluded for malice, fair. Consider this excerpt from a sports column:
Craig Biggio (3,000 hits), Sammy Sosa (600 homers) and Frank Thomas (500) have all reached milestones, but aren’t at AT&T Park, again raising the question if there should be a lifetime achievement spot. Said NL manager Tony La Russa: “The only way to make that happen is for MLB to say, `Look, we’re going to have a distinguished career spot to add to the 32 you get because it’s unfair to take somebody off for somebody who is deserving.'”
Here, Tony is using “fair” correctly. Craig Biggio is having a miserable year overall. It would be “unfair” to put him on just because he was so good in the past. The prospect of “Distinguished Career Spots” strikes me as inherently unfair, inasmuch as it is in contrast with the “deserving,” (i.e., those justly qualified).
Posted by Veith at 09:07 AM
Ugly Tomatoes
You know how tomatoes that you buy out-of-season–picked green and shipped from far away–are so tasteless? Well, a produce grower from Florida named Joe Procacci bred a variety that could be shipped out in winter but that tastes really good. The problem, though, is that they come out kind of wrinkled and asymmetrical. That is a problem because the Florida Tomato Committee will not allow tomatoes to be sent out of state unless they conform to their high standards of being round, smooth, and symmetrical. Never mind that they taste like styrofoam. Mr. Procacci has been fighting to legalize his so-called ugly tomatoes.
We found some ugly tomatoes, labeled as such, in our grocery store! I’m not sure whether Mr. Procacci won his battle or, more likely, that the Florida Tomato Committee ban only extends to winter sales. At any rate, the ugly tomatoes are delicious, tasting much like the fresh ripe off-the-vine local type, which are not quite ready here. So if you see some ugly tomatoes, eat them.
There is a profounder point here, the classic conflict in literature and life between appearance and reality. We tend to judge not just tomatoes but people, situations, ideas by how they look, their superficial attractiveness, rather than by what they really are, their inner savor. So learn from ugly tomatoes.
Posted by Veith at 08:46 AM
July 07, 2007
Your Lucky Day
This is a rare Saturday post, noting how today is the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year of the century. That is, this is 7/7/7. So many lucky numbers are thought to herald an especially proptitous day. Couples in large numbers have chosen this day to get married, and casinos are running huge promotions to handle all of the people who think this is going to be their lucky day. (I’m sure this will be a lucky day for the casinos.)
So in the spirit of scientific research, if something particularly lucky happens to you today, please report it in a comment on this site. Also, if you have counterevidence, please record that today. Have a good day.
Posted by Veith at 07:07 AM
July 06, 2007
Family values in the heartland
Snapshots from my travels:
A woman and her husband were arguing, right in the open, at a small town gathering, with no sense of the need for privacy or decorum. Their little girl, around 6, ran up to them, saying “Don’t fight!” The mom told her, “We’re not fighting. We’re just talking loud.”
At a table next to us in a small town cafe at breakfast, the husband–obviously the local football coach–was excitedly talking about his plans for the next season, the young man with “leadership” qualities he has found for quarterback, how he is going to coach the team. His wife was saying nothing, just looking down at her breakfast. She was utterly uninterested. He didn’t even notice.
Posted by Veith at 09:19 AM
The innocence of rural, small-town America. . .
. . .has always been exaggerated. But in my recent journeys, I was struck with the way pornography emporiums are now polluting the heartland. No longer are they furtively hiding off the side of the road, just outside of a big city limits. Now they seem to be everywhere, brazen and in-your-face. They have become superstores, in some cases, heralded with big billboards on the main drags. And then there are the strip clubs! In two West Virginia towns I drove through, the strip clubs were in the middle of town, right in the commercial district, on Main Street.
Posted by Veith at 09:12 AM
July 05, 2007
In the Zone–the Twilight Zone
I spent much of the holiday watching the “Twilight Zone” marathon on the SciFi network. That has to be the best dramatic series in the history of television. For all of the wild and twisting plots, the stories were almost always character-driven, making it a true actor’s vehicle. It was a pleasure to see some of the best character actors, often early in their careers, chewing the scenery in a Twilight Zone dilemma. But, above all, it was a writer’s vehicle, featuring ingenious plots, skillful story-telling, and (especially when host and series inventer Rod Serling writes the script) eloquent language.
The stories play with the viewer’s minds in ways not often seen today. “The Hitchhiker” is about a woman on a cross-country road trip who, no matter how far and fast she drives, keeps seeing the same hitchhiker on the side of the road. The episode is so uncanny and unnerving that I remember not being able to take it when it was first broadcast when I was 9 years old. I left the living room, retreating to my room, but I could still hear it through the door. The episode had no violence, no gore, nothing external at all to be scary, but somehow it penetrated deep into the mind, the scariest place of all. And yet the ending, which I saw now for the first time 47 years later, turns out to be strangely soothing.
And I was astounded to see how Christian so many of the stories are. Not in a tack-on kind of way, but as a natural part of the very fiber of the stories. I never saw an episode deviate from Christian morality, and there were references not just to God but to “the grace of God”; not just prayer but theological statements, such as “we receive the love of God and so express that love to others.” And entire stories were built around Christian themes.
In “Obsolete Man,” a futuristic totalitarian state holds a trial of a librarian for being “obsolete.” Not only are books obsolete, the librarian’s faith in God is obsolete. He is sentenced to die in a televised execution of his own choosing. The librarian wants to die at home, so a bomb is set to blow him up when the clock strikes 7:00 pm. The state representative shows up to mock him, but then finds out that the librarian has managed to lock him in the room too. Now the world will see how two men–one of whom has faith in God, and the other who has faith in the state–face death. The librarian takes out an outlawed Bible and says that he will die while reading the Word of God. The statist rants and fidgets and smokes cigarettes. The librarian is reading Psalms out loud for all the world (including those of us watching the show) to hear. In the last minutes before the bomb goes off, the statist finally breaks and begs, “In the name of God, let me go!” The librarian has compassion for him and releases him. As the statist runs out of the room, the bomb goes off. There is no twist that lets the Christian go. He dies. But then the statist himself is arrested and tried. In calling on God in the face of death, he has become obsolete too.
Posted by Veith at 08:24 AM
July 04, 2007
Self-evident Truths
The best way to celebrate today is not with fireworks or with picnicking but to read and contemplate the Declaration of Independence. Go here to do so.
Consider these words, setting forth the premises of the American experiment:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Notice that today these truths are not self-evident at all. According to today’s public square, there is no creation and no Creator. Morality, law, and thus human rights do not have a transcendent reality grounded in God Himself. Rather, morality is seen as a cultural constructure, law as a government construction, and human rights are a gift of the state. Human rights, therefore, are not unalienable (that is, impossible to take away); they are, precisely, alienable, since what is given can be taken away.
The right to life is already rejected by the pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia crowd. The right to Liberty is being chipped away on various fronts. The right to the pursuit of Happiness is still acknowledged; indeed, it is used to trump every other right and moral principle, being misconstrued as the right to do anything that makes me happy.
More broadly, the very possibility of truth is denied by much of our intellectual establishment, let alone “self-evident” truth, so that we are left with no intellectual or moral consensus. As our intellectual establishment admits, the only thing left is the exercise of raw power.
The question for our country in its subsequent birthdays is whether or not America as a free society can continue to exist now that its foundations are being rejected.
As I have argued, postmodernist rejection of truth and transcendent morality, coupled with its power reductionism, is a formula for despotism. Is there ANY way we can have a free society while rejecting that pivotal sentence in the Declaration of Independence, a document that many Americans have the nerve to celebrate today even though they do not believe what it says?
Posted by Veith at 12:22 PM
Africans love America
A good Independence Day activity would be to read this Associated Press story on how and why people in sub-Saharan Africa love America so much.
In some countries, Africans love America more than Americans do. 80% of Americans have a positive feeling about their country (meaning one in five don’t!), but 88% of the people in the Ivory Coast do. Ghana and Kenya also score higher than Americans do in approval of the USA. In the other ten countries below the Sahara (that is, to say, non-Muslim Africa), the American approval rating was around 75%, the only exceptions being South Africa (61%), Uganda (64%), and Tanzania (which doesn’t like us much, with 46%). Even in Muslim Africa, America rates pretty high. In Nigeria, equally divided between Christians and Muslims, 94% of the Christians approve of the USA, with 49% of the Muslims.
Why is America so popular? The scholars who did the study cited the “American dream” ideal. But they also said that Africans perceive the USA as being more open to African cultural influence than any other country–including, ironically, their own–appreciating how the descendants of slaves now have an enormous presence in American music and sports. Africans also contrast the USA, which–despite leftist propaganda has been less “imperialistic” than almost any other Western power–with the Europeans who had been their colonial masters and now still annoy them no end. Here is a telling quote:
For many Ivorians, America is the anti-France. Government-allied militia leaders have worn American flag bandannas and peppered their rousing speeches with English. “For me, a French [person] is an imperialist, a terrorist,” said Jonas Kouadio, a 27-year-old student. “And Americans fight against terrorists.”
Posted by Veith at 12:02 PM
Happy Independence Day!
We’re not in church, so we can celebrate the USA’s 231st birthday.
Posted by Veith at 11:58 AM
July 03, 2007
Patriotism in Church?
Here is a good discussion as we celebrate Independence Day. Reader Julie Voss writes this:
Have you ever discussed the practice of Lutherans singing American patriotic songs on your blog? I find this practice is beginning to disturb me. Perhaps this is just another way of experiencing the City of God and the City of Man in conflict, which the blog has discussed before. Should the Church bless or challenge the political order? I’d appreciate hearing other views.
I know people who strenuously object to the practice of having an American flag in the chancel, considering it idolatry in the extreme.
I think the usual practice of having an American flag on one side of the room and the Christian flag on the other, properly interpreted, is a rather precise symbol of the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, but I can see that the principle is not often understood and that the earthly Republic can often trump God’s kingdom. As for patriotic songs, the songs about country in the classic Lutheran Hymnal involve thanksgiving, supplication, and even national repentance, all quite appropriate and avoiding jingoism and state worship. But I know those songs are seldom used anymore.
There is a danger here, and yet we must remember that God is the King of both kingdoms, that He governs through human governments in that Romans 13 kind of vocational way, and that our country needs Him desperately. I guess the problem comes when the state is given the priority and the glory, and the church becomes a mere way of giving the established government a sacred status and a divine approval.
What do the rest of you think about this?
Posted by Veith at 08:13 AM
Being a Christian AND a Muslim
Paul McCain at Cyberbrethren posts an article about a female Episcopal priest who has additionally embraced Islam. She has the blessing of her bishop. And her mosque. And she will be teaching New Testament at a Catholic colllege. You have to read this. A sample:
A graduate of Brown University, she earned master’s degrees from two seminaries and received her Ph.D. in New Testament from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
She was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1984 but has always challenged her church, calling Christianity the “world religion of privilege.”
She has never believed in the Christian doctrine of original sin, and for years she struggled with the nature of Jesus’ divinity, the Times said, concluding Jesus is the son of God insofar as all humans are the children of God, and that Jesus is divine, just as all humans are divine — because God dwells in all humans.
Posted by Veith at 07:27 AM
All-Star Brewers
in response to Paul S’s comment, since he insists, I will highlight the phenomenon that the Milwaukee Brewers have FOUR players in the All-Star game! That would be Prince Fielder, J. J. Hardy, closer Fernando Cordero, and starting ace pitcher Ben Sheets. And Fielder was voted in to play first base by the fans as a whole, the first time that has happened for this small-market team since Paul Molitor in 1988.
And here it is coming up on the All-Star break and the Brewers are STILL leading the National League Central by over 6 games.
Posted by Veith at 06:55 AM
July 02, 2007
Tearing down old barns and building new
I did a lot of hanging around in my old stomping grounds throughout Oklahoma, noting what all had changed. I noticed a lot of the old strip malls in the cities had been torn down. And replaced by strip malls.
Many businesses seem to have a superstitious fear of cursed places. Instead of occupying an old building of a business that has failed, the preference seems to be to tear it down and to build a new building to inhabit.
Then there was the fate of the old Camelot Hotel in Tulsa. In my day, it was spectacular, a big, sprawling structure designed to look like a castle, with turrets and crennellations and banners. To my young mind, it was the picture of opulence. Later, I actually went into a room and it was not all that much, small and plain. Like many other things, the attractiveness was on the outside. So eventually the hotel went out of business and the building passed through other hands. Most recently, it was owned by Maharishi University with the ambition of making it a center of Transcendental Meditation. But all of the good vibrations did not save the building from deteriorating and becoming an eyesore.
Last week I read that the property had been bought by Quik Trip, with plans to raze the building to the ground and replace it with a much-needed convenience store. As if convenience store gas stations did not already occupy nearly every block along that highway.
I wish we could get back to buildings that last. That can last and that we want to last. Real castles have lasted centuries upon centuries, emerging out of a Christian creativity that recognized the value of permanent things. Today’s mindset is oblivious to permanence, which has its consequences.
Posted by Veith at 08:24 AM
Wedding in the Forgiveness Place
Our daughter’s wedding was wonderful. It was in the church in Oklahoma where we became Lutherans and was conducted by the pastor who brought us in. Our daughter was baptized there, and she and her seminarian husband included one of her baptism hymns. Weddings are joyous occasions, despite the tears that often accompany them for some reason, and the only times I choked up were during the baptismal references, with the past flashing on my consciousness with the present, resulting in some real tempus fugit kinds of moments.
Our pastor from St. Athanasius, who had also been Mary’s pastor, flew out from Vienna to deliver the marriage sermon, which many said was the best they had ever heard. Some memorable lines:
“Love is not the foundation of marriage. Marriage is the foundation of love.”
“A church is not primarily a place to get good advice or to receive counseling. It is a place of forgiveness. The font, the altar, the pulpit are places where forgiveness is proclaimed and received. A church is a forgiveness place.”
Posted by Veith at 08:17 AM
I’m back
Well, we are back from our three-week sojourn, the high-light of which was our daughter’s wedding. During that time, I was, for the most part, blissfully unaware of happenings in the news. So I’ll blog about things I picked up on during our drives across America.
Posted by Veith at 08:12 AM
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June 22, 2007
Online Absolution update
My own pastor, Pr. Douthwaite, weighed in on the “online absolution” post from the other day. His comments couldn’t get through the spam filter for some reason, but they were so good, I thought I’d post them here. His putting this into the context of the growing gnostic spiritual climate is especially telling:
I do not frequently post on blogs, but since one of my parishioners asked me about my opinion on this matter, I will do so here. First, perhaps my feelings could be summed up with these words of St. Paul:
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. (1 Cor 10:23)
I am uncomfortable with cyber-absolution. It seems to me to be a continuing step in the wrong direction of spiritualizing (Gnosticizing?) the faith; of being “spiritual” without being “religious” – that is, without being connected with a church. Christianity is an incarnational reality. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word is not a disembodied truth or a book, but a man. God in human flesh. This is not unimportant. And still today, men are given into the Office of the Holy Ministry to stand “in the stead and by the command” of our Lord . . . to do what? To give His gifts person to person. A hand baptizes. A mouth reads. A hand places the body and blood of Christ into a person’s mouth. And yes, a hand placed on the head and a mouth speak the words of absolution to a troubled sinner. And all this is physical. Our Lord gave us physical means of grace because He knew we needed them.
Of further concern to me is the issue of pastoral care. This (it seems to me) is being lost with regard to the Lord’s Supper, when the doors are thrown open and the decision of who may commune is left to the individual rather than the Shepherd. Where is the love in that? In the same way, private absolution is a wonderful opportunity for personal pastoral care, for conversation and encouragement. And so while absolution (online) apart from pastoral care “may be lawful” (to quote Paul above), I think it a mere shadow of what it was intended to be. It is like when I talk on the telephone with someone and pray with them on the phone – does that prayer count? Sure. But its not the same as being with that person and giving them the comfort of your presence.
Perhaps the problem is that our pastors are simply not offering this wonderful gift. Perhaps the solution instead is to make sure *all* our pastors are offering regularly scheduled times for private absolution, thus eliminating the need for doing this online?
Finally, one last thought to an already too long post – e-mail and online writing has proven a wonderful thing in many ways, but it has also revealed a great difficulty: that words typed out are often misunderstood. The proper distinction and application of Law and Gospel is the most difficult aspect of pastoral care when done in person; online, I think I myself would find it extremely difficult to give the proper pastoral guidance and care.
In the end, Private Absolution is not simply a way to get something off your chest, but to receive the gifts of God, as a part of His body, the Church. The more we get away from this – even if it be lawful – I wonder if it is beneficial.
Posted by Veith at 01:15 PM
A pro-life President
I know we conservatives are all running away from President Bush, but here is what a pro-life president looks like, vetoing the embryonic stem cell bill despite taking flak from all sides.
Posted by Veith at 12:39 PM
Comeback for Liberal Theology?
A column I read recently by Ruth Marcus pointed to the irony that Democratic presidential candidates are increasingly using the language of faith, while the Republican candidates are trying to downplay religious issues:
In the 2008 campaign, said David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, it’s the Democratic candidates who sound like evangelicals, and the Republicans — Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain — who sound like secularists.
The columnist quoted Barack Obama and John Edwards raising religious themes, with Hillary Clinton going so far as to talk about the support she receives from her “prayer warriors.” The columnist sees the Democrats winning over “moderate evangelicals.”
But there is a presence on America’s religious scene that she overlooks: The mainline liberal denominations. Yes, those groups are in decline, but they still make up a big slice of American religiosity.
What I’m seeing is a convergence between some “evangelicals” and “liberals.” As more and more evangelicals adopt liberal theological practices–such as downplaying doctrine, rejecting traditionalism, and revising Christianity to accord with contemporary culture–liberals are finding they can adopt evangelical tactics and language.
Many liberal denominations are now implementing church growth strategies and building megachurches. And they are especially equipped to do so. They also have their small groups and Bible studies. True, they often focus on social justice themes, which the Democrats are playing up to, but Mrs. Clinton’s Methodists can also have “prayer warriors.”
Mainline liberal Protestantism is my background. I remember how some of the sermons I would hear would consist of the pastor trying to apply the latest pop psychology fad so as to give his congregation the psychological counseling he thought we needed. I have since heard this kind of thing coming from a supposedly evangelical pulpit.
Whether the liberal churches stage a comeback or ostensibly evangelical churches go liberal, liberal theology (with its social gospel, anti-supernaturalism, and cultural conformity) is again a force to contend with.
Posted by Veith at 12:08 PM
June 19, 2007
How movies draw back from abortion
For another sampling of Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, read this from the blog where she contributes Get Religion (which specializes in the media’s treatment of religious issues). This time Mollie discusses the reaction to the movie “Knocked Up,” which shows how a man grows up after getting a woman pregnant. Liberal pundits are upset that the woman in the movie didn’t consider just getting an abortion! Mollie discusses how and why movies, while OK with a wide variety of sins, tend to draw back from abortion.
Posted by Veith at 09:05 AM
Online confession
The great Mollie Z. Hemingway has a piece on the “First Things” website about a whole array of websites that give people the chance to confess their sins. In complete privacy, it is now possible to unload one’s burdens, what one used to be able to do in church. The big difference, though, she points out, is that in the church, confession was accompanied with absolution. Facing up to one’s sins was followed with the good news of forgiveness in Christ. (This is the case with Lutheran confession & absolution, as well as Anglican and perhaps others. Catholic confession makes you pay with acts of penance, but it is still all about finding forgiveness of those sins.) But in today’s culture, as M.Z. points out, we have confession without absolution AND absolution without confession.
Do you think it would be theologically possible for, say, a Lutheran pastor to set up an online confessional in which he both reads the confessions and writes the words of Christ’s forgiveness?
Posted by Veith at 07:16 AM
Sir Salman Rushdie
Queen Elizabeth, the lame duck Tony Blair government, and the Brits in general show their true grit once again: The Queen has knighted the novelist Salman Rushdie, who is still under a fatwa calling for his death for blaspheming Muhammad in “The Satanic Verses.” That was in 1988, nearly 20 years ago, but his life is still in danger. And, sure enough, the Muslim world is exploding again because of this honor.
Posted by Veith at 06:48 AM
June 18, 2007
Ritual humiliation
Charles Krauthammer has a good way of looking at the campaign ordeals we put our presidential candidates through:
The final function of the endless campaign, and perhaps the most psychologically important, is to satisfy the American instinct for egalitarianism. We have turned the presidential campaign into a pleasingly degrading ordeal — pleasing, that is, to the electorate. The modern presidential campaign is meant to be physically exhausting and spiritually humbling almost to the point of humiliation. Candidates spend two years and more on bended knee begging for money, votes and handshakes in a diner.
Why do we inflict such cruel and unusual punishment? Because our winner is not just chief magistrate but king. True, the kingship is temporary, but its glories and perks are beyond compare — the pomp and pampering of a head of state, married to the real political power of controlling the most important state on the planet.
The bargain we offer the candidate is this: We will make you Lord, circling celestially above us on Air Force One, but because we are flinty Jeffersonian yeomen, we insist that you flatter us first with a very extended show of camaraderie and commonality with the Iowa farmer, the New Hampshire alderman and the South Carolina good ol’ boy. Aboriginal tribes have slightly different rituals for those who pretend to kingship, but the idea is the same: ordeal before dominion.
Posted by Veith at 10:16 AM
Summertime. . .
And the livin’ is hectic. I’ve been doing lots of travelling and will be doing even more in the next couple of weeks. And, among other things, our younger daughter, Mary, is getting married! So I’ll blog when I can, but it might get sporadic some days.
Posted by Veith at 10:12 AM
June 14, 2007
Plug for my daughter, update
Now my daughter Joanna is going to teach online not only Latin and Classical literature, but a more modern course in the Omnibus series that includes “The Chronicles of Narnia.” That should be fun for students and teacher. If you are homeschooling and want to try it, go here.
Posted by Veith at 08:09 AM
Bullies
I am haunted by what Frank said about how he was bullied and tormented as a child for being a “sissy.” Such treatment, of course, had nothing to do with moral disapproval. Indeed, bullies target anyone who is different (smart kids, good kids, differently looking kids). In fact, the social scene of children is an example of the Hobbesian state of nature at its most brutal and a dramatic proof of child depravity. The social pecking order that develops, with the popular kids lording it over everybody, is like a wolf-pack, except wolves are kinder to each other. I have seen this even in Christian schools, and it is reason enough for homeschooling. Though I think parents, teachers, and other adults should intervene to civilize the little savages.
Posted by Veith at 08:03 AM
Mythbusters
As I have said before, one of my favorite TV shows is “Mythbusters,” in which a group of engineers with personalities take urban legends, historical rumors, and everyday assumptions and then test them to see if they are true or not. Mythbuster fans have learned that firing a gun into a car’s gas tank will not make it explode, that if a window breaks in an airplane you won’t get sucked out, that you cannot swing so high you will go all around the swingset, that you CAN save gas by riding behind a big rig, etc., etc. Now I have discovered the show’s website, which is full of clips from old shows, quizzes in which you can guess what is a myth and what is true, and other fun and informative activities. If you like that sort of thing, go here.
Posted by Veith at 07:20 AM
June 13, 2007
Yearning to Belong in a Church
In the “Death by Suburb” post last Friday (now up to 79 comments, as of this moment), Marilee offered some poignant thoughts about the kind of spiritual care she needs from her church. She kicked it off with this:
I would like to feel a sense of belonging to a church group that truly cared that I live, not die or disappear, would notice and interact with the idea that I have needs and dreams and sorrows and joys and am not a mute, disinterested bystander. I would like a pastor and a group to care to help me reach out of my brokenness, and sometimes, fears, to find a new hope. And I would like to offer the same to others. But you can’t legislate caring and compassion. You can’t order people to be more open. You can’t even ask them to give up more of their precious time. You can’t – I can’t – “unbusy” ourselves enough to be that difference-maker in at least one other life. Unless it’s not the ministry team trying to psych people up to do ministry, but the Holy Spirit reviving us, and bringing himself into our midst.
There’s so much I would like to say about what I wish the church could do to counter the busyness and death by suburb syndrome (yes, even for those who live in cities, small towns, or in rural isolation.) But to do that, there needs to be the establishment of a mutual trust, a mutual desire to bless and receive and interact – with Christ, not “program”, as the head. I could only speak about what I wish, not what I am actually experiencing – or even, am capable of participating in. I guess I would hardly know what to do if someone offered me the gift of a listening ear and a mutual seeking after more of God, no matter what. It doesn’t seem to come up too frequently in my own sphere.
Is it possible to find this? What can churches do to achieve this atmosphere? Or is this not really the business of the church?
Posted by Veith at 08:18 AM
Schadenfreude
German, which has a word for everything, gives us schadenfreude (shäd’n-froi’duh), meaning the joy we feel at the misfortune of someone else. That we so often experience schadenfreude is great evidence of our sinful nature.
We’ve all been indulging in schadenfreude in the case of Paris Hilton, the rich party girl sent to jail for drinking and driving. Our American egalitarianism also rejoices in spectacles of the high and mighty brought down. Still, it was rather sad to see pictures of this sheltered, messed-up young woman crying and calling for her mother as she was dragged off to prison.
Now we hear she is seeing her 23-day prison sentence as God’s way of getting her to straighten up her life. She vows to stop playing dumb and to do something worthwhile for others. She is spending her time reading the Bible (as well as two New Agey books which we should pray she drops). For this she is being mocked even more in the name of schadenfreude. But still, the word “penitentiary” comes from the word “penitence,” which imprisonment was intended to produce, and it seems as if it is for this poor woman.
Posted by Veith at 07:32 AM
June 12, 2007
Orientation
The discussions on last Friday’s post “Death by Suburb” rage on. I see no need to move them. Posts remain active for comments on this software for at least a week. But I want to lift some of the points made for separate consideration.
Frank says that we need to distinguish between a particular homosexual “orientation” and the particular homosexual “behavior” of men having sex with other men. He points out that one can have the former without having the latter.
He cites his own case. When he was growing up, he wanted to play with dolls, liked the color pink, identified more with his mother than his father, hated sports, and had other qualities associated more with girls than with boys. For this he was cruelly tormented as a “sissy.” This was before he had any sexual desires at all. Today, he is a devout, celibate Christian–and a confessional Lutheran to boot–but he still has some of those “effeminate” tastes and personality characteristics associated with being “gay.”
He asks what Commandment he violated as a child when he liked pink and played with dolls? What sin does he now commit in having a fashion sense and liking show tunes (my examples)? He maintains that his “orientation” is not sinful, as such. And yet, Christians tend to jump to the conclusion that he is committing particular sexual sins, even though he isn’t, and then to identify him in terms of that sexual immorality. Instead of accepting him as a struggling brother in Christ, as he is, his personality quirks included.
He makes a good point, doesn’t he?
Posted by Veith at 09:19 AM
The New Indulgences
21st Century types don’t believe much in traditional morality, but they still feel guilty. And the most guilt-inducing realm has to be the environment. Failure to recycle is a mortal sin, but one that fairly easy to avoid, simply by recycling. But people consuming themselves to death pursuing the affluent lifestyle they love are often wracked with guilt over how they are contributing to global warming–and thus, by their reckoning, to death of the whole planet, for which they feel responsible.
Enter a new moral accounting system–and a new business–reminiscent of the Middle Ages. I’ll let the Washington Post explain it:
A carbon-offset provider, using a calculator programmed to make certain assumptions, figures that a plane traveling between Washington and San Francisco will spew into the atmosphere, say, 90 tons of carbon dioxide, to choose one of many disputed estimates. If there are 180 people on that flight, then you’re “responsible” for half a ton of those emissions. You pay the carbon-offset provider, say, $10, and it’ll use the money to reduce the same amount of carbon somewhere else.
The company will subsequently, in your name, plant two trees, which, in the course of a lifetime, will take in half a ton of carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen. (Other countries use the money to invest in windmills or other carbon dioxide saving technologies.) Your trip will thus be “carbon neutral.” And, if you pay scrupulously for your other carbon dioxide sins, such as driving your car and (presumably) breathing, you can call yourself “carbon neutral” and be saved from your sins.
Posted by Veith at 08:37 AM
No Smoking: Does That Include Marijuana?
The Netherlands is banning smoking in public facilities, which would include the “coffee shops” that sell marijuana. The Dutch are now debating whether “no smoking” just counts for tobacco, or their quasi-legal marijuana as well. According to a certain mindset, tobacco is evil, but marijuana is good.
Posted by Veith at 07:57 AM
June 11, 2007
Plug for my daughter’s online courses
My daughter Joanna used to be the Latin teacher for Veritas Academy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, one of the leading Classical Christian schools, which leads because it is connected to Veritas Press, a major provider of classical Christian curricula for schools and homeschools. Anyway, as long-term readers of this blog know, she took a new job as editor of all of these WORLD blogs, and then she got married to an Australian pastor, living happily ever after down under, and then she had Sam, making me a grandfather!
Anyway, she is back in the states, where her husband will be working on a Ph.D. from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. She will be kept quite busy taking care of Sam, of course, but all of this technology makes something else possible: She will again be teaching Latin–as well as “great books”–for Veritas! That entity has put together online courses. Joanna will be able to teach again, for a few hours a week, while also being able to stay at home to take care of her baby. And the general public, including homeschoolers all over the world, will be able to benefit from her great teaching ability and remarkable expertise!
So I want to plug her courses. I’ll let her describe what she’ll be doing:
I’m teaching a beginning Latin class and a course called Omnibus I, in which we cover Old Testament through the fall of the Roman Empire. The reading list includes Codes of Hammurabi and Moses, Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Early History of Rome, Julius Caesar, the Oedipus Trilogy, The Last Days of Socrates, The Twelve Caesars, and some other goodies.
So if you or someone you want to be highly-educated want to learn Latin and/or classical literature, sign up. Go here.
Posted by Veith at 09:14 AM
Comments
Blogs are different from each other. On ,a href=”http://cyberbrethren.typepad.com/cyberbrethren/” mce_href=”http://cyberbrethren.typepad.com/cyberbrethren/”>Cyberbrethren, as Paul McCain explained recently, comments are like letters to the editor, allowed to be posted only if they interest him for some reason. But on this blog, in which I try to stimulate discussion on subjects that interest me, the comments are the best part of the blog!
On the “Death by Suburb” post on Friday, I opened several veins, provoking some of the most honest, heart-felt discussion on a wide range of topics. Some comments are indeed dying by suburb, or rather by isolation and worldly materialism. One long-time commenter on this blog, Frank, raised the issue of his own homosexual orientation, starting a sub-thread that is nearly unparalleled in a Christian blog in the way it faces up to this issue in a Law/Gospel, devout, and understanding way. On another sub-thread, Marilee eloquently expresses her yearning for acceptance in a church that will give her the pastoral care and community support she desperately needs.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to that post with such poignant, insightful, and genuinely helpful comments.
I want to make separate posts this week about issues these folks raised in their comments. For now, I urge everyone to read the comments on “Death by Suburb.” Though they get off on some tangents, they all tie together under the category of spiritual needs in the 21st century. I urge you pastors especially to read these posts and to study them. If any of you are seminarians studying pastoral care, here is material for you to contemplate, both as you study how to be a pastor and as real-life examples of people that you will be ministering to.
Posted by Veith at 08:16 AM
June 08, 2007
Writing at our nation’s elite colleges
The Power Line blog discusses a controversy that arose in Dartmouth’s Departmental Editing Program, in which “editors” are hired to help students in various departments correct their writing problems in their papers. The blog posts, one in a series, deal with the head of the program getting axed for being politically-incorrect. But what I want to focus on is this: Dartmouth students can’t write? Dartmouth is one of our country’s elite institutions, highly selective and trumpeting its quality. That Dartmouth needs to hire editors for its students, so poorly do they write, shows how far we have fallen.
I would only like to say that students in my own Patrick Henry College actually CAN write. They aren’t perfect and have things to learn, but rare is the grammatical or punctuation mistake. Most of our students have the basics down pat. And most of them go well beyond the basics, thanks to their study of logic, rhetoric, and the great books.
Dartmouth attracts truckloads of money from donors, as do all of the other prestigious colleges, no matter how leftwing their politics and ridiculous their educational practices. Philanthropists and corporations–especially those with a conservative bent and those concerned with educational quality–should direct some of that money our way! End of fund-raising appeal.
Posted by Veith at 09:21 AM
Classic hits
Washington D.C.’s only classical station gave up on the format earlier this year, changing to contemporary Christian music. But one of the public radio stations, WETA (90.9 FM) decided to fill that void and switched to an all-classical format. And to everyone’s surprise, WETA has become a huge success. Ratings soared from 2.1% of listeners to 4.9%, which means that one in twenty people listening to the radio are listening to classical music. Those are gargantuan numbers for any radio station in a large, crowded market. WETA has become the fifth more listened-to radio station in the D.C. area. For all of my country music connoisseurship, I have been listening to that station since the switch, as I confessed on this blog.
Why has WETA succeeded with classical music? For one thing, the station has a very strong signal, unlike the other station that couldn’t make a go of it, so the music sounds really, really good over the airwaves, a necessity for this kind of music. Also, the station is presenting it well, with pleasant, down-to-earth DJ’s introducing each piece by telling us a little something interesting about the composer or the context. And they do not come across as snobby or as upper-class sophisticates. And, in something that might bother purists, they are not playing whole symphonies in drive-time. Rather, they are playing shorter pieces and individual movements, breaking the piece into time-segments that are more conducive to the way most of us listen to radio.
Before, WETA was following the conventional public radio programming of Morning Edition and BBC, like all of the other public radio stations in the District of Columbia! It had no niche, nothing to set it apart, nothing to make people tune in to that station as opposed to the others giving the same type of programming. Now, the station is different from all of the others. But it is also making itself and its quality programming known.
What can those of us who want to bring back classical Christianity learn from WETA?
Posted by Veith at 08:33 AM
Death by Suburb
Last Sunday’s “Washington Post” had a front-page article on the spiritual problems of people who live in the suburbs. It was occasioned by a suburban church that ran a five-week program called “Death by Suburb,” which apparently struck a chord with lots of prosperous but desperate suburbanites, including several interviewed in this story.
Surely rural, small town, and urban folks also live lives of quiet desperation. The problems specific to the suburb, as I gather from the story, are long commute times (meaning little time to spend with family), debt (the pressure of being deep in hock to pay for their McMansions and luxury lifestyles), and status anxiety (the desire to keep up appearances to be accepted in an upper social class). Another factor seems to be just constant busyness, spending so much time carting the kids around to all of their activities (tai kwando, soccer, music lessons, dance class) that they have no time for reflection or even enjoyment of all they have. The church is encouraging people to cut back, simplify, and take time for relationships and for prayer.
What do you think about that? Is suburban life really the hell-hole the article suggests? Cities are also hectic, expensive, status-hungry, and materialistic. But do you have any suggestions for people so harried and miserable, or for churches trying to minister to them?
Posted by Veith at 07:57 AM
Europe’s EMigration problem
Spelling lesson: “Immigration” means people coming in; “emigration” means people going out. According to European journalist Paul Belien, Europe is facing both kinds of problems, with more and more native-born citizens leaving their own countries, going mostly to America, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand:
Last year more than 155,000 Germans emigrated from their native country. Since 2004 the number of ethnic Germans who leave each year is greater than the number of immigrants moving in. While the emigrants are highly motivated and well educated, “those coming in are mostly poor, untrained and hardly educated,” says Stephanie Wahl of the German Institute for Economics.
In a survey conducted in 2005 among German university students, 52 percent said they would rather leave their native country than remain there. By “voting with their feet,” young, educated Germans affirm that Germany has no future to offer them and their children. As one couple who moved to the United States told the newspaper Die Welt: “Here our children have a future in which they will not have to fear unemployment and social decline.” There are two main reasons why so-called “ethno-Germans” emigrate. Some complain that the tax rates in Germany are so high that it is no longer worthwhile working for a living there. Others indicate they no longer feel at home in a country whose cultural appearance is changing dramatically.
The situation is similar in other countries in Western Europe. Since 2003, emigration has exceeded immigration to the Netherlands. In 2006, the Dutch saw more than 130,000 compatriots leave. The rise in Dutch emigration peaked after the assassinations of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh. This indicates that the flight from Europe is related to a loss of confidence in the future of nations which have taken in the Trojan horse of Islamism, but which, unlike the Trojans, lack the guts to fight.
Elsewhere in Western Europe immigration currently still surpasses emigration, though emigration figures are rising fast. In Belgium the number of emigrants surged by 15 percent in the past years. In Sweden, 50,000 people packed their bags last year — a rise of 18 percent compared to the previous year and the highest number of Swedes leaving since 1892. In the United Kingdom, almost 200,000 British citizens move out every year.
Americans who think that the European welfare state is the model to follow would do well to ponder the question why, if Europe is so wonderful, Europeans are fleeing from it. European welfare systems are redistribution mechanisms, taking money from skilled and educated Europeans in order to give it to nonskilled newcomers from the Third World.
Gunnar Heinsohn, a German sociologist at the University of Bremen, warns European governments that they are mistaken if they assume that qualified young ethnic Europeans will stay in Europe. “The really qualified are leaving,” Mr. Heinsohn says. “The only truly loyal towards France and Germany are those who are living off the welfare system, because there is no other place in the world that offers to pay for them… It is no wonder that young, hardworking people in France and Germany choose to emigrate,” he explains. “It is not just that they have to support their own aging population. If we take 100 20-year-olds [in France or Germany], then the 70 [indigenous] Frenchmen and Germans also have to support 30 immigrants of their own age and their offspring. This creates dejection in the local population, particularly in France, Germany and the Netherlands. So they run away.”
Posted by Veith at 07:49 AM
June 07, 2007
Death quote of the day
“Wherever the true God is not known and served by virtue of an explicit revelation, man will slaughter man and often eat him.” Joseph de Maistre
Quoted in Death and Politics, blogged about below. Note its relevance also to the stem cell debate, which is also blogged about below.
Could someone explain the connection between the rejection of God and the impulse to “slaughter man”? I’m not denying that believers in God also slaughter man some times, but, as Joseph Bottum shows in the essay, atheistic ideologies, such as communism and Nazism, both advocated and practiced it on a massive scale. To frame the question differently, why do non-believers tend to be pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, and pro-suicide? One would think that those who think this life is all there is would be especially protective of it, but that does not seem to be the case.
Posted by Veith at 08:25 AM
Death and Culture
Our friend Bruce, his bees having been raptured, has more time now to find good things on the internet. And he alerts me to a must-read article, “Death and Politics.” I’ll let him tell you about it:
Joseph Bottum, the editor of FIRST THINGS, has a fascinating article in the current issue regarding the place of death in culture. Just to twang your appetite, I’ll list his three theses:
1) The losses human beings suffer are the deepest reason for culture.
2) The fundamental pattern for any community is a congregation at a funeral.
3) A healthy society requires a lively sense of the reality and continuing presence of the dead.
I thought this would be a fun blog discussion.
Indeed. The essay shows that things like private property (the legal protection for which grew out of inheritance laws), family identity (being “gathered to one’s fathers” in the cemetery), cities (which grew around the need to care for megalithic tombs), and freedom (I’ll have to let the author explain that one)–as well as many other of civilization’s necessities–grew up around the reality of death. He also shows how today’s violence, from jihadists to crazed shooters, is connected to our cultural pathologies about death.
Posted by Veith at 08:14 AM
Retro stem cells from skin
Scientists have found a way to generate stem cells from ordinary skin. The process makes skin cells develop backwards, returning them to their original blank slate form, whereupon those cells can develop into any other organ. The discovery, which is being published today, applies to mice, but scientists are confident that–in time–it will work for humans. This process would be even better than using embryonic stem cells from a medical point of view because there would be no danger of tissue rejection, since doctors could use a patient’s own skin to develop the stem cells.
This would effectively make the impulse to destroy human embryos to “harvest” their stem cells obsolete. But today–ironically, the same day as the publication of this research–Congress will vote on legalizing embryocide to get their stem cells, a measure expected to pass.
Posted by Veith at 07:26 AM
June 06, 2007
Trinitarian reality
Our discussion about the Athanasian Creed got sidetracked into other issues, but CRS got into the aspect that I wanted us to contemplate:
Your “unity and diversity” examples conjure up many thoughts . What about Law and Gospel? Opposites to be sure, but what is one without the other?
As a craftsman, I strive to balance/blend function and art. Forsaking one for the other would not be a good thing in the end result.
In artistic design, we recognize that creativity does not thrive in chaos, yet we allow creative juices to flow as they will. There is a need to balance this over against a systematic process whereby order is a part of the design. If you have only order, you wind up with a sterile presentation. If you’ve allowed the inmates to run the assylum, as it were, you have an erratic design.
It has been said that “the best practical theology is systematic theology”. But if we have only systematic order, have we then neglected the more subjective business of ministry: the needs of flesh and blood people? The term “warm orthodoxy” comes to mind as appropo to this subject. (Written by a certain English professor we know) The difficult task of balancing what can be sterlile, systematic theology, with loving our neighbor.
Posted by Veith at 09:00 AM
The Athanasian Point
As for the issues we got sidetracked on, let me propose this: We ARE judged by our works, as the Bible and not just the Athanasian Creed says many times. And when we are united with Christ by faith, His works are credited to us as our works.
No one is condemned just by not believing, as such, but for their sins. The “works” language in the Creed helps to avoid that other problem that was brought up about it, that a belief in this complex doctrine of the Trinity is necessary for salvation. No, everyone who is condemned is condemned justly, for what they did in this life. But “belief,” in the sense of true faith, allows us to claim Christ’s works as our own, just as Christ claimed our sin and the punishment we deserve as His own on the Cross.
Posted by Veith at 08:53 AM
Call me irresponsible
I know I have been watching the presidential candidates’ debates so you wouldn’t have to, then commenting on them on this blog. But the Brewers are playing the Cubs, the Cubs games are carried on super-station WGN, and my cable company in Virginia carries WGN. At one point, the Brewers had a 7.5 game lead in the National League central division. For the last month or so, they have been losing two-thirds of their games. Today they hold a 6 game lead. So you have to understand my priorities. But if any of you watched the debates and want to comment, feel free.
Posted by Veith at 08:29 AM
Happy D-Day
On this day, June 6, in 1944, American troops along with the other Allied forces, invaded France at Normandy.
Posted by Veith at 08:27 AM
June 05, 2007
The Spider & the Bee
The bee post yesterday reminded me of one of the most remarkable uses of symbolism in literature, Jonathan Swift’s parable-fable of the Spider and the Bee. This conservative clergyman with a wicked sense of satirical humor wrote a piece called The Battle of the Books. It depicts a mock-epic war between “the ancients” and “the moderns,” imagined as a battle that breaks out in a library between old books and new books over which are better. (Swift, a neo-classicist, believed that, in general, old books are superior to the new ones, unlike the champions of the nascent modernism of the “Enlightenment.”)
Anyway, in the course of the battle, with pages flying and swords cutting paper, a bee spoils a spider’s by flying through it, and the two insects get into a big argument. The episode not only captures the difference between classicism and modernism, it anticipates by three centuries the advent of POSTMODERNISM. The bee roams out in the objective world, taking in the beauty of flowers, ruminating upon what it finds there, and producing honey and wax, sweetness and light. The spider, though, creates only from within himself and spins out elaborate constructions, which, however, being cobwebs are both filthy and flimsy.
Thus the satirist conveys about everything that needs to be said about the classical approach to truth and the postmodern approach to truth, from way back in 1697.
The episode is brief, so I’ve posted the whole thing here. Just click “continue reading.”
The Spider & the Bee_an excerpt from Jonathan Swift’s (1697) “Battle of the Books”
Things were at this crisis when a material accident fell out. For upon the highest corner of a large window, there dwelt a certain spider, swollen up to the first magnitude by the destruction of infinite numbers of flies, whose spoils lay scattered before the gates of his palace, like human bones before the cave of some giant.
The avenues to his castle were guarded with turnpikes and palisadoes, all after the modern way of fortification. After you had passed several courts you came to the centre, wherein you might behold the constable himself in his own lodgings, which had windows fronting to each avenue, and ports to sally out upon all occasions of prey or defence.
In this mansion he had for some time dwelt in peace and plenty, without danger to his person by swallows from above, or to his palace by brooms from below; when it was the pleasure of fortune to conduct thither a wandering bee, to whose curiosity a broken pane in the glass had discovered itself, and in he went, where, expatiating a while, he at last happened to alight upon one of the outward walls of the spider’s citadel; which, yielding to the unequal weight, sunk down to the very foundation. Thrice he endeavoured to force his passage, and thrice the centre shook.
The spider within, feeling the terrible convulsion, supposed at first that nature was approaching to her final dissolution, or else that Beelzebub, with all his legions, was come to revenge the death of many thousands of his subjects whom his enemy had slain and devoured. However, he at length valiantly resolved to issue forth and meet his fate.
Meanwhile the bee had acquitted himself of his toils, and, posted securely at some distance, was employed in cleansing his wings, and disengaging them from the ragged remnants of the cobweb. By this time the spider was adventured out, when, beholding the chasms, the ruins, and dilapidations of his fortress, he was very near at his wit’s end; he stormed and swore like a madman, and swelled till he was ready to burst.
At length, casting his eye upon the bee, and wisely gathering causes from events (for they know each other by sight), “A plague split you,” said he; “is it you, with a vengeance, that have made this litter here; could not you look before you, and be d—-d? Do you think I have nothing else to do (in the devil’s name) but to mend and repair after you?”
“Good words, friend,” said the bee, having now pruned himself, and being disposed to droll; “I’ll give you my hand and word to come near your kennel no more; I was never in such a confounded pickle since I was born.”
“Sirrah,” replied the spider, “if it were not for breaking an old custom in our family, never to stir abroad against an enemy, I should come and teach you better manners.”
“I pray have patience,” said the bee, “or you’ll spend your substance, and, for aught I see, you may stand in need of it all, towards the repair of your house.”
“Rogue, rogue,” replied the spider, “yet methinks you should have more respect to a person whom all the world allows to be so much your betters.”
“By my troth,” said the bee, “the comparison will amount to a very good jest, and you will do me a favour to let me know the reasons that all the world is pleased to use in so hopeful a dispute.” At this the spider, having swelled himself into the size and posture of a disputant, began his argument in the true spirit of controversy, with resolution to be heartily scurrilous and angry, to urge on his own reasons without the least regard to the answers or objections of his opposite, and fully predetermined in his mind against all conviction.
“Not to disparage myself,” said he, “by the comparison with such a rascal, what art thou but a vagabond without house or home, without stock or inheritance? born to no possession of your own, but a pair of wings and a drone-pipe. Your livelihood is a universal plunder upon nature; a freebooter over fields and gardens; and, for the sake of stealing, will rob a nettle as easily as a violet. Whereas I am a domestic animal, furnished with a native stock within myself. This large castle (to show my improvements in the mathematics) is all built with my own hands, and the materials extracted altogether out of my own person.”
“I am glad,” answered the bee, “to hear you grant at least that I am come honestly by my wings and my voice; for then, it seems, I am obliged to Heaven alone for my flights and my music; and Providence would never have bestowed on me two such gifts without designing them for the noblest ends. I visit, indeed, all the flowers and blossoms of the field and garden, but whatever I collect thence enriches myself without the least injury to their beauty, their smell, or their taste. Now, for you and your skill in architecture and other mathematics, I have little to say: in that building of yours there might, for aught I know, have been labour and method enough; but, by woeful experience for us both, it is too plain the materials are naught; and I hope you will henceforth take warning, and consider duration and matter, as well as method and art. You boast, indeed, of being obliged to no other creature, but of drawing and spinning out all from yourself; that is to say, if we may judge of the liquor in the vessel by what issues out, you possess a good plentiful store of dirt and poison in your breast; and, though I would by no means lesson or disparage your genuine stock of either, yet I doubt you are somewhat obliged, for an increase of both, to a little foreign assistance. Your inherent portion of dirt does not fall of acquisitions, by sweepings exhaled from below; and one insect furnishes you with a share of poison to destroy another. So that, in short, the question comes all to this: whether is the nobler being of the two, that which, by a lazy contemplation of four inches round, by an overweening pride, feeding, and engendering on itself, turns all into excrement and venom, producing nothing at all but flybane and a cobweb; or that which, by a universal range, with long search, much study, true judgment, and distinction of things, brings home honey and wax.”
This dispute was managed with such eagerness, clamour, and warmth, that the two parties of books, in arms below, stood silent a while, waiting in suspense what would be the issue; which was not long undetermined: for the bee, grown impatient at so much loss of time, fled straight away to a bed of roses, without looking for a reply, and left the spider, like an orator, collected in himself, and just prepared to burst out.
It happened upon this emergency that Aesop broke silence first. He had been of late most barbarously treated by a strange effect of the regent’s humanity, who had torn off his title-page, sorely defaced one half of his leaves, and chained him fast among a shelf of Moderns. Where, soon discovering how high the quarrel was likely to proceed, he tried all his arts, and turned himself to a thousand forms. At length, in the borrowed shape of an ass, the regent mistook him for a Modern; by which means he had time and opportunity to escape to the Ancients, just when the spider and the bee were entering into their contest; to which he gave his attention with a world of pleasure, and, when it was ended, swore in the loudest key that in all his life he had never known two cases, so parallel and adapt to each other as that in the window and this upon the shelves.
“The disputants,” said he, “have admirably managed the dispute between them, have taken in the full strength of all that is to be said on both sides, and exhausted the substance of every argument PRO and CON. It is but to adjust the reasonings of both to the present quarrel, then to compare and apply the labours and fruits of each, as the bee has learnedly deduced them, and we shall find the conclusion fall plain and close upon the Moderns and us. For pray, gentlemen, was ever anything so modern as the spider in his air, his turns, and his paradoxes? he argues in the behalf of you, his brethren, and himself, with many boastings of his native stock and great genius; that he spins and spits wholly from himself, and scorns to own any obligation or assistance from without. Then he displays to you his great skill in architecture and improvement in the mathematics. To all this the bee, as an advocate retained by us, the Ancients, thinks fit to answer, that, if one may judge of the great genius or inventions of the Moderns by what they have produced, you will hardly have countenance to bear you out in boasting of either. Erect your schemes with as much method and skill as you please; yet, if the materials be nothing but dirt, spun out of your own entrails (the guts of modern brains), the edifice will conclude at last in a cobweb; the duration of which, like that of other spiders’ webs, may be imputed to their being forgotten, or neglected, or hid in a corner. For anything else of genuine that the Moderns may pretend to, I cannot recollect; unless it be a large vein of wrangling and satire, much of a nature and substance with the spiders’ poison; which, however they pretend to spit wholly out of themselves, is improved by the same arts, by feeding upon the insects and vermin of the age. As for us, the Ancients, we are content with the bee, to pretend to nothing of our own beyond our wings and our voice: that is to say, our flights and our language. For the rest, whatever we have got has been by infinite labour and search, and ranging through every corner of nature; the difference is, that, instead of dirt and poison, we have rather chosen to till our hives with honey and wax; thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light.”
Posted by Veith at 07:43 AM
Spelling as a campaign issue
When Dan Quayle couldn’t spell the plural of “potato,” that became a campaign issue and he became the butt of jokes across America. But “tomorrow” is much easier to spell than the plural of “potato”! I know this sign is not Hillary’s fault, but how many campaign workers would this have had to pass through?
Posted by Veith at 06:55 AM
June 04, 2007
Trinitarian life
Yesterday was Trinity Sunday, so we recited, here at St. Athanasius Lutheran Church, the Athanasian Creed. How profound it is, a treatise on the mystery of the Godhead, explaining how we must neither confuse the Persons nor divide the Substance, attaining the perfect truth of God’s unity of diversity.
Saying the Athanasian Creed reminded me of what I have learned from Charles Williams, Dorothy Sayers, and John Ruskin, that since God is the foundation of all reality, that principle of the unity of diverse, individual persons applies on almost every level.
It applies in the natural world, as individual cells cohere into a distinct organism, and as individual organisms play their role in a unified ecosystem (to give just one example, in oneplants breathing in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen; animals breathing in oxygen and giving off carbon dioxide).
It applies in aesthetics, as a beautiful natural landscape, painting, piece of music, work of literature, or other composition generally captures a unity of diversity. That is, there are many different components and a lot is going on. And yet, it all comes together to constitute a unity. (Think of a Bach fugue, or a Shakespeare play, or a Thomas Cole painting.)
The Trinity applies to human relationships. Love can be defined in terms of a unity of distinct persons. (Which is why the Bible can say God is love, a great text proving the Trinity.) Love involves affirming the individual person in a way that creates a unity with him or her. This is the key to marriage, to parenting, to friendship.
The Trinity applies to politics. A good government will respect the freedom of individual persons, and yet create a civic order in which the individual citizens form a community. Unity AND diversity; neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.
Conversely, false notions in all of these realms can be seen as heresies. Social systems that demand unity at the expense of the individual persons are tyrannies; those that demand diversity and reject unity are anarchies. Some bad relationships insist that the other person be just like me; in others, the two go their own ways with no unity. Some works of art have unity but no diversity (the black canvas); others have diversity but no unity (Jackson Pollack’s splatterings).
Can you think of other applications?
Posted by Veith at 08:08 AM
The Rapture of the Bees
A mysterious phenomenon has scientists baffled and food-producers worried: Honeybees are disappearing. Beekeepers are opening their hives and finding the bees just gone. The queen may be there, but she’s by herself. There aren’t any dead bodies. No one knows where the bees have gone off to. As many as a quarter of the world’s honeybees have vanished.
This is a problem because as much as one-third of our food supply depends on creatures like bees to polinate the plants so they can reproduce and bear fruit. Some people are panicking on a Y2K scale. They cite Albert Einstein: “if the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination . . . no more men!”
Our human extinction is not necessarily imminent. Other insects, including other species of bees, help out with pollination. Here is an expert who says the issue is overhyped, that bee populations have always fluctuated.
Still, theories abound, from global warming to the proliferation of cell-phones. Could it be that male bees have just had it with the matriarchy of the hive? Could the workers be throwing off their chains? Did Christ come as a Bee to save the bees, and He has raptured His elect before His second coming?
(I know at least one of you readers keeps bees. Bruce, are your bees all there? Do you have any theories?)
Posted by Veith at 07:48 AM
June 01, 2007
Finished
I finished that project I was telling you about, a book on C. S. Lewis’s “Prince Caspian,” designed to come out in conjunction with the movie, whose release is scheduled for May, 2008. I completed the manuscript on the day of my deadline, so that’s a relief.
Posted by Veith at 07:58 AM
Death of the Album
On this anniversary of “Sgt. Pepper’s” monumental achievement (see below), it is an occasion to mourn the death of the art form of which that particular record was an apex. The album is no more. I’m not talking about what those little CD’s did to album cover art, which was another part of “Sgt. Pepper’s” brilliance. With music downloading, there is no more any physical object associated with musical recordings, and we are back to individual songs.
Posted by Veith at 07:55 AM
America’s Pro-Life Idol
WORLD’s John Dawson has written a great story on the background of American Idol-winner Jordin Sparks. It turns out that Jordin–who is the daughter of former NFL defensive back Phillippi Sparks–is a big pro-life activist, who has been singing at anti-abortion rallies for years. She and her family are committed Christians, and she had already been identified as an up-and-coming gospel singer.
I’m just thankful John’s article did not come out BEFORE the final competition, or she might not have won. John also identified three more of the top finalists as having similar Christian backgrounds: Melinda Doolittle, Phil Stacey, and Chris Sligh.
No one should be surprised, I guess. Church is just about the only place anybody sings anymore. That and ballgames. Of course, that is changing in many churches, with their piped-in Christian muzak and solo performances replacing congregational singing. But still. . . .
Posted by Veith at 07:46 AM
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play
It was 40 years ago today. The Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Part of its genius was to link and orchestrate the different songs in such a way that the album was a unified work of art in itself, composed of all of the diverse songs. The album was more than the sum of its parts.
I remember getting that album. I was 15. I listened to that album over and over again, until I literally wore out its grooves. That must have been the first time I ever seriously listened to music and was the catalyst for my interest ever since.
And it wasn’t the whole 60’s cultural and counter-cultural thing, to which I was pretty much oblivious at that time. As this column shows, the Beatles turned out what was aesthetically, objectively, good music.
Posted by Veith at 07:36 AM
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May 29, 2007
Come back soon
Friends, comrades, and fellow travellers, I have a HUGE project that I have to get finished by May 31. It will take every moment, every watt of mental energy, and every syllable of wordsmithing that I can muster. So come back on June 1!
Posted by Veith at 06:43 PM
May 25, 2007
Thanks
I appreciate the discussions of political ideologies that we had the last few days. The whole range of opinions expressed helps us all think through issues. I’m going to make use of that discussion in my next column for WORLD. So thanks.
Posted by Veith at 09:33 AM
Power Liberals/Pragmatic Liberals
David in Norcal puts forward the most telling descriptions of “new liberals” of them all. According to him (and he is one), the new liberals are not pacifist (though I’d be curious what war he thinks they would be willing to fight) and are not influenced by the 1960’s era anti-war movement (although he might try going to some of the anti-war rallies,where his compatriot tODD got fed up with all of the hippies). He puts the different factions in generational terms, with these new young liberals reacting against their Reagan-era parents. But here is his big insight:
I should mention that “new liberals” like the bloggers, are motivated less by ideology than by simply wanting the party closest to their ideology to win. Liberal bloggers and new liberals, like Rahm Emanuel are practical and would almost sell their souls to win an election because having the right ideals but no power means all the wrong ideals get implemented.
THIS is it and the wave of the future. Postmodernists do not believe in ANY ideology. To them, all ideologies are just masks of power. And while the earlier postmodernists used this insight in a critical way, to show the evils of the existing power structure, it was just a matter of time before some of the people who think that way acted on their presuppositions. Just get power.
Pragmatism is another corollary of the postmodernist critique of all ideologies and metanarratives, as articulated by Richard Rorty. Just do what works. The problem with pragmatism, though, is that it often begs the question, “works to do what?” so that ends and ideologies get snuck in the back door. On the other hand, might pragmatism be an OK philosophy by which to govern, if the goals are generally accepted, such as economic prosperity?
But this may be the political conflict of the future (not quite yet, since most liberals today do have some sort of ideology or remnants of ideology): a party that has an ideology vs. a party that has no ideology. The former will be crippled by ideological disagreements (as we see happening now among conservatives of all stripes), whereas the latter can be, in David of norcal’s words “cynical but savvy” and do anything necessary to stay in control.
Posted by Veith at 08:04 AM
Libertarian Christians
More from my friend and colleague Rich Shipe:
Here’s my bold statement: I don’t think it is possible to be a Christian libertarian. It is similar to the impossibility of an athiest Christian. The two things are mutually exclusive. The reason is that libertarianism is based on the idea that man owns his own body. The entire libertarian philosophy is derived from this principle of absolute autonomy. On the Christian side it seems to me that God’s “godness” is a fundamental of Christianity that can’t be removed without undermining the whole thing. Man doesn’t own himself, God owns everything because he is God. If we believe in the fundamental existence of God how can we have the autonomy of the libertarian? Usually when I meet Christian libertarians they have many exceptions to their libertarianism which creates inconsistencies. Throwing off libertarianism doesn’t mean we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater though and become socialists. Thankfully others thought of great ideas like limited government, capitalism, federalism, checks and balances, etc before libertarianism synthesized as an idea. Am I off here in some way?
Christian libertarians do exist. I know some of them. But is there a contradiction, as Rich suggests? Or do Christian libertarians just need to explain themselves? The ones I know are resolutely opposed to abortion and take conservative stands on other moral issues. Would a Christian libertarian out there briefly explain your political ideology and how it fits with your theology?
Posted by Veith at 07:45 AM
Crunchy-Con Christians
From my friend and colleague Rich Shipe:
I enjoyed and identified with Dreher’s Crunchy Cons book. It was especially appealing as a Christian because I often get frustrated with conservative activists that seem to imply that the only institutions capable of doing wrong are governments. In reality Wall Street probably has more impact on our culture and daily lives that Washington. Conservatives tend to have a distrust of government and liberals tend to have a distrust of business. Should we trust either? Can either solve our problems? Big business does constantly advocate for liberal economic policies and I suspect it is because they know they can survive that regulation better than the little guy so it is a way of beating their competition. I wouldn’t advocate the solutions to these problems that a socialist would but we’ve got to at least acknowledge them and guard against favoritism in policy toward that strong and big.
To be against the strong and big on principle, wary of BOTH big government and big business. Good idea? Is there a makings of a “third way” here?
I would also like someone to make the conservative Christian case for eating granola.
Posted by Veith at 07:40 AM
May 24, 2007
The Varieties of Liberalism
We have been analyzing conservatism, but we need to be analyzing liberalism. Most experts are predicting that the pendulum will continue to swing back to the Democrats, who, having taken Congress may be poised now to take the presidency.
Liberals too have changed considerably since their glory days from FDR to LBJ. Used to, liberals had their base in the working class, making them somewhat culturally conservative. Now, liberals have their base in the New Class, the well-educated and trendy “knowledge” workers. Used to, liberals were populist; today, they are elite.
By my observations, today’s liberals tend to be libertarian on moral issues (do what you want, especially when it comes to sex), and progressive on cultural issues (what is new culturally is superior to what is old). They believe in an activist, do-gooder government (as before). The old liberals also believed in an activist government in foreign affairs and were willing to fight wars. The new liberals, grounded in the 1960’s anti-war movement, are essentially pacifist.
Is this characterization correct, do you think? Are there some nuances or even varieties that I am missing? I am not trying to be critical, just descriptive. You readers who call yourself liberals (tODD, Dave in Norcal), help us out here.
Posted by Veith at 09:21 AM
Lost gets Found
What used to have been one of my favorite TV shows, “Lost,” had been foundering, running down rabbit holes, adding new characters each with a tedious backstory, and adding layers of complexity but resolving nothing. It was said to have jumped the shark. But after wasting much of this last season with a long,drawn-out imprisoned-by-the-bad guys story line and even attempting some stand-alone episodes, in the last few weeks, the old Lost was back, returning to the main narrative, which actually started going somewhere.
And last night, in the season finale, which featured numerous twists and turns, storylines were resolved, mysteries were answered, and it all ended with something no one saw coming: The castaways (apparently!) got rescued! What we thought was a flashback, with Jack turning into a morose, drug-addicted Dr. House, turned out to be a flash-forward! And yet, though he’s off the island, mysteries remain.
Last night would have been a good way to end the series. Were promises that the show would go on for three more seasons part of an elaborate hoax to make this ending more surprising? Or will the series indeed go on. We can see the impact of their experience on the ex-castaway’s’ lives. After all, the mysterious vast conspiracies were going on beyond the island, bringing everyone there for some nefarious purpose. And, as Christians know, you don’t have to be on a desert island to be lost.
Posted by Veith at 09:07 AM
Obligatory Idol entry
I have been following that show all season, but I’ve missed every episode since Melinda got voted off, not out of spite, though, out of my Tivo being broken. But, as those who care know, Jordin won.
Posted by Veith at 08:18 AM
May 23, 2007
The Varieties of Conservatism
The excellent discussions that this blog is famed for continue on yesterday’s “Should Christians Be Conservative?” Read the comments if you haven’t already. Of course, one factor in the question is that there are many different kinds of conservatives. There are economic conservatives and cultural conservatives, neo-conservatives, paleo-conservatives, and even “crunchy-conservatives” (the name an allusion to eating granola, meaning those who embrace a simple, closer to nature lifestyle). The new ideological position that is becoming dominant, I think, is libertarianism, which can be found on both the right and the left. Even here there are varieties, including Christian libertarians.
This reminded me that I actually wrote something about this. Delving through the WORLD archives, I discovered that I wrote it back in July 5, 2003! (I will copy it below, for your convenience, after “continue reading.”) I think what is happening now is a great conservative crackup, with the different kinds of conservatism–together having been ascendant and triumphant–fracturing and going their own ways, including into the Democratic party. Read this and answer the question, what kind of conservative (or liberal) are you?
Right angles
_With multiple varieties of conservatism, the right exhibits far more cultural diversity than does the left | Gene Edward Veith
The political world is commonly divided with a spatial metaphor; liberals are on the left and conservatives are on the right. Political ideologies, though, are more complicated than that. The “left” and “right” model comes from the 19th-century French Assembly, in which those who supported a strong government centered in a monarchy sat on the right side of the room, while those who believed in democracy and a free economy sat on the left.
Where would a contemporary American conservative sit? The monarchists on the right would not approve of someone who believed in limited government. Furthermore, the defenders of aristocratic land-based economics did not approve of the new capitalism that accompanied the industrial revolution.
But if the conservative time-traveler moved over to the left side of the hall, he would squirm at the way the radicals there were willing to throw out traditions, including Christianity. And he would balk at their revolutionary bent, their blithe assumption that they could reinvent society according to some utopian scheme. He would surely get up and leave.
Maybe he would have to hop a ship to America. But even here, his principles of free-market economics, personal liberty, and a limited government would classify him with the liberals of the day. (The word liberal comes from a Latin word meaning freedom, and even today right-wingers find themselves calling for a “liberal economy.”)
Today, though, it is “liberals” who want a strong centralized government and a controlled economy, something that in the 19th century would have been staunchly “conservative.”_But the complications keep coming. Today many factions consider themselves “conservative,” and while they agree in opposing today’s liberals, their ideologies are quite diverse. Liberals do not realize that conservatives exemplify, more than they do, their alleged principles of pluralism and cultural diversity.
There are country-club conservatives, concerned with conserving their wealth. There are cultural conservatives, concerned with conserving their American heritage and what they term “family values,” a group that often lacks the wealth to receive invitations into country clubs.
Libertarians value free markets, both in economics and in culture. They seem quite “liberal” on issues such as abortion and gay rights and go far beyond most Democrats in their desire to legalize drugs, prostitution, and “victimless crimes.” As a rule, libertarian conservatives oppose cultural conservatives but sometimes sound like them in their exaltation of the right to keep and bear arms.
There are also neo-conservatives, mostly ex-liberals “mugged by reality,” who retain a belief in an activist government. They agree with liberals that “government should be a force for good in the world”; they disagree with them about what that means. Neo-conservatives supported war in Iraq as a means of improving the world in the Middle East.
They are opposed by paleo-conservatives, who are isolationist on foreign affairs. Patrick Buchanan, for example, opposed the war in Iraq, says immigration weakens the historical American culture, and wants a more or less controlled economy that protects select American workers from global trade._When Mr. Buchanan launches off against multi-national corporations and NAFTA, he sounds like a leftist, and yet on other issues, such as abortion and patriotism, he is leftism’s polar opposite.
There are even “granola conservatives,” or, in columnist Rod Dreher’s memorable phrase, “crunchy conservatives.” These folks resolutely oppose mass society, pop culture, cookie-cutter industrialism, big corporations, and the various travesties of both modernism and postmodernism. They can come across as environmentalists, valuing nature over commercial development, and they tend to prefer organic food. But unlike leftists, they oppose abortion, are skeptical of feminism, and tend to be religious. They are conservatives because they are pre-modernists.
And then there are “compassionate conservatives.” They believe, like leftists, in social responsibility, but they believe that the most effective compassion—that which improves people’s lives—does not come from bureaucratic government programs, which often make problems worse, but from the private sector, particularly churches.
Christian conservatives can be found in any of these camps, and there are, of course, Christian liberals. This is because Christianity is not an ideology. All of the varieties of Christian conservatives would agree on being pro-life and recognizing moral absolutes and their applicability to society. Unlike some conservatives, they would not idolize their country, since they know their own culture too is plagued by sin, and they would be skeptical of utopian promises from the left or right. They will want to protect the institution of the family.
In practice, of course, the different kinds of conservatism overlap, and some say such differences are exaggerated. But if today’s liberalism continues to self-deconstruct and even passes from history, America will still have its share of disagreements.
_Copyright © 2007 WORLD Magazine_July 5, 2003
Posted by Veith at 09:21 AM
The New Galileos
Scientists are getting persecuted again for their cosmology. The Discovery Institute reports that astronomy professor Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez has been denied tenure (and so must leave) Iowa State University. This even though he has discovered two planets, written a textbook published by Cambridge University Press, and published 68 peer-reviewed articles. Why? Because he authored a book entitled “The Privileged Planet” that cites evidence for Intelligent Design.
Comments and more examples from Dr. John G. West of the Discovery institute:
“The basic freedom of scientists, teachers, and students to do scientific research and question the Darwinian hegemony is coming under attack by people that can only be called Darwinian fundamentalists,” said West. “Intelligent design scientists are losing their jobs, and their professional careers are being torpedoed by these extremists.”
According to West, self-appointed defenders of the theory of evolution are waging a campaign to demonize and blacklist anyone who disagrees with them.
* Chemistry professor Nancy Bryson lost her job at a state university after she gave a lecture on scientific criticisms of Darwin’s theory to a group of honors students.
* Three days before graduate student Bryan Leonard’s dissertation defense was to take place Darwinist professors at Ohio State University accused Leonard of “unethical human-subject experimentation” because he taught students about scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory.
* Biologist Carolyn Crocker was banned from teaching evolution at a public university after mentioning intelligent design and subsequently, her contract was not renewed.
Posted by Veith at 06:10 AM
The Church as our Mom
I missed blogging about Mother’s Day, but I just stumbled upon this scintillating meditation from Aardvark Alley on how every Sunday is Mother’s Day; that is to say, a day to honor our mother the Church!
Posted by Veith at 06:00 AM
May 22, 2007
Should Christians be Conservatives?
In the course of an excellent discussion on my conservative victory post, in which I pointed out that free market economics–a traditional cause of American political conservatives–is ascendant over the old New Deal government-controlled economics traditionally pushed by American political liberals, Manxman gave a salient quotation from Thomas Friedman’s bestseller “The World Is Flat”:
I first began thinking about the great sorting out after a conversation with Harvard University’s noted political theorist Michael J. Sandel. Sandel startled me slightly by remarking, that the sort of flattening process that I was describing was actually first identified by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848. While the shrinking and flattening of the world that we are seeing today constitute a difference of degree from what Marx saw happening in his day, said Sandel, it is nevertheless part of the same historical trend Marx highlighted in his writings on capitalism – the inexorable march of technology and capital to remove all barriers, boundaries, friction, and restraints to global commerce.
“Marx was one of the first to glimpse the possibility of the world as a global market, uncomplicated by national boundaries,” Sandel explained. “Marx’s was capitalism’s fiercest critic, and yet he stood in awe of its power to break down barriers and create a worldwide system of production and consumption. In the Communist Manifesto, he described capitalism as a force that would dissolve all feudal, national, and religious identities, giving rise to a universal civilization governed by market imperatives. Marx considered it inevitable that capital would have its way – inevitable and also desirable. Because once capitalism destroyed all national and religious allegiances, Marx thought, it would lay bare the stark struggle between capital and labor. Forced to compete in a global race to the bottom, the workers of the world would unite in global revolution to end opppression. Deprived of consoling distractions such as patriotism and religion, they would see their exploitation clearly and rise up and end it.”
Read Manxman’s application of this by clicking “continue reading.” So, if capitalism destroys all national and religious allegiances, the question becomes, SHOULD Christians be free market, laissez faire conservatives?
Manxman’s comments:
The thing I think we should take from Friedman’s quote by Marx, is that Marx was prophetic when he said the capitalism can be terribly effective in destroying institutions such as nation-states and religious structures. The capitalism Marx saw in his day was only a pale, watered-down version of what we have today where technological forces now empower it to literally engulf the whole earth. People may be acquiring more material things because of it, but is the quality of their lives really going to be better under the dog-eat-dog capitalist system? Jesus said that a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of material possessions. As capitalism takes over the earth, things are going to be lost as well as gained. We need to examine what is being lost and if the price for economic prosperity is worth the cost.
My reading of scripture is that some day, perhaps soon, the Beast (or Beast system) is going to use economic coercion to force people throughout the whole world to worship a false god. With the rise of computers and communications technology, such a thing is rapidly becoming a possibility. If we look at trends in the world today, we see power shifting to structures and bureaucracies beyond the national level. One of the chief tools for this shift is economics and finance. Before we crow about the victory of free market capitalism, perhaps we’d better consider where that victory is taking us.
Posted by Veith at 08:56 AM
Riots in China over Forced Abortion
China’s “one child” policy has not been enforced much in the rural areas, where having lots of kids can help with the farming. But now an effort to crackdown on illegal births in southwest China–which includes forcing women with unauthorized pregnancies to have an abortion–has sparked four days of riots. Government buildings have been set on fire, state vehicles have been overturned, and unconfirmed reports say five people have been killed, including three population enforcers.
Posted by Veith at 08:41 AM
Christianity vs. Islam in Europe
The consistently reliable scholar Phillip Jenkins has a new book out entitled “God’s Continent,” on the religious prospects of Europe. He deals with the conflict between Christianity and Islam, offering both good news (the demographic triumph of Islam might not happen, since the birthrate of European Muslims is declining) and bad news (he expects Muslim terrorists to soon strike not just at secularist targets, but at Christians and their symbolic places). But he also suggests that Christianity in Europe may be regaining some vitality. From a review in American Spectator:
The character of European Christianity also seems to be changing at the very time when a good dose of mushy Anglicanism (or lukewarm Lutheranism, or cozy Catholicism) might have helped to smooth things over. Since Europeans are no longer expected to go to church, self-selection encourages a more fervent kind of believer. In France, some estimates put attendance at Latin masses performed by the schismatic group the Society of Pious X ahead of attendance at vernacular masses.
This fervency is further encouraged by the immigration of Christians from Africa and other poor regions of the world, and, of course, by the presence of so many Muslims, especially in cultural capitals such as London and Paris. “For two centuries,” Jenkins writes, “many of the intellectual debates within European Christianity have been shaped by the encounter with secularism and skepticism.” Now, Christianity’s new chief rival already assumes “as a given the existence and power of a personal God who intervenes directly in human affairs.”
HT: Paul McCain at Cyberbrethren
Posted by Veith at 07:02 AM
The new word of the day. . .
. . .comes from commenter Sturmovik yesterday, in response to Manxman, who was inveighing against postmodernism (nicknamed in the artsy crowd as “pomo”): “Be careful, someone might label you a ‘pomophobe.'”
Posted by Veith at 06:40 AM
May 21, 2007
Multiculturalism vs. Culture
Madison, Wisconsin, has a large Hmong population, so the multicultural commissars decided to reflect the community’s diversity by naming a public school after a Hmong-American. The Hmong community liked that idea and have asked that the school be named after General Vang Pao, revered for fighting the Communists in the Laotian and Vietnamese wars, and then, after the US bailed in that fight, helped the Hmong refugees to settle in this country.
But among the multiculturalists are a University of Wisconsin professor who objects on the grounds that General Vang Pao was a war criminal, a shady, militaristic anti-communist zealot, unworthy of having a Madison school named after him.
Observations:
(1) Notice how multiculturalists tend to like other cultures as long as they can patronize them as noble savages victimized by Western imperialism. But when they actually deal with a real folk culture, they do not like them much, since real folk cultures are almost always conservative.
(2) Notice how postmodernists are moral relativists, except when it comes to their own morals. They are not relativistic at all when it comes to their own self-righteousness. I have never seen anyone more willing to just demonize people they disagree with. General Vang Pao, President Bush, conservative Christians are not just wrong, they are EVIL, even though there is no such thing; such people are described as MONSTERS, with no context or explanation or mitigating circumstances or understanding allowed.
Posted by Veith at 10:19 AM
Conservatism’s victory
In response to the post from last time on the death of conservatism, we must not forget the tangible and lasting achievements of that movement. Haven’t you noticed that socialism has been defeated intellectually, practically, and by policy? Is there anyone left on the public stage that denies the efficacy of free market economics? OK, some want various safety nets, but not even the Democratic presidential candidates are calling for Great Society programs and a government-controlled economy on the scale of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
The welfare states of Europe have been floundering and so are moving to free market reforms. Even the Communists in China, for crying out loud, are embracing free market economics (for now). And when the biggest left wing force in America is no proletarian but a billionare who makes his money on the stock market and capital exchanges, you know Marx and his ideas are dead and obsolete.
Posted by Veith at 10:07 AM
May 18, 2007
Human-animal embryos
Great Britain has OK’d the generation of human-animal embryos. But it’s OK! They will be used to develop treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Since the end justifies the means, there should be no moral qualms. And it will be illegal to implant these these hybrid creatures into the womb. They will have to be killed after two weeks. So abortion also makes this Frankenstein science moral.
Posted by Veith at 08:05 AM
Immigration deal
The Senate and the administration have produced a new bi-partisan bill to regulate immigration, combining toughened border control with a path for citizenship for illegal immigrants already here. See Drudge for details and a telling list of different responses. Anti-immigration folks AND illegal immigrants, conservatives AND liberals, are speaking out against it. Is that a sign that it’s maybe a good bill? Or of something else?
Posted by Veith at 07:56 AM
The collapse of conservatism?
Liberal columnist E. J. Dionne says that the GOP presidential primary campaign marks the collapse of conservative orthodoxy. He points out that each of the main candidates, though still trying to call himself conservative, dissents from one or more points in the ideology. Giuliani is pro-abortion; John McCain is pro-campaign finance reform (among other issues); Romney supports the federal government’s role in education; Huckabee defends the new taxes he imposed in Arkansas. And that the least conservative candidates are leading in the polls shows that consistent conservatism is finished. Dionne says that George W. Bush is going to do for conservatism what Jimmy Carter did for liberalism, discredit it for a generation. Do you think, like it or not, that he’s right? How could you answer Dionne?
Posted by Veith at 07:49 AM
Huckleberry
One thing I learned from watching the ACM awards show (mentioned below) was that the likeable Brad Paisley has named his new baby Huckleberry. That’s William Huckleberry Paisley, but they will surely call him “Huck.” It turns out, Brad is a big Mark Twain fan, as am I. What a great name. Huckleberry. It can work as either a boy’s name or a girl’s name. I want a grandson or a granddaughter named Huckleberry. Huckleberry Hensley. Huckleberry Moerbe.
Posted by Veith at 07:42 AM
Country music is back
I Tivo’d the Academy of Country Music Awards and finally watched it, playing it in the background as I madly graded papers. As I confessed, I am listening to classical music on the radio and had sort of drifted away from keeping it country. But I am encouraged to see, based on the many acts and awards at the ACM’s, that twang, grit, the outlaw aesthetic, the redneck sensibility, and hillbilly rock seem to be coming back into vogue. I realize that some of you probably hate country music for the same reason I like it, but anything, anything is better than schmaltzy pop music, at style that at one point threatened to swallow up the genre, as pop culture has swallowed up everything else.
Posted by Veith at 07:37 AM
May 17, 2007
The Assault on Reason
Al Gore has a new book coming out, “The Assault on Reason,” in which he argues that American democracy is in danger because our culture has turned against logic and the use of rational thinking in our public discourse. I think he is right! Though I suspect the book will turn into propaganda against conservatives and creationists, I hope he takes on the true culprit: Our educational system, including especially our academic, intellectual elite, the postmodernists who explicitly teach that reason is invalid and that objective truth does not exist. Ironically, those folks are Gore’s most ardent supporters.
Read this excerpt.
Posted by Veith at 08:30 AM
Gas facts
George Will offers some interesting facts to keep in mind as we bemoan the high price of gasoline. First of all, even when it costs more than $3 per gallon, when inflation is figured in, gasoline costs about what it did in 1981.
Second, prices are not nearly enough to tamp down demand. Gasoline use is actually up 2.4% over last year. And yet, oil has become a smaller part of American energy consumption, from 44% in 1970 to 40% in 2005. That is because we now pretty much use oil for transportation. Our electricity comes from coal, and we have that in abundance.
We also have lots of oil, really, 22 billion barrels of “proven” reserves, but a total of 212 billion if we would drill in the new offshore sites and in ANWAR in Alaska, which Congress does not permit.
But Will argues that “energy independence” is a myth. We are only getting one-eighth of our oil from the Middle East. We don’t worry about food, car, airplane, or medicine independence. Lots of the products we use come from abroad, and that’s the nature of a global economy.
But what about “obscene” profits that oil companies are making from these high prices? According to Will, oil companies make 13 cents on every gallon. The federal government with the gasoline tax makes 18.4 cents. And state governments make as much as 40.2 cents (California’s rate).
Posted by Veith at 08:08 AM
Melinda voted off
Melinda Doolittle, clearly the best singer in the competition (as Simon Cowell also believes), got voted off of American Idol! (I did my part. I voted for her, numerous times. The fact that I was able to get through on her line, though, made me worry.) Of course, it is a huge accomplishment to last to the top three. Now it is between Blake, a contemporary beat-boxer (a musical term I did not know until this show), and Jordin, a 17-year-old with a a marveously expressive voice. I will shift my allegiance to Jordin.
Posted by Veith at 08:02 AM
May 16, 2007
Africa evangelizing US
Michael Gerson has a good column in the Washington Post, launching off from the African archbishop who has started a mission diocese for conservative Episcopalians. Gerson reports on the impact of this new and conservative global Christianity:
The intense, irrepressible Christianity of the global south is becoming — along with Coca-Cola, radical Islam and Shakira — one of the most potent forms of globalization. When I visited Martyn Minns, the missionary bishop installed by Akinola, his first reference was not to St. Paul or to St. John but to St. Thomas: Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. “The Church is flat,” Minns told me, paraphrasing the title of Friedman’s bestselling book. Rigid, outdated church bureaucracies are proving unable to adjust to the shifting market of world Christianity. “People used to pronouncing from on high,” he said, are now “gasping for air.”
In 1900, about 80 percent of Christians lived in North America and Europe; now, more than 60 percent live on other continents. There are more Presbyterians in Ghana than in Scotland. The largest district of the United Methodist Church is found in Ivory Coast. And many of the enthusiastic converts of Western missions have begun asking why portions of the Western church have abandoned the traditional faith they once shared. Liberal Protestant church officials, headed toward international assemblies, are anxiously counting African votes, because these new voters tend to take their Bible both literally and seriously.
_This emerging Christianity can be troubling. Church leaders sometimes emphasize communal values more than individual human rights, and they need to understand that strongly held moral beliefs are compatible with a commitment to civil liberties for all. Large Pentecostal churches are often built by domineering personalities promising health and wealth.
But the religion of the global south has a great virtue: It is undeniably alive. And it needs to be. A mother holding a child weak with AIDS or hot with malaria, or a family struggling to survive in an endless urban slum, does not need religious platitudes. Both need God’s ever-present help in time of trouble — which is exactly what biblical Christianity claims to offer.
Some American religious conservatives have embraced ties with this emerging Christianity, including the church I attend. But there are adjustments in becoming a junior partner. The ideological package of the global south includes not only moral conservatism but also an emphasis on social justice, an openness to state intervention in markets, and a suspicion of American economic and military power. The emerging Christian majority is not the Moral Majority.
But the largest adjustments are coming on the religious left. For decades it has preached multiculturalism, but now, on further acquaintance, it doesn’t seem to like other cultures very much. Episcopal leaders complain of the threat of “foreign prelates,” echoing anti-Catholic rhetoric of the 19th century. An activist at one Episcopal meeting urged the African bishops to “go back to the jungle where you came from.” Not since Victorians hunted tigers on elephants has the condescension been this raw.
Posted by Veith at 08:17 AM
Moral Integrity
Christians know that moral principles are objective and transcendent, and that the ends do not justify the means. To stand up for what is right against pressure is what we mean by moral integrity. The left has demonized former attorney general John Ashcroft as a Christian mullah. They should note, though, the moral integrity he showed on his hospital bed in resisting an administration posse trying to get him to sign off on a surveillance scheme that he considered illegal. Read this.
More moral integrity can be seen in John McCain’s principled stand against torture, which set him apart from the other GOP candidates in the debate last night, and in the recently-departed Jerry Falwell, who admitted when he was wrong to a flummoxed reporter who just does not get Christian repentance.
Posted by Veith at 08:07 AM
The Debate
The Republican presidential candidate debate showed, first of all, the difference between MSNBC, who ran the first one, and Fox News, who ran this one. The questions from MSNBC journalists measured the candidates from a liberal point of view (“do you believe in evolution?”), whereas those from Fox News journalists did so from a conservative point of view (“what programs would you cut?”).
Rising above the crowd: Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. Rudy especially scored big, seeming presidential, and effectively slapping down the anti-war libertarian Ron Paul for blaming 9/11 on American policies.
So, let us assume no one else enters the race. Your choice is going to be between Giuliani and McCain. Which one do you pick?
Posted by Veith at 07:59 AM
May 15, 2007
The Family Values Party
The neoconservative tactician Paul Wolfowitz left the Bush administration to head up the World Bank. Lately, he has been under fire for arranging a big pay off to his “girlfriend” who worked there. The assumption in the media has been that Wolfowitz was divorced, but reporters have found no records of any divorce. Apparently, he is still married. That makes his “girlfriend” his “mistress.”
Posted by Veith at 08:04 AM
Power vs. Principles
The Washington Times reports that a group of Christian conservatives is organizing to rally behind the presidential candidacy of Fred Thompson when he announces that he is going to run. That’s fine. But this quote from the story stuck in my craw:
Of the dozen or so Republican possibilities, Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and an ordained Baptist minister, is most closely associated with the Christian conservatives, but he is thought to be especially vulnerable to liberal critics in the press and the Democratic Party. He has been ridiculed in several liberal publications and elsewhere for indicating in the recent Republican debate his skepticism of the theory of evolution, though he does not oppose teaching it in the public schools as theory.
So, these unnamed Christian kingmakers are looking for a candidate who believes in evolution? What bothers me is that these Christian activists are hanging their own people who are in the race–Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback–out to dry, delivering them seemingly no support.
If they are in the “must win,” “lesser of two evils” mode, why aren’t they supporting John McCain? Apparently, as we blogged about earlier, many Christian activists are supporting Giuliani over McCain. Yes, McCain once dissed the Christian right. But he is anti-abortion, tough on terrorism, and fiscally responsible. Yes, he is responsible for the campaign reform bill, which restricted the ability of some of these advocacy groups to throw their money around, but Fred Thompson supported that too! In fact, Fred Thompson WAS THE NATIONAL CHAIRMAN FOR MCCAIN’S 2000 PRESIDENTIAL BID!
Posted by Veith at 07:46 AM
May 14, 2007
Top Evangelical goes over to Rome
The president of the Evangelical Theological Society, Francis Beckwith, has joined the Roman Catholic Church.
Dr. Beckwith is a good guy. When Baylor tried to get rid of him for being too conservative, I covered the story in WORLD MAGAZINE. In our conversations, I was greatly impressed with him. I won’t quibble with his reasons. I just offer a few comments:
(1) Dr. Beckwith cited the concordat between Lutherans and Roman Catholics on justification by faith. Now that the two sides agree on that central issue of the Reformation, he has said, there is no reason not to return to the historical Church of Rome. (I have heard other converts to Rome say the same thing.)
Please: Looking to liberal Lutherans for Lutheranism is like looking to liberal Presbyterians for Calvinism, or liberal Catholics for Catholicism. (Dr. Beckwith will go crazy when he has to deal with the feminist nuns and the pro-abortion college professors). What the liberal Lutherans of the Lutheran World Federation signed was a document in which both sides agreed to use the same terminology, while meaning different things by the words.
(2) On the other hand, many evangelicals ALREADY hold what is essentially a Roman Catholic view of salvation. Both can affirm the Gospel, but they push it back to when one FIRST became a Christian (for Catholics, at Baptism, where the Gospel saves from original sin; evangelicals to one’s first “decision for Christ”). But after that, we are basically saved by our good works (which God helps us to do). Both often miss the sense in which justification by faith can animate every dimension of our lives, how we need Christ’s grace and forgiveness every day, and how faith in Christ bears fruit in sanctification and good works done freely.
(3)A major attraction of Roman Catholicism is the desire to belong to a church that is really, really big. Many evangelicals have acquired a morbid love of big churches. There is no megachurch as mega as the Church of Rome. A TV preacher might build himself an empire from an auditorium designed to look like a shopping mall, but that is no match for an actual empire, ruled by an actual monarch, from the Sistine Chapel. Both evangelicals and Catholics are attracted to theologies of glory.
(4) Forgive the snideness of that last comment, though there is truth in it. But most converts from evangelicalism to Catholicism are trying to flee the megachurch. A suggestion to evangelicals who do not want to lose some of their more thoughtful members to Rome: do something about your worship.
Ministers are trying to attract the greatest number, but they perhaps do not realize just how ANNOYING and EMBARRASSING many of their devout members find contemporary worship styles to be. They cannot STAND all of that pop music, the multi-media screen they have to look up to as if in worship, the whole atmosphere of irreverence and opposition to transcendence that pervades what passes for worship today in virtually all Protestant denominations. I’m sure preachers can continue to pack their megachurches with this approach, but it risks driving many of their members to Rome.
I realize that theological considerations prevent various denominations from adopting the historic liturgy, but they can bring back their own traditional worship. A traditional Baptist service has more dignity and a traditional Pentecostal service has more transcendence than the contemporary worship styles that ALL Protestants have run to.
(5) Evangelicals looking for something more should realize that it is possible to have a church that is BOTH liturgical and sacramental AND upholds justification by faith and the centrality of Scripture. Those are not two opposite categories. They can find both in confessional Lutheranism.
Posted by Veith at 07:10 AM
America at the Strip Mall
Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, and small business owners are, arguably, the backbone of American culture. Increasingly, our entrepreneurial little businesses and mom ‘n’ pop stores are run by immigrants.
Saturday I had to run some errands at a strip mall near where I live. I got my haircut at a barber shop run by a Turkish man and his family. His wife and young daughters also help out. Instead of just shearing me, they are conscientious and careful, judging every hair.
Then I dropped off some clothes at a laundry run by a young Chinese couple. They have reasonable rates, and they can get your clothes back in a day.
There is a little store front take out joint that I really like run by a Mexican family. They sell charcoaled chicken (“pollo” something or other), marinated and cooked with a rotisserie over wood. They serve it with a yellow sauce that is too incendiary even for me. It is delicious. The padre runs the cash register, welcoming customers and running back to the kitchen to make sure everything is right.
All through the strip mall, these folks are working hard, serving customers, and making money. There is an energy here. America really is the land of opportunity, still, and these families are dreaming the American dream.
These small business owners are surely LEGAL immigrants (though I can’t speak for the workers in the kitchen). And they love this country, following in the footsteps of my ancestors who came over long ago and helping rejuvenate our values (strong families, the work ethic, a free economy).
Posted by Veith at 06:48 AM
Church
At church, we had an acknowledgement that, yes, it is Mother’s Day, but it is also the Sixth Sunday of Easter known as “Rogate,” which means prayer, a Sunday traditionally given to teaching about prayer. So that is what we had. We learned that praying in Jesus’ name is not a formula, not a tag thrown onto a prayer just before “amen.” Rather, it is praying with the mind of Christ, prayer in His stead.
What did you learn from church?
Posted by Veith at 05:56 AM
May 11, 2007
The Reagan diaries
Ronald Reagan’s diaries will be published later this month. Pre-publication reviews reveal a shrewd, humorous, and amiable president. Samples:
A 1981 entry on Cuban leader Fidel Castro said: “Intelligence reports say he Castro is very worried about me. I’m very worried that we can’t come up with something to justify his worrying.”
The former actor was well aware of his public image, and tweaked the Fourth Estate after he deliberately reversed the order of the opening sentences of his welcome at the 1984 Olympics: “The press having a copy of the lines as written are gleefully tagging me with senility & inability to learn my lines.”
When his former chief of staff, Donald Regan, disclosed that Nancy Reagan had consulted an astrologer for advice on her husband’s travel schedule, the president remained in denial:_”The press have a new one thanks to Don Regan’s book. We make decisions on the basis of going to Astrologers. The media are behaving like kids with a new toy — never mind that there is no truth to it.”_The diaries, which have been stored at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., cover the gamut of his presidency, from arms-control negotiations to the Challenger disaster to his meetings with Hollywood figures. Reagan drew on the diaries in writing his 1990 autobiography.
_In the excerpts released yesterday, Reagan recounted his March 30, 1981, shooting by John Hinckley in a just-the-facts, “Dragnet” style: “I walked into the emergency room and was hoisted onto a cart where I was stripped of my clothes. It was then we learned I’d been shot and had a bullet in my lung._”Getting shot hurts.”
During the first-year negotiations over his tax cut plan, Reagan wrote that congressional Democrats had made a counterproposal: “They want to include a reduction of the inc. tax rate on unearned income from 70% to the 50% top rate on earned inc. We wanted that in the 1st place but were sure they’d attack us as favoring the rich. . . . I’ll hail it as a great bipartisan solution. H–l! It’s more than I thought we could get.” Reagan never spelled out even mild curse words.
Posted by Veith at 08:09 AM
The Pope’s plot to take over America
Pro-deathers bemoaning the Supreme Court’s outlawing of partial birth abortion are blaming the Roman Catholic church and the nefarious, suspicious fact that the five justices who voted to do so are all Catholics.
Posted by Veith at 08:00 AM
Rated R for Smoking
The Motion Picture Association ratings board has said that it will now consider smoking–along with sex, violence, bad language, and drug use–in assigning ratings to a movie. As I understand it, a PG movie with a character smoking a cigarette might get bumped up to PG-13, or even R.
It seems to me that smoking has become more socially unacceptable than bad language and illicit sex, so I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise. And yet, I suspect giving smoking an R-rating will make it even more glamorous and adult-seeming to young people. The rating system certainly has not reduced bad language, ilicit sex, drug use, or love of violence in our culture. Rather, it has sheltered their portrayal in cinema, allowing their depiction in ways movies never could during the old Production Code.
Posted by Veith at 07:52 AM
A Required Video for Abortion Clinics
In response to yesterday’s post, in which an author proposed balancing a requirement that women considering an abortion see an ultra-sound of her baby with a six-hour video of a screaming one-year-old, Bruce made the following comment:
Since the author is asking for honest, full disclosure of the cost of bearing a child, in addition to a six hour videotape of a screaming one year old (Honesty, or at least balance, would demand that the duration of such should be reduced to, say, twenty minutes), there ought to be video of children playing in a sandbox, graduating from high school, grown children having their own babies (grandchildren): the whole ball of wax.
Posted by Veith at 07:47 AM
May 10, 2007
Squirming fetus; squirming pro-abort
The biggest weapon in pro-lifers’ arsenal today is passing state laws to require a woman seeking an abortion to first view an ultrasound of her baby in her womb. In states that have already passed such a law, abortion rates have plummeted.
Slate has published a piece by William Saletan in which he, though pro-abortion, faces up to some telling truths:
Pro-lifers are often caricatured as stupid creationists who just want to put women back in their place. Science and free inquiry are supposed to help them get over their “love affair with the fetus.” But science hasn’t cooperated. Ultrasound has exposed the life in the womb to those of us who didn’t want to see what abortion kills. The fetus is squirming, and so are we.
The author squirms, but then squirms some more to mitigate his conclusion:
Critics complain that these bills seek to “bias,” “coerce,” and “guilt-trip” women. Come on. Women aren’t too weak to face the truth. If you don’t want to look at the video, you don’t have to. But you should look at it, and so should the guy who got you pregnant, because the decision you’re about to make is as grave as it gets.
Are ultrasound pushers trying to bias your decision? Of course. But of all the things they do to “inform” your decision, this is the least twisted. Look at the Senate’s “Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act.” It would order your doctor to deliver a 193-word script full of bogus congressional findings about your “pain-capable unborn child.” Ultrasound cuts through that kind of garbage. The image on the monitor may look like a blob, a baby, or neither. It certainly won’t follow some senator’s script. All it will show you is the truth.
If I were a legislator, I’d offer four amendments to any ultrasound bill. First, the government should pick up the tab. Second, the woman should also be offered a six-hour videotape of a screaming 1-year-old. Third, any juror deliberating whether to issue a death sentence should be offered the chance to view an execution. Fourth, anyone buying meat should be offered the chance to watch video from a slaughterhouse. If my first amendment passed but the others failed, I’d still vote for the bill.
So you concede that abortion IS a slaughter, an execution, and that the true target is not a fetus but the demanding toddler. But the author concludes that informing a woman before she gets an abortion IS, in the fullest meaning of the term, pro-choice:
But the clash between ultrasound and the partial-birth ban is ultimately a choice between information and prohibition. To trust the ultrasound, you have to trust the woman.
Posted by Veith at 07:35 AM
Idol words
I’ve been watching Milwaukee Brewer baseball, so I missed “American Idol,” but I tivoed it and can now report. The problem with making everyone sing Barry Gibbs songs is that they are so. . .so THIN. All that falsetto disco does not translate well. So everyone was at a big disadvantage.
I must confess that I am starting to like Blake’s singing. What is wrong with me? Is my student Nathan Martin, who is trying to educate me about contemporary music, getting through to me and altering my paradigm?
Now I’m watching the results show.
Melinda, yes, you live just outside of Nashville, “Music City,” but you are FROM Oklahoma. Your kiddy pictures went so far as to show that notorious bank that looks like a pineapple or fried egg in Oklahoma City. I assume you are disguising your origins thinking America, who last year voted for Carrie Underwood, might not vote for two Okies in a row.
I knew LaKisha would go tonight. But I like her a lot, a blue-collar girl with, at first, a bee-hive hairdo with great talent who got her big break and acquitted herself well.
Posted by Veith at 06:32 AM
May 09, 2007
Herod’s Tomb
Archeologists have apparently found the tomb of King Herod, the murderous monarch of the Christmas story. His sarcophagus was found in the ruins of Herodium, his country retreat. Just another reminder that the gospel narratives are in the genre of history. The finding also bolsters the reliability of another important source for our knowledge about the first century, Josephus. That Jewish historian, who also mentions Jesus, said that when the Jews rose up against Rome, the rebels so hated King Herod and his memory that they smashed his tomb. The ornate sarcophagus discovered at Herodium had been smashed by a hammer.
Posted by Veith at 07:01 AM
The Reality of the Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers, the team that I follow, have been playing the Washington Nationals, the team where I am now, so I’ve been able to watch them on TV. I’m telling you, the Brewers are for real! At least, right now they are real.
When I was actually able to go to the games last season, when a ball was hit to the infield, you just prayed that it wouldn’t go to second baseman Ricky Weeks. I’m sure he was praying the same thing. Because when it did, he would kick it or throw it into the stands. Now, he is playing really slick defense and has only made, I believe, one error all season.
The Milwaukee pitchers just don’t walk anybody. In the two games I watched, Capuano walked no one, and Bush walked just two. And the Brewers are hitting all down the batting order. Big Prince Fielder has hit as many home runs as Barry Bonds, but so has the skinny kid J. J. Hardy, tearing up the ball with a .340 average. The Brewers are near the top of baseball in batting average, home runs, and pitchers getting strikeouts. And, as of this date, they still have the best record in baseball.
I know it can all change quickly, but still. . . .Brewers fans have suffered with losing teams for longer than fans of the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs, but, unlike them, we have never presumed to make that failure into a tragic myth of cosmic significance. So permit us to savor this success, the fruit of good long-term management, which built up the farm system and carefully and patiently developed new players into major leaguers.
Posted by Veith at 06:45 AM
May 08, 2007
An Antichrist comes to Orlando
A man claiming to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ held a packed rally in an ampitheatre in Orlando last weekend. Dr. Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda, a 61-year old heroin addict from Puerto Rico, preaches a message of peace, love, and prosperity. He claims to be honored as God in 30 countries, with millions of followers.
His followers, get this, tattoo 666 on their hands as a sign that the Second Coming has already happened. (The less hard core just wear 666 T-shirts.) DON’T ANY OF THESE PEOPLE READ THE NEW TESTAMENT? TO SEE WHAT 666 MEANS? TO READ ABOUT FALSE CHRISTS?
The link even gives a video of these 666ers celebrating the advent of their Jesus.
Posted by Veith at 07:06 AM
May 07, 2007
Catholic Enthusiasts
The Roman Catholic Church in Latin America has seen nearly a fifth of its membership go over to Protestantism, especially to Pentecostal ministries. So the Hispanic church, drawing on its historical capacity to embrace and co-opt other religious expressions, is allowing charismatic worship–including speaking in tongues, faith healing, and free-form ecstatic experience–into the Mass. And now, that combination of Catholicism and Pentecostalism is being practiced in American Catholic congregations, with their burgeoning numbers of Hispanic members. A growing number of Catholic parishes have two kinds of services: the traditional liturgy and then then a charismatic service.
Read this Washington Post article on the phenomenon.
Luther considered that his opponents from both extreme sides–the “papists” of Rome and the “fanatics” stirring up the Peasants’ War–were essentially the same. They were both “enthusiasts,” a term that refers to a “god inside,” who believe that the Holy Spirit speaks directly through man (either the pope or every believer) apart from God’s Word.
Posted by Veith at 06:50 AM
Republicans for Obama
According to this article, a number of Republicans are supporting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. This includes former Bush operatives and neoconservatives.
Posted by Veith at 06:47 AM
Church stories
I was on the road this weekend. I attended a Reformed church that followed a liturgical style of worship. It was much like our Lutheran liturgy, and all of the hymns, except maybe for one, are in the Lutheran hymnal. They also practice weekly communion. Once again, what many Lutherans are trying to get rid of is what other Christians are looking for.
So, tell about your church experience and what you learned yesterday.
Posted by Veith at 06:09 AM
May 04, 2007
The vocation of a jazz singer
At that Mercy conference I addressed earlier this week, I was stunned to learn that the entertainment at the banquet would be jazz singer Erin Bode. It turns out, she is a Christian making a successful career in the secular music industry, a pastor’s kid, and a staunch Missouri Synod Lutheran (is there any other kind?). I was even more stunned to realize that I had to miss her performance, since I had to catch my stupid plane and couldn’t go to the banquet! But I am thrilled to know about another Christian, Lutheran artist who is out there in the culture, living out her God-given vocation in the arts.
To read about her, go here and to sample her singing, go here. She is really, really good. If you like Nora Jones (and who doesn’t?), you should like her even better. (She has a better voice. It is not so breathy.) While a person can succeed as a pop musician on the basis of looks, image, and a skillful producer, the jazz world has impossibly-high musical standards. Erin Bode is a true musician.
She was at the Mercy conference because she has a cause. She made a CD with a group of young African singers, the Themba Girls. The proceeds go to support the Themba mission project, which includes a Christian school, a medical center, a ministry to drug and alcohol addicts, and other works of mercy in South Africa. Themba is operated through the Lutheran Church of South Africa. Erin Bode’s album with the Themba Girls was produced with the help of the LCMS Board of World Relief/Human Care, another example of the innovative work of that particular church agency and its creative head, Rev. Matthew Harrison.
So go here for information about the album, a sample, and a link to buy the album. When you click on the site, you will hear music of unearthly beauty.
Posted by Veith at 08:23 AM
The Queen visits a Republic
The whole state of Virginia here is a-flutter about the Queen’s visit, marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, England’s first American colony. The newspapers are full of features on the proper way to bow and scrape should one find oneself in the royal presence.
Is this seemly for citizens of a free republic? As the head of state of an important ally, we should extend to her our highest hospitality. But didn’t there used to be a tradition that American citizens and diplomats would never bend the knee to a foreign potentate?
Posted by Veith at 08:02 AM
Republican Debate
The debate of the 10 Republican presidential candidates–which could have been dull and cumbersome with all of those “debaters”–actually moved right along, thanks to the rapid-fire questioning format (though this meant there was none of the interaction and give-and-take of a real debate).
Tommy Thompson gave specific, detailed, smart answers for the most part–pretty much the only one–but he did not come across well on TV, just as I have been saying. (But he has one hope: Polls show that the third place favorite is actor Fred Thompson, who isn’t even running. But since that Thompson is so popular, maybe the voting public will get the two confused and vote for Tommy.)
Both frontrunners Rudy Giuliani and John McCain came across OK, showing some Reaganesque flashes.
Mike Huckaby did well in standing up for his faith and in arguing, against the tide of his interrogation, that faith should shape one’s policies, while finessing the fears of theocracy. A question over the internet asked McCain if he believed in evolution. He said he did, hastily adding that he sees God’s hand in the beauties of Arizona. Host Chris Matthews asked the rest to raise their hand if they didn’t believe in evolution; a number did, but the camera took a wide side angle, and I couldn’t make out who all raised their hands.
The only candidate who will get a boost from this debate is Texas congressman Ron Paul. I had never heard of him and didn’t know he was running. But he is an anti-war, libertarian conservative. He wants the U.S. government out of Iraq, out of trying to fix social problems, and out of everybody else’s business. That kind of conservatism now has a candidate.
Posted by Veith at 07:46 AM
May 03, 2007
Jupiter rising
A space probe is sending back remarkable, mysterious, sublime pictures of Jupiter.
image:
Posted by Veith at 08:06 AM
Doug Wilson and me
I had a good talk yesterday with Douglas Wilson. In reference to our discussion on this blog about “the new perspective on Paul” and how many conservative Christians are moving away from the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement, Doug wanted to reassure me that he DOES believe, “adamantly,” in the substitutionary atonement, penal satisfaction, and what the Reformers believed about justification. (He threw in that he also believes in all of the Reformation “Solas.”)
He said he is a “fan” of N. T. Wright, valuing his emphasis on “the public nature of the faith” and his “winsome” way of defending Christianity, but he stressed that he has been critical of him in print when it comes to what he does with justification in the Pauline epistles.
I appreciated this very much. He too was “winsome,” though some who read his writings might be surprised at that. He gets attacked from every side, including from his Reformed brethren. And I have attacked him in WORLD, in ways I now regret and on issues that I now think were blown out of proportion and context. I told him so. He responded with grace.
Despite any other theological disagreements we might have with him, here is why American Christians should appreciate Douglas Wilson:
(1) He brought back Classical Christian education. This is having the result that Christian young people who go through its rigors–whether in the new classical Christian schools, home schools, or the few genuinely Christian liberal arts colleges–are now BETTER academically than their peers trained with a secularist curriculum. Products of Christian schools used to have the reputation of being pious, but naive, anti-intellectual, and not very well educated. Classically-educated Christians are not like that, whereas now the secularist students come across as naive, anti-intellectual, and not very well educated. The culture war implications of this turn around are huge.
(2) He is making important efforts to bring American evangelical, Protestant Christianity, back into the tradition of historic Christianity. This too is huge.
(3) His fellow Calvinists are criticizing him for things that I don’t really understand, not sharing their theological vocabulary. But one controversy is that he has a higher view of Baptism than is normally taught in those circles. Lutheran that I am, I salute him for that!
Posted by Veith at 07:56 AM
The team with the best record in baseball. . .
. . .is the Milwaukee Brewers (18-9).
Posted by Veith at 06:52 AM
Idol thoughts
(1) I just learned that Melinda Doolittle is from Oklahoma! She’s from Tulsa, down the road from where I grew up. A graduate of Union high school and from the University of Tulsa, where she was a music major. The local TV stations, of course, cover her American Idol sojourn, with interviews with people who knew her. Everyone goes on and on, I am told, about her great personality, how she is a strong Christian, how she always made a point of dressing modestly. So, another reason to like her. Oklahoma, of course, also gave us last year’s winner, Carrie Underwood, the most successful of Idol’s recording stars so far.
(2) The irony was excruciating, as Phil Stacey (also from Oklahoma) got voted off after singing a creditable Bon Jovi cover of “I went down in a blaze of glory.” When he sang that, I just knew he was going down. And after he got voted off, he sang it again, so appropriately.
(3) After hearing the guest artists on tonight’s and last night’s show, it occurred to me that even though they were all big stars, many of them would never make it on American idol.
(4) I thought it was humorous how Jordin gushed to Bon Jovi about how HER MOTHER was such a fan of his. What was once controversial heavy rock is now parent’s music.
(5) Chris too went home, the correct decision. America lurched towards objective aesthetic judgment rather than mere pop popularity this season. The four left standing are absolutely the best of the lot. America was right. And so was I, if you will recall, judging from the first large group at the beginning of the show. My top four were Melinda, Jordin, LaKisha (still here), and Stephanie (but I agree that Blake belongs there now. I salute his originality and creativity, and I will give his beat-boxing a pass.)
Posted by Veith at 06:33 AM
May 02, 2007
A neighbor-centered ethic II
Luther teaches his neighbor-centered ethic in his explanations to the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism. From my paper:
The First Table of the Law is about loving God. The Second Table is about loving our neighbors. This takes place in vocation, which is addressed directly in the Fourth and Sixth Commandments: “We should fear and love God so that we may not despise or anger our parents and masters, but give them honor, serve them, obey them, and hold them in love and esteem.” “We should fear and love God so that we may lead a pure and decent life in words and deeds, and each love and honor his spouse.”
In the other Commandments, the refrain and the structure are constant: “We should fear and love God,” followed by a negative injunction (how we should not treat our neighbor), followed by a positive injunction (what we should do for our neighbor). “We should fear and love God so that we may not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need.” “We should fear and love God so that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, think and speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” Ultimately, all of these Commandments, as Luther explains them, have to do with treating the neighbor not as he might deserve, but with mercy.
Posted by Veith at 07:08 AM
A neighbor-centered ethic I
Luther’s ethic was radically neighbor-centered. We do not serve God by private, individualistic exercises. The service to Him that God commands is to love our neighbors as ourselves. To do “good works” has to involve actually helping someone. Here is what Luther says on the subject:
If you find yourself in a work by which you accomplish something good for God, or the holy, or yourself, but not for your neighbor alone, then you should know that that work is not a good work. For each one ought to live, speak, act, hear, suffer, and die in love and service for another, even for one’s enemies, a husband for his wife and children, a wife for her husband, children for their parents, servants for their masters, masters for their servants, rulers for their subjects and subjects for their rulers, so that one’s hand, mouth, eye, foot, heart and desire is for others; these are Christian works, good in nature. (Luther’s Advent Postil 1522)
Posted by Veith at 07:01 AM
The Common Order of Christian Love
A catalyst for my paper was my discovery of what Luther wrote about the “General Estate,” or “the Common Order.” Most considerations of vocation focus on the three estates that God founded: the family (including its economic activity); the church; and the state. But, according to Luther, there is a fourth estate, and it isn’t the press, and here too God will call us to love and serve our neighbor:
Above these three estates and orders is the common order of Christian love, by which we minister not only to those of these three orders but in general to everyone who is in need, as when we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, etc., forgive enemies, pray for all men on earth, suffer all kinds of evil in our earthly life, etc. (Luther’s Confession of 1528)
“The common order of Christian love.” Another of Luther’s great phrases. This is the realm in which individuals from the different estates and callings interact with each other, the realm of the Good Samaritan.
Posted by Veith at 06:54 AM
Oh, Mercy!
Sorry I didn’t blog yesterday. I was on the road to St. Louis, where I gave a paper at the conference on Mercy, sponsored by the LCMS Board of Human Care, an event designed to inspire and equip Christians and congregations to give help to those who need it. I was asked to give a paper on “Mercy and Vocation,” and I did. I’ll post some highlights from what I put together.
Posted by Veith at 06:50 AM
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April 30, 2007
The Postmodern Election
In light of what I said about Tommy Thompson below, I predict that this next presidential race will become the first true postmodern election. The issues the candidates stand for will make NO DIFFERENCE. Everyone will vote solely on whether they “like” the candidate.
Christian conservatives will vote for Giuliani, even though he supports abortion and opposes everything they stand for, because they “like” him. Democrats will be torn on whether it feels more progressive to elect the first woman president or the first black president.. In the general election, voters will not care what the candidates say about the issues. Candidates who waste their TV ads outlining their positions will find that the public considers that kind of talk BORING. The successful candidate will have TV ads that are the most humorous.
Most people hope they are right. I hope I am wrong.
Posted by Veith at 07:09 AM
How to get out of Iraq
What do you think of the Thompson plan, described in the link below, to get us out of Iraq? Have the Iraqis vote on whether they want us to withdraw. If they do, we leave. (I would propose a variation: Have the Iraqi parliament vote on that question.)
We would have overthrown Saddam, set up a democratic government, and then respected that respected the authority of that government by leaving when they wanted us to. The consequences would be upon the Iraqi people.
This would not be a defeat for the USA, just deference to the people we came there to help.
Posted by Veith at 07:03 AM
The other Thompson
Finally, a key national pundit–George Will–has discovered Tommy Thompson, the former governor of Wisconsin who is running for the GOP nomination for president. Will says that Thompson has “the most impressive resume” of all of his rivals. Some of the most creative policy ideas of the last few decades–tax cuts, welfare reform, school choice–were pioneered and implemented by Tommy Thompson. He is also pro-life. (I might add that Will’s reference to Messmer High School, which has been successfully educating legions of poor kids, thanks to the Wisconsin’s voucher program, is where my wife teaches.)
And yet, as I complained about some weeks ago, Tommy does not have a chance, despite the smart campaign strategy Wills describes. He lacks charisma. He is not a good speaker. He comes across as an average Joe (which I admire) but in the midst of polished Hollywood stars. He has already committed one gaffe, reason enough for one commentator I heard to dismiss his chances for good. He told a group of Jewish activists that it’s good to make money, that making money is part of the Jewish tradition. ANTISEMITISM! In today’s climate, the candidate with the best ideas and qualifications, if that’s all he has going for him, is doomed.
Posted by Veith at 06:49 AM
Good Shepherd
Easter IV is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” thanks to the conjunction of appointed Bible readings that depict our Lord in that guise. What a rich concept it is. It also ties in to reflections about the office of “pastor” (literally, “shepherd,” as in “pastoral poetry,” poetry about shepherds), through whom our Good Shepherd tends to His flock. As often happens, I found a conjunction in my personal Bible reading, in which I came to Ezekiel’s condemnation of the evil shepherds of Israel, the priests who cared so little about their people that they let them drift off into idol worship. Our shepherd said how we have many shepherds, but only one “Good” Shepherd, the one who laid down His life for those of us who are not good.
Posted by Veith at 06:09 AM
April 27, 2007
Surrender in Iraq
So the Democratic Congress and all of its presidential candidates are, in effect, advocating surrender in the Iraq war. (I know they don’t call it that, but how could “withdrawal” be anything else?) Let us grant that starting the war was a big mistake. Still, you can’t get out of a mistake just by leaving. What would be the unintended consequences of just pulling out? How could the Jihadists not see it as a great, inspirational victory for them, as indeed it would be?
I know the war is unpopular, but I can’t believe that the democratic strategy is even going to pay off for them. Defeat in war creates a feeling of humiliation, especially in our soldiers and nation-wide. Voters, ultimately, are not going to like that feeling, a descent into another malaise far worse than the post-Vietnam, pre-Reagan era. It will be worse because jubilant, victorious terrorists are still going to attack us, and we will feel impotent to do anything about it.
As so often, I hope I am not right but wrong. Am I?
Posted by Veith at 07:20 AM
Street Musician
In an experiment to see how context influences the reception of art, violin superstar Joshua Bell took his Stradivarius and played for a day at a Washington metro station for tips. No crowds gathered. He made $32 and change.
Posted by Veith at 06:57 AM
Postmodern Chocolate
The candy industry has a petition before the FDA to change the definition of chocolate. The industry wants to be able to stop using cocoa butter, since they can make other kinds of fat taste just the same, if not better.
The meaning would thus lie in the perceiver, rather than in the objective reality. Chocolate-substitute tastes like chocolate; therefore, it should be considered chocolate. “I like it” takes priority over truth. And then, we can replace that truth by constructing an alternative paradigm. This is the recipe for postmodern candy of every type, including morality and religion.
Posted by Veith at 06:44 AM
Musical Archeology
In line singing, a music leader sings a line of a hymn, whereupon the congregation repeats it, with rich harmonies. This way of singing has been a staple of Black churches and has shaped the structure of “spirituals” and other gospel music. It can also be found in many backwoods white churches of the South. Now scholars have discovered another strain: In the Creek Indian tribe in Oklahoma. The common ancestor: Scottish Prebyterians of the 18th century, who “lined out” their psalms in the old country and continued doing so when many of them settled in the south and evangelized both slaves and Indians.
Posted by Veith at 06:05 AM
April 26, 2007
Imaginative violence
So, the FCC is going to start cracking down on television violence. They periodically punish broadcasters for being too explicit about sex. But they have never done anything about violence. In general, most of us–including conservatives–are OK with violence.
I wish the focus could be shifted away from content onto effect. Some sexual and some violent content can have an innocent or even praiseworthy effect. (E.g., a high view of sex within marriage; violence that protects or rescues). Others, from a Christian perspective, have the effect of instilling those sins of the heart that are so destructive, according to the New Testament, even if they are never acted out. (Scenes designed to elicit lust; violence that instills fantasies in which we take pleasure from imagining what it would be like to butcher somebody).
Posted by Veith at 07:25 AM
Sister Earth
Earth is not our Mother, observed Chesterton. Earth is our sister.
Explain.
Posted by Veith at 06:18 AM
Mutual admiration society
Lucas Cranach was more than the artist of the Reformation. He and Luther were true pals. Cranach and his wife fixed up Martin with Katie; he was the best man at their wedding; they were the godfathers of each other’s kids. Cranach lent Luther his wagon for the trip to Wurms; he printed Luther’s translation of the Bible; he was always lending him money. (Dr. Luther perhaps does not realize how much 100 guilders at even a non-usurious rate of compounded interest amounts to after 450 years. Never mind. Herr Cranach will let that pass. As usual.) And they always made each other think.
Posted by Veith at 06:07 AM
April 25, 2007
The forgotten sense
Read this, which should help make you conscious of the glorious smells of Spring.
Posted by Veith at 07:23 AM
Great Divorce: The Movie
Major movie scoop: I just talked with Ken Wales, the Christian movie producer with Walden Media who gave us “Amazing Grace” as well as the less pious but hilarious “Revenge of the Pink Panther” (1978, with Peter Sellers). He is going to be the graduation speaker here at Patrick Henry College. He said that a project he will start working on in the near future is a movie version of C. S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce”!
That is one of my favorite Lewis books, containing, for example, that lampoon of the liberal bishop who is writing about how hell does not exist, even as he lives there. The book is a combination of talky theological discourses plus hallucinatory symbolic imagery. How could that be made into a film? But if Mr. Wales can pull it off, the result should amaze.
Posted by Veith at 06:59 AM
Kant touch this
In a comment to the Earth Day thread the other day, tODD responded to Robert Perry’s way of celebrating the holiday (which I also appreciated): by cutting down a tree:
Ah, but as April 22nd is also Immanuel Kant’s birthday, then we would have to consider the impact of having EVERYONE cut down one tree for making firewood! 🙂
Who can explain what tODD is alluding to?
Posted by Veith at 05:56 AM
What people find inspiring
In the special “Idol Gives Back,” in which corporations are matching dollars for votes to enable to show to help out with various noble causes, the contestants were supposed to sing an “inspirational song.” Melinda did a gospel song that contrasted the suffering in this world with the joy that is to come with our Father and His amazing grace,singing with a virtuosity and expressiveness that suggest a sincere faith. Blake, though, followed with John Lennon’s dreadful, morose, and nihilistic “Imagine.” (What is inspirational about “above us only sky”?) Lakisha sang “Believe,” which refers, as best as I could tell, to believing in one’s dreams and, ultimately, in oneself. (What’s inspiring about that?) Phil, we learn, has Oklahoma roots, so he sang what he described as Garth Brooks’ tribute to the Oklahoma City bombings. (The subject is inspiring, except the song itself is about how “the world will not change me.” It should! That’s not inspiring.)
PS: I voted! For the first time, I got through! For Melinda. I now feel like a good citizen of the popular culture.
Posted by Veith at 05:44 AM
April 24, 2007
The meaning of nice weather
“Let us rejoice in this coming day, and let us say: Winter has lasted long enough, beautiful summer once more will come, aye, a summer which will never end, a summer in which not only all the saints rejoice, but all angels as well, a summer for which all creatures wait and sigh, an eternal summer in which all things are made new.” Martin Luther
From the LCMS webpage
HT: Lori Lewis
Posted by Veith at 07:07 AM
Abortion is Terrorism
Someone in the Vatican gets it right about the pro-abortion mindset and language, and also how to frame the issue in different language. That would be Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
The Vatican’s second-highest ranking doctrinal official on Monday forcefully branded homosexual marriage an evil and denounced abortion and euthanasia as forms of “terrorism with a human face.” . . . . . . . . . .
After denouncing “abominable terrorism” such as that carried out by suicide bombers, he condemned what he called “terrorism with a human face,” and accused the media of manipulating language “to hide the tragic reality of the facts.”
“For example, abortion is called ‘voluntary interruption of pregnancy’ and not the killing of a defenseless human being, an abortion clinic is given a harmless, even attractive, name: ‘centre for reproductive health’ and euthanasia is blandly called ‘death with dignity’,” he said in his address.
Posted by Veith at 06:11 AM
Russian Orthodoxy vs. Other Orthodoxies
Reader Hunter Baker sent my post on Orthodoxy & Culture to an orthodox friend, Joshua Trevino. He came back with an interesting response, which I post with his permission:
He’s wrong and he’s right in equal measure. A few quick points in no particular order, as I’m in a hurry to get out the door:
1) The thing to remember about the Russian Orthodox Church is that_its Patriarch, Alexius II, is a KGB agent. This was revealed when_the Baltic states opened up their archives in the 1990s, and_confirmed later by Russian defectors. Of course he continues to deny_it, and the Russian government — especially under Putin — is just_fine with it; but it’s pretty certain. So this is a guy whose_primary aim in life is not the promotion of the Church as such, but_the promotion of Russian state power.
2) Even among the Orthodox churches, the Russian Church is regarded_as uniquely recalcitrant, difficult, and belligerent. While_Orthodoxy is indeed shot through with a great whopping deal of_regrettable xenophobia, the Russians take things to the next level._Two examples come to mind: the Russian Orthodox hierarchy’s_sponsorship of official persecution of Protestants (among others) in_Russia; and the Russian Orthodox hierarchy’s refusal to allow the_advancement of Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation beyond where it’s_already gone. The Pope cannot even visit Russia. By contrast, the_Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople just celebrated Liturgy with_Benedict XVI last November. It’s also worth noting that in America,_the Russian parishes are famous for being ridiculously strict in_their worship: tearing out the pews so folks have to stand for hours,_and segregating men and women on opposite sides of the church. Not_all Russian churches in America do this, but nearly all churches that_do this are Russian.
3) Finally, it is very true that Orthodoxy’s historical development_has tied it, as an institution, more closely to state power than even_the Catholic and national Protestant churches. Broadly speaking,_this is due to two factors: the survival of the Eastern Imperium for_a full thousand years longer than the Western; and the fact that_Muslim rule of Orthodox peoples, due to the dhimmi concept, vested_temporal power in the clerical hierarchy — a situation that_persisted into the 20th century. Given that every single Orthodox_church has, at some point in its existence, been under Muslim rule,_this is significant. All that said, though this does mean that_Orthodoxy as an institution is uniquely sensitive to state power, it_does not follow that it is inherently so: the 10th-century example of_Nikeforos II Fokas and Patriarch Polyeuktos that I told you about is_a great example; and of course the Orthodox churches in America have,_if anything, played far too small a role in American political life.
Thanks, Josh. It was illuminating to see that Eastern Orthodoxy too has its “denominations,” though based largely on ethnic lines. There is Russian Orthodoxy and Greek Orthodoxy and Antiochan Orthodoxy and more. Those looking eastward for the “one true church” need to realize that. I did realize that one of the reasons the Orthodox have had little chance to shape their cultures is that they had to endure the dominance of islam and the restrictions of dhimmitude, which is an important point for us to remember in the current conflicts with Islam.
Thanks too for all of the illuminating discussions on that post. I take the point that it is not necessarily a bad thing for so many state agencies to be wanting their own saints. When I was in Estonia, while it was still under Communism, most I met people praised Christianity (yea, Lutheranism) and even said that they were Christians, but they knew almost nothing about it. But openness can lead eventually to true faith, if the churches take advantage of the opportunity.
Posted by Veith at 05:57 AM
April 23, 2007
Thinking Blogger Award
I am honored that Aardvark Alley bestowed on Cranach a Thinking Blogger Award” as being one of the five blogs that make me think.” Aardvarks do not get out of their hutches very much and associate mainly with other aardvarks, so the compliment about my smartness should be discounted, but I appreciate what he says about keeping other people from feeling dumb.
The terms of the game require me to list my five. I used to do lots more surfing and blog-reading than I do now, given the demands of my new job. I used to read all of the Cranach blog roll and the World sub-blogs besides. So this is not representative of all the good blogs out there. But here are five that always make me think, in no particular order:
1. Luther at the Movies
2. Pajamas Media
3.Jihad Watch
4.Cyberbrethren
5. My daughter’s Live Journal. (I won’t link that unless she wants me to.)
So what blogs would you recommend that make YOU think?
Posted by Veith at 06:46 AM
Earth Day
People in our contemporary culture just don’t realize that you cannot just make up a holiday. And it’s especially hard when you have lost the sense of the “holy” that has to constitute a “holy-day” (say it fast and you’ll get the etymology). This is true even of secular holy-days. You need to commemorate something in time (the day that guy in Wisconsin planted trees lacks sufficient magnitude). You need to have something to celebrate (not just make you feel guilty). And you need ritual. (If not in church, setting off fireworks or eating a big meal of turkey.)
I’m willing to celebrate Earth Day, since I love holidays of every kind. Earth is one of my favorite planets. But does anyone have any ideas that could make it take off? We may have to move it so that it actually commemorates something in history. Can we frame it so that we have something to celebrate? And what would be some good rituals to honor the day?
Posted by Veith at 06:31 AM
Still Easter
At church our pastor preached about the next appearance of the risen Christ, when He gave His disciples another draught of fishes, ate with them, and forgave Peter his three-fold denial. The disciples had NOTHING, we were told, not even a fish. Christ gave them EVERYTHING. Specifically: food, forgiveness, and faith. And He still does, as we ourselves met the risen Christ in Holy Communion, where He fed us, forgave us, and gave us faith.
Your turn to report. . . .
Posted by Veith at 06:28 AM
April 20, 2007
Eastern Christianity & Culture
The Russian Orthodox Church is taking big strides in becoming a state religion again. This article tells about the saint mania that has hit that country, with the church dispensing patron saints to state apparatus and military units eager for patron saints.
Nevsky was already the patron saint of the FSB, Russia’s internal security service. Meanwhile, the Strategic Rocket Forces, which oversee Russia’s land-based nuclear missiles, have Saint Barbara, the tax police have Saint Anthony, the Border Guards have Saint Ilya Muromets and the Ministry of Interior’s troops have Saint Vladimir, among dozens of other examples. Moribund during the Soviet era, the Orthodox Church has been reborn as a powerful force in Russian life, building congregations across the country. The church has also become increasingly identified with a strand of patriotism that celebrates a strong centralized state and is skeptical of Western notions of democracy, human rights and pluralism. Its most prominent adherent is President Vladimir Putin, whose faith is part of his public persona.
The church recently made one Russian hero a saint simply because he never lost a battle.
I know Eastern Orthodox Christianity is very attractive to many American Christians today. Most discussion of this phenomenon has been on theological grounds. But I wonder if we could talk about the cultural legacy of Eastern orthodoxy. Instead of that tradition influencing the culture, as Western Christianity has, it seems that in its cultural theology it mystically withdraws into the spiritual haven of monasticism, leaving the culture to rot, but also thereby sanctifying the cultural status quo and, in practice, giving oppressive leaders, from the Czar to Putin, a divinized aura. I hope I am wrong here, but am I?
Posted by Veith at 07:21 AM
Collective repentance
Koreans and Korean-Americans are horrified that the Virginia Tech killer came from their ethnic group and are reacting in a remarkable way:
South Korea’s ambassador to Washington, Lee Tae Shik, spoke at a candlelight vigil I attended Tuesday night in Fairfax County. Through tears, he said that the Korean American community needed to “repent,” and he suggested a 32-day fast, one day for each victim, to prove that Koreans were a “worthwhile ethnic minority in America.” More than 600 people attended the hastily organized vigil. Many in the audience, overwhelmingly composed of Korean immigrants, sobbed openly as they prayed for healing in America in the wake of this tragedy. Many also expressed a personal sense of guilt.
This is so unnecessary. I don’t think anyone is blaming or looking askance at Koreans as a whole just because this one murderer was Korean. The Korean-Americans most of us know have a good reputation as exemplary citizens and, for the vast number of Christians in that community, particularly devoted to their faith. I am moved, though, by this collective repentance, with the innocent assuming the guilt of the guilty, and repenting for what someone else has done.
The article I linked said that this is a function of their more collectivist culture, as opposed to mainstream America’s assumptions of individualism. I go with the latter, though I think our individualism can blind us to the Biblical truth that we do have a collective identity.
Notice too that the Koreans–unlike, say, the Muslim community– are not dissassociating themselves, nor defending their virtues, nor accusing people of being prejudiced against them. They are repenting. I really respect that.
Posted by Veith at 07:07 AM
We sick baby boomers
A study has found that baby boomers are not nearly so physically fit as their parents were at their age. A telling lead from the Washington Post:
As the first wave of baby boomers edges toward retirement, a growing body of evidence suggests that they may be the first generation to enter their golden years in worse health than their parents. While not definitive, the data sketch a startlingly different picture than the popular image of health-obsessed workout fanatics who know their antioxidants from their trans fats and look 10 years younger than their age.
Of course! We have always been more about having pristine attitudes and correct ideas, rather than actually carrying them out in our lives!
Posted by Veith at 07:01 AM
Idol update
I can’t believe I have watched every episode of “American Idol” and Tivoing it when I am doing more important things and watching it later. That is so unlike me. But I have to comment on the latest voting-off-the-island episode:
We learned that Melinda listens to “Jesus music,” specifically, Curt Franklin, the gospel singer. I exempt black gospel and country gospel from my general dislike of contemporary Christian music. Whitebread CCM is pop, a style that, by its nature, is just not equipped to be profound. Gospel music, by its nature, needs soul.
And the Sanjaya crisis is over, the possibility that a very weak singer, especially compared to the other contestants, might win by virtue of a coalition between teeny-boppers and vote-for-the-worst cynics. Simon Cowell had threatened to quit if Sanjaya won, but now that threat is over and Sanjaya is going home. But I feel for him and refuse to ridicule him. He is just a 17-year-old kid. Though he seems remarkably good-natured, it cannot be easy for him to be the recipient of so much criticism and so many jokes.
Posted by Veith at 06:16 AM
April 19, 2007
Abortion and Language
In the article linked below, the New York Times is pro-abortion. But it’s interesting how, in trying to avoid the term “partial birth abortion,” the account still jars:
The banned procedure, known medically as “intact dilation and extraction,” involves removing the fetus in an intact condition rather than dismembering it in the uterus. Both methods are used to terminate pregnancies beginning at about 12 weeks, after the fetus has grown too big to be removed by the suction method commonly used in the first trimester, when 85 percent to 90 percent of all abortions take place.
Pro-deathers (start using that term!) have tried to hide what abortion is behind euphemism (“terminating a pregnancy”) and god-terms (“a woman’s right to choose”).
I propose that we reframe the discussion in language that puts the emphasis on the child in a way that resonates with larger concerns that most people share. We should discuss abortion in terms of a violation of “children’s rights.” We should associate abortion with “child abuse.” Other ideas?
Posted by Veith at 07:36 AM
Telling reactions
Candidate’s reactions to the constitutionally-affirmed ban on partial birth abortion are telling. The leads from the Drudge Report say it all:
HILLARY: ‘Erosion of our constitutional rights’…
GIULIANI: ‘I agree with it’…
OBAMA: ‘I strongly disagree’…
ROMNEY: ‘A step forward’…
MCCAIN: I’m very happy…
EDWARDS: ‘I could not disagree more strongly’…
Go to Drudge and click on each statement for the complete account of what they say.
Posted by Veith at 06:46 AM
Huge pro-life victory
The Supreme Court held that the law against partial-birth abortion is constitutional! Pro-deathers are fretting that the ruling might open the door for more limitations on abortion. And they may be right!
Posted by Veith at 06:20 AM
April 18, 2007
Country Idol
Finally, “American Idol” treats my kind of music. Sort of. The problem is that most of the wannabe pop stars chose to perform pop country–which is largely indistinguishable from other kinds of pop–rather than the real deal. Blake did Tim McGraw’s song about blue stars, which consists of nothing more than meaningless surrealistic images reminiscent of “MacArthur Park” (“someone left a cake out in the rain. . . “) The songs that would have held up much better would have been the classics. Blake have done something really interesting putting contemporary twists to a Hank Williams song.
Country music consists mostly of story-songs, dramatic monologues that depict characters. Jordin got that with her version of “Broken Wings.” She acted the song as she sang it, with her facial expressions tallying perfectly with the lyrics.
But Melinda Doolittle performed a honky-tonk swinger that neither Martina McBride nor I had ever heard before, “Trouble in a Woman.” It was rollicking country, which she delivered with subtle soul nuances. The combination was spectacular. I recommend that Randy (who has successfully produced country records) turn that into a single right now. It would soar to the top of the country charts. No mean feat for a black performer.
Posted by Veith at 07:04 AM
Horror at Virginia Tech
So the killer is a creative writing major–a type I know well–from Centerville, Virginia. That’s a suburb over by Dulles, and I go there all the time. At least one of the victims is from where I go to church. The mystery of iniquity. It can break out anywhere.
Posted by Veith at 07:01 AM
April 16, 2007
Happy Tax Day
Well, you don’t have to be happy. But to mark the day, read this article about our tax system, which includes the following depressing curiosities: Back during colonial days, the tax burden was only about 1-2%, which so outraged our Founders that they rose up in a Revolution. Today, the tax burden is right at 30%. This is true for just about everybody. In a comparison of two families, one making $150,000 and the other making $50,000, both were right at 30%. The former paid a bigger share of their income in income taxes, while the latter paid more of their income in sales taxes, but it all averaged out to around 30%. The writer pointed out that even when we lower income taxes, that means people have more money to buy things with, and that the government take is made up in increased sales tax revenue.
The issue for the Founders was not taxation, but taxation without representation. And the author confounds federal, state, and local taxes, putting them all in a big heap. And I’m not sure of all of his figures. (How can a 4% sales tax make up for a 28% income tax rate?) I also have to tell myself that paying taxes is one of the few commands about our relationship to the government that Scripture makes. But still. . . .
Posted by Veith at 08:17 AM
Jesus as space traveller
Our guest pastor, Charles St.-Onge, must have left a strong impression, since he brought up so many things that are still on my mind. He told about astrophysicist Carl Sagen trying to shoot down the Ascension of Christ. He said that even if Jesus could attain the speed of light, He would still be only 2000 light years away from earth, and not anywhere near Heaven.
Notice how atheists, trying to debunk our faith, embrace the most childish notions of what God, whether He exists or not, even is. They haven’t got a clue as to what or how believers believe, nor that the spiritual realm–if it exists–would have to be at least as complex and unfathomable as the material realm now turns out to be.
Posted by Veith at 08:11 AM
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven
The Gospel reading yesterday was from John 20 and included these words of Christ: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” For us Lutherans, this works itself out in the Office of the Keys, the power of the Church through the pastoral office to pronounce “absolution.” This is why in our services, we confess our sins and the pastor says–to those who are truly repentant and who have faith in Christ–“I forgive you your sins.” It is possible even for laypeople to give absolution.
My question is, for those of you from other theologies, what do YOU do with this passage? It seems pretty clear that those who receive the Holy Spirit are given the authority to forgive sins. But people who come from other denominations into our services usually like everything until that phrase comes up. I can’t remember hearing this passage being preached on back when I was a non-Lutheran. I don’t want to start any big disputes here, but I’m just curious.
Posted by Veith at 08:03 AM
It’s still Easter
Jesus, risen from the dead, stayed around with His disciples for 40 days. So Easter, as a season, lasts for 40 days. So keep encouraging yourself with “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”
We had a guest preacher at church, a Pastor St. Onge, from Pennsylvania, a fine young pastor. He preached about “Where is Jesus now?”, pointing to all of the wrong places people look for Him, and how He is really present with us in His Word and Sacraments.
What did you learn at your church?
Posted by Veith at 07:57 AM
April 13, 2007
We still have some taboos
Our culture flaunts its cultural relativism, but it turns out we still do have taboos, verging on certain absolute objective moral standards. Don Imus has said lots of vicious things in his 30-year-career as a shock jock, but a racially-charged remark still got him fired. And political candidates have to tip-toe around all kinds of righteous indignation land mines. As do we all. And I guess that is encouraging, that no culture and no individual can completely live without some sort of moral structure. But what’s missing?
Posted by Veith at 06:36 AM
Death of a satirist
Novelist Kurt Vonnegut is dead at 84. I remember reading him in college and how stimulating I found his take-no-prisoners satire. I mean, “Slaughterhouse Five” criticized World War II, the “good war”! My tendency is, when I find an author I like, to read everything I can by him until my taste is satiated. I read a bunch of his other books, but then grew satiated. Later in life I tried him again, but his humor didn’t seen funny anymore. I picked up instead on the implicit nihilism and despair.
Satire, it has been said by classical critics, is the ridiculing of vice. Therefore, it depends upon an objective moral order. Vonnegut ridiculed vice, but he also ridiculed virtue. And, sadly, he had little basis for distinguishing one from the other.
Posted by Veith at 06:25 AM
Justification & Christology
The basic thrust of the arguments of those who reject the Substitutionary Atonement seems to be that if it is true, God is not just, which we know He is. A just God would not punish His Son for what somebody else did. In the words of the feminist theologians, God would be committing child abuse.
But the critics here just show their inadequate Christology. The Son is not a separate entity from the Father. The Son IS God. God has made Himself Man to redeem Man. God is on the Cross. God poured out His wrath upon HIMSELF.
Posted by Veith at 06:06 AM
April 12, 2007
Johnny Hart, A.D.
Johnny Hart, the cartoonist who gave us “B.C.” and co-wrote “The Wizard of Id,” at the age of 76. A devout Christian, Hart got into the pattern of drawing an explicitly Christian cartoon on Christmas and Easter, routinely getting himself banned. As an example of vocation, Hart reportedly died at the altar at which he served, his drawing board.
A Christian artist I know, who also knew Hart, gave him a copy of my book, “State of the Arts,” on what the Bible says about the arts. He found it helpful and sent me a drawing, one of my prized possessions.
Posted by Veith at 07:22 AM
Justification & the “new perspective on Paul”
OK, Puzzled and other experts, explain why “the new perspective on Paul,” in which the Law is just the Mosaic levitical law, does not undercut the doctrine of justification. This article argues otherwise. Some quotes this author offers from N. T. Wright:
“‘Justification’ in the first century was not about how someone might establish a relationship with God. It was about God’s eschatological definition, both future and present, of who was, in fact, a member of his people. In Sanders’ terms, it was not so much about ‘getting in,’ or indeed about ‘staying in,’ as about ‘how you could tell who was in.’ In standard Christian theological language, it wasn’t so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology; not so much about salvation as about the church.”
“Despite a long tradition to the contrary, the problem Paul addresses in Galatians is not the question of how precisely someone becomes a Christian, or attains to a relationship with God … On anyone’s reading, but especially within its first-century context, it [i.e., the problem] has to do quite obviously with the question of how you define the people of God: are they to be defined by the badges of Jewish race, or in some other way?”
“What Paul means by justification, in this context, should therefore be clear. It is not ‘how you become a Christian,’ so much as ‘how you can tell who is a member of the covenant family.’”
So justification turns out to be all about INCLUSION. (Cf. how feminists, gays, etc., are framing things.)Posted by Veith at 06:50 AM
April 11, 2007
The Next Conservatism
Conservative activist Paul Weyrich has launched a fierce critique against what conservatism has become and is calling for a revitalized attention to preserving American culture, which he calls the Next Conservatism. It opposes wars, except to protect our borders, is protectionist when it comes to economics, and is suspicious of ideologies. You’ll want to read the whole essay–which then sparked a series that you may also want to read–but here is an excerpt:
Real conservatism rejects all ideologies, recognizing them as armed cant. In their place, it offers a way of life built upon customs, traditions, and habits—themselves the products of the experiences of many generations. Because people are capable of learning over time, when they may do so in a specific, continuous cultural setting, the conservative way of life comes to reflect the prudential virtues: modesty, the dignity of labor, conservation and saving, the importance of family and community, personal duties and obligations, and caution in innovation. While these virtues tend to manifest themselves in most traditional societies, with variations conservatives usually value, they have had their happiest outcome in the traditional culture of the Christian West.
From this it follows that the next conservatism’s foremost task is defending and restoring Western, Judeo-Christian culture. Not only does this mean the next conservatism is cultural conservatism, it also tells us we must look beyond politics.
While conservatives have won many political victories since the election of Ronald Reagan, the Left has continued to win the culture war. Unfortunately, culture is more powerful than politics. Conservatives have thus won tactically while losing strategically, with the consequence that American society has continued to decline into the abyss that opened before it in the 1960s.
If the next conservatism is to reverse this decline and begin to recover the America we knew as recently as the 1950s, the last normal decade, it must do three things. First, it must aspire to change not merely how people vote but how they live their lives. It must lead growing numbers of Americans to secede from the rotten pop culture of materialism, consumerism, hyper-sexualization, and political correctness and return to the old ways of living. The next conservatism includes “retroculture”: a conscious, deliberate recovery of the past.
This recovery should not be, indeed cannot be, imposed through political power. This is the second action the next conservatism must take: putting power in its place. Tolkien’s ring of power is power itself, which in the long run cannot be used for good. The rejection of the counterculture that has become the mainstream culture must proceed bottom-up, person by person and family by family, on a voluntary basis.
The model here is the home-schooling movement. Home schooling has rescued more than a million children from the culturally Marxist Skinner boxes that most public schools have become. The power behind this important act of secession has been the only safe form of power: power of example. The next conservatism must extend that power to many other aspects of daily life, starting with entertainment, the popular culture’s poisoned well. Kirk set the example by throwing off the roof a television his wife and children had smuggled into Piety Hill.
By building the next conservatism primarily on the power of example, the example of lives well lived in the old ways, we can give honest reassurance to those Americans who fear that a vibrant cultural conservatism would impose some sort of Puritan theocracy on America.
What do you think of this?
HT: Mark Mitchell & Steven Baskerville
Posted by Veith at 06:32 AM
The Gospel without the Atonement?
Thanks for another illuminating discussion yesterday about Joel’s claim that Christ’s substitutionary atonement is not Biblical. That doctrine is currently under sustained attack. We learned that the otherwise helpful Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde has thrown it out. So has the otherwise helpful conservative Anglican bishop and apologist N. T. Wright, whose “new perspective on Paul” argues that when the Apostle refers to the Law, he just has reference to the Jewish ceremonial code. Wright’s view has been picked up by many evangelicals and other theological conservatives, including (and somebody correct me if I’m wrong) Doug Wilson. Then there are the “openness of God” theologians, at least some of whom teach that we are saved by Jesus’s death on the Cross because it makes us feel sorry for God and thus forgive Him for the problem of evil. (Note the role reversal: God is guilty; we forgive Him.)
I’d just like to ask, what do these people think the Gospel is, if Jesus did not bear our sins, suffer our punishment, and impute to us His righteousness? Is there a Gospel any more, and, if so, how do they construe it? Is Christianity just about being good; that is, just a matter of obeying some moral law? If so, then we are still in our sins and what’s the point?
Posted by Veith at 06:10 AM
April 10, 2007
Most hated regular song
Let’s go back to a thread with great potential, but that was sidetracked by the worship wars. What is your most hated regular song? Not counting hymns or contemporary Christian music. I’m curious to see if we can find agreement here, or if musical taste in general is intrinsically contentious. (Later, I want to conduct an on-line seminar on aesthetics.)
To start it off, let me register my agreement with kerner: “I guess if I have to pick the song I really hate the most, it’s ‘Imagine,’,by John Lennon. Incipid, repetitive, utterly humanistic and overtly Anti-Christ, even an ear worm. It’s got it all.”
Posted by Veith at 08:19 AM
Penal substitution
In the discussion of “Smitten, Stricken, and Afflicted,” Joel writes:
What you described above is the penal substitution theory of the atonement, largely unheard of in the church before Anselm. I always assumed this theory was true, was in fact the heart of the Gospel. But several months ago I decided I would look for this doctrine in the Scriptures. I have found as a result that this teaching does not have a sturdy Biblical basis. Try George MacDonald’s sermon on “Justice” at http://www.johannesen.com/SermonsSeriesIII.htm for a critique of the penal substitutionary theory.
I’ve been astonished at the way various ostensibly evangelical theologians are attacking, from various angles, justification by faith. That Christ is our substitute, bearing our sins on the cross and paying their penalty, is indeed the heart of the Gospel. This is really important to grasp. Can anyone help Joel out?
Posted by Veith at 07:27 AM
He is risen indeed!
I hope you had a glorious Easter. I did. My family was here, including my grandson from Australia!
In the sermon, among other things, our pastor discussed the ancient proclamation, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Everytime we say that, we were told, we poke the devil in the eye with a sharp stick. The fact it proclaims means that we have won.
I have resolved to repeat that to myself not just at Easter but every time I feel discouraged, defeated, or spiritually troubled. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”
Posted by Veith at 07:06 AM
April 06, 2007
Smitten, stricken, and afflicted
Many hands were raised to wound him,
None would intervene to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced him
Was the stroke that justice gave.
For the rest of this sublime and most unbathetic hymn–which makes for a powerful meditation on what our Savior has done for us, no matter what your musical preference is–click “Continue Reading.”
Meanwhile, everybody, have a Good Friday, a Holy Saturday, and a Glorious Resurrection Day.
Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted
(To hear the melody, click here_By: Thomas Kelly
Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,_See him dying on the tree!_This is Christ, by man rejected;_Here, my soul, your Savior see.
He’s the long expected prophet,_David’s son, yet David’s Lord._Proofs I see sufficient of it:_He’s the true and faithful Word.
Tell me, all who hear him groaning,_Was there ever grief like this?_Friends through fear his cause disowning,_Foes insulting his distress;
Many hands were raised to wound him,_None would intervene to save;_But the deepest stroke that pierced him_Was the stroke that justice gave.
You who think of sin but lightly_Nor suppose the evil great_Here may view its nature rightly,_Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed;_See who bears the awful load;_It’s the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,_Son of Man and son of God.
Here we have a firm foundation; _Here the refuge of the lost;_Christ, the rock of our salvation, _His the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,_Sacrifice to cancel guilt!_None shall ever be confounded_Who on him their hope have built.
Posted by Veith at 08:01 AM
Bathos
Did I ever cut a vein in my “Most Hated Song” post! Good discussion, as always. But almost everyone missed my point. I was not trying to cut down (in this post) praise songs, or contemporary Christian music, or fellow believers, or Rich Mullins. Nor was I articulating my “preference” (in this post) or criticizing people with other “preferences.” I was making an objective description of the song’s aesthetic form.
This has to do with “bathos.” Trying to be sublime (“awesome”) with a form that undercuts the sublime (that is utterly unawesome). If you are trying to evoke awe–whether of God, or purple mountains majesty, or outer space–you don’t use funny, 1920’s metaphors like “puttin’ on the Ritz.” If you are trying musicially to create a sense of awe, you don’t use peppy little rhythms.
In an objectively effectively-designed work of art, the form and content go together. The problem with “My God is an Awesome God” is that the song, while trying very hard to be, is not “awesome” (unless in the 1960’s groovy sense of the word).
This is sometimes a problem in traditional hymns too. The classic example is Doddridge’s description of Jesus bringing sight to the blind, a truly sublime miracle, but rendered as something like “Upon the eyeballs of the blind, He pours celestial Day.” Eyeballs! Pouring celestial day all over them! The sublimity collapses because of the ludicrously mixed-up metaphors. Despite the song’s sublime subject matter, the effect is not sublime. It is rather, if you pay attention to the word pictures, closer to being funny.
The classic discussion of this artistic fault is Alexander Pope’s “Peri Bathous: The Art of Sinking in Poetry.” The essay is a hilarious but instructive education in what can make poetry bad. I can’t find it online, but there is a good discussion of bathos, with examples, here on Wikipedia.
Posted by Veith at 07:22 AM
April 05, 2007
Most hated song
Yesterday, I heard that song that I dislike almost above all others: “Our God is an Awesome God.” And I was appalled to hear that it even has verses, one of which had something about how when God shakes His fists he ain’t just puttin’ on the Ritz. That doesn’t even make sense! “Puttin’ on the Ritz” means dressing up. But that song, in its words and in its melody, stands as a prime example of what Alexander Pope called “bathos”: trying to render the sublime (that is, what evokes “awe”), but instead of elevating the imagination, sinking the imagination, making what is lofty trivial, and creating the opposite effect that one intends.
To make it worse, that little ditty is what the Germans call “an ear worm.” That is, it burrows into the ear and takes up residence. I had that annoying, hated song playing in my head ALL DAY!
So what is your most hated song?
Posted by Veith at 07:43 AM
Computers can’t teach
In a massive study of the effectiveness of educational software–a $2 billion-a-year industry, most of which is spent by school systems–the conclusion was that students who used all of this stuff performed no better at reading and math than students who did not.
Posted by Veith at 07:31 AM
The baby’s hand
I refused to watch “House” the other night, having concluded from the previews that it would be another pro-abortion episode. Boy, was I wrong. As our comrade, the novelist Lars Walker tells it,
There was a middle-aged pregnant woman whose life was threatened by a condition in her unborn child. House wanted to abort. Dr. Cuddy, the supervisor, who’s trying to get pregnant herself, fought him all the way and went way beyond prudent treatment trying to save the baby. But the big scene was one where they operated on the unborn child. House is cutting into the uterus and out comes the baby’s little hand and touches his finger, just like in that photo that’s gone around on the internet.
The episode ends with House sitting in his apartment, staring at his own hand.
See also what Martin Luther says about the episode at Luther at the Movies.
And see here for a real-life photo of this happening, which was obviously the source for the House episode.
Posted by Veith at 06:20 AM
This is my body, broken for you
Happy Maunday Thursday!
Posted by Veith at 06:01 AM
April 04, 2007
Albania is Atheist no more
Albania, under its Stalinist communism, was probably the most closed and religiously-repressive country in the world. The first officially atheist country is now undergoing a religious explosion, both in Islam and in the country’s historical Catholic and Orthodox traditions, though evangelical-type missionaries are also starting churches. Read this article and hear from a priest who spent 25 years in prison and work camps for his faith and a man who would simply put on his suit and walk around on Sunday morning in prayer, as the closest he could come to worship, who now can joyfully take his daughter to church.
Posted by Veith at 08:12 AM
Iraqi Idol
An major development in Iraq may be a significant step in the warring sides achieving national unity. An Iraqi has won the Arab version of American Idol.
The ups and downs of contestant Shada Hassoun have transfixed the country, with both Sunnis and Shiites calling in millions of votes for her. The thing is, while she is an ethnic Iraqi, she lives in Morrocco and has never actually been in Iraq. But that way, no one knows if she is Sunni or Shiite. Read the article linked above, which has a number of poignant quotations and details, like this one:
“We heard she lived in Morocco and has never been in Iraq. And she loves her country so much. Imagine how great her love would be if she lived here!”
And how, when she won, “In Baghdad, the sound of celebratory gunfire rang out into the night.”
Posted by Veith at 08:05 AM
The Standards
Tony Bennett music was NOT my style growing up. I thought of it as my parents’ generation’s style. How ignorant I was. There was a time, of course, when adults actually made music for adults. That is, in fact, the cultural norm, as opposed to the odd dysfunction now, when popular music tends to be made by children for children, and even adults follow along (though adults in the corporate offices do produce it and make the money from it). (That should not be construed as an attack against all popular contemporary music, which, thanks to some help, I am starting to explore somewhat.)
But Tony Bennett and the whole corpus of “standards” that he sings constitute truly great music. That was evident on last night’s American Idol, which required the contestants to sing, under Mr. Bennett’s tutelage, songs from that repertoire. That proved a huge stretch for some of these young singers, a number of whom (Phil, Gina, LaKisha) didn’t even take Mr. Bennett’s advice! Melinda, though, singing Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” KILLED. She just KILLED.
.
Posted by Veith at 06:49 AM
April 03, 2007
Earning ALL the merit badges
It takes 21 merit badges for a Boy Scout to attain the rank of Eagle, an achievement only 2% of scouts attain. James Calderwood, an 18year-old from Chevy Chase, MD, has earned 122. That’s ALL the merit badges that are possible, including one that isn’t given out anymore.
His final merit badge was bugling, forcing him to learn something completely new to him. A reporter asked him what was his Least favorite badge: “Insect study was something I wasn’t as fascinated by as much as the other ones,” he said. “But there wasn’t a badge that I dreaded getting. I mean, every single badge intrigued me.”
Posted by Veith at 07:58 AM
More things in heaven and earth
Saturn has its rings, but it also has its _hexagons. It’s apparently some kind of cloud formation on the planet’s north pole. But. . .clouds aren’t supposed to take that kind of shape. The phenomenon was first observed way back in the 1980s, but it’s still there! Straight lines are not supposed to exist in nature, except in crystals. Scientists seem to have no idea what could account for this.
Posted by Veith at 07:55 AM
Two-hitter!
Ben Sheets threw a complete game two-hitter in Milwaukee’s victory over the Dodgers!
Sheets has always shown flashes of brilliance, but then he gets hurt. If he can put together a whole season. . . .And next up is Chris Capuano. . . And then the new acquisition from the Cardinals the playoff MVP Jeff Suppan. . . The Brewers have three potential Aces up their sleeve. I’m telling you, the Brewers may be this year’s Detroit Tigers of last year.
But now, back to reality. . . .
Posted by Veith at 07:47 AM
April 02, 2007
Opening Day
The true sign of Spring being sprung, to my mind, is not robins or daffodils, but the beginning of the baseball season! That and my hay fever coming back. But today is opening day, when hope springs anew and all of the standings are even. I even saw a sports talk show on FSN that predicted the surprise team of the year–one of those teams that comes out of a bottom-dwelling previouseason all of a sudden to be a contender, which there seems to be every year (last year being the Detroit Tigers)–will be the Milwaukee Brewers! Any other predictions before facts catch up to speculation?
Posted by Veith at 07:01 AM
Fighting the sexual exploitation of children
A Mexican journalist has written an expose of wealthy and politically-well-connected men who are traffficking in sex with children. Now, people are trying to kill her. Read this from the Washington Post.
Posted by Veith at 06:51 AM
Launching into Holy Week
Tidbits from our Palm Sunday sermon:
“Luke was no Mel Gibson, writing to make us visualize what happened. It is as if he wanted us to close our eyes and open our ears. Faith comes by hearing, and what is heard conveys the meaning of the Cross.”
“As on a Friday, the 6th day, God finished His work of creation, so on Friday, the 6th day, God finished His work of salvation.”
Anybody pick up any more insights from church to launch us into Holy Week?
Posted by Veith at 06:46 AM
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March 29, 2007
Faith on TV
The Washington Post is running an online panel discussion of whether TV and the media are fair to religion. The answer should be an obvious “No.” I understand that a plotline in every episode of a sitcom or drama of someone getting converted would not work well. I am not asking for that. I’d settle for simply portraying things like going to church as normal, as indeed it is for the majority of Americans. Go ahead and have your zany family arguments, but they be raging as everyone is trying to get ready for church. Go ahead and have your forensic autopsy mysteries, but have the doctor cross himself before making the first incision. And then you could sometimes go deeper, as in a drama about a moral dilemma, with the character praying about it or reading her Bible or saying that she’s got to talk with her pastor. The main show I can think about that already does present religion as part of everyday life is the Simpsons! Are there others?
Posted by Veith at 07:22 AM
Give D.C. back to Maryland
The latest cause among Congressional Democrats is to pass a bill that would give the District of Columbia one voting member of the House of Representatives, this despite the clear words of the Constitution that gives such representation only to “states.” But what about the principle raised on D.C. license plates that there should be no “taxation without representation”? George Will suggests a good solution: pull back the borders of the “district” so that they encompass only the federal buildings around the Mall. Then give back the rest, where people actually live, to Maryland.
Posted by Veith at 07:14 AM
A medal for the Tuskeegee Airmen
The surviving Tuskeegee Airmen, the black fighter pilots of WWII, will receive the Congressional Gold Medal today. Here is a moving account of their exploits.
Posted by Veith at 07:10 AM
Casting down the idol
Well, the openly Christian and smart-guy Chris Sligh got voted off the island. That’s OK. He wasn’t going to win–though I heard he was the early betting favorite–and it’s time for him to go back to his family. It was probably kind of embarrassing for him to do all of that commercial hype, such as Ford truck music videos, but I’m sure making it into the top ten will give him a successful career.
Posted by Veith at 07:06 AM
March 28, 2007
The Glory and Honor of the Nations
Fine discussions, as always, in the comments on this blog, and I appreciate the new contributors. In the “Cities” thread–on how Heaven is described as a city–wmcwirla quotes the Book of Revelation, including this gem, referring to the New Jerusalem:
“The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.” (21:26)
What do you think that refers to?
Posted by Veith at 06:56 AM
Idol Thoughts
Please excuse my continual comments on “American Idol.” If they annoy you, just skip them. But I’ve been drawn into the soap opera that is this show. But also I’m finding it interesting to watch these artists being asked to perform in different musical styles, which is a real test of artistic ability. Over the last two weeks, we’ve gone from 1960s-era British Invasion to the early 21st century constellation of styles surrounding Gwen Stefani’s “No Doubt.” I don’t think it is just my generational bias to say that the British Invasion songs held up better under all of these different treatments (a real test of a good song). I was impressed, though, that despite Gwen Stefani’s wild girl rocker image, she is actually a careful craftsman (craftswoman?), judging from the way she coached the novice Idolaters.
Posted by Veith at 06:02 AM
March 27, 2007
Of Cities
From my devotion for my students upon leaving New York City:
“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)
Many Christians share the agrarian view that rural or small town life is morally superior to life in the big city, that cities are places of corruption and temptation. And so they are, though there is sin enough in the country.
And yet, the Bible describes the paradise that awaits us as a City. We had our agrarian paradise back in Eden, a lone family, all by ourselves, surrounded by natural beauty. And that was indeed good, something to long for, now that it was lost. But to yearn for that kind of paradise is to look back. The paradise to come will be a City. The New Jerusalem will be inhabited by multitudes, from every nation and tongue. it will also be beautiful, but in a different way than Eden, with streets, walls, gates, mansions, and Bright Light.
St. Augustine wrote of the City of Man and the City of God. The City of Man, he said, is motivated by the love of self. We certainly see that in a metropolis like New York, with everyone hustling, everyone climbing up the career ladder, playing the vast economic network grounded in the quite-legitimate pursuit of one’s rational self-interest. The City of God, though, said Augustine, is motivated by the love of God. Luther would emphasize that this must also entail the love of neighbor. So the City of God is about God’s design that we should not be alone, that we should exist in a state of mutual dependence on each other–on God and on our fellow human beings serving each other in our diverse vocations–and that we should all be individualized members of one Body, as imaged in the Church.
These two Cities are superimposed on each other in our life here on earth, in cities like New York, where we see both sin and greatness, the self unbound and teeming multitudes huddled together. We can see glimpses of something higher. But this city, like everything else in our earthly lives including the country, will not last. We seek the City to come.
Posted by Veith at 07:06 AM
British Invasion
Back from the big city, while doing other things, I am playing my Tivo’d “American Idol.” The prescribed style last week was “British Invasion,” with coaching of these young singers (many of whom have never heard this music) done by Peter Noone, a.k.a. Herman of the Hermits, and Lulu, a.k.a. the girl who sang “To Sir with Love.” I had forgotten how good that music was. I mean is. The Kinks! The Zombies! Those were the tunes of my adolescence, and the songs, even as rendered by these whippersnappers, brought back so many teenage memories and associations.
Unlike many of my peers, I have tried to grow in my musical tastes. But it’s kind of pleasant to take a brief vacation back into time and back into childhood. Even Herman’s Hermits, while at the time I sort of scorned, I now appreciate for their sweet adolescent romantic sensibility: “There’s a kind of HUSH. All over the World. Tonight.” But I need to get a Zombies album.
Posted by Veith at 06:48 AM
March 23, 2007
Spamalot! Spamalot! In a most convenient spot.
I did indeed see Spamalot. Words, for once, fail me. It was hilarious. Yes, it erred on the vulgar side. It made fun of the Middle Ages, Marxism, Jews, Gays, the Church (we’d better get used to that company)–also the French, the Finns, and anyone else who came around, but in a rather sweet way. It had all of the good parts of the movie: Bring out your dead! (But I’m not dead yet!); the killer rabbits; the lines David Landry cited; the sword fight in which the Knight had his arms and legs cut off but kept fighting. In addition, it laid on a postmodern self-referential meta-fiction theme making fun of Broadway. (Songs about the kinds of songs all Broadway plays have; the Lady of the Lake singing about not having much of a part in the second act; a song about how to succeed on Broadway “you have to have a Jew”–oh, yes, Spamalot is a musical. I still have some of those silly songs going on in my head, such as the one about looking on the brighter side of life (including a verse about looking on the brighter side of death). It was something completely different.
Posted by Veith at 04:50 PM
Just don’t believe it; don’t reinterpret it
Some Muslim feminists have put out a new translation of the Koran, reinterpreting some of the language regarding wife-beating, etc., so that the Muslim holy book is more positive towards women. I oppose this for the same reason I oppose attempts to “reinterpret” the Bible. If you don’t believe what it says, don’t do violence to the expressed and objective meaning of the book. Respect it enough not to believe it.
It has been said that the Lutheran approach to scripture opposes interpretation. Susan Sonntag wrote a work of literary criticism “Against Interpretation.” I understand the sense in which interpretation seems to be inevitable, but I think that impulse needs to be resisted. Take it word for word, work to understand it, but do not replace an interpretation for the text, especially an interpretation that favors one’s agenda, which should always be suspect.
Posted by Veith at 04:38 PM
A Test-case for Multiculturalism
Despite the post below, I am by no means saying that different cultural family practices should be tolerated in this country or in Western civilization. A country has to have and defend its own culture, which is going to be shaped by, though not be identical with, its religious heritage. Here in the West, though, we have rejected our culture in favor of multi-culture. Now, in Europe, we have a judge who, in the name of multi-culturalism, finds herself unable to rule against wife-beating.
A German judge has refused to enforce her country’s laws against spousal abuse because the Koran allows for wife-beating, and, after all, the couple in the case before her, are Moroccans.
Posted by Veith at 10:42 AM
A Test-case for Christianity & Culture
Polygamy, though illegal, is growing in the United States. Not just among Mormon sects, but even more so in places like New York City, with its vast numbers of African immigrants, many of whom bring their custom of having multiple wives with them into the new world.
One challenge missionaries have of bringing Christianity to Africans–and, by extension, one might deduce, Islamic countries–is that they teach one wife only. Often, I am told, missionaries will not baptize a convert until he puts away all but one of his wives. But that seems excessively cruel to the wives that get rejected, not to mention violating the Biblical teaching that God hates divorce.
Conversely, Islam is appealing to tribal Africans because it lets them keep their wives.
The Bible does not rule out polygamy, as such, except for men in pastoral or church leadership roles. Marriage is a kingdom of the left issue, so Christianity could accomodate different national customs. If Christianity is to be applied across cultures, shouldn’t it allow polygamy in cultures where that family structure prevails? In the meantime, we would and should still keep it illegal in America.
Many Christians talk about relating to the culture, but by that they are usually talking about something as small as mere cultural artifacts, such as music. But music isn’t culture. Family is culture.
On what basis can a missionary in Africa tell a convert that he has to divorce two of his three wives? (Now, obviously, this requirement has not held back the Gospel all that much, since the church in Africa is booming.)
I do not intend to be advancing a position on this question, I’m just trying to think it through and asking for help.
Posted by Veith at 10:24 AM
March 22, 2007
Temptations of the Big City
I’m in New York with our Patrick Henry College students who are tearing it up at the Model United Nations. Bolstered by their Classical Christian Liberal Arts education, they are leading the discussions in their caucus groups and–SINCE UNLIKE MOST OF THEIR PEERS, THEY KNOW HOW TO WRITE!–they are the ones composing the position papers.
Our hotel is right on Broadway. Across the street is a theater playing Monty Python’s “Spamalot”! I don’t think I can resist that.
Posted by Veith at 09:59 AM
Culture war in American Idol
Stephanie Edwards gets voted off “American Idol”? She was in my top four. We are moving into the phase in which “high culture” (grounded in talent and achievement) and “pop culture” (grounded in mere popularity) go into conflict. There are millions of crying little girls voting for Sanjaya because he is so cute and sweet. Can the artistry of a Melinda Doolittle compete with that?
Lately, our culture has been going for pop culture every time. Indeed, for many Americans, pop culture is the only culture they have!
Posted by Veith at 09:48 AM
Politics and phony moralism
Here is a very different case of someone being asked to repent for something that (1) he didn’t do; and (2) is not even wrong. The identity of the person who created that “1984” video depicting Hillary Clinton as “Big Brother,” which we linked to recently, was discovered. It turns out, he is a surf in a company contracted to do Barack Obama’s web-hosting. Now he has lost his job (why?) and Obama is being accused of violating his pledge to run a clean campaign. Even though everyone knows he had nothing to do with this guerilla video and that there is nothing “dirty” about it.
The larger issue is that this is an example of a faux moralism that politicians are playing, trying to spin the other guy into being some awful person due to the most minor of gaffes, and trying to spin themselves into models of virtue, even though they regularly transgress in far more important matters. This is one reason why the public has, rightly, become cynical of the political process, and it threatens our system of self-government.
Posted by Veith at 09:34 AM
March 21, 2007
The Golden Age of Puzzling?
Have you been infected with the Sudoku virus, playing that puzzle where you fill in squares with the numbers 1 through 9? I have, finding it an intriguing time-killer while waiting in airports. It turns out, the Japanese company that made this game a world-wide sensation (though it was invented by an American) has 250 other puzzles on that same order. The linked article makes the point that crossword puzzles don’t work well in Japanese because that language uses three different writing systems at more or less the same time. So they gravitate more to games involving numbers, which, along with logic, work in ALL languages. (So much for postmodernist cultural relativism. A Sudoku grid, at least, gives a culturally-transcendent objective truth.)
Read too this appreciative review of these games by crossword puzzle guru Will Shortz, who explains some of these other Japanese games, helps account for their popularity, and concludes, “We are living in puzzling’s golden age right now.”
Posted by Veith at 10:17 AM
Repenting for what we didn’t do
Stanley Fish, the postmodernist critic and theorist (and fellow George Herbert scholar!), takes up the issue of legislative bodies apologizing for slavery (as the state of Virginia did and as George is now considering). The main argument against doing that is that these particular lawmakers and the state citizens currently living have never owned slaves, so how can they apologize for a transgression they have never committed?
But Fish points out that continuing institutions have a collective, historical continuity. Supreme Court decisions citing precedents will read, “we ruled in 1878,” even though at that time the current justicies were not involved. Legislators too begin with the sum total of historical laws, which they then add to or sometimes repeal.
Fish doesn’t deal with the question of should these legislatures apologize for slavery, but he does point us to something we rugged individualists often forget, that we have a collective identity. Theologically, isn’t it true that we exist not only in ourselves, but collectively–as part of the fallen human race (so that we are guilty of Adam’s fall, even though none of us ate the fruit)and as members of Christ’s Church (so that we have been redeemed by His paying the penalty for all of our collective sins which He bore on the Cross and have been engrafted as individual organs in His church)?
_(Here is his article, though subscription is required.)
Posted by Veith at 09:30 AM
Where even the beggars are expensive
I find myself in New York City, drafted at the last minute to help chaperone 27 of our students who are competing at the Model United Nations. Prices are notoriously high in New York City. Last night a panhandler approached me and said, “Hey, buddy, can you spare $100?”
Everywhere else panhandlers ask if you can spare some change! I realize this sounds like a line from a comedy routine, but it actually happened. I understand, though. He’s got a lot of overhead.
Posted by Veith at 09:07 AM
March 20, 2007
Pork for Peace
To win votes for their bill to pull American troops out of Iraq by August 31, 2008, Democrats in Congress are attaching millions of dollars worth of “earmarks” to fund pet projects of wavering Congressmen. Even some Republicans say that it will be hard to vote against a measure that will rain down federal dollars on their districts. So what we have is buying votes with tax-dollars. Whatever your view of the war, isn’t this corrupt?
Posted by Veith at 08:26 AM
If homosexuality is innate
Theologian Al Mohler has stirred up anger on all sides for taking seriously the notion that homosexuality might indeed be genetic. Many Christians are attacking him because they insist that homosexuality has to be a choice, if it is to be morally wrong. People in favor of gay rights are also attacking him, even though he is saying that he might agree with them that homosexuality might be an innate physical condition. This is because he goes on to suggest that if it is, it might be preventable with genetic engineering or in-the-womb treatments. But Dr. Mohler emphatically rejects what is probably far more likely, the abortion of “gay fetuses.”
Isn’t it true that ALL SIN is, in an important way, genetic? That is, a function of original sin and our fallen flesh? It isn’t choice that makes something sinful; indeed, our very wills are in bondage to sin. Since that is true, I don’t think there can be a genetic cure of homosexuality or any other sin. What we all need is forgiveness, grace, the blood of Jesus. The only obstacle to that grace and forgiveness is the strange insistence on the part of many gay people today is that what they do is GOOD, that they are NOT sinners. Again, as for many others today, It is not their sin but their self-righteousness that, tragically, keeps them from the Cross.
Posted by Veith at 07:04 AM
Candidates try YouTube
The internet should make for free political advertising, right? Candidates are trying to use the new media, but they don’t quite get it. YouTube has a whole channel for election-related clips. But while candidates are posting long speeches and highly-produced ads, the ones that are getting all of the viewings are the bloopers, satires, and embarrassing moments. Hillary Clinton’s earnest “Roadmap out of Iraq” has received only 15,000 hits, but her off-key singing of the national anthem has had 1.1 million hits. John Edwards’ official campaign video has been outstripped by a spoof showing him combing his hair to the tune of “I Feel Pretty.” I don’t think this is intrinsic shallowness on the part of the viewing public, just the nature of the medium, which favors the spontaneous and humorous. As a college student who successfully posts on YouTube explains to the politicians, “The Web isn’t TV.”
But might this video from from some unauthorized Barack Obama supporter change the Democratic primaries by rendering Hillary Clinton uncool?
Posted by Veith at 06:42 AM
March 19, 2007
China is too still communist
In response to comments on the communism post a few days ago: China is, indeed, still communist. According to Marxism, a society must go through a “bourgeois” stage of capitalism before true socialism is possible. (Marx was very “free market” in believing that the free economy eventually would lead to communism.) Russia and Maoist China tried to jump from a medieval-type economy right to socialism, which was why, according to Marxist theory, they failed. According to their theoreticians, China’s communist party–which still rules with an iron fist–sees the current free market phase in their economy as a step to a genuine communism.
As for the notion that free market prosperity will eventually lead to democracy, I question that. Surely, judging from citizen participation and political vitality, democracy is at a low point in our country today, despite our unparalleled affluence. Material prosperity can encourage fashion conformity, status quo satisfaction, and complacent materialism, all of which can go quite well with an authoritarian government. Material prosperity can, in fact, funciton as the opiate of the people.
Posted by Veith at 06:25 AM
The Parable of the Prodigal FATHER
It was good to be back at St. Athanasius. And, as always, the sermon was profound. Pastor Douthwaite preached on the parable of the Prodigal Son. He pointed out that “prodigal” means extravagant. While one son was prodigal in his sin and the other son was prodigal in his self-righteousness, the most prodigal person in the whole story is the father, whose extravagant love embraced them both.
The sermon then took a startling turn, as Pastor contrasted those two sons (who are like us) with our prodigally-gracious Father’s only begotten Son. And just as the Prodigal Father prepared a feast for his prodigal sons, Our extravagantly gracious Father has prepared a Feast for us, which we in the congregation then enjoyed in Holy Communion.
Do you have any sermon or church epiphanies to report?
Posted by Veith at 06:16 AM
March 16, 2007
Theologians begetting baseball players
As recent blog discussions have established, Lutherans are not much represented in politics, even though they can have surprisingly hip tastes in music. But there may also be a link between Lutheran theology and baseball. The progeny of at least two hard-core Lutheran theologians have become major league baseball players.
Thanks to Rebellious Pastor’s Wife for this great post on Bill Wambsganns, who played 2nd base for the Cleveland Indians and in 1920 made the only UNASSISTED triple play in World Series history. He was not only a Lutheran, but he had thought about going to seminary and attended what was then Concordia College in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. (Good vocation example: he was pursuing a “call” to the ministry, but then he received instead a “call” to be a baseball player. Isn’t that legitimate?) I assumed that was why the gymnasium at today’s Ft. Wayne seminary is called such an unpronouncable and unspellable name as “Wambsganns Gym.” And maybe it was. (Does anyone know?) But my daughter the deaconness student tells me that Bill’s father was Philipp Wambsganns, a pioneering Lutheran pastor who set up hospitals, established the church’s charity work, and promoted the vocation of deaconness. (He had another son, Philipp, Jr., who continued a lot of this work.) Pastor Wambsganns the elder was also said to be a big baseball fan.
And now I have learned that Scott Linebrink, a pitcher for the San Diego Padres, not only attends an LCMS church but is the great-grandson of the encyclopedic Lutheran theologian Francis Pieper! (He is the author of the four-volume Christian Dogmatics.)
Posted by Veith at 06:02 AM
Law of God vs. Law of the State
Here is an intriguing discussion of Two Kingdoms theology from someone who has to practice it in his vocation. It’s from commenter Kerner, on the post about the general who said homosexuality is immoral, and it’s worth all of us thinking about:
OK, my vocation is the law, so I spend a good deal of time wrangling with the left hand kingdom, and part of the issue here has to do with the respective natures and purposes of the two kingdoms.
The way we look at sin in the right hand kingdom has to do with righteousness before God. In the right kingdom the law is a single standard and all of us fall short. Also, God, who knows our hearts, does not, in His perfect justice, distinguish between sins that stay in our hearts and those that have some outward manifestation. For example, in Matthew 5, Jesus condemns all sin and says that lust is as bad as adultery, and that hatred/wrath and namecalling are as bad as murder. The wages of any sin is death/hell, and I don’t think we are meant to try to stratify hell. It is utterly futile for us to argue about which of us would be more or less miserable if we got what was coming to us in the absence of forgiveness and redemption.
In the left hand kingdom, the purpose of the law is much different. You can’t punish a person for all his sinful thoughts, because all of us would be continually punishing each other constantly all day long. In the left hand kingdom we have to limit the law to its purpose of discouraging those sins that do temporal damage to the functioning of an organized society. This means protecting the lives and physical well being of that society’s members, and protecting their property. Sexual morality becomes a kind of a gray area in the left-hand kingdom. Society has an interest in protecting the integrity of the family, which is the basic social unit, and unrestrained sexuality threatens the family. How much punishment a society wants to assign to various sins that threaten the integrity of the family varies with the circumstances, I think. The Mosaic Law is not a bad guide, but in it the punishment for rape was for the perpetrator to marry his victim; the punishment for persistant disrespect for parents was stoning to death. When looking at the various punishments that God imposed on the children of Israel through Moses, I think the Mosaic Law was more particularly tailored to the social needs of that people at that time than we often think. That may also be why Jesus said that the divorce laws of Moses’ day were what they were because of “the hardness of your hearts”, and then preached a more restrictive moral standard. It may also be why the Mosaic Law imposed health and dietary regulations we don’t observe today.
I could ramble for a long time on this, but you get the idea.
One more thing. C.S. Lewis has written that the worst sins are purely spiritual. What he meant by worst was most likely to result in sending you to hell. His examples included that someone who lost his temper for a moment of blind rage and killed another person was much more likely to repent and be forgiven than someone who (without acting on it) nursed his hatred for someone else, day after day, until he was consumed by his hatred and his heart was hardened against the Holy Spirit. Yet, the left hand kingdom would punish the guy who lost his temper for a moment (but did some temporal damage), but the left hand kingdom would leave the persistent hater completely alone.
Posted by Veith at 05:56 AM
One side wins, the other side loses
Thanks to Manxman for posting this quotation from Pat Buchanan on the controversy that blew up when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that homosexuality was “immoral”:
What this uproar tells us is that America is no longer a moral community. On the most fundamental issues – abortion, promiscuity, homosexuality, euthanasia, sterilization, cloning, and the creation of, and buying and selling of, fetuses for research – we are at war. What part of the nation sees as progress, the other sees as depravity.
And where there is no moral community, there will not long be one country. For in a religious or culture war, there is no peaceful coexistence.
One side wins, the other side loses.
Doesn’t a society have to have some kind of moral consensus? Isn’t that what defines a particular society or culture, an underlyiing commonality of some sort? One can have a society with multiple religions, but multiple moralities? Or denying any kind of morality at all?
Posted by Veith at 05:43 AM
March 15, 2007
Communism is back
Maoist rebels in India massacred 49 police officers, seizing a large arms supply, which they will no doubt use. Maoist! Even China isn’t Maoist anymore! But radical Marxist insurgents seem to have come back in vogue in other parts of Asia, the Phillippines, and, of course, Latin America, where they have seized power in Venezuela and apparently Nicaragua. And China, lest we forget, is still communist. My fear is that the commissars of China may have crafted a version of communism that works economically, which has turned that country into a powerhouse. So it is not just Islamo-fascism that we need to worry about, but also neo-communism.
Posted by Veith at 07:30 AM
Dress like an adult
Our comrade on this blog, novelist Lars Walker, has written a piece both humorous and provocative for American Spectator on the way we adults, 1960’s refugees as we are, dress. You’ll want to read the whole thing. Here is a brief sample:
Throughout history each generation has heard the complaint, “Young people today have no manners! They don’t respect their elders!”
Today, for the first time in history, the young people have a reasonable and incontrovertible response: “We don’t respect you because you look like a bunch of clowns.”
The baseball caps (especially when turned backwards — who do you think you’re kidding?), the voluminous shorts that so effectively showcase our varicose veins, the tee-shirts that limn so elegantly our bloated bellies and sagging chests, all these are, it seems to me, marks of a civilization rapidly headed for the assisted living facility. We show disrespect to ourselves when we go around dressed like kids in an Our Gang movie short. (I suspect we’re all pathologically imprinted on Spanky and Alfalfa. Saturday morning television has much to answer for.) It’s a silent cry for help, this manner of dress, a semiotic appeal for some long-dead grownup to come upstairs from the grave and save us from the ugliness we’ve created for ourselves.
Posted by Veith at 07:07 AM
The trouble with blogs
Rich Shipe writes:
I enjoy reading your blog and occasionally adding my thoughts to the discussion. I’ve got something you might consider posting for discussion. I was reading in Proverbs the other day and I think I found the blogosphere theme verse! Proverbs 18:2: “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” (NIV) Doesn’t that just sum it all up from across the whole political spectrum? Has there ever been a time in the history of the world where more people have simultaneously delighted in airing their own opinion? I appreciate that your writing tone expresses humility and the desire to “listen” to your readership. So I would certainly put the Cranach blog into the exception list. 🙂
I think it’s good that people now have a forum for expressing their opinions, so that they don’t have to own a printing press to do so. But of course that opens the door for “foolishness.” I do think the comment feature is a healthy antidote, though so often–in other blogs, not this one–commenters are just vile, perhaps illustrating the proverb. Can anyone think of any other Biblical injunctions that apply to blogs?
Posted by Veith at 06:57 AM
March 14, 2007
Something else you can’t say
A Marine general, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is under attack for daring to say that homosexuality is immoral.
Posted by Veith at 08:13 AM
American Idol & Vocation
Music fans tend to be fixated on stars, the frontman or frontwoman with the picture on the album cover who gets credited for the hits. Music, however, also requires musicians. Some stars are indeed musicians, while others are not so much. But the quality and nature of the music depends on the people playing in the band and producing the records.
A good studio musician is typically anonymous to the general public, playing whatever gigs he gets offered, mastering any style the producer calls for. My old guitar teacher was like that. His love was jazz, but he played with whatever big star who came through Milwaukee and needed a guitarist or a bass player. He played rock. He played country. He played with big bands. He played in symphonies. He played polkas. He could do it all. He was a real pro. His vocation was that of a musician.
American Idol sensation Melinda Doolittle is a “backup singer,” and the storyline has to do with her ascension to the front of the stage, with backup singers of her own. But she is a professional musician, and, boy, does it show against all of the amateurs. (Her rival, LaKisha, is a true story of an amateur ascending to great artistic heights. She is a musician too, having those talents and that calling. Her performances will make her a professional musician.) Some might say that Idol should not permit professionals to compete, that it isn’t fair. (Brandon too is a backup singer.) A rule change might be in order. But, in the meantime, I salute Melinda as an exemplar of the doctrine of vocation–note her selflessness and humility compared to the prima donnas who only want to be stars–and hope she wins.
Posted by Veith at 07:51 AM
March 13, 2007
The Anglo in the WASP
The great Lutheran journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto has written about how strange it is that Lutherans are so under-represented in the corridors of political power and cultural influence, despite our large numbers. Despite too our theology, particularly the doctrine of vocation and the doctrine of the two kingdoms, which offer a blueprint for cultural engagement that other theologies are looking for but lack.
The Lutheran blogosphere is discussing the phenomenon, for example, at Cyberbrethren and Luther at the Movies.
I too bemoan Lutheran passivity, reticence, and obliviousness to their own theology. But here is another factor in why so few Lutherans get elected to political office and why people from other and often smaller denominations do: Social class.
Lutherans may be Saxons, but they are not ANGLO-Saxons. The heirs of the English-speaking colonists still, to a large degree, are the old money, the power elite, and the American aristocracy. They are the upper class in an egalitarian society. I do not intend this in any kind of Marxist sense, nor am I necessarily criticizing them for it. It isn’t just that the WASPs dominate the Ivy Leagues or the wealthy country clubs. WASPS consider America “theirs,” and they take to running things like the country with ease. And the religion of the WASPs is Episcopalian or Presbyterian.
And it isn’t just the upper classes. The religion of the Scotch-Irish, another English-speaking group of setlers, who settled the South especially, is Southern Baptist. And the Catholics who started the political machines were Irish, their numbers and political strength bolstered by other immigrants. This, I contend, is why Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Catholics are so numerous in Congress.
Lutherans, though, were immigrants, grateful for this country, but they really didn’t think of it as “theirs” in the same sense that those who were here before them could. And they were farmers, mostly, not even city folk. Many rose into the middle class, but they were small business owners, and even if they grew wealthy, their businesses demanded their attention, leaving them little time for interest in politics. And Lutherans ARE different from mainline American culture on many other levels as well.
Today, the conditions are different, and, as Uwe says, we have a moment, a “kairos,” that we would do well to seize. But the habits of mind in the Lutheran culture remain.
Posted by Veith at 07:59 AM
My take on “300”
I confess that I got a kick out of “300.” True, a lot of it was like watching someone else play a video game. The gore, which I usually dislike in a movie, did not bother me since the film was designed to look like a comic book–to the point of having globules of blood in the air; I was expecting to see thought balloons and big red lettering, “OOF!” and “AIEEE!” –so it was just “comic book violence.” And I did not realize that Persians, even Xerxes, were black! And had elephants. And rhinos. I think the filmmakers needed a geography lesson. The movie did show some of the phalanx formations, but most of the battle scenes still followed the conventions of the individual swordfight. The whole point of Greek battle tactics was the innovation of fighting in inexorable group formations, something that could be rendered very well using computer graphics, but isn’t.
Posted by Veith at 07:23 AM
No Depression quiz
In response to the various comments on the “No Depression” quiz:
I don’t have time for what you suggested, Paul S! Your list indeed includes some of my favorites, though some of them I have never heard of, but, given our common taste, I would probably like them.
Van Edwards wins the contest with the first correct answers. He wins a virtual (that is, imaginary) NEW CAR!
Steph, you too hit upon something, since the original song by the Carter family, written during the economic Depression, was about how in Heaven there will be NO DEPRESSION.
I’m glad to learn about Pastor Juhl and you other alt country fans.
Posted by Veith at 07:15 AM
March 12, 2007
No Depression
Speaking of depression, one of the magazines I read is entitled “No Depression.” Here is a quiz to see if any of this blog’s readers have the same quirky interests that I do: (1) What is that publication about? (2) Why is it called that? (3) Who is the original source?
Posted by Veith at 06:52 AM
Depression
A study of 14 nations found that America leads them all when it comes to depression [subscription required].
The study, jointly conducted by the World Health Organization and Harvard Medical School and based on more than 60,000 face-to-face interviews world-wide, found that 9.6% of Americans suffer from “bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder or chronic minor depression.” A whopping 18.2% of Americans were also found to be experiencing “mood and anxiety disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder and panic disorder.”
Mexicans, with a rate of 4.8%, are half as depressed as Americans are (so why do so many of them want to come to such a depressing place?). Violent, bombed-out Lebanon has a depression rate of only 6.6%. And, according to this study, the least-depressed place on earth is Nigeria, with a hardly traceable 0.8%.
So why are Nigerians–with their poverty, corrupt government, ethnic strife, and a standard of living far below that of America–are so happy, while we Americans, in all of our affluence and security, get depressed so easily?
Posted by Veith at 05:43 AM
The “Tomb” statistics
According to the documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” the odds for all of those names coming together to fit the profile of Jesus’s family is 600-1. Not so fast, says statistician Carl Bialek, the Wall Street Journal’s “Numbers Guy.” [subscription required]
But the one-in-600 calculation is based on many assumptions about the prevalence of the names and their biblical significance. For purposes of his calculations, Prof. Feuerverger relied on new scholarly research that links the inscription “Mariamene e Mara” with a name for Mary Magdalene. (The filmmakers suggest that she was Christ’s wife and that they are buried with a son, Judah — claims hotly denounced by traditional Christians.)
Had the professor assumed the inscription could be for any Mary, a very common name then, it would be far less likely that Christ’s family is in the tomb. The mathematical finding would become “statistically not significant,” Prof. Feuerverger tells me. Similarly, the name “Yose” — as one of Jesus’ four brothers was called in the Gospel of Mark — is a derivative of Yosef, another common name. There, too, the finding would be less conclusive if the professor had considered “Yose” applicable to any Yosef._Even if there was consensus on the interpretation of the names, there are no comprehensive records showing how frequently they occurred in the population at that time. Prof. Feuerverger relied on modern books about ossuaries and ancient texts to tally the occurrence of certain names in the area then. That falls far short of a complete census.
“As you pile on more assumptions, you’re building a house of cards,” says Keith Devlin, a Stanford mathematician and NPR’s “Math Guy.” (Scientific American also challenged the calculation on its Web site.)
Posted by Veith at 04:57 AM
March 09, 2007
Body of Work
Struggling with some software issues on this blog, I had to do something called “rebuild the site.” In doing so, I discovered that the Cranach blog has a total of 1,040 pages! That’s the equivalent of, say, five books! Shouldn’t I have been focusing my writing energy on writing five books?
Posted by Veith at 09:37 AM
Thermopylae
Tonight we are going to see “300,” the computer-generated dramatization of the Battle of Thermopylae. I hear that some people are interpreting the movie in terms of the current war, with some thinking Bush is Xerxes, a powerful nation invading a tiny country, and others thinking he is Leonidas, fighting for “freedom” against a Middle Eastern horde bent on conquering Western Civilization. Slate is scandalized that the movie is so. . .so warlike. It is “one of the few war movies I’ve seen in the past two decades that doesn’t include at least some nod in the direction of antiwar sentiment.”
I would like to remind the critics that the movie is about SPARTANS, for crying out loud, the most warlike culture ever. Also that their enemies are indeed PERSIANS, the ancestors of present day Iranians. This is history (though judging from the ads highly-fantasized history). The only connection to today is that the clash between Western civilization and Eastern civilizations goes back very, very far. And if those 300 Spartans did not hold off those millions of Persians, setting up Xerxes’ utter defeat at Salamis, Western civilization may have been strangled at its birth, and we would be living in a very different world.
Posted by Veith at 09:12 AM
Tomb of Jesus Post-Mortem
“The Lost Tomb of Jesus” documentary was a ratings hit for the Discovery Channel, but it did not hype its numbers in a press release, as is the usual practice; after the show ran, Discovery put on a panel of experts that trashed its own show; and the channel is refusing to re-run the documentary.
Posted by Veith at 09:04 AM
The Vocation of a Restaurant Owner
I find this inspiring. Loving and serving your neighbor in the restaurant business.
Posted by Veith at 08:57 AM
The Most Definitive Albums
The National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM), which represents over 7,000 music stores in the U.S., and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have compiled a list of the 200 “most definitive” albums. The top 10:
(1)The Beatles’ ”Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
(2) Pink Floyd’s ”The Dark Side of the Moon’
(3) Michael Jackson’s ”Thriller”
(4) Led Zeppelin’s ”Led Zeppelin IV”
(5) U2’s ”The Joshua Tree”
(6) the Rolling Stones’ ”Exile on Main Street’
(7) Carole King’s ”Tapestry”
(8) Bob Dylan’s ”Highway 61 Revisited”
(9) Beach Boy’s “Pet Sounds”
(10) Nirvana’s ”Nevermind”
That’s a good list. “Sgt. Pepper’s” certainly deserves its place at the top, since it pioneered the concept of a unified album, in which the songs tied together musically and thematically and the album as a whole was greater than the sum of its individual songs. Seven of the top 10 are from “my day,” and I’ve heard all but the last two.
My question: Can we deduce that this list was compiled by people in their 50’s? Or do younger music fans also acknowledge the greatness of these 1960’s and 1970’s musical icons? Or does the art form of the album even exist anymore in this age of musical downloads?
For the complete list of all 200, click here. Are there any notable omissions? (I didn’t see the Band’s “Music from Big Pink.”)
Posted by Veith at 07:39 AM
More on Chris Sligh and American Idolatry
Thanks to Jeremy Larson for linking us to American Idol contestant Chris Slighs blog. Not all of it is up anymore. He does have some theological musings. This notice is at the beginning:
“I am first and foremost a Christ-follower. I am also a rock star. I don’t feel the two are diametrically opposed. If you do…I feel bad for you.”
He did make the final 12 last night. But now we are seeing injustice. Sanjaya obviously has legions of little girls who consider him cute, so he made it despite his weak voice, and instead the talented, bluesy Sundance Head got cut. And that girl whose name neither Simon nor I can remember made it–Haley, that’s it–while Sabrina with her good voice had to go home.
The very best made it through, though. Including, I might point out, all that I predicted from the very beginning of the contest. That is, Stephanie, Jordin, LaKisha, and–the one I predicted and predict will win it all–Melinda.
Posted by Veith at 05:36 AM
March 08, 2007
Exploding Political Stereotypes
I do like it when stereotypes get exploded, as in the two blog entries below. Here is another: Jonah Goldberg writes about how the current Republican presidential candidates violate all of the stereotypes about Republicans, that red-state party supposedly taken over by the theocrats. We have the former mayor of NEW YORK CITY, with his liberal values, leading the pack, including with evangelical voters. We have another former governor of MASSACHUSETTS getting the endorsement of the CPAC movement conservatives. And we have the ideological “maverick” despised by movement conservatives standing up most forthrightly for conservative issues.
Posted by Veith at 09:24 AM
Chris Sligh, Christian idol
As one of our commenters put us on to, it is true that Chris Sligh–the funny, hip, afroed chubby singer on American Idol–is an evangelical Christian, the son of missionaries and a Bob Jones University drop-out who leads the music at his church. Now there is a role-model for Christians who want to influence the culture. Seriously. There is no reason why Christians have to seem fake, why they cannot be original, why they have to seem so unsophisticated.
(Not that this is a reason to vote for him. Probably other contestants are Christians too. And this is a singing contest, so aesthetic and not theological standards must prevail. I still think Melinda Doolittle is the best. I am impressed that even Paul McCain agrees with me. But Chris Sligh has always been my favorite among the guys, even before I knew of his open Christianity.)
Posted by Veith at 07:38 AM
Our Kumbayah Moments
If you don’t read the comments, you are missing the best feature of this blog. Once again, I commend you readers and commenters. I just knew that our ongoing discussion of Christianity and politics would lead to breaking down barriers and the discovery of fundamental agreements. I am happy to see that the liberal tODD and the conservative Manxman actually agree on an issue usually so intractable as economics: Both think our economy should be protected from Wal-Mart.
Puzzled also agrees with them in denouncing Wal-Mart and everything it stands for, though from a completely different perspective: He is advocating the economic theory known as “Distributism”, which defies categorizing as either left or right. It is leftist in its desire to put the means of production into the hands of the workers, but it is right in its Catholicism and–yes, to make another tie-in–its grounding in NATURAL LAW, which Puzzled otherwise decries. Distributism, pushed by G. K. Chesterton, is indeed an interesting attempt to come up with a “Christian” approach to economics.
Though many of you readers still favor free market economics, yesterday’s discussions opened up a broader unity. The Democrat (and confessional Christian) tODD expresses a sentiment that I believe Republicans, Libertarians, Constitutionalists, Greens, and Distributists who read this blog can all share and that brings us together despite our healthy diversity: an antipathy for Hillary Clinton.
Now, in your mind, everyone gather into a big circle and join me in song: Kumbayah, my Lord. Kum. ba. yah. . . ”
Posted by Veith at 07:04 AM
March 07, 2007
Natural law, one more time
Lars Walker, citing C. S. Lewis, is right, that “natural law” refers to “human nature.” Also to the view of reality allowing that kind of terminology, that humans have a “nature,” something that existentialists and postmodernists reject. In this sense, “Nature” has to do with “essence,” as in “the nature of societies” and “the nature of genetic engineering.” To go back to the original argument, I maintain that “the nature” of a living organism is to be found in its genetic code and that it violates the “nature” of human beings” and the “nature” of rice to combine them. But, after some cursory research, I find that not all natural law ethicists go that far, finding moral difficulty only when cross-species “chimera” violate “identity.” What I punningly called the human rice is still identifiably rice. If the rice we engineer has little hands and feet and cries out when we boil it, we are at another level.
Here is a helpful article contrasting secular ethics with natural law ethics in their approach to life issues. It is from an unabashedly Roman Catholic point of view, but, I was proud to see that it uses our own great Lutheran ethicist Gilbert Meilander to shoot down the secularists. (At the Cranach institute’s conference on marriage, I heard him describe his own approach in terms of natural law. [His paper is not available online]. Note how he treats bioethics.)
Posted by Veith at 09:01 AM
Obama and the Joshua Generation
Check out Barack Obama’s speech at the Civil Rights commemoration at Selma, Alabama. As was common in the early days of the Civil Rights movement, the speech–or, perhaps, sermon–is saturated in Scripture. Obama even refers to “the Joshua Generation,” which is what conservative Christians have been calling the rising generation of Christian young people (using it in a different sense, of course). And he has some good moral exhorations. Some samples:
One of the signature aspects of the civil rights movement was the degree of discipline and fortitude that was instilled in all the people who participated. Imagine young people, 16, 17, 20, 21, backs straight, eyes clear, suit and tie, sitting down at a lunch counter knowing somebody is going to spill milk on you but you have the discipline to understand that you are not going to retaliate because in showing the world how disciplined we were as a people, we were able to win over the conscience of the nation. I can’t say for certain that we have instilled that same sense of moral clarity and purpose in this generation. Bishop, sometimes I feel like we’ve lost it a little bit.
I’m fighting to make sure that our schools are adequately funded all across the country. With the inequities of relying on property taxes and people who are born in wealthy districts getting better schools than folks born in poor districts and that’s now how it’s supposed to be. That’s not the American way. but I’ll tell you what — even as I fight on behalf of more education funding, more equity, I have to also say that , if parents don’t turn off the television set when the child comes home from school and make sure they sit down and do their homework and go talk to the teachers and find out how they’re doing, and if we don’t start instilling a sense in our young children that there is nothing to be ashamed about in educational achievement, I don’t know who taught them that reading and writing and conjugating your verbs was something white.
We’ve got to get over that mentality. That is part of what the Moses generation teaches us, not saying to ourselves we can’t do something, but telling ourselves that we can achieve. We can do that. We got power in our hands. Folks are complaining about the quality of our government, I understand there’s something to be complaining about. I’m in Washington. I see what’s going on. I see those powers and principalities have snuck back in there, that they’re writing the energy bills and the drug laws.
We understand that, but I’ll tell you what. I also know that, if cousin Pookie would vote, get off the couch and register some folks and go to the polls, we might have a different kind of politics. That’s what the Moses generation teaches us. Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes. Go do some politics. Change this country! That’s what we need. We have too many children in poverty in this country and everybody should be ashamed, but don’t tell me it doesn’t have a little to do with the fact that we got too many daddies not acting like daddies. Don’t think that fatherhood ends at conception.
So wouldn’t you rather have him than Hillary?
Posted by Veith at 07:44 AM
Viva Wal-Mart!
Wal-Mart is a villain to many Americans, including some conservatives who lament its impact on small businesses and some liberals who oppose the mega-corporation for its low wages. But, according to this article (subscription required), Wal-Mart has become something of a folk hero to poor Mexicans.
When a Wal-Mart comes to town, the most impoverished Mexicans rejoice. Now they can have access to products that improve their quality of life at prices they can afford. Mexico’s consumer goods tend to be drastically over-priced so that only the wealthy can afford them. But Wal-Mart’s prices are so low that even poor people can afford microwave ovens and other applicances. And Wal-Mart’s food prices are seen as a God-send for Mexicans struggling to live at a subsistence level. In the tortilla crisis we blogged about earlier, due to the high price of corn driven up by the ethanol craze, Wal-Mart has been able to sell tortillas at the old price, because of long-term contracts the company scored with corn producers. Also, going into a Wal-Mart store allows poor people to experience luxuries such as air conditioning. And apparently, the Mexican branch–known as Wal-Mex–is especially sensitive to local cultures, using non-Spanish local languages and hiring villagers at wages that, while low by American standards, are high by local standards, preventing them from feeling like they need to head to America to improve their lives.
But doesn’t Wal-Mart harm local businesses? Well, yes, but the poor Mexicans like Wal-Mart for that too, since many of the local businesses are controlled by corrupt government cronies who sell bad merchandise for exorbitant prices in a state-controlled economy.
Posted by Veith at 06:44 AM
March 06, 2007
Art imitates commercials
The Geico cavemen are going to get their own TV show (subscription required). It will be a sitcom about Gap-clad cavemen battling the prejudice of the modern world. Though I might decry the way TV has to turn to its commercials for creative inspiration, if the producers can capture the nuance of the Geico commercials, such a show would have great promise. At the very least, it would jolt the sitcom genre into something new, as opposed to the current dull and ceaselessly-repeating formulas having to do with dysfunctional families, workplace humor, and young adults on the make.
Posted by Veith at 08:02 AM
Marriage and Social Class
According to a study of census figures, only one out of four households in America is made up of a married couple with children. That’s half what it was in 1960, the lowest ever recorded. Those numbers include lots of aging baby boomer empty nesters, so they hardly signal the end of the family. But the statistics do reveal that the institution of marriage is in trouble. Specifically, marriage is becoming a class marker. College-educated, affluent couples are still getting married and even staying married. But working place couples are just living together and having children out of wedlock.
As marriage with children becomes an exception rather than the norm, social scientists say it is also becoming the self-selected province of the college-educated and the affluent. The working class and the poor, meanwhile, increasingly steer away from marriage, while living together and bearing children out of wedlock.
“The culture is shifting, and marriage has almost become a luxury item, one that only the well educated and well paid are interested in,” said Isabel V. Sawhill, an expert on marriage and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Marriage has declined across all income groups, but it has declined far less among couples who make the most money and have the best education. These couples are also less likely to divorce. Many demographers peg the rise of a class-based marriage gap to the erosion since 1970 of the broad-based economic prosperity that followed World War II.
“We seem to be reverting to a much older pattern, when elites marry and a great many others live together and have kids,” said Peter Francese, demographic trends analyst for Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising firm.
So the phenomenon of the proletariat not bothering to get married is not new. There was, however, the concept of “common law marriage” (based on the natural law) that considered couples who live together for a long period of time–and especially if they had children–to have legal obligations to each other and to their children. Shouldn’t we bring that back?
Posted by Veith at 07:57 AM
Natural Law
Wow, judging from the comments on my “Human Rice” post, Catholics must be the only ones who still teach and operate from a “natural law” approach to moral issues. What most of you commenters were saying about “Nature” and what is “Natural” has nothing to do with natural law ethics, which does NOT mean just following what birds, bees, and trees do. That is the romantic view of nature, which classical thought rejects utterly.
Perhaps we should replace the term “nature,” with its associations of the great outdoors, with “reality.” The assumption is that we exist in an objective, hard-edged universe with requirements of its own. (Postmodernists, of course, refuse to go even this far, assuming that reality is not “given,” but a construction of culture or of ourselves.) In this “real world,” life has to preserve itself (which is why self-defense is an axiom of natural law), it has to reproduce itself (which is why we have sex and the family and why the misuse of sex violates natural law), etc., etc.
Of course we are able to transgress natural law, and animals, having only instinct and lacking reason, are often the worst offenders. When a tropical fish eats its young, it is being unnatural, as is an abusive or neglectful human parent.
I guess we have to have recourse to the Catholic Encyclopedia to explain. Take away the distinctly Roman Catholic notions and you will have something like Luther’s assumptions that lay behind his comment that we Christians are obligated to follow the Mosaic law only insofar as they correspond to the natural law.
Posted by Veith at 05:15 AM
March 05, 2007
The Secret
The latest reincarnation of New Age gnosticism is “the Secret,” preached in a book, a DVD, and on Oprah. The Secret to success and a happy life has to do with positive thinking, gratitude for what you have, and visualizing what you want. People are offering dramatic testimonies about how these techniques did, indeed, conjure up what they want. (Notice the very name it goes by and how the concept of “secrecy” has always been associated both with gnosticism and with the occult [a word which means “secret”]. Underlying it too is the notion, both postmodern and Hindu, that deep within, you are basically God, so that you can create your own reality.) Anyway, a recent feature on the phenomenon in a local newspaper reports that people are glomming onto it through the influence of their churches!
Posted by Veith at 09:52 AM
The new Generation Gap
“The Wall Street Journal” had an article about the plight of parents trying to cope with rebellious teenagers. The issue they are fighting over has nothing to do, though, with sex, drugs, & rock ‘n’ roll. The new generation gap is opening over religion. Secularist parents are having a fit over their kids being religious. The article is here,but subscription is required. I’ll post some excerpts:
They get upset. . .when Kevin explains that he doesn’t believe in evolution. “To me, this is appalling,” says his mother.
Clergy are in the difficult position of trying to guide young people toward devoutness without dishonoring their families. The reluctance of parents to accept their children’s choices can be a source of frustration for some youths and their pastors. “My joke is, they liked them better when they were on drugs,” says Pastor Peter La Joy.
Tom Lin’s parents, immigrants from Taiwan, sent him to Harvard University with the expectation he would become a corporate attorney. When he instead opted for a much lower-paying career in a Christian ministry, his mother threatened to kill herself, says Mr. Lin, 34, a regional director for InterVarsity, a college ministry that has 843 chapters in the U.S. Mr. Lin adds that both parents cut off all communication with him for seven years, reconnecting only after his mother was diagnosed with cancer. (She died in 2002.) Mr. Lin says his choices were “shaming” to the values held within many immigrant cultures. His parents “moved to America for material prosperity,” says Mr. Lin. “When [immigrants’] children forsake the very reason they came to this country, it’s particularly devastating.”
The article deals not just with Christianity, but also with orthodox Judaism and radical Islam, lumping them all together. It suggests that some of this can be chalked up to teenage rebellion. But what are we to think of this? Jesus did say that following Him may well mean forsaking one’s family. We should salute the faithful young people, but how does the doctrine of vocation fit into this? Luther went through something similar when he crushed his father’s dreams for him in becoming a monk. He felt all self-righteous about it at first, but later felt that he indeed had sinned against his father, neglecting the respect and obedience he owed him. Have any of you been through this, personally, in your acquaintances, or in your ministry? How should Christian teenagers treat their unbelieving parents?
Posted by Veith at 09:29 AM
March 02, 2007
Human rice
Let us apply Tickletext’s dictum that Christians ought to stop thinking in terms of “environment” and start thinking in terms of “nature.” Our theology speaks much of what is “natural,” and this can be a better foundation for thinking seriously about many contemporary issues than the secularists, with their romantic nature worship or (what is arguably worse) their utilitarianism.
Consider this case: The USDA has just approved a project for the commercial growing of rice with a human gene. The hybrid will produce a human protein that will be used to produce diarrhea medicine and possibly other applications.
Interestingly, the opponents quoted in the article can only object on utilitarian grounds: What if the human rice escapes from the Kansas compound? What if it isn’t safe? Well, going by “natural law,” it doesn’t matter if it is safe or not! Even if it is perfectly safe and cures diarrhea, human rice is UNNATURAL. The reason why most people rightly recoil from such a thought is that mingling species like this is intrinsically perverse. It is INNATELY wrong.
“Unnatural” in this theological sense does not mean going against nature the way we do every day when we heat our houses in the cold or take medicine to fight off sickness. Those are legitimate examples of our human dominion over nature. No, blending the genetic code of humanity with the genetic code of a plant is a VIOLATION of nature.
Such genetic engineering–and, I would add, reproductive engineering–is where Christians must draw the line. Perhaps on these issues they could make common cause with environmentalists.
And, remember, it’s not a question of whether such products are harmful or whether they will do a world of good. That is to think like a utilitarian, whose judgment about right or wrong rejects absolutes in favor of whether or not something is “useful.” That thinking, which many Christians have bought into, goes squarely against Biblical truth.
Posted by Veith at 06:36 AM
The Christian Right goes Liberal
Rudy Giuliani now holds a 2 to 1 lead over John McCain among Republicans, according to a recent poll, tripling his margin over where he stood just a month ago. Why? According to this Washington Post analysis, “The principal reason was a shift among white evangelical Protestants, who now clearly favor Giuliani over McCain. Giuliani is doing well among this group of Americans despite his support of abortion rights and gay rights, two issues of great importance to religious conservatives. McCain opposes abortion rights.”
So the Christian right is surging to the most liberal of all Republicans who opposes all of the social issues that people have assumed are most important to them! So much for single issue politics. So much for the pro-life vote.
There are solid pro-life candidates: Sam Brownback, Tommy Thompson. There is a true-blue evangelical candidate, whom I’ve heard good things about, Mike Huckabee. The only black mark against him among conservatives is that, as governor of Arkansas, he once raised taxes, though he’s got the Christian credentials. I know it’s early, but these guys as of yet seem to be getting little traction.
So, help me out here. Why would Christian conservatives be rallying to Rudy Giuliani?
Posted by Veith at 06:10 AM
Pop-archeology
The secularist archeological establishment is weighing in on James Cameron’s documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” to air Sunday night on the Discovery channel. To their credit–and reminding us that objective science is our friend–they are scornfully dismissing the claims that an excavated ossuary contained the remains of Jesus, His mother, and His wife, His son.
Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, expressed irritation that the claims were made at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers “have set it up as if it’s a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archaeology of this period have flatly rejected this,” she said.
Magness noted that at the time of Jesus, wealthy families buried their dead in tombs cut by hand from solid rock, putting the bones in niches in the walls and then, later, transferring them to ossuaries._She said Jesus came from a poor family that, like most Jews of the time, probably buried their dead in ordinary graves. “If Jesus’ family had been wealthy enough to afford a rock-cut tomb, it would have been in Nazareth, not Jerusalem,” she said.
Magness also said the names on the Talpiyot ossuaries indicate that the tomb belonged to a family from Judea, the area around Jerusalem, where people were known by their first name and father’s name. As Galileans, Jesus and his family members would have used their first name and home town, she said.
“This whole case [for the tomb of Jesus] is flawed from beginning to end,” she said.
Notice that real archeology DOES confirm and explain the practice described in the Bible about the rich man’s tomb in which Christ’s body was placed. This is very different from the Greek and Roman ways of burial, which should explode the allegation that the Gospels had a Greco-Roman origin.
Posted by Veith at 06:07 AM
March 01, 2007
21st century Baseball Strategy?
Thomas Boswell is a sports writer of note. He tells about how the Washington Nationals’ old coach, Frank Robintson, was old school in his baseball strategy. He hails the new coach, young Manny Acta, as bringing 21st century strategy. This approach rejects the sacrifice bunt, except for pitchers, and minimizes base stealing. It stresses defense, preferring to have lots of good fielders in the lineup rather than big hitters who can’t field so well. It also calls for pulling starting pitchers early.
“Studying a million games has proved that a guy on first base with no outs has a better chance of scoring than a man on second base with one out,” Acta added. So any non-pitcher who sacrifice bunts before the late innings is henceforth a mutineer.
This makes a certain amount of sense, but do you think 21st century baseball can be superior to “old school”?
Posted by Veith at 06:52 AM
Liberating Muslims with Britney Spears
Do you remember the Voice of America, the Cold War radio effort that broadcasted the case for freedom and democracy into Communist countries? In 2003, the U.S. government stopped funding Voice of America Arabia because it didn’t seem very effective. The thing is, though, the radio broadcasts had stopped talking about democratic ideology. Instead, they pumped into the Arab world American pop music. Why? Because the Clinton appointee that ran the place became convinced that Communism was brought down by MTV, that the moral license projected by the pop music industry is the same thing as freedom. Of course, what that did to moralistic Muslims was to make them hate us even more.
Robert R. Reilly, the former director of the VOA, tells the sad, embarrasing, and obtuse story:
In the spring of 2003, across a field of rubble in Baghdad, a young Iraqi journalist accosted me and demanded: “Why did you stop broadcasting substance and substitute music?” The year before the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the government entity in charge of radio broadcasting, had shut down the Voice of America’s Arabic service, and it ended most of its Farsi service in 2003. Voice of America had been broadcasting features, discussions of issues and editorials reflecting U.S. policies. But now it filled 50 minutes of each hour on Arabic-language Radio Sawa and most of the time on Persian-language Radio Farda with Eminem, J. Lo and Britney Spears. This change in format provoked other angry questions: Are Americans playing music because they are afraid to tell the truth? Do they not have a truth to tell? Or do they not consider us worth telling the truth to?
We did not fight communism with pop music. In fact, during the Cold War, America used its government media institutions to broadcast its ideas and beliefs. So why are we not refashioning those successful broadcast strategies and trying to spread our ideas in the Muslim world, the breeding ground of much of the world’s terrorist threats?
Members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) have shared their answer: Radio Sawa’s progenitor, media mogul Norman Pattiz, was still serving his Clinton-appointed term in 2002 when he told the New Yorker that “it was MTV that brought down the Berlin Wall.” (Not Ronald Reagan, Lech Walesa or Vaclav Havel, of course.) President Bush’s appointees did not improve the board’s outlook. In October 2002, Ken Tomlinson, then the board’s new chairman, approvingly quoted his son as saying Spears’s music “represents the sounds of freedom.” It seems that the board transformed the “war of ideas” into the battle of the bands.
So, is MTV winning the “war of ideas”? After years of the United States broadcasting Britney Spears to the Levant, the average radical mullah has not exactly succumbed to apoplexy or come to love democracy. A State Department inspector general’s draft report on Radio Sawa (the final report was never issued) found that”it is difficult to ascertain Radio Sawa’s impact in countering anti-American views and the biased state-run media of the Arab world.” Or, as one expert panel assembled to assess its value concluded, “Radio Sawa failed to present America to its audience.”
The BBG has achieved part of its objective in gaining large youth audiences in some areas of the Middle East, such as in Amman, Jordan, where it has an FM transmitter. But as the Jordanian journalist Jamil Nimri told me: “Radio Sawa is fun, but it’s irrelevant.” We do not teach civics to American teenagers by asking them to listen to pop music, so why should we expect Arabs and Persians to learn about America or democracy this way? The condescension implicit in this nearly all-music format is not lost on the audience that we should wish to influence the most — those who think.
Some, of course, suspect that the United States is consciously attempting to subvert the morals of Arab youth. Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes told columnist Cal Thomas in December that our “view of freedom is sometimes seen as licentiousness. . . . And that is only exacerbated by the movies and the television and some of the music and the lyrics that they see exported from America.” Especially, Hughes might have added, since the BBG, on which she sits as an ex officio member, promotes this very image.
The enemy of freedom, according to the Bible, is SIN. SIN enslaves, puts us into bondage. Christ, through the Gospel, makes us free indeed. It’s deadly irony that our culture’s pursuit of freedom-to-sin really is enslaving us. (And the grotesque, yet pathetic spectacle of Britney Spears–as well as her friend Anna Nicole Smith–dramatize just how true the Biblical revelation is.) The Muslim world does need freedom. Their moralism by no means covers up these people’s own sin, as seen in their profound inner hatreds and brutality. But our culture needs freedom too.
Posted by Veith at 05:32 AM
Mr. Garfield’s been shot down, shot down, oh
Did you know that the assassination of President James Garfield on July 2, 1881, led to the invention of air conditioning, metal detectors, and the modern civil service? So says Mark Steyn in a column on a completely different topic.
I am intrigued by unexpected consequences. Also, name the song I quote from in the title of this blog entry. And a performer who recorded it.
Posted by Veith at 05:25 AM
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March 29, 2007
Faith on TV
The Washington Post is running an online panel discussion of whether TV and the media are fair to religion. The answer should be an obvious “No.” I understand that a plotline in every episode of a sitcom or drama of someone getting converted would not work well. I am not asking for that. I’d settle for simply portraying things like going to church as normal, as indeed it is for the majority of Americans. Go ahead and have your zany family arguments, but they be raging as everyone is trying to get ready for church. Go ahead and have your forensic autopsy mysteries, but have the doctor cross himself before making the first incision. And then you could sometimes go deeper, as in a drama about a moral dilemma, with the character praying about it or reading her Bible or saying that she’s got to talk with her pastor. The main show I can think about that already does present religion as part of everyday life is the Simpsons! Are there others?
Posted by Veith at 07:22 AM
Give D.C. back to Maryland
The latest cause among Congressional Democrats is to pass a bill that would give the District of Columbia one voting member of the House of Representatives, this despite the clear words of the Constitution that gives such representation only to “states.” But what about the principle raised on D.C. license plates that there should be no “taxation without representation”? George Will suggests a good solution: pull back the borders of the “district” so that they encompass only the federal buildings around the Mall. Then give back the rest, where people actually live, to Maryland.
Posted by Veith at 07:14 AM
A medal for the Tuskeegee Airmen
The surviving Tuskeegee Airmen, the black fighter pilots of WWII, will receive the Congressional Gold Medal today. Here is a moving account of their exploits.
Posted by Veith at 07:10 AM
Casting down the idol
Well, the openly Christian and smart-guy Chris Sligh got voted off the island. That’s OK. He wasn’t going to win–though I heard he was the early betting favorite–and it’s time for him to go back to his family. It was probably kind of embarrassing for him to do all of that commercial hype, such as Ford truck music videos, but I’m sure making it into the top ten will give him a successful career.
Posted by Veith at 07:06 AM
March 28, 2007
The Glory and Honor of the Nations
Fine discussions, as always, in the comments on this blog, and I appreciate the new contributors. In the “Cities” thread–on how Heaven is described as a city–wmcwirla quotes the Book of Revelation, including this gem, referring to the New Jerusalem:
“The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.” (21:26)
What do you think that refers to?
Posted by Veith at 06:56 AM
Idol Thoughts
Please excuse my continual comments on “American Idol.” If they annoy you, just skip them. But I’ve been drawn into the soap opera that is this show. But also I’m finding it interesting to watch these artists being asked to perform in different musical styles, which is a real test of artistic ability. Over the last two weeks, we’ve gone from 1960s-era British Invasion to the early 21st century constellation of styles surrounding Gwen Stefani’s “No Doubt.” I don’t think it is just my generational bias to say that the British Invasion songs held up better under all of these different treatments (a real test of a good song). I was impressed, though, that despite Gwen Stefani’s wild girl rocker image, she is actually a careful craftsman (craftswoman?), judging from the way she coached the novice Idolaters.
Posted by Veith at 06:02 AM
March 27, 2007
Of Cities
From my devotion for my students upon leaving New York City:
“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)
Many Christians share the agrarian view that rural or small town life is morally superior to life in the big city, that cities are places of corruption and temptation. And so they are, though there is sin enough in the country.
And yet, the Bible describes the paradise that awaits us as a City. We had our agrarian paradise back in Eden, a lone family, all by ourselves, surrounded by natural beauty. And that was indeed good, something to long for, now that it was lost. But to yearn for that kind of paradise is to look back. The paradise to come will be a City. The New Jerusalem will be inhabited by multitudes, from every nation and tongue. it will also be beautiful, but in a different way than Eden, with streets, walls, gates, mansions, and Bright Light.
St. Augustine wrote of the City of Man and the City of God. The City of Man, he said, is motivated by the love of self. We certainly see that in a metropolis like New York, with everyone hustling, everyone climbing up the career ladder, playing the vast economic network grounded in the quite-legitimate pursuit of one’s rational self-interest. The City of God, though, said Augustine, is motivated by the love of God. Luther would emphasize that this must also entail the love of neighbor. So the City of God is about God’s design that we should not be alone, that we should exist in a state of mutual dependence on each other–on God and on our fellow human beings serving each other in our diverse vocations–and that we should all be individualized members of one Body, as imaged in the Church.
These two Cities are superimposed on each other in our life here on earth, in cities like New York, where we see both sin and greatness, the self unbound and teeming multitudes huddled together. We can see glimpses of something higher. But this city, like everything else in our earthly lives including the country, will not last. We seek the City to come.
Posted by Veith at 07:06 AM
British Invasion
Back from the big city, while doing other things, I am playing my Tivo’d “American Idol.” The prescribed style last week was “British Invasion,” with coaching of these young singers (many of whom have never heard this music) done by Peter Noone, a.k.a. Herman of the Hermits, and Lulu, a.k.a. the girl who sang “To Sir with Love.” I had forgotten how good that music was. I mean is. The Kinks! The Zombies! Those were the tunes of my adolescence, and the songs, even as rendered by these whippersnappers, brought back so many teenage memories and associations.
Unlike many of my peers, I have tried to grow in my musical tastes. But it’s kind of pleasant to take a brief vacation back into time and back into childhood. Even Herman’s Hermits, while at the time I sort of scorned, I now appreciate for their sweet adolescent romantic sensibility: “There’s a kind of HUSH. All over the World. Tonight.” But I need to get a Zombies album.
Posted by Veith at 06:48 AM
March 23, 2007
Spamalot! Spamalot! In a most convenient spot.
I did indeed see Spamalot. Words, for once, fail me. It was hilarious. Yes, it erred on the vulgar side. It made fun of the Middle Ages, Marxism, Jews, Gays, the Church (we’d better get used to that company)–also the French, the Finns, and anyone else who came around, but in a rather sweet way. It had all of the good parts of the movie: Bring out your dead! (But I’m not dead yet!); the killer rabbits; the lines David Landry cited; the sword fight in which the Knight had his arms and legs cut off but kept fighting. In addition, it laid on a postmodern self-referential meta-fiction theme making fun of Broadway. (Songs about the kinds of songs all Broadway plays have; the Lady of the Lake singing about not having much of a part in the second act; a song about how to succeed on Broadway “you have to have a Jew”–oh, yes, Spamalot is a musical. I still have some of those silly songs going on in my head, such as the one about looking on the brighter side of life (including a verse about looking on the brighter side of death). It was something completely different.
Posted by Veith at 04:50 PM
Just don’t believe it; don’t reinterpret it
Some Muslim feminists have put out a new translation of the Koran, reinterpreting some of the language regarding wife-beating, etc., so that the Muslim holy book is more positive towards women. I oppose this for the same reason I oppose attempts to “reinterpret” the Bible. If you don’t believe what it says, don’t do violence to the expressed and objective meaning of the book. Respect it enough not to believe it.
It has been said that the Lutheran approach to scripture opposes interpretation. Susan Sonntag wrote a work of literary criticism “Against Interpretation.” I understand the sense in which interpretation seems to be inevitable, but I think that impulse needs to be resisted. Take it word for word, work to understand it, but do not replace an interpretation for the text, especially an interpretation that favors one’s agenda, which should always be suspect.
Posted by Veith at 04:38 PM
A Test-case for Multiculturalism
Despite the post below, I am by no means saying that different cultural family practices should be tolerated in this country or in Western civilization. A country has to have and defend its own culture, which is going to be shaped by, though not be identical with, its religious heritage. Here in the West, though, we have rejected our culture in favor of multi-culture. Now, in Europe, we have a judge who, in the name of multi-culturalism, finds herself unable to rule against wife-beating.
A German judge has refused to enforce her country’s laws against spousal abuse because the Koran allows for wife-beating, and, after all, the couple in the case before her, are Moroccans.
Posted by Veith at 10:42 AM
A Test-case for Christianity & Culture
Polygamy, though illegal, is growing in the United States. Not just among Mormon sects, but even more so in places like New York City, with its vast numbers of African immigrants, many of whom bring their custom of having multiple wives with them into the new world.
One challenge missionaries have of bringing Christianity to Africans–and, by extension, one might deduce, Islamic countries–is that they teach one wife only. Often, I am told, missionaries will not baptize a convert until he puts away all but one of his wives. But that seems excessively cruel to the wives that get rejected, not to mention violating the Biblical teaching that God hates divorce.
Conversely, Islam is appealing to tribal Africans because it lets them keep their wives.
The Bible does not rule out polygamy, as such, except for men in pastoral or church leadership roles. Marriage is a kingdom of the left issue, so Christianity could accomodate different national customs. If Christianity is to be applied across cultures, shouldn’t it allow polygamy in cultures where that family structure prevails? In the meantime, we would and should still keep it illegal in America.
Many Christians talk about relating to the culture, but by that they are usually talking about something as small as mere cultural artifacts, such as music. But music isn’t culture. Family is culture.
On what basis can a missionary in Africa tell a convert that he has to divorce two of his three wives? (Now, obviously, this requirement has not held back the Gospel all that much, since the church in Africa is booming.)
I do not intend to be advancing a position on this question, I’m just trying to think it through and asking for help.
Posted by Veith at 10:24 AM
March 22, 2007
Temptations of the Big City
I’m in New York with our Patrick Henry College students who are tearing it up at the Model United Nations. Bolstered by their Classical Christian Liberal Arts education, they are leading the discussions in their caucus groups and–SINCE UNLIKE MOST OF THEIR PEERS, THEY KNOW HOW TO WRITE!–they are the ones composing the position papers.
Our hotel is right on Broadway. Across the street is a theater playing Monty Python’s “Spamalot”! I don’t think I can resist that.
Posted by Veith at 09:59 AM
Culture war in American Idol
Stephanie Edwards gets voted off “American Idol”? She was in my top four. We are moving into the phase in which “high culture” (grounded in talent and achievement) and “pop culture” (grounded in mere popularity) go into conflict. There are millions of crying little girls voting for Sanjaya because he is so cute and sweet. Can the artistry of a Melinda Doolittle compete with that?
Lately, our culture has been going for pop culture every time. Indeed, for many Americans, pop culture is the only culture they have!
Posted by Veith at 09:48 AM
Politics and phony moralism
Here is a very different case of someone being asked to repent for something that (1) he didn’t do; and (2) is not even wrong. The identity of the person who created that “1984” video depicting Hillary Clinton as “Big Brother,” which we linked to recently, was discovered. It turns out, he is a surf in a company contracted to do Barack Obama’s web-hosting. Now he has lost his job (why?) and Obama is being accused of violating his pledge to run a clean campaign. Even though everyone knows he had nothing to do with this guerilla video and that there is nothing “dirty” about it.
The larger issue is that this is an example of a faux moralism that politicians are playing, trying to spin the other guy into being some awful person due to the most minor of gaffes, and trying to spin themselves into models of virtue, even though they regularly transgress in far more important matters. This is one reason why the public has, rightly, become cynical of the political process, and it threatens our system of self-government.
Posted by Veith at 09:34 AM
March 21, 2007
The Golden Age of Puzzling?
Have you been infected with the Sudoku virus, playing that puzzle where you fill in squares with the numbers 1 through 9? I have, finding it an intriguing time-killer while waiting in airports. It turns out, the Japanese company that made this game a world-wide sensation (though it was invented by an American) has 250 other puzzles on that same order. The linked article makes the point that crossword puzzles don’t work well in Japanese because that language uses three different writing systems at more or less the same time. So they gravitate more to games involving numbers, which, along with logic, work in ALL languages. (So much for postmodernist cultural relativism. A Sudoku grid, at least, gives a culturally-transcendent objective truth.)
Read too this appreciative review of these games by crossword puzzle guru Will Shortz, who explains some of these other Japanese games, helps account for their popularity, and concludes, “We are living in puzzling’s golden age right now.”
Posted by Veith at 10:17 AM
Repenting for what we didn’t do
Stanley Fish, the postmodernist critic and theorist (and fellow George Herbert scholar!), takes up the issue of legislative bodies apologizing for slavery (as the state of Virginia did and as George is now considering). The main argument against doing that is that these particular lawmakers and the state citizens currently living have never owned slaves, so how can they apologize for a transgression they have never committed?
But Fish points out that continuing institutions have a collective, historical continuity. Supreme Court decisions citing precedents will read, “we ruled in 1878,” even though at that time the current justicies were not involved. Legislators too begin with the sum total of historical laws, which they then add to or sometimes repeal.
Fish doesn’t deal with the question of should these legislatures apologize for slavery, but he does point us to something we rugged individualists often forget, that we have a collective identity. Theologically, isn’t it true that we exist not only in ourselves, but collectively–as part of the fallen human race (so that we are guilty of Adam’s fall, even though none of us ate the fruit)and as members of Christ’s Church (so that we have been redeemed by His paying the penalty for all of our collective sins which He bore on the Cross and have been engrafted as individual organs in His church)?
_(Here is his article, though subscription is required.)
Posted by Veith at 09:30 AM
Where even the beggars are expensive
I find myself in New York City, drafted at the last minute to help chaperone 27 of our students who are competing at the Model United Nations. Prices are notoriously high in New York City. Last night a panhandler approached me and said, “Hey, buddy, can you spare $100?”
Everywhere else panhandlers ask if you can spare some change! I realize this sounds like a line from a comedy routine, but it actually happened. I understand, though. He’s got a lot of overhead.
Posted by Veith at 09:07 AM
March 20, 2007
Pork for Peace
To win votes for their bill to pull American troops out of Iraq by August 31, 2008, Democrats in Congress are attaching millions of dollars worth of “earmarks” to fund pet projects of wavering Congressmen. Even some Republicans say that it will be hard to vote against a measure that will rain down federal dollars on their districts. So what we have is buying votes with tax-dollars. Whatever your view of the war, isn’t this corrupt?
Posted by Veith at 08:26 AM
If homosexuality is innate
Theologian Al Mohler has stirred up anger on all sides for taking seriously the notion that homosexuality might indeed be genetic. Many Christians are attacking him because they insist that homosexuality has to be a choice, if it is to be morally wrong. People in favor of gay rights are also attacking him, even though he is saying that he might agree with them that homosexuality might be an innate physical condition. This is because he goes on to suggest that if it is, it might be preventable with genetic engineering or in-the-womb treatments. But Dr. Mohler emphatically rejects what is probably far more likely, the abortion of “gay fetuses.”
Isn’t it true that ALL SIN is, in an important way, genetic? That is, a function of original sin and our fallen flesh? It isn’t choice that makes something sinful; indeed, our very wills are in bondage to sin. Since that is true, I don’t think there can be a genetic cure of homosexuality or any other sin. What we all need is forgiveness, grace, the blood of Jesus. The only obstacle to that grace and forgiveness is the strange insistence on the part of many gay people today is that what they do is GOOD, that they are NOT sinners. Again, as for many others today, It is not their sin but their self-righteousness that, tragically, keeps them from the Cross.
Posted by Veith at 07:04 AM
Candidates try YouTube
The internet should make for free political advertising, right? Candidates are trying to use the new media, but they don’t quite get it. YouTube has a whole channel for election-related clips. But while candidates are posting long speeches and highly-produced ads, the ones that are getting all of the viewings are the bloopers, satires, and embarrassing moments. Hillary Clinton’s earnest “Roadmap out of Iraq” has received only 15,000 hits, but her off-key singing of the national anthem has had 1.1 million hits. John Edwards’ official campaign video has been outstripped by a spoof showing him combing his hair to the tune of “I Feel Pretty.” I don’t think this is intrinsic shallowness on the part of the viewing public, just the nature of the medium, which favors the spontaneous and humorous. As a college student who successfully posts on YouTube explains to the politicians, “The Web isn’t TV.”
But might this video from from some unauthorized Barack Obama supporter change the Democratic primaries by rendering Hillary Clinton uncool?
Posted by Veith at 06:42 AM
March 19, 2007
China is too still communist
In response to comments on the communism post a few days ago: China is, indeed, still communist. According to Marxism, a society must go through a “bourgeois” stage of capitalism before true socialism is possible. (Marx was very “free market” in believing that the free economy eventually would lead to communism.) Russia and Maoist China tried to jump from a medieval-type economy right to socialism, which was why, according to Marxist theory, they failed. According to their theoreticians, China’s communist party–which still rules with an iron fist–sees the current free market phase in their economy as a step to a genuine communism.
As for the notion that free market prosperity will eventually lead to democracy, I question that. Surely, judging from citizen participation and political vitality, democracy is at a low point in our country today, despite our unparalleled affluence. Material prosperity can encourage fashion conformity, status quo satisfaction, and complacent materialism, all of which can go quite well with an authoritarian government. Material prosperity can, in fact, funciton as the opiate of the people.
Posted by Veith at 06:25 AM
The Parable of the Prodigal FATHER
It was good to be back at St. Athanasius. And, as always, the sermon was profound. Pastor Douthwaite preached on the parable of the Prodigal Son. He pointed out that “prodigal” means extravagant. While one son was prodigal in his sin and the other son was prodigal in his self-righteousness, the most prodigal person in the whole story is the father, whose extravagant love embraced them both.
The sermon then took a startling turn, as Pastor contrasted those two sons (who are like us) with our prodigally-gracious Father’s only begotten Son. And just as the Prodigal Father prepared a feast for his prodigal sons, Our extravagantly gracious Father has prepared a Feast for us, which we in the congregation then enjoyed in Holy Communion.
Do you have any sermon or church epiphanies to report?
Posted by Veith at 06:16 AM
March 16, 2007
Theologians begetting baseball players
As recent blog discussions have established, Lutherans are not much represented in politics, even though they can have surprisingly hip tastes in music. But there may also be a link between Lutheran theology and baseball. The progeny of at least two hard-core Lutheran theologians have become major league baseball players.
Thanks to Rebellious Pastor’s Wife for this great post on Bill Wambsganns, who played 2nd base for the Cleveland Indians and in 1920 made the only UNASSISTED triple play in World Series history. He was not only a Lutheran, but he had thought about going to seminary and attended what was then Concordia College in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. (Good vocation example: he was pursuing a “call” to the ministry, but then he received instead a “call” to be a baseball player. Isn’t that legitimate?) I assumed that was why the gymnasium at today’s Ft. Wayne seminary is called such an unpronouncable and unspellable name as “Wambsganns Gym.” And maybe it was. (Does anyone know?) But my daughter the deaconness student tells me that Bill’s father was Philipp Wambsganns, a pioneering Lutheran pastor who set up hospitals, established the church’s charity work, and promoted the vocation of deaconness. (He had another son, Philipp, Jr., who continued a lot of this work.) Pastor Wambsganns the elder was also said to be a big baseball fan.
And now I have learned that Scott Linebrink, a pitcher for the San Diego Padres, not only attends an LCMS church but is the great-grandson of the encyclopedic Lutheran theologian Francis Pieper! (He is the author of the four-volume Christian Dogmatics.)
Posted by Veith at 06:02 AM
Law of God vs. Law of the State
Here is an intriguing discussion of Two Kingdoms theology from someone who has to practice it in his vocation. It’s from commenter Kerner, on the post about the general who said homosexuality is immoral, and it’s worth all of us thinking about:
OK, my vocation is the law, so I spend a good deal of time wrangling with the left hand kingdom, and part of the issue here has to do with the respective natures and purposes of the two kingdoms.
The way we look at sin in the right hand kingdom has to do with righteousness before God. In the right kingdom the law is a single standard and all of us fall short. Also, God, who knows our hearts, does not, in His perfect justice, distinguish between sins that stay in our hearts and those that have some outward manifestation. For example, in Matthew 5, Jesus condemns all sin and says that lust is as bad as adultery, and that hatred/wrath and namecalling are as bad as murder. The wages of any sin is death/hell, and I don’t think we are meant to try to stratify hell. It is utterly futile for us to argue about which of us would be more or less miserable if we got what was coming to us in the absence of forgiveness and redemption.
In the left hand kingdom, the purpose of the law is much different. You can’t punish a person for all his sinful thoughts, because all of us would be continually punishing each other constantly all day long. In the left hand kingdom we have to limit the law to its purpose of discouraging those sins that do temporal damage to the functioning of an organized society. This means protecting the lives and physical well being of that society’s members, and protecting their property. Sexual morality becomes a kind of a gray area in the left-hand kingdom. Society has an interest in protecting the integrity of the family, which is the basic social unit, and unrestrained sexuality threatens the family. How much punishment a society wants to assign to various sins that threaten the integrity of the family varies with the circumstances, I think. The Mosaic Law is not a bad guide, but in it the punishment for rape was for the perpetrator to marry his victim; the punishment for persistant disrespect for parents was stoning to death. When looking at the various punishments that God imposed on the children of Israel through Moses, I think the Mosaic Law was more particularly tailored to the social needs of that people at that time than we often think. That may also be why Jesus said that the divorce laws of Moses’ day were what they were because of “the hardness of your hearts”, and then preached a more restrictive moral standard. It may also be why the Mosaic Law imposed health and dietary regulations we don’t observe today.
I could ramble for a long time on this, but you get the idea.
One more thing. C.S. Lewis has written that the worst sins are purely spiritual. What he meant by worst was most likely to result in sending you to hell. His examples included that someone who lost his temper for a moment of blind rage and killed another person was much more likely to repent and be forgiven than someone who (without acting on it) nursed his hatred for someone else, day after day, until he was consumed by his hatred and his heart was hardened against the Holy Spirit. Yet, the left hand kingdom would punish the guy who lost his temper for a moment (but did some temporal damage), but the left hand kingdom would leave the persistent hater completely alone.
Posted by Veith at 05:56 AM
One side wins, the other side loses
Thanks to Manxman for posting this quotation from Pat Buchanan on the controversy that blew up when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that homosexuality was “immoral”:
What this uproar tells us is that America is no longer a moral community. On the most fundamental issues – abortion, promiscuity, homosexuality, euthanasia, sterilization, cloning, and the creation of, and buying and selling of, fetuses for research – we are at war. What part of the nation sees as progress, the other sees as depravity.
And where there is no moral community, there will not long be one country. For in a religious or culture war, there is no peaceful coexistence.
One side wins, the other side loses.
Doesn’t a society have to have some kind of moral consensus? Isn’t that what defines a particular society or culture, an underlyiing commonality of some sort? One can have a society with multiple religions, but multiple moralities? Or denying any kind of morality at all?
Posted by Veith at 05:43 AM
March 15, 2007
Communism is back
Maoist rebels in India massacred 49 police officers, seizing a large arms supply, which they will no doubt use. Maoist! Even China isn’t Maoist anymore! But radical Marxist insurgents seem to have come back in vogue in other parts of Asia, the Phillippines, and, of course, Latin America, where they have seized power in Venezuela and apparently Nicaragua. And China, lest we forget, is still communist. My fear is that the commissars of China may have crafted a version of communism that works economically, which has turned that country into a powerhouse. So it is not just Islamo-fascism that we need to worry about, but also neo-communism.
Posted by Veith at 07:30 AM
Dress like an adult
Our comrade on this blog, novelist Lars Walker, has written a piece both humorous and provocative for American Spectator on the way we adults, 1960’s refugees as we are, dress. You’ll want to read the whole thing. Here is a brief sample:
Throughout history each generation has heard the complaint, “Young people today have no manners! They don’t respect their elders!”
Today, for the first time in history, the young people have a reasonable and incontrovertible response: “We don’t respect you because you look like a bunch of clowns.”
The baseball caps (especially when turned backwards — who do you think you’re kidding?), the voluminous shorts that so effectively showcase our varicose veins, the tee-shirts that limn so elegantly our bloated bellies and sagging chests, all these are, it seems to me, marks of a civilization rapidly headed for the assisted living facility. We show disrespect to ourselves when we go around dressed like kids in an Our Gang movie short. (I suspect we’re all pathologically imprinted on Spanky and Alfalfa. Saturday morning television has much to answer for.) It’s a silent cry for help, this manner of dress, a semiotic appeal for some long-dead grownup to come upstairs from the grave and save us from the ugliness we’ve created for ourselves.
Posted by Veith at 07:07 AM
The trouble with blogs
Rich Shipe writes:
I enjoy reading your blog and occasionally adding my thoughts to the discussion. I’ve got something you might consider posting for discussion. I was reading in Proverbs the other day and I think I found the blogosphere theme verse! Proverbs 18:2: “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” (NIV) Doesn’t that just sum it all up from across the whole political spectrum? Has there ever been a time in the history of the world where more people have simultaneously delighted in airing their own opinion? I appreciate that your writing tone expresses humility and the desire to “listen” to your readership. So I would certainly put the Cranach blog into the exception list. 🙂
I think it’s good that people now have a forum for expressing their opinions, so that they don’t have to own a printing press to do so. But of course that opens the door for “foolishness.” I do think the comment feature is a healthy antidote, though so often–in other blogs, not this one–commenters are just vile, perhaps illustrating the proverb. Can anyone think of any other Biblical injunctions that apply to blogs?
Posted by Veith at 06:57 AM
March 14, 2007
Something else you can’t say
A Marine general, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is under attack for daring to say that homosexuality is immoral.
Posted by Veith at 08:13 AM
American Idol & Vocation
Music fans tend to be fixated on stars, the frontman or frontwoman with the picture on the album cover who gets credited for the hits. Music, however, also requires musicians. Some stars are indeed musicians, while others are not so much. But the quality and nature of the music depends on the people playing in the band and producing the records.
A good studio musician is typically anonymous to the general public, playing whatever gigs he gets offered, mastering any style the producer calls for. My old guitar teacher was like that. His love was jazz, but he played with whatever big star who came through Milwaukee and needed a guitarist or a bass player. He played rock. He played country. He played with big bands. He played in symphonies. He played polkas. He could do it all. He was a real pro. His vocation was that of a musician.
American Idol sensation Melinda Doolittle is a “backup singer,” and the storyline has to do with her ascension to the front of the stage, with backup singers of her own. But she is a professional musician, and, boy, does it show against all of the amateurs. (Her rival, LaKisha, is a true story of an amateur ascending to great artistic heights. She is a musician too, having those talents and that calling. Her performances will make her a professional musician.) Some might say that Idol should not permit professionals to compete, that it isn’t fair. (Brandon too is a backup singer.) A rule change might be in order. But, in the meantime, I salute Melinda as an exemplar of the doctrine of vocation–note her selflessness and humility compared to the prima donnas who only want to be stars–and hope she wins.
Posted by Veith at 07:51 AM
March 13, 2007
The Anglo in the WASP
The great Lutheran journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto has written about how strange it is that Lutherans are so under-represented in the corridors of political power and cultural influence, despite our large numbers. Despite too our theology, particularly the doctrine of vocation and the doctrine of the two kingdoms, which offer a blueprint for cultural engagement that other theologies are looking for but lack.
The Lutheran blogosphere is discussing the phenomenon, for example, at Cyberbrethren and Luther at the Movies.
I too bemoan Lutheran passivity, reticence, and obliviousness to their own theology. But here is another factor in why so few Lutherans get elected to political office and why people from other and often smaller denominations do: Social class.
Lutherans may be Saxons, but they are not ANGLO-Saxons. The heirs of the English-speaking colonists still, to a large degree, are the old money, the power elite, and the American aristocracy. They are the upper class in an egalitarian society. I do not intend this in any kind of Marxist sense, nor am I necessarily criticizing them for it. It isn’t just that the WASPs dominate the Ivy Leagues or the wealthy country clubs. WASPS consider America “theirs,” and they take to running things like the country with ease. And the religion of the WASPs is Episcopalian or Presbyterian.
And it isn’t just the upper classes. The religion of the Scotch-Irish, another English-speaking group of setlers, who settled the South especially, is Southern Baptist. And the Catholics who started the political machines were Irish, their numbers and political strength bolstered by other immigrants. This, I contend, is why Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Catholics are so numerous in Congress.
Lutherans, though, were immigrants, grateful for this country, but they really didn’t think of it as “theirs” in the same sense that those who were here before them could. And they were farmers, mostly, not even city folk. Many rose into the middle class, but they were small business owners, and even if they grew wealthy, their businesses demanded their attention, leaving them little time for interest in politics. And Lutherans ARE different from mainline American culture on many other levels as well.
Today, the conditions are different, and, as Uwe says, we have a moment, a “kairos,” that we would do well to seize. But the habits of mind in the Lutheran culture remain.
Posted by Veith at 07:59 AM
My take on “300”
I confess that I got a kick out of “300.” True, a lot of it was like watching someone else play a video game. The gore, which I usually dislike in a movie, did not bother me since the film was designed to look like a comic book–to the point of having globules of blood in the air; I was expecting to see thought balloons and big red lettering, “OOF!” and “AIEEE!” –so it was just “comic book violence.” And I did not realize that Persians, even Xerxes, were black! And had elephants. And rhinos. I think the filmmakers needed a geography lesson. The movie did show some of the phalanx formations, but most of the battle scenes still followed the conventions of the individual swordfight. The whole point of Greek battle tactics was the innovation of fighting in inexorable group formations, something that could be rendered very well using computer graphics, but isn’t.
Posted by Veith at 07:23 AM
No Depression quiz
In response to the various comments on the “No Depression” quiz:
I don’t have time for what you suggested, Paul S! Your list indeed includes some of my favorites, though some of them I have never heard of, but, given our common taste, I would probably like them.
Van Edwards wins the contest with the first correct answers. He wins a virtual (that is, imaginary) NEW CAR!
Steph, you too hit upon something, since the original song by the Carter family, written during the economic Depression, was about how in Heaven there will be NO DEPRESSION.
I’m glad to learn about Pastor Juhl and you other alt country fans.
Posted by Veith at 07:15 AM
March 12, 2007
No Depression
Speaking of depression, one of the magazines I read is entitled “No Depression.” Here is a quiz to see if any of this blog’s readers have the same quirky interests that I do: (1) What is that publication about? (2) Why is it called that? (3) Who is the original source?
Posted by Veith at 06:52 AM
Depression
A study of 14 nations found that America leads them all when it comes to depression [subscription required].
The study, jointly conducted by the World Health Organization and Harvard Medical School and based on more than 60,000 face-to-face interviews world-wide, found that 9.6% of Americans suffer from “bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder or chronic minor depression.” A whopping 18.2% of Americans were also found to be experiencing “mood and anxiety disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder and panic disorder.”
Mexicans, with a rate of 4.8%, are half as depressed as Americans are (so why do so many of them want to come to such a depressing place?). Violent, bombed-out Lebanon has a depression rate of only 6.6%. And, according to this study, the least-depressed place on earth is Nigeria, with a hardly traceable 0.8%.
So why are Nigerians–with their poverty, corrupt government, ethnic strife, and a standard of living far below that of America–are so happy, while we Americans, in all of our affluence and security, get depressed so easily?
Posted by Veith at 05:43 AM
The “Tomb” statistics
According to the documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” the odds for all of those names coming together to fit the profile of Jesus’s family is 600-1. Not so fast, says statistician Carl Bialek, the Wall Street Journal’s “Numbers Guy.” [subscription required]
But the one-in-600 calculation is based on many assumptions about the prevalence of the names and their biblical significance. For purposes of his calculations, Prof. Feuerverger relied on new scholarly research that links the inscription “Mariamene e Mara” with a name for Mary Magdalene. (The filmmakers suggest that she was Christ’s wife and that they are buried with a son, Judah — claims hotly denounced by traditional Christians.)
Had the professor assumed the inscription could be for any Mary, a very common name then, it would be far less likely that Christ’s family is in the tomb. The mathematical finding would become “statistically not significant,” Prof. Feuerverger tells me. Similarly, the name “Yose” — as one of Jesus’ four brothers was called in the Gospel of Mark — is a derivative of Yosef, another common name. There, too, the finding would be less conclusive if the professor had considered “Yose” applicable to any Yosef._Even if there was consensus on the interpretation of the names, there are no comprehensive records showing how frequently they occurred in the population at that time. Prof. Feuerverger relied on modern books about ossuaries and ancient texts to tally the occurrence of certain names in the area then. That falls far short of a complete census.
“As you pile on more assumptions, you’re building a house of cards,” says Keith Devlin, a Stanford mathematician and NPR’s “Math Guy.” (Scientific American also challenged the calculation on its Web site.)
Posted by Veith at 04:57 AM
March 09, 2007
Body of Work
Struggling with some software issues on this blog, I had to do something called “rebuild the site.” In doing so, I discovered that the Cranach blog has a total of 1,040 pages! That’s the equivalent of, say, five books! Shouldn’t I have been focusing my writing energy on writing five books?
Posted by Veith at 09:37 AM
Thermopylae
Tonight we are going to see “300,” the computer-generated dramatization of the Battle of Thermopylae. I hear that some people are interpreting the movie in terms of the current war, with some thinking Bush is Xerxes, a powerful nation invading a tiny country, and others thinking he is Leonidas, fighting for “freedom” against a Middle Eastern horde bent on conquering Western Civilization. Slate is scandalized that the movie is so. . .so warlike. It is “one of the few war movies I’ve seen in the past two decades that doesn’t include at least some nod in the direction of antiwar sentiment.”
I would like to remind the critics that the movie is about SPARTANS, for crying out loud, the most warlike culture ever. Also that their enemies are indeed PERSIANS, the ancestors of present day Iranians. This is history (though judging from the ads highly-fantasized history). The only connection to today is that the clash between Western civilization and Eastern civilizations goes back very, very far. And if those 300 Spartans did not hold off those millions of Persians, setting up Xerxes’ utter defeat at Salamis, Western civilization may have been strangled at its birth, and we would be living in a very different world.
Posted by Veith at 09:12 AM
Tomb of Jesus Post-Mortem
“The Lost Tomb of Jesus” documentary was a ratings hit for the Discovery Channel, but it did not hype its numbers in a press release, as is the usual practice; after the show ran, Discovery put on a panel of experts that trashed its own show; and the channel is refusing to re-run the documentary.
Posted by Veith at 09:04 AM
The Vocation of a Restaurant Owner
I find this inspiring. Loving and serving your neighbor in the restaurant business.
Posted by Veith at 08:57 AM
The Most Definitive Albums
The National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM), which represents over 7,000 music stores in the U.S., and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have compiled a list of the 200 “most definitive” albums. The top 10:
(1)The Beatles’ ”Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
(2) Pink Floyd’s ”The Dark Side of the Moon’
(3) Michael Jackson’s ”Thriller”
(4) Led Zeppelin’s ”Led Zeppelin IV”
(5) U2’s ”The Joshua Tree”
(6) the Rolling Stones’ ”Exile on Main Street’
(7) Carole King’s ”Tapestry”
(8) Bob Dylan’s ”Highway 61 Revisited”
(9) Beach Boy’s “Pet Sounds”
(10) Nirvana’s ”Nevermind”
That’s a good list. “Sgt. Pepper’s” certainly deserves its place at the top, since it pioneered the concept of a unified album, in which the songs tied together musically and thematically and the album as a whole was greater than the sum of its individual songs. Seven of the top 10 are from “my day,” and I’ve heard all but the last two.
My question: Can we deduce that this list was compiled by people in their 50’s? Or do younger music fans also acknowledge the greatness of these 1960’s and 1970’s musical icons? Or does the art form of the album even exist anymore in this age of musical downloads?
For the complete list of all 200, click here. Are there any notable omissions? (I didn’t see the Band’s “Music from Big Pink.”)
Posted by Veith at 07:39 AM
More on Chris Sligh and American Idolatry
Thanks to Jeremy Larson for linking us to American Idol contestant Chris Slighs blog. Not all of it is up anymore. He does have some theological musings. This notice is at the beginning:
“I am first and foremost a Christ-follower. I am also a rock star. I don’t feel the two are diametrically opposed. If you do…I feel bad for you.”
He did make the final 12 last night. But now we are seeing injustice. Sanjaya obviously has legions of little girls who consider him cute, so he made it despite his weak voice, and instead the talented, bluesy Sundance Head got cut. And that girl whose name neither Simon nor I can remember made it–Haley, that’s it–while Sabrina with her good voice had to go home.
The very best made it through, though. Including, I might point out, all that I predicted from the very beginning of the contest. That is, Stephanie, Jordin, LaKisha, and–the one I predicted and predict will win it all–Melinda.
Posted by Veith at 05:36 AM
March 08, 2007
Exploding Political Stereotypes
I do like it when stereotypes get exploded, as in the two blog entries below. Here is another: Jonah Goldberg writes about how the current Republican presidential candidates violate all of the stereotypes about Republicans, that red-state party supposedly taken over by the theocrats. We have the former mayor of NEW YORK CITY, with his liberal values, leading the pack, including with evangelical voters. We have another former governor of MASSACHUSETTS getting the endorsement of the CPAC movement conservatives. And we have the ideological “maverick” despised by movement conservatives standing up most forthrightly for conservative issues.
Posted by Veith at 09:24 AM
Chris Sligh, Christian idol
As one of our commenters put us on to, it is true that Chris Sligh–the funny, hip, afroed chubby singer on American Idol–is an evangelical Christian, the son of missionaries and a Bob Jones University drop-out who leads the music at his church. Now there is a role-model for Christians who want to influence the culture. Seriously. There is no reason why Christians have to seem fake, why they cannot be original, why they have to seem so unsophisticated.
(Not that this is a reason to vote for him. Probably other contestants are Christians too. And this is a singing contest, so aesthetic and not theological standards must prevail. I still think Melinda Doolittle is the best. I am impressed that even Paul McCain agrees with me. But Chris Sligh has always been my favorite among the guys, even before I knew of his open Christianity.)
Posted by Veith at 07:38 AM
Our Kumbayah Moments
If you don’t read the comments, you are missing the best feature of this blog. Once again, I commend you readers and commenters. I just knew that our ongoing discussion of Christianity and politics would lead to breaking down barriers and the discovery of fundamental agreements. I am happy to see that the liberal tODD and the conservative Manxman actually agree on an issue usually so intractable as economics: Both think our economy should be protected from Wal-Mart.
Puzzled also agrees with them in denouncing Wal-Mart and everything it stands for, though from a completely different perspective: He is advocating the economic theory known as “Distributism”, which defies categorizing as either left or right. It is leftist in its desire to put the means of production into the hands of the workers, but it is right in its Catholicism and–yes, to make another tie-in–its grounding in NATURAL LAW, which Puzzled otherwise decries. Distributism, pushed by G. K. Chesterton, is indeed an interesting attempt to come up with a “Christian” approach to economics.
Though many of you readers still favor free market economics, yesterday’s discussions opened up a broader unity. The Democrat (and confessional Christian) tODD expresses a sentiment that I believe Republicans, Libertarians, Constitutionalists, Greens, and Distributists who read this blog can all share and that brings us together despite our healthy diversity: an antipathy for Hillary Clinton.
Now, in your mind, everyone gather into a big circle and join me in song: Kumbayah, my Lord. Kum. ba. yah. . . ”
Posted by Veith at 07:04 AM
March 07, 2007
Natural law, one more time
Lars Walker, citing C. S. Lewis, is right, that “natural law” refers to “human nature.” Also to the view of reality allowing that kind of terminology, that humans have a “nature,” something that existentialists and postmodernists reject. In this sense, “Nature” has to do with “essence,” as in “the nature of societies” and “the nature of genetic engineering.” To go back to the original argument, I maintain that “the nature” of a living organism is to be found in its genetic code and that it violates the “nature” of human beings” and the “nature” of rice to combine them. But, after some cursory research, I find that not all natural law ethicists go that far, finding moral difficulty only when cross-species “chimera” violate “identity.” What I punningly called the human rice is still identifiably rice. If the rice we engineer has little hands and feet and cries out when we boil it, we are at another level.
Here is a helpful article contrasting secular ethics with natural law ethics in their approach to life issues. It is from an unabashedly Roman Catholic point of view, but, I was proud to see that it uses our own great Lutheran ethicist Gilbert Meilander to shoot down the secularists. (At the Cranach institute’s conference on marriage, I heard him describe his own approach in terms of natural law. [His paper is not available online]. Note how he treats bioethics.)
Posted by Veith at 09:01 AM
Obama and the Joshua Generation
Check out Barack Obama’s speech at the Civil Rights commemoration at Selma, Alabama. As was common in the early days of the Civil Rights movement, the speech–or, perhaps, sermon–is saturated in Scripture. Obama even refers to “the Joshua Generation,” which is what conservative Christians have been calling the rising generation of Christian young people (using it in a different sense, of course). And he has some good moral exhorations. Some samples:
One of the signature aspects of the civil rights movement was the degree of discipline and fortitude that was instilled in all the people who participated. Imagine young people, 16, 17, 20, 21, backs straight, eyes clear, suit and tie, sitting down at a lunch counter knowing somebody is going to spill milk on you but you have the discipline to understand that you are not going to retaliate because in showing the world how disciplined we were as a people, we were able to win over the conscience of the nation. I can’t say for certain that we have instilled that same sense of moral clarity and purpose in this generation. Bishop, sometimes I feel like we’ve lost it a little bit.
I’m fighting to make sure that our schools are adequately funded all across the country. With the inequities of relying on property taxes and people who are born in wealthy districts getting better schools than folks born in poor districts and that’s now how it’s supposed to be. That’s not the American way. but I’ll tell you what — even as I fight on behalf of more education funding, more equity, I have to also say that , if parents don’t turn off the television set when the child comes home from school and make sure they sit down and do their homework and go talk to the teachers and find out how they’re doing, and if we don’t start instilling a sense in our young children that there is nothing to be ashamed about in educational achievement, I don’t know who taught them that reading and writing and conjugating your verbs was something white.
We’ve got to get over that mentality. That is part of what the Moses generation teaches us, not saying to ourselves we can’t do something, but telling ourselves that we can achieve. We can do that. We got power in our hands. Folks are complaining about the quality of our government, I understand there’s something to be complaining about. I’m in Washington. I see what’s going on. I see those powers and principalities have snuck back in there, that they’re writing the energy bills and the drug laws.
We understand that, but I’ll tell you what. I also know that, if cousin Pookie would vote, get off the couch and register some folks and go to the polls, we might have a different kind of politics. That’s what the Moses generation teaches us. Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes. Go do some politics. Change this country! That’s what we need. We have too many children in poverty in this country and everybody should be ashamed, but don’t tell me it doesn’t have a little to do with the fact that we got too many daddies not acting like daddies. Don’t think that fatherhood ends at conception.
So wouldn’t you rather have him than Hillary?
Posted by Veith at 07:44 AM
Viva Wal-Mart!
Wal-Mart is a villain to many Americans, including some conservatives who lament its impact on small businesses and some liberals who oppose the mega-corporation for its low wages. But, according to this article (subscription required), Wal-Mart has become something of a folk hero to poor Mexicans.
When a Wal-Mart comes to town, the most impoverished Mexicans rejoice. Now they can have access to products that improve their quality of life at prices they can afford. Mexico’s consumer goods tend to be drastically over-priced so that only the wealthy can afford them. But Wal-Mart’s prices are so low that even poor people can afford microwave ovens and other applicances. And Wal-Mart’s food prices are seen as a God-send for Mexicans struggling to live at a subsistence level. In the tortilla crisis we blogged about earlier, due to the high price of corn driven up by the ethanol craze, Wal-Mart has been able to sell tortillas at the old price, because of long-term contracts the company scored with corn producers. Also, going into a Wal-Mart store allows poor people to experience luxuries such as air conditioning. And apparently, the Mexican branch–known as Wal-Mex–is especially sensitive to local cultures, using non-Spanish local languages and hiring villagers at wages that, while low by American standards, are high by local standards, preventing them from feeling like they need to head to America to improve their lives.
But doesn’t Wal-Mart harm local businesses? Well, yes, but the poor Mexicans like Wal-Mart for that too, since many of the local businesses are controlled by corrupt government cronies who sell bad merchandise for exorbitant prices in a state-controlled economy.
Posted by Veith at 06:44 AM
March 06, 2007
Art imitates commercials
The Geico cavemen are going to get their own TV show (subscription required). It will be a sitcom about Gap-clad cavemen battling the prejudice of the modern world. Though I might decry the way TV has to turn to its commercials for creative inspiration, if the producers can capture the nuance of the Geico commercials, such a show would have great promise. At the very least, it would jolt the sitcom genre into something new, as opposed to the current dull and ceaselessly-repeating formulas having to do with dysfunctional families, workplace humor, and young adults on the make.
Posted by Veith at 08:02 AM
Marriage and Social Class
According to a study of census figures, only one out of four households in America is made up of a married couple with children. That’s half what it was in 1960, the lowest ever recorded. Those numbers include lots of aging baby boomer empty nesters, so they hardly signal the end of the family. But the statistics do reveal that the institution of marriage is in trouble. Specifically, marriage is becoming a class marker. College-educated, affluent couples are still getting married and even staying married. But working place couples are just living together and having children out of wedlock.
As marriage with children becomes an exception rather than the norm, social scientists say it is also becoming the self-selected province of the college-educated and the affluent. The working class and the poor, meanwhile, increasingly steer away from marriage, while living together and bearing children out of wedlock.
“The culture is shifting, and marriage has almost become a luxury item, one that only the well educated and well paid are interested in,” said Isabel V. Sawhill, an expert on marriage and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Marriage has declined across all income groups, but it has declined far less among couples who make the most money and have the best education. These couples are also less likely to divorce. Many demographers peg the rise of a class-based marriage gap to the erosion since 1970 of the broad-based economic prosperity that followed World War II.
“We seem to be reverting to a much older pattern, when elites marry and a great many others live together and have kids,” said Peter Francese, demographic trends analyst for Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising firm.
So the phenomenon of the proletariat not bothering to get married is not new. There was, however, the concept of “common law marriage” (based on the natural law) that considered couples who live together for a long period of time–and especially if they had children–to have legal obligations to each other and to their children. Shouldn’t we bring that back?
Posted by Veith at 07:57 AM
Natural Law
Wow, judging from the comments on my “Human Rice” post, Catholics must be the only ones who still teach and operate from a “natural law” approach to moral issues. What most of you commenters were saying about “Nature” and what is “Natural” has nothing to do with natural law ethics, which does NOT mean just following what birds, bees, and trees do. That is the romantic view of nature, which classical thought rejects utterly.
Perhaps we should replace the term “nature,” with its associations of the great outdoors, with “reality.” The assumption is that we exist in an objective, hard-edged universe with requirements of its own. (Postmodernists, of course, refuse to go even this far, assuming that reality is not “given,” but a construction of culture or of ourselves.) In this “real world,” life has to preserve itself (which is why self-defense is an axiom of natural law), it has to reproduce itself (which is why we have sex and the family and why the misuse of sex violates natural law), etc., etc.
Of course we are able to transgress natural law, and animals, having only instinct and lacking reason, are often the worst offenders. When a tropical fish eats its young, it is being unnatural, as is an abusive or neglectful human parent.
I guess we have to have recourse to the Catholic Encyclopedia to explain. Take away the distinctly Roman Catholic notions and you will have something like Luther’s assumptions that lay behind his comment that we Christians are obligated to follow the Mosaic law only insofar as they correspond to the natural law.
Posted by Veith at 05:15 AM
March 05, 2007
The Secret
The latest reincarnation of New Age gnosticism is “the Secret,” preached in a book, a DVD, and on Oprah. The Secret to success and a happy life has to do with positive thinking, gratitude for what you have, and visualizing what you want. People are offering dramatic testimonies about how these techniques did, indeed, conjure up what they want. (Notice the very name it goes by and how the concept of “secrecy” has always been associated both with gnosticism and with the occult [a word which means “secret”]. Underlying it too is the notion, both postmodern and Hindu, that deep within, you are basically God, so that you can create your own reality.) Anyway, a recent feature on the phenomenon in a local newspaper reports that people are glomming onto it through the influence of their churches!
Posted by Veith at 09:52 AM
The new Generation Gap
“The Wall Street Journal” had an article about the plight of parents trying to cope with rebellious teenagers. The issue they are fighting over has nothing to do, though, with sex, drugs, & rock ‘n’ roll. The new generation gap is opening over religion. Secularist parents are having a fit over their kids being religious. The article is here,but subscription is required. I’ll post some excerpts:
They get upset. . .when Kevin explains that he doesn’t believe in evolution. “To me, this is appalling,” says his mother.
Clergy are in the difficult position of trying to guide young people toward devoutness without dishonoring their families. The reluctance of parents to accept their children’s choices can be a source of frustration for some youths and their pastors. “My joke is, they liked them better when they were on drugs,” says Pastor Peter La Joy.
Tom Lin’s parents, immigrants from Taiwan, sent him to Harvard University with the expectation he would become a corporate attorney. When he instead opted for a much lower-paying career in a Christian ministry, his mother threatened to kill herself, says Mr. Lin, 34, a regional director for InterVarsity, a college ministry that has 843 chapters in the U.S. Mr. Lin adds that both parents cut off all communication with him for seven years, reconnecting only after his mother was diagnosed with cancer. (She died in 2002.) Mr. Lin says his choices were “shaming” to the values held within many immigrant cultures. His parents “moved to America for material prosperity,” says Mr. Lin. “When [immigrants’] children forsake the very reason they came to this country, it’s particularly devastating.”
The article deals not just with Christianity, but also with orthodox Judaism and radical Islam, lumping them all together. It suggests that some of this can be chalked up to teenage rebellion. But what are we to think of this? Jesus did say that following Him may well mean forsaking one’s family. We should salute the faithful young people, but how does the doctrine of vocation fit into this? Luther went through something similar when he crushed his father’s dreams for him in becoming a monk. He felt all self-righteous about it at first, but later felt that he indeed had sinned against his father, neglecting the respect and obedience he owed him. Have any of you been through this, personally, in your acquaintances, or in your ministry? How should Christian teenagers treat their unbelieving parents?
Posted by Veith at 09:29 AM
March 02, 2007
Human rice
Let us apply Tickletext’s dictum that Christians ought to stop thinking in terms of “environment” and start thinking in terms of “nature.” Our theology speaks much of what is “natural,” and this can be a better foundation for thinking seriously about many contemporary issues than the secularists, with their romantic nature worship or (what is arguably worse) their utilitarianism.
Consider this case: The USDA has just approved a project for the commercial growing of rice with a human gene. The hybrid will produce a human protein that will be used to produce diarrhea medicine and possibly other applications.
Interestingly, the opponents quoted in the article can only object on utilitarian grounds: What if the human rice escapes from the Kansas compound? What if it isn’t safe? Well, going by “natural law,” it doesn’t matter if it is safe or not! Even if it is perfectly safe and cures diarrhea, human rice is UNNATURAL. The reason why most people rightly recoil from such a thought is that mingling species like this is intrinsically perverse. It is INNATELY wrong.
“Unnatural” in this theological sense does not mean going against nature the way we do every day when we heat our houses in the cold or take medicine to fight off sickness. Those are legitimate examples of our human dominion over nature. No, blending the genetic code of humanity with the genetic code of a plant is a VIOLATION of nature.
Such genetic engineering–and, I would add, reproductive engineering–is where Christians must draw the line. Perhaps on these issues they could make common cause with environmentalists.
And, remember, it’s not a question of whether such products are harmful or whether they will do a world of good. That is to think like a utilitarian, whose judgment about right or wrong rejects absolutes in favor of whether or not something is “useful.” That thinking, which many Christians have bought into, goes squarely against Biblical truth.
Posted by Veith at 06:36 AM
The Christian Right goes Liberal
Rudy Giuliani now holds a 2 to 1 lead over John McCain among Republicans, according to a recent poll, tripling his margin over where he stood just a month ago. Why? According to this Washington Post analysis, “The principal reason was a shift among white evangelical Protestants, who now clearly favor Giuliani over McCain. Giuliani is doing well among this group of Americans despite his support of abortion rights and gay rights, two issues of great importance to religious conservatives. McCain opposes abortion rights.”
So the Christian right is surging to the most liberal of all Republicans who opposes all of the social issues that people have assumed are most important to them! So much for single issue politics. So much for the pro-life vote.
There are solid pro-life candidates: Sam Brownback, Tommy Thompson. There is a true-blue evangelical candidate, whom I’ve heard good things about, Mike Huckabee. The only black mark against him among conservatives is that, as governor of Arkansas, he once raised taxes, though he’s got the Christian credentials. I know it’s early, but these guys as of yet seem to be getting little traction.
So, help me out here. Why would Christian conservatives be rallying to Rudy Giuliani?
Posted by Veith at 06:10 AM
Pop-archeology
The secularist archeological establishment is weighing in on James Cameron’s documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” to air Sunday night on the Discovery channel. To their credit–and reminding us that objective science is our friend–they are scornfully dismissing the claims that an excavated ossuary contained the remains of Jesus, His mother, and His wife, His son.
Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, expressed irritation that the claims were made at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers “have set it up as if it’s a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archaeology of this period have flatly rejected this,” she said.
Magness noted that at the time of Jesus, wealthy families buried their dead in tombs cut by hand from solid rock, putting the bones in niches in the walls and then, later, transferring them to ossuaries._She said Jesus came from a poor family that, like most Jews of the time, probably buried their dead in ordinary graves. “If Jesus’ family had been wealthy enough to afford a rock-cut tomb, it would have been in Nazareth, not Jerusalem,” she said.
Magness also said the names on the Talpiyot ossuaries indicate that the tomb belonged to a family from Judea, the area around Jerusalem, where people were known by their first name and father’s name. As Galileans, Jesus and his family members would have used their first name and home town, she said.
“This whole case [for the tomb of Jesus] is flawed from beginning to end,” she said.
Notice that real archeology DOES confirm and explain the practice described in the Bible about the rich man’s tomb in which Christ’s body was placed. This is very different from the Greek and Roman ways of burial, which should explode the allegation that the Gospels had a Greco-Roman origin.
Posted by Veith at 06:07 AM
March 01, 2007
21st century Baseball Strategy?
Thomas Boswell is a sports writer of note. He tells about how the Washington Nationals’ old coach, Frank Robintson, was old school in his baseball strategy. He hails the new coach, young Manny Acta, as bringing 21st century strategy. This approach rejects the sacrifice bunt, except for pitchers, and minimizes base stealing. It stresses defense, preferring to have lots of good fielders in the lineup rather than big hitters who can’t field so well. It also calls for pulling starting pitchers early.
“Studying a million games has proved that a guy on first base with no outs has a better chance of scoring than a man on second base with one out,” Acta added. So any non-pitcher who sacrifice bunts before the late innings is henceforth a mutineer.
This makes a certain amount of sense, but do you think 21st century baseball can be superior to “old school”?
Posted by Veith at 06:52 AM
Liberating Muslims with Britney Spears
Do you remember the Voice of America, the Cold War radio effort that broadcasted the case for freedom and democracy into Communist countries? In 2003, the U.S. government stopped funding Voice of America Arabia because it didn’t seem very effective. The thing is, though, the radio broadcasts had stopped talking about democratic ideology. Instead, they pumped into the Arab world American pop music. Why? Because the Clinton appointee that ran the place became convinced that Communism was brought down by MTV, that the moral license projected by the pop music industry is the same thing as freedom. Of course, what that did to moralistic Muslims was to make them hate us even more.
Robert R. Reilly, the former director of the VOA, tells the sad, embarrasing, and obtuse story:
In the spring of 2003, across a field of rubble in Baghdad, a young Iraqi journalist accosted me and demanded: “Why did you stop broadcasting substance and substitute music?” The year before the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the government entity in charge of radio broadcasting, had shut down the Voice of America’s Arabic service, and it ended most of its Farsi service in 2003. Voice of America had been broadcasting features, discussions of issues and editorials reflecting U.S. policies. But now it filled 50 minutes of each hour on Arabic-language Radio Sawa and most of the time on Persian-language Radio Farda with Eminem, J. Lo and Britney Spears. This change in format provoked other angry questions: Are Americans playing music because they are afraid to tell the truth? Do they not have a truth to tell? Or do they not consider us worth telling the truth to?
We did not fight communism with pop music. In fact, during the Cold War, America used its government media institutions to broadcast its ideas and beliefs. So why are we not refashioning those successful broadcast strategies and trying to spread our ideas in the Muslim world, the breeding ground of much of the world’s terrorist threats?
Members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) have shared their answer: Radio Sawa’s progenitor, media mogul Norman Pattiz, was still serving his Clinton-appointed term in 2002 when he told the New Yorker that “it was MTV that brought down the Berlin Wall.” (Not Ronald Reagan, Lech Walesa or Vaclav Havel, of course.) President Bush’s appointees did not improve the board’s outlook. In October 2002, Ken Tomlinson, then the board’s new chairman, approvingly quoted his son as saying Spears’s music “represents the sounds of freedom.” It seems that the board transformed the “war of ideas” into the battle of the bands.
So, is MTV winning the “war of ideas”? After years of the United States broadcasting Britney Spears to the Levant, the average radical mullah has not exactly succumbed to apoplexy or come to love democracy. A State Department inspector general’s draft report on Radio Sawa (the final report was never issued) found that”it is difficult to ascertain Radio Sawa’s impact in countering anti-American views and the biased state-run media of the Arab world.” Or, as one expert panel assembled to assess its value concluded, “Radio Sawa failed to present America to its audience.”
The BBG has achieved part of its objective in gaining large youth audiences in some areas of the Middle East, such as in Amman, Jordan, where it has an FM transmitter. But as the Jordanian journalist Jamil Nimri told me: “Radio Sawa is fun, but it’s irrelevant.” We do not teach civics to American teenagers by asking them to listen to pop music, so why should we expect Arabs and Persians to learn about America or democracy this way? The condescension implicit in this nearly all-music format is not lost on the audience that we should wish to influence the most — those who think.
Some, of course, suspect that the United States is consciously attempting to subvert the morals of Arab youth. Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes told columnist Cal Thomas in December that our “view of freedom is sometimes seen as licentiousness. . . . And that is only exacerbated by the movies and the television and some of the music and the lyrics that they see exported from America.” Especially, Hughes might have added, since the BBG, on which she sits as an ex officio member, promotes this very image.
The enemy of freedom, according to the Bible, is SIN. SIN enslaves, puts us into bondage. Christ, through the Gospel, makes us free indeed. It’s deadly irony that our culture’s pursuit of freedom-to-sin really is enslaving us. (And the grotesque, yet pathetic spectacle of Britney Spears–as well as her friend Anna Nicole Smith–dramatize just how true the Biblical revelation is.) The Muslim world does need freedom. Their moralism by no means covers up these people’s own sin, as seen in their profound inner hatreds and brutality. But our culture needs freedom too.
Posted by Veith at 05:32 AM
Mr. Garfield’s been shot down, shot down, oh
Did you know that the assassination of President James Garfield on July 2, 1881, led to the invention of air conditioning, metal detectors, and the modern civil service? So says Mark Steyn in a column on a completely different topic.
I am intrigued by unexpected consequences. Also, name the song I quote from in the title of this blog entry. And a performer who recorded it.
Posted by Veith at 05:25 AM
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February 27, 2007
The Empty Tomb
Media coverage of that upcoming documentary claiming that archeologists have discovered the burial place of Jesus and his family is focusing–at least on Fox News–on the alleged evidence that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene! THAT is the controversy, according to these folks, rather than the assertion that Jesus did not rise from the dead.
As I recall Paul Maier’s novel, “A Skeleton in God’s Closet,” a major point it made is that if anyone proved Christ did not rise from the dead, then we should abandon Christianity. His point, of course, is that our faith is grounded in history, not subjective mysticism but objective fact. (And in his novel, the reality turned out to be different than what it first seemed.)
And yet, my belief in Christ seems to be stronger than my belief in the credibility of archeologists. I know the Risen Christ personally in His Word and Sacraments, to the point that any claims to the contrary I am going to consider fraudulent. So my faith in Christ seems to be a different kind of knowledge than the kind science can offer.
And yet, I accept in principle the importance of the evidence of the Empty Tomb, as the evidentialist apologists emphasize. For one thing, Christianity, to be meaningful has to be theoretically falsifiable. So I theoretically accept that proof that Jesus did not rise dooms my faith. But I am considering that I can’t imagine any rational argument or scientific evidence that might convince me to abandon my faith in Christ. Instead, I would abandon my faith in the arguer or the scientist. But is this wrong, a sign of my narrow mind and irrational mysticism? Help me out here.
(Not that I accept the ludicrous claims of the documentary to have any scholarly merit. As someone said, it’s like finding a gravestone of two people named John and Paul and thinking to have discovered the Beatles.)
Posted by Veith at 07:57 AM
Amazing Grace
My take on “Amazing Grace,” the movie about William Wilberforce: It was good. I enjoyed the history. I didn’t know Wilberforce was such a good friend of William Pitt the Younger, the notable Prime Minister. And here is a historical tidbit that I picked up on and which was confirmed for me by the research of one of my students:
The villain in “Amazing Grace” was a member of Parliament from Liverpool who defended the slave trade. He said that he lost some fingers fighting the Americans during their revolution. The man’s name was “Lord Tarleton.” Banestre Tarleton was the British cavalry officer in South Carolina, known for the atrocities he committed against the Colonists. He was the model for that brutal Redcoat in Mel Gibson’s movie “The Patriot.” And, as my student confirmed, Tarleton went back to England, got into politics as the Member from Liverpool, and battled Wilberforce to keep the slave trade legal.
But my frustration with the movie was that, while Wilberforce was an evangelical, that is, a believer in the gospel of Christ. So was John Newton, the ex-slaver who converted to Christianity, who wrote “Amazing Grace.” His portrayal was a high-point of the movie, but the filmmakers allowed him to say one sentence of the gospel: “I am a great sinner, but Jesus is a greater Savior.” That’s a wonderful quote–does anyone know if Newton actually said that?–but that was the ONLY mention of Jesus Christ. Everything else was generic “God,” good works, and political activism. Despite the theme song “Amazing Grace”! There was no mention that the source of the good works and the activism was, for these gentlemen, the saving work of Christ.
Why the reticence to so much as say what Gospel-trusting Christians actually believe? Why the embarrassment, even on the part of a generally Christian-friendly production company, to mention Christ? Referring to Christ, forgiveness, grace, and salvation as a free gift are taboos, like sex used to be.
Posted by Veith at 07:19 AM
$1000 Reward for Repressed Memory in Old Books
The trauma was so great that the person repressed the memory. Ever hear of that phenomenon? Have you ever read about it in literature? It’s actually a rather common motif, found in Emily Dickinson, Kipling’s “Captain Courageous,” Dicken’s “A Tale of Two Cities,” and, of course, Freud.
But, according to a fascinating scientific study that uses literature as evidence, there are no examples of repressed memory in any literature before the 19th century. The Harvard study, led by psychiatrist Harrison Pope and a team of literary scholars, conclude that repressed memory is a cultural construction of the 19th century, with its Romanticism and its morbid introspection.
Shakespeare, with all of his psychological realism and breadth of coverage, never cites a repressed memory. And neither have any other pre-Romantic authors. But the scholars are willing to be corrected. They are offering a $1000 award if anyone can come up with a reference to repressed memory syndrome before 1800. Go here for details of the “Repressed Memory Challenge” and to submit your counterexample.
Posted by Veith at 06:59 AM
WalMart to get hip, ironic, and likeable
WalMart has hired the advertising agency that has given us the Geico gecko and the caveman. Watch this summer to see if WalMart’s ads get better and if its image suddenly improves.
Meantime, here is a good quote from the head of the Martin Agency, based in Richmond, VA:
“We have an advantage in living like most Americans live,” Hughes said. “There are a lot of TV commercials where people are taking the subway to work. Some people in Washington take the subway. But a lot of people in New York take the subway, so that’s how they” — the New York ad community — “thinks people live. It’s not how we live. The people in New York don’t know Wal-Mart on an intimate basis.”
Posted by Veith at 06:57 AM
February 26, 2007
A major assault on Christianity
Get ready for a big salvo in the attack on Christianity. Titanic director James Cameron is coming out with a documentary that will air on the Discovery Channel on March 4, arguing that archeologists have found the burial place of Jesus’s body. The site also is said to include the bodies of Mary, Joseph, and Christ’s wife, Mary Magdalene, as well as their child, Judah. The media account even promises DNA evidence! (If they claim to have recovered the DNA of Jesus, they could also use that to disprove the Virgin Birth and who knows what all, though the possibility is ludicrous.)
I remember reading some time ago about how archeologists in Israel have discovered a large 1st century family mausoleum. Inscriptions include many Biblical names that were common at the time, including Mary and, yes, Jesus (which was the same word as “Joshua”). Mr. Cameron is doing what the original archeologists wouldn’t, claim that these tombs are of the people mentioned in the Bible, including Jesus Christ, proving that He wasn’t really resurrected.
Paul Maier wrote a novel, A Skeleton in God’s Closet about what might happen if archeologists claimed to have found the bones of Jesus and that the tomb wasn’t empty after all. Once again, reality imitates fiction.
If you are going to attack Christianity, aim at the Resurrection, because without that, we are most to be pitied and have no hope in the world.
Here is an early refutation of the documentary.
Posted by Veith at 07:01 AM
Lost in the Funhouse
An open letter to the producers of “Lost”:
“Lost” has been my favorite current TV show. I like its magical-realist blend of grit and fantasy, its puzzles and clues, its labyrinthine plots, and its utterly-absorbing characters. It even has some religious teasers. But, guys, the show is in trouble, with some fans talking about shark-jumping.
Previews for the last episode promised three major revelations. But what were they? How Jack got his tattoos, what his tattoos mean, and–I can’t even figure out what the other one might be. And all of the “Others” just get on a ship and leave, thus getting written out of the plot? That’s not very satisfying.
Please, producers, take this bit of advice: Stop introducing new characters, each with an interminable backstory! Not until you have tied up at least a few loose ends with the characters you already have! As it is, the plots are careening out of control. That’s not good writing. Get back to the main story and our favorite characters–Hurley, Locke, Charlie–and occasionally give us a few resolutions along the way. OK, now you can go back to work.
Posted by Veith at 06:07 AM
A World without America
A British group, 18 Doughty Street, is sponsoring ads on English TV that imagine “A World Without America.” See one of them here. The ads are both humorous and thought-provoking. It’s gratifying that there is still some pro-America sentiment out in the world.
Posted by Veith at 06:02 AM
Church Report
I got snowed in yesterday and couldn’t drive my usual long pilgrimage to church! I missed it. So it’s up to you to give a thought for today from church on Sunday.
Posted by Veith at 05:57 AM
February 23, 2007
“Amazing Grace,” how sweet the movie?
If you were able to take in Amazing Grace, the movie about Christian statesman William Wilberforce, what did you think of it?
Posted by Veith at 07:39 AM
Was Osama right?
Osama bin Laden said that America cannot handle casualties, that we will abandon any war we start once the body bags start coming home. It looks like he was right. I am ready to concede that our cultural pacifism may be a morally lofty position, but it puts us at a disadvantage against cultures that want to kill us.
Posted by Veith at 06:50 AM
Idol Words
My judgment as to the best four singers in the “American Idol” competition and my prediction of the winner:
Stephanie Edwards
Jordin Sparks
LaKisha Jones
Melinda Doolittle
The next American idol: Melinda Doolittle.
Posted by Veith at 06:41 AM
Scandal in Classical Music
I’ve been listening to classical music lately. I don’t want anyone to think I’m no longer keepin’ it country, but the old classical music station in DC became a sports carrier, so the format was picked up by a different FM station that I pick up really well. And lately, I have needed harmony and ordered complexity, so that’s what I’ve been listening to in my pickup.
Anyway, a scandal is brewing in classical-music land. As you may know, iTunes uses software that can identify musical tracks. Someone put in a CD of the late British pianist Joyce Hatto playing some Liszt. The software, though, identified it as being by another pianist, Laszlo Simon. The person wrote the classical magazine Gramophone. Critics found the two performances sounded exactly the same, something confirmed by sound engineers who compared the sound wave signatures. Further investigation showed that Ms. Hatto had apparently lifted dozens of performances from other musicians, putting them on her records.
She must have thought it was the perfect crime. Who would have ever found out?
Posted by Veith at 06:34 AM
February 22, 2007
A role model for Christians in politics
As we consider how Christians ought to handle politics, we might contemplate William Wilberforce, the 18th century British parliamentarian, who, out of his Christian faith, crusaded for the end of the slave trade in the British Empire. He eventually succeeded, using tactics such as coalition building and what he termed “co-belligerence,” allying with people he disagreed with on other issues for a common end.
It so happens that Walden Media has made a movie, Amazing Grace, which is opening Friday. It is reportedly filled with explicit Christianity, which is worse than explicit sex in some circles. The filmmakers are hoping for a big opening weekend to make an impact in the marketplace. If you can, you might want to take it in. Here at Patrick Henry College, we have bought out a showing and will be going en masse. If you go, we can discuss it here this weekend.
Posted by Veith at 06:15 AM
Pitchy
That was the verdict the judges on “American Idol” delivered on most of the male finalists, a term that means, I believe, off-key. The highlight of that competition was when pudgy funny guy Chris Sligh responded to a put-down from Simon Cowell with the words “Just because I’m not like Il Divo or Teletubbies.” To explain, that was a reference to two lame and embarrassing projects of Mr. Cowell, a British producer: an ill-fated attempt to cash in on the “Three Tenors” fad with a group of young opera singers and that painfully weird children’s show. The comment seemed to pole-axe Simon, who said, twice, that it made him “uncomfortable”! The insulter insulted! The victim silencing his tormenter! That was priceless, reason enough to vote for the refreshingly unusual looking Mr. Sligh.
On the women’s side, the one to pull for, in my opinion, is Melinda Doolittle, the backup singer trying to make it up front. The one of whom Simon said, we get all of these people with confidence and attitude, but no talent, whereas you have no confidence and no attitude and lots of talent. (Commenter Geremy, notice that I am agreeing with you exactly on my favorite contestants.)
No, I didn’t watch it last night. I went to church (see below). I Tivoed the thing and watched part of the women’s competition late. They did much better than the men. I don’t think I can sustain watching these two-hour shows. The danger for monster hit TV shows comes when the network runs them EVERY NIGHT OF THE WEEK, to the point of satiety. (Remember what happened to “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”)
Posted by Veith at 06:14 AM
Ash Wednesday service
What a church service we had. The Litany (“by your agony and bloody sweat”), the imposition of ashes (“you are dust, and to dust you shall return”), the Ash Wednesday Collect (“You despise nothing that You have made”), a spoken Communion service (“Take, eat; this is my body”).
At Lent, pastors seem to ratchet up the Law a little bit, making the sermons especially penetrating and convicting. And those Lenten hymns are so movingly somber. A satisfying beginning to Lent.
Posted by Veith at 06:00 AM
February 21, 2007
The Wise Turk quote
Some time ago, I was trying to explain Luther’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms to a theologian of a different party, using the line from Luther that he would rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian. My interlocutor couldn’t believe Luther actually said that and asked me to find the reference. Well, I tried a little bit, to the point of trying a global search on the CD of Luther’s collected works, but to no avail. During our recent discussion of Christians’ involvement in politics, I thought I would ask you readers if you knew where it came from.
Then commenter Carl Vehse (not his real name, but a reference to a Walther-era patriarch) wrote me offline, giving a piece he had written as a comment at the Watersblogged site. He links to a “First Things” column in which ex-Lutheran, now-Catholic Richard John Neuhaus tells of trying to find the reference to that quote and failing, concluding that it is apocryphal.
Before posting, with his permission, Carl’s discussion, I would like to ask you readers if (1) you can find the quotation in Luther after all; and, if not, (2) you can find the earliest use of that saying. In literary scholarship, identifying the original source of a spurious text can itself be very interesting. Right now, the quotation, while perhaps true in what it says, seems to be phony, making me wonder what else Luther didn’t say.
Here is Carl’s treatise on the subject, which is rather long, and so is continued on the “continue reading” frame. It contains lots of Luther quotation that are just as good as what he didn’t say:
Recently we have seen the election of a Muslim in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District and an increasing GOP interest in Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon, as a possible 2008 presidential candidate. As sure as a hound dog has fleas, political editorials in Christian magazines, as well as the major league clymer media, are bound to repeatedly trot out the hackneyed phrase, attributed to Martin Luther: “I would rather be ruled by a wise Turk than by a stupid Christian.”
In his January, 1997 editorial in First Things (http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=3618#while) Richard Neuhaus pointed out that despite the efforts he and other have made to show that Martin Luther said no such thing (even in German), the feline urban legend seems to have “nine times nine lives” by continuing to pop up in articles or interviews.
Here is yet another attempt to put a lid on this (non)quoted urban legend, particularly to a claim that it is a loose paraphrase of the following excerpt from Martin Luther’s “An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility” (http://www.godrules.net/library/luther/NEW1luther_b4.htm):
“It is said that there is no better temporal rule anywhere than among the Turks, who have neither spiritual nor temporal law, but only their Koran; and we must confess that there is no more shameful rule than among us, with our spiritual and temporal law, so that there is no estate which lives according to the light of nature, still less according to Holy Scripture.”
As I will show below the urban legend has absolutely nothing to do with the quoted excerpt from “An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility and any such (para)phrase is quite unlikely to have been even loosely uttered (in German or Latin) by Dr. Luther elsewhere. The key points, as they should be for all phrases bandied about as being uttered by (or paraphrased from) Luther, are context, context, context._First, some historical context – Since posting his 95 Theses (http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/web/ninetyfive.html) in 1517, Luther’s simpatico with the pope had gone noticeably downhill. The year 1520 was a busy watershed. In June, Luther attacked the papacy (and all but called the pope the Antichrist) in his “On the Papacy in Rome” (http://www.godrules.net/library/luther/NEW1luther_a30.htm), a reply to the Franciscan Augustin von Alveld, who advocated papal supremacy. Luther then nails the pope as the Antichrist in his three famous letters later that year: _”An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility”_(http://www.godrules.net/library/luther/NEW1luther_b4.htm), _”The Babylonian Captivity of the Church” _(http://www.godrules.net/library/luther/NEW1luther_b5.htm), and _”On Christian Liberty” _(http://www.godrules.net/library/luther/NEW1luther_b6.htm)
In the meantime, a papal bull, “Exsurge Domine” (http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo10/l10exdom.htm), was issued on June 15 and announced by Johann Eck in Meissen during September, giving Luther 4 months to recant or face excommunication. Luther responded by burning the papal bull in a bonfire on December 10. Pope Leo X then excommunicated Luther on January 3, 1521, in the bull, “Decet Romanum Pontificem” (http://www.tracts.ukgo.com/bull_decet_romanum.doc). (http://imagecache2.allposters.com/images/pic/BRGPOD/201758~Martin-Luther-Burning-the-Papal-Bull-Posters.jpg)
Second, “An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility” was written to describe what Luther saw as the distressing conditions of the German nation under the pope and the reforms needed for correction. It has nothing to do with whether the Turks are preferable rulers to Romanist politicians. Here’s an outline of “An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility” :_I. THE THREE WALLS OF THE ROMANISTS_A. Romanists claim they are above the temporal law_B. Romanists claim only they may interpret Scripture_C. Romanists claim only the pope can call a council (to decide controversies)_II. ABUSES TO BE DISCUSSED IN COUNCILS_A. Romanists taxed the Germans under the guise of raising money to defend against the Turks_(Islamists), but they spend it on themselves _B. Romanists use their canon laws to steal from the German people as much as possibe._C. Romanists are draining German churches and the German people of all the wealth and _resources German princes and nobles need to defend the people and support the churches._III. PROPOSALS FOR REFORM _A. German princes, nobles, and cities should stop giving money to Romanists and resist them._B. The Germans should reform all the evils coming from the pope (the Antichrist) and Rome_i. In the practices within the German churches_ii. In education and the German universities concerning_a. dropping the use of certain books of Aristotle_b. the teaching of languages, mathematics, and history (Luther gives that _over to the specialists) _c. the teaching of medicine (Luther leaves that to the physicians) _d. the teaching of law (jurists)_e. the teaching of theology _C. The princes and nobles should recognize that God has given the Roman Empire to the Germans_i. Throughout history God has tossed empires to and fro_ii. The pope had taken over the Roman Empire dishonestly for his own evil purpose _iii. Using the wiles of the papal tyrant, God has now given the German nation control _of the Roman Empire_iv. This Empire should now be ruled by the Christian princes of Germany to rescue liberty, _and to show the Romans, for once, what it is that German nation has received from God._v. There is still many sinful and corrupt practices in Germany that the Christian leaders_in Germany need to correct
Luther concludes his Letter: “God give us all a Christian mind, and especially to the Christian nobility of the German nation a right spiritual courage to do the best that can be done for the poor Church. Amen.”
Third, the irrelevance of the urban legend to the quoted excerpt can be seen by looking at the entire paragraph from the section of the Letter that appears in part III.B.ii.d according to the outline. Here Luther charges that it is a waste of time to study canon law in the German university, since the Romanists make up their own laws as they goes along [Aside: Sort of like the Commission on Constitutional Matters does in the Missouri Synod today]. At the end of the paragraph Luther brings up (“It is said…”) the form of Turkish (Islamist) rule, which depends only on the Koran, and compares it to the absolutely shameful mess of Romanist made-up canon laws (“spiritual laws”) and the imperial laws (“temporal laws”) under which the poor Germans are now ruled.
“Since, then, the pope and his followers have suspended the whole canon law, and since they pay no heed to it, but regard their own wanton will as a law exalting them above all the world, we should follow their example and for our part also reject these books. Why should we waste our time studying them? We could never discover the whole arbitrary will of the pope, which has now become the canon law. The canon law has arisen in the devil’s name, let it fall in the name of God, and let there be no more doctores decretorum [Doctors of canon law] FA262 in the world, but only doctores scrinii papalis, that is, “hypocrites of the pope”! It is said that there is no better temporal rule anywhere than among the Turks, who have neither spiritual nor temporal law, but only their Koran; and we must confess that there is no more shameful rule than among us, with our spiritual and temporal law, so that there is no estate which lives according to the light of nature, still less according to Holy Scripture.” [or as William Blackstone might translated that last phrase: “…according to the laws of nature, still less according to nature’s God.”]
Rather than indicating a preference for rule by “wise Turks”, Luther mocks being ruled under the pope and his Romanist followers. It is analogous to cynically claiming, “It is said that there would be no better President than Benedict Arnold, rather than, we must confess, the shameful mess of another Clinton in the Oval Office.” That Luther here is only being serious sarcastically is further confirmed by reading the paragraphs that follow, in which Luther indicates his real preference that “Holy Scriptures and good rulers would be law enough.”
“It seems just to me that territorial laws and territorial customs should take precedence of the general imperial laws, and the imperial laws be used only in case of necessity. Would to God that as every land has its own peculiar character, so it were ruled by its own brief laws, as the lands were ruled before these imperial laws were invented, and many lands are still ruled without them!”
And later in his Letter Luther states:_”…it [is] His will that this empire be ruled by the Christian princes of Germany, regardless whether the pope stole it, or got it by robbery, or made it anew. It is all God’s ordering, which came to pass before we knew of it.”_Not much room for Turkish rule (wise or other) there!!
Fourth – Still not convinced about Luther’s views on letting Turks take over to rule?!? So were some others in Luther’s time: _”Certain persons have been begging me for the past five years to write about war against the Turks, and encourage our people and stir them up to it, and now that the Turk is actually approaching, my friends are compelling me to do this duty, especially since there are some stupid preachers among us Germans (as I am sorry to hear) who are making the people believe that we ought not and must not fight against the Turks. Some are even so crazy as to say that it is not proper for Christians to bear the temporal sword or to be rulers; also because our German people are such a wild and uncivilized folk that there are some who want the Turk to come and rule. All the blame for this wicked error among the people is laid on Luther and must be called ‘the fruit of my Gospel,’ just as I must bear the blame for the rebellion, and for everything bad that happens anywhere in the world. ”
And that is why in 1528 Luther wrote “Vom Kriege wider die Türken” (“On War Against the Turk” ) (http://www.lutherdansk.dk/On%20war%20against%20Islamic%20reign%20of%20terror/index.htm) in which he explains the context of some previous comments:_”For the popes had never seriously intended to make war on the Turk, but used the Turkish war as a conjurer’s hat, playing around in it, and robbing Germany of money by means of indulgences, whenever they took the notion. All the world knew it, but now it is forgotten. Thus they condemned my article not because it prevented the Turkish war, but because it tore off this conjurer’s hat and blocked the path along which the money went to Rome… If there had been a general opinion that a serious war was at hand, I could have dressed my article up better and made some distinctions…. _”But what moved me most of all was this. They undertook to fight against the Turk under the name of Christ, and taught men and stirred them up to do this, as though our people were an army of Christians against the Turks, who were enemies of Christ; and this is straight against Christ’s doctrine and name. It is against His doctrine, because He says that Christians shall not resist evil, shall not fight or quarrel, not take revenge or insist on rights. It is against His name, because in such an army there are scarcely five Christians, and perhaps worse people in the eyes of God than are the Turks; and yet they would all bear the name of Christ….
“I say this not because I would teach that worldly rulers ought not be Christians, or that a Christian cannot bear the sword and serve God in temporal government. Would God they were all Christians, or that no one could be a prince unless he were a Christian! Things would be better than they now are and the Turk would not be so powerful. But what I would do is keep the callings and offices distinct and apart, so that everyone can see to what he is called, and fulfill the duties of his office faithfully and with the heart, in the service of God.”
Luther also notes:_”For although some praise his [the Turk’s] government because he allows everyone to believe what he will so long as he remains the temporal lord, yet this praise is not true, for he does not allow Christians to come together in public, and no one can openly confess Christ or preach or teach against Mohammed.
“How can one injure Christ more than with these two things; namely, force and wiles? With force, they prevent preaching and suppress the Word. With wiles, they daily put wicked and dangerous examples before men’s eyes and draw men to them. If we then would not lose our Lord Jesus Christ, His Word and faith, we must pray against the Turks as against other enemies of our salvation and of all good. Nay, as we pray against the devil himself….”
“But as the pope is Antichrist, so the Turk is the very devil. The prayer of Christendom is against both. Both shall go down to hell, even though it may take the Last Day to send them there; and I hope it will not be long.”
“Moreover, I hear it said that there are those in Germany who desire the coming of the Turk and his government, because they would rather be under the Turk than under the emperor or princes. It would be hard to fight against the Turk with such people. Against them I have no better advice to give than that pastors and preachers be exhorted to be diligent in their preaching and faithful in instructing such people, pointing out to them the danger they are in and the wrong that they are doing, how they are making themselves partakers of great and numberless sins and loading themselves down with them in the sight of God, if they are found in this opinion. For it is misery enough to be compelled to suffer the Turk as overlord and to endure his government; but willingly to put oneself under it, or to desire it, when one need not and is not compelled – the man who does that ought to be shown the sin he is committing and how terribly he is going on.”
There are indeed many, many more statements of Luther in “On War Against the Turk” that are just as valuable today, both for Europe and the U.S. But these should be more than sufficient to convince reasonable readers that Luther would never have uttered the urban legend and would never regard as a preferable desire or choice to be ruled by a Turk… or probably represented by a Muslim congressman (someone pass this on to the voters in Minnesota’s Fifth District).
Posted by Veith at 07:01 AM
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down
Remember, O man: Thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.
Posted by Veith at 06:18 AM
February 20, 2007
Fat Tuesday
This is the day to have your last bit of pleasure before the rigors of Lenten fasting and self-denial. Of course when there is no more fasting and self-denial and when revelry and pleasure-seeking are year-round obsessions, it sort of ruins the concept.
Posted by Veith at 07:37 AM
‘Most impactful” TV show ever?
That is what NBC honcho Jeff Zucker says, in envy, of American Idol. But “impactful” in what way? What cultural effects does he think it has? He seems to just be tabulating audience share, which is the problem with the TV industry. I confess that I am following that show for the first time. I think it is salutary for people to make aesthetic judgments. If this would become habitual, with the public rejecting artistically bad performances, the show really would be impactful, and total TV watching and purchases of pop music would decline dramatically.
This week Idol launches into viewer voting to trim down the 24 finalists. Since our topics have been so heavy recently, here is the place for you to hail your favorites and make your prediction of the winner.
Posted by Veith at 07:27 AM
Lesser of Two Evils politics
In our discussion of Christianity and politics, commenter Spicedparrot writes:
First: I think in any political situation its important to keep in mind the clear separation between the Kingdoms. Political issues are rarely ever simple (despite attempts to over simplify them). For the Christian, his civic duty is to what he believe is in the best interest of his neighbor. From a political perspective some might view that the best means for caring for our neighbor (i.e. the poor, etc.) is through the agency of the government. Others would believe that the government actually hurts our neighbor by discouraging others from taking care of the poor and creating an environment where people don’t learn to take care of themselves.
Second: Even the abortion issue is complex. Any simple legal understanding of Roe v. Wade makes that clear – people don’t understand that the Casey decision was probably even worse. Unfortunately, there is little that anyone can do on the national level (outside a constitutional amendment or confirming “originalist” judges). Bush has already done nearly all he can using his executive administrative powers (which are also limited). Instead, abortion opponents are much more effective working at a local and state level to achieve a political victory int his matter.
My point – hypothetically an elected official who is “pro-choice” could be more advantageous to the cause of pro-lifers if that same person also supports “originalist” justices (the reality of a constituional amendment at this point is nil). Also some are labeled “pro-choice” when their federalist political philosophy realizes that the truly best place for this issue to be addressed is on the local and state levels – and we are seeing some success on that front.
Point being – as it has been said better to be ruled by a smart Turk than a stupid Christian. Christians, politicians, people, and issues are rarely monoliths and I think the doctrine of prudence dictates we take things on a case by case basis rather than making broad brushed political characterizations.
Frankly, the GOP although “more” pro-life friendly isn’t really “that” pro-life and is unlikely to ever make it a big issue.
In my mind, better we spend our time catechizing our children and others on this important moral issue than trying to elect solely “pro-life” candidates.
It is true that politics can get very muddied. In our sin-cursed world, no political ideology works as well as its advocates think it will. Our idealistic dreams of bringing democracy to Iraq are up against an ugly reality. At the same time, idealistic dreams of the left that if we pull out all will be well are also up against an ugly reality. I like Spicedparrot’s emphasis on loving and serving the neighbor in our political choices, a true application of the doctrine of vocation. As for the “wise Turk” quote, tomorrow I’m going to blog on that, addressing the issue of whether Luther actually said it.
Posted by Veith at 06:53 AM
February 19, 2007
Christians who are conservatives
Thanks for that excellent and high-level discussion last week of Christians and political conservatism. It should be studied by all of those pundits who assume that Christians take a simplistic attitude towards politics. I plan on posting some of the comments and feedback this week for further discussion (such as the one below).
It seems to me that John McCain is not opportunistic, but that he exemplifies the person who avoids ideology to take a position-by-position stance on issues as they come. He really is a “maverick,” a cowboy term referring to a cow who won’t be led and so is always wandering off from the herd. McCain does violate the tenets of conservative orthodoxy. But he also violates the tenets of liberal orthodoxy. And while the media earlier embraced him, now the media has turned against him. He is certainly not all about taking popular stands. He still supports the war in Iraq, even though his Republican colleagues are running as fast as they can away from the president. And McCain just now called for the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
But that most of you commenters are so suspicious of him proves that you are not single issue voters at all. You dislike him because he is insufficiently conservative, despite his pro-life credentials. Which shows that conservative political ideology still matters.
Posted by Veith at 08:53 AM
“Nature” vs. “Environment”
Commenter Tickletext the other day offered a provocative way to reframe the debate, as Christians consider “environmental” issues:
This is not entirely on topic, but in my opinion Christians who wish to recover a biblically-based ethic of stewardship of the earth might begin by rejecting the term “The Environment” and actively recovering the language of nature.
Besides being a political slogan often devoid of substance, “The Environment” implies a relationship of opposition and exclusion between human kind and creation. Etymologically, “environment” denotes something which surrounds or encompasses. Thus it makes sense that when people use the term they are generally thinking of that which physically surrounds us and not what is inside us as well. They stress the human obligation to be responsible for how we live, but without a meaningful concept of human personhood on which to base those calls to responsibility, their words generate so much heat without light. In this anti- or non-human sense the term “The Environment,” despite its popularity in postmodern circles, is a highly modernistic one. It simply flips the model of Humanity vs. Creation which is the basis of so much exploitation of creation (i.e. the kinds of thoughtless behaviour which allegedly cause global warming).
“Nature,” on the other hand, is rich with theological and philosophical overtones, and it comports with such concepts of natural law and human nature. It offers a better model for thinking about the purpose of creation and the obligations of humanity in its role as steward of creation.
The shift in language is extremely important in these postmodern times. Redefining nature as extrinsic to humanity encourages some people to skirt the fundamental contradiction in ardently defending some environments–owl habitats–but not others–the womb, for instance. Of course Christians are free to use the term “the environment” in order to be all things to all people, but at the very least we should be aware of the subtle differences between these two paradigms of creation and the deep import of endorsing one at the expense of the other.
The classical theological treatment of “nature” also ties in to the objectivity of moral truth. Morality was seen as, to quote the Declaration of Independence, “The Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Going back to nature, so to speak, would help Christians make a persuasive case against, for example, embryonic stem cell research, homosexuality, and genetic engineering.
Roman Catholic moral theology, of course, is still grounded in natural law, which is why it condemns birth control, but didn’t Luther and the Protestant tradition also teach about natural law? Is there anything particularly “Catholic” about that approach? (I’m asking because I’m not sure.)
Posted by Veith at 08:34 AM
The true meaning of Presidents Day
is Washington’s Birthday. Really, this is still the official title of the day. The father of our country was born on Febrary 22, but in 1971, the observance was moved to the third Monday of February to provide for a three-day weekend. Thus unhinged from an actual historical date, it was advertisers who introduced the new, more generic term. (It was NOT Richard Nixon, according to this linked article, despite the urban legend that he wanted a day in which he too could be commemorated. The linked article also says that there should be no apostrophe in the word “presidents.”)
I’ve been reading about George Washington, both his exploits in the War for Independence and his leadershp as president. He was, indeed, a noble, self-less, virtuous leader, a giant among men. Even modern historians, used to cutting legends down to size, are acknowledging his greatness. So, here’s to President Washington! May we see his like again!
Posted by Veith at 08:02 AM
February 16, 2007
Stupid Youth Group Tricks
You know that story about that sex education class in a Maryland school, in which students had to chew a stick of gum, then pass it around so that everyone in the class chewed it? It was supposed to make some kind of point, never specified, about sexually-transmitted diseases? Well, this grossout classroom activity was not the brainchild of a progressive educational theorist. It was, in fact, an activity sponsored by a “faith-based group that was allowed to come into the classroom to teach about abstinence.
Indeed, the “gum game” has its origins in church youth groups! It is, in fact, one of the idiotic evangelical youth activities I lampooned back in 2002 in my WORLD column “Stupid Church Tricks.” The sort that teaches kids (1) that they should overcome their natural inhibitions (2) that they should give in to peer pressure (3) that church is really, really stupid.
Posted by Veith at 07:04 AM
Which Democrat?
Mental experiment, addressed to my fellow Christian conservatives: Acknowledging that you don’t like any of them, which of the DEMOCRATS currently running would you prefer as president?
Posted by Veith at 06:25 AM
McCain vs. Giuliani
But if Christian conservatives are “single issue” voters, how can we account for the strange antipathy of many of them for John McCain? He is anti-abortion and, for double issue voters, aware that we have to fight the jihadists with military force. However, he departs from political conservative orthodoxy on issues such as campaign finance reform.
James Dobson vows never to vote for McCain. True, the Arizona Senator has dissed the Christian right leadership. But in his autobiography he writes movingly of how his Christian faith helped get him through the years he spent in a North Vietnamese prison camp. And though he might waffle on tax issues, no one disputes his personal integrity.
And yet, many social conservatives are lining up with Rudy Giuliani, who is openly “pro-choice” and pro-just about every other social issue that Christian conservatives are against. They are saying that he is promising to appoint strict constructionist judges, so they are giving him a pass.
How can we account for this? In a contest between the two of them, shouldn’t Christian conservatives rally behind John McCain?
Posted by Veith at 06:24 AM
February 15, 2007
Single issue?
In the Reagan post the day before yesterday, David in Norcal posed the following question: “If Democrats were opposed to legal abortion and Republicans supported legal abortion, regardless of other views, who would evangelicals vote for?”
His point was that social and cultural issues count for more than fiscal policy on both sides, including his Bay Area opponents of George Bush, who oppose him not for his economic policy but because they think he is a Christian conservative. The question, though, is another good one. First, is it true? Would you vote for a liberal who is pro-life over a conservative who is pro-abortion?
It seems to me that a candidate’s position on abortion tells us a lot about him and the way he thinks and the policies he would support. If he opposes Roe v. Wade, he is probably a strict constructionist in his theory of constitutional law and an opponent of judicial activism. He is probably not a moral relativist. He likely believes in a higher moral law above that of the state, the foundation for transcendent human rights and an important check on potential tyrants.
But political liberals–think of Hubert Humphrey or, even more so, William Jennings Bryan–could believe in all of that. So is it wrong to be a “single-issue voter”?
Posted by Veith at 06:49 AM
The “War and Peace” project
Here is a story on the new audio version of War and Peace, saying this about the actor who recorded Tolstoy’s–and the world’s–masterpiece:
Neville Jason can claim he’s read every word, pondered every pause and mulled the inflection of every line of “War and Peace” and it would be unwise to call him a liar. That’s him, carefully enunciating each syllable of Leo Tolstoy’s 560,000-word epic in an audiobook recently released by Naxos, an English publisher. Fifty-one CDs, roughly 70 hours of death, drama, history and philosophy. It took 23 days in the studio to record.
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read that book, one of the gaps in my literary experience. I’m fascinated by the Napoleonic wars, appreciate Tolstoy’s other writings that I have read, and interested in the genre of the historical novel. Plus, I’m a literature professor, for crying out loud. How could I not have read “War and Peace”? I have an unabridged translation sitting on my dresser like a paving stone.
Tolstoy’s book is notorious for its length, though it’s not nearly so long as the Harry Potter saga. Knowing that it can be read, including time for pauses and nuance–the way I read novels–in 70 hours is encouraging. That is finite. I can handle that. (Have any of you tackled this novel?)
Posted by Veith at 06:08 AM
February 14, 2007
Why don’t conservatives want to conserve the planet?
Picking up on this week’s theme, a question that got it started last week had to do with why I and my ilk had been mocking global warming. Christians believe human beings are sinners, don’t we? So why aren’t we holding people accountable for their sins against the environment?
Again, that is a very fair questions, and I’m sure it has different answers. Some Christians are indeed oblivious to the implications of the doctrines they claim to believe. Some Christians are indeed defenders of the environment. I myself have argued that we should try to protect endangered species, since God created them and therefore their existence is His will.
As a confessional Christian, I do have a low view of humanity. I’m hardly ever disillusioned at human behavior, since I have few illusions in the first place. I believe both in the sinfulness of humanity AND the littleness of humanity, that we aren’t as great as we think we are. What gets me about the global warming scare is its apocalyptic nature. I am skeptical that we fallen human beings can destroy the world. I am skeptical that even if we could we would be allowed to. I do think the world is going to be destroyed, but not by us.
Posted by Veith at 09:31 AM
A Christian holiday
Go to Aardvark Alley for the scoop on St. Valentine, Martyr, including a historic prayer for the day. Muslims scorn Valentine’s Day as a Christian holiday, and it really is. As far as I can tell, only Christianity among world religions has a theology that not only affirms but exalts the love and the physical, sexual relationship between a man and a woman. (Islam, with its polygamy, easy divorce, and harsh subjugation of women does not; Hinduism and Buddhism reject the body and the physical plane; hedonists who just pursue sex as a pleasurable sensation outside of marriage do not have a clue.) Christians go so far as to see physical, marital love as an icon of Christ and the Church.
We certainly need to recover the true meaning of Valentine’s day in both the church and the culture. The Cranach Institute last fall held a major conference “In the Image of God: A Christian Vision for Love and Marriage” that would help. You can download the papers here and get the CDs here.
Posted by Veith at 08:15 AM
February 13, 2007
Reagan as anti-conservative?
Here is a challenge to us politically conservative conservative Christians, us Reagan ex-democrats: George Will discusses a new book by historian John Patrick Diggins, entitled _Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History. Unlike many academics, Diggins has high regard for Reagan, ranking him up there among the top four presidents. But he argues that Reagan was no conservative. Says Will, “he notes that Reagan’s theory was radically unlike that of Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, and very like that of Burke’s nemesis, Thomas Paine. Burke believed that the past is prescriptive because tradition is a repository of moral wisdom. Reagan frequently quoted Paine’s preposterous cry that “we have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
Diggins says Reagan imbibed his mother’s form of Christianity, a strand of 19th-century Unitarianism from which Reagan took a foundational belief that he expressed in a 1951 letter: “God couldn’t create evil so the desires he planted in us are good.” This logic — God is good, therefore so are God-given desires — leads to the Emersonian faith that we please God by pleasing ourselves. Therefore there is no need for the people to discipline their desires. So, no leader needs to suggest that the public has shortcomings and should engage in critical self-examination.
Diggins thinks that Reagan’s religion “enables us to forget religion” because it banishes the idea of “a God of judgment and punishment.” Reagan’s popularity was largely the result of “his blaming government for problems that are inherent in democracy itself.” To Reagan, the idea of problems inherent in democracy was unintelligible because it implied that there were inherent problems with the demos — the people. There was nothing — nothing– in Reagan’s thinking akin to Lincoln’s melancholy fatalism, his belief (see his Second Inaugural) that the failings of the people on both sides of the Civil War were the reasons why “the war came.”
As Diggins says, Reagan’s “theory of government has little reference to the principles of the American founding.” To the Founders, and especially to the wisest of them, James Madison, government’s principal function is to resist, modulate and even frustrate the public’s unruly passions, which arise from desires.
“The true conservatives, the founders,” Diggins rightly says, constructed a government full of blocking mechanisms — separations of powers, a bicameral legislature, and other checks and balances — in order “to check the demands of the people.” Madison’s Constitution responds to the problem of human nature. “Reagan,” says Diggins, “let human nature off the hook.”
How might this be answered?
Posted by Veith at 06:50 AM
Fearfully and wonderfully made
An article mostly about the memory-lapse defense in the Libby trial, gives some fascinating details about the irreducible complexity of memory:
First, a lesson in how memory works from Michael Ullman, a neuroscientist at Georgetown University. What we think of as human memory, Ullman says, is actually declarative memory. (There are other types, such as procedural memory, which we use when riding a bike.) Within declarative memory, there are two subsets: semantic memory and episodic memory.
Semantic memory helps us recite the multiplication tables. Episodic memory is more personal. The duct tape is in the hall closet, sweetie!
A memory passes through several stages, including perception, storage and retrieval.
Information is taken into the brain through the senses. It is stored in or near the hippocampus for a few years, Ullman says, then it resides in the neocortex. The hippocampus, a Greek word for a mythical seahorse, is a portion of the limbic system in the middle of the brain. If the hippocampus is damaged — by stress, trauma or lack of oxygen — short-term memories may be harmed. The neocortex is the outside part of the brain. As we get older, memories are harder to find on those cortex shelves.
What strikes me is not only the multiple kinds of levels of memory but that all of this, at some point, is MOVED from one part of the brain to another. A major weakness of the theory of random evolution is that it fails the imaginative test. It is hard to IMAGINE how random natural selection could produce something like the mind. It is like trying to imagine a pair of bolts shaken and stirred until they turn into a computer. And the human mind, in its electronic circuitry and memory-storage capacity, is so much more than any computer we can fathom.
Posted by Veith at 06:02 AM
High level of discourse
What a high level of discourse we have on this blog! Even when people disagree with each other, we seldom see the nasty vitriol that so soon breaks out on most blogs. We are thinking things through together in a fair, open, thoughtful way. Thank you, commenters, you are the best.
It is true that this blog software sometimes, as someone so colorfully put it, “eats” the comments. It isn’t always clear why some get blocked. Occasionally, it will show up on a queue, filled mostly with spam, which I can “approve.” When I get to it, I will let those get posted, even though it may be several days later. Often, though, the comment just disappears. Our tech people say part of the problem may be an unintentional “bad word” inbedded in the spelling of a good word. Or it may just be a random glitch. Rephrasing some of the comment often gets it in. I do hope you keep commenting, since the comments are my favorite part of this blog.
Posted by Veith at 06:01 AM
February 12, 2007
Lincoln’s Birthday
As you may not have realized, now that we have started the custom of untethering national holidays from actual events so that federal workers can have a long weekend and now that we have lumped two specific observances together into a generic “President’s Day,” today is Lincoln’s Birthday. In honor of Honest Abe, you might want to read this piece by Tom Wheeler on Lincoln’s telegraph messages, sort of the 19th century equivalent of e-mail. Here is a sample:
The peripatetic Mary Todd Lincoln had wired from New York seeking cash. Her note’s perfunctory “Hope you are well” was followed with instructions on where to send a check. Then she tacked on without punctuation a last-second message from their son, “Tad says are the goats well.”
The president promptly responded that the check would go in the mail, then seized on the query about the White House pets to comment on his own well-being: “Tell Tad the goats and father are very well — especially the goats.”
Posted by Veith at 07:12 AM
Conservative theology and Conservative politics
Commenters DavidinNorCal and tODD keep asking why so many conservative Christians think they have to be conservative in politics as well. That’s a fair question, a good question. The two do not HAVE to go together. Used to, especially, evangelicals were rather more likely to be Democrats. I used to be on the liberal side politically. But after the liberals championed abortion, I stopped believing all of their rhetoric about helping the little guy, wanting peace, crusading for social justice. Abortion is such a monumental injustice, such monstrous violence, such cruelty to little guys, that leftwing social self-righteousness became repellant to me.
Another factor in my becoming a political conservative was my time in Estonia, when it was still under the Soviet Union, and I saw the folly of a state-controlled economy and the oppressiveness of an all-powerful state.
Democrats used to be pro-life, as was just about everybody. If conservative Christians, who once had a home in that party, have been gravitating to the Republicans, it is just as big a question why the militant secularists have gravitated to the Democrats. In fact, I would wager that the latter have far more influence with the Democrats than Christians do with the Republicans.
But, as I say, this is a good question, and i realize that the Christian/Republican alliance CAN be an unstable combination. So I want to explore the issue this week.
Posted by Veith at 07:08 AM
We are so blessed
At church, the New Testament legend was Luke 6:17-26, Christ’s “Sermon on the Plain,” which turns upside down our conventional assumptions. Here we learn that the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated, the excluded, the reviled, and the spurned are BLESSED. And that the rich, the full, the laughing, the spoken well of are filled with WOE.
As our pastor pointed out, this counters what we usually think, that blessed is the man to whom nothing ever bad happens. Then he tied in this text to the Old Testament reading, Jeremiah 17:5-8: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength. . . .Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.” Then Pastor drew the killer conclusion: “Blessed is the one whose faith is not in what happens to him, but in what happened to Christ.” He is the blessed one, who endured poverty, hunger, weeping, hatred, exclusion, reviling, spurning.
That’s my church report. . . .Give yours.
Posted by Veith at 06:58 AM
February 09, 2007
Against Conservative Syncretism
Commenter tODD accuses me of being soft on Republican syncretism, such as that of President Bush and his kind words for Islam. tODD says that this is the first mention he has found on the Cranach blog of syncretism and that I am just bashing Democrats.
Good grief, tODD. I have written tons of stuff on syncretism, including criticisms of the President and my own Missouri Synod. This blog is not all I write. See my book “Christianity in an Age of Terrorism.” Look on the WORLD site for all of the columns I have written on the subject. But if there is any doubt, I hereby affirm: No Christian should join in the worship of or prayer to false gods. That principle is far more important than politics. Is that clear?
Posted by Veith at 07:21 AM
Against Conservative Syncretism
Commenter tODD accuses me of being soft on Republican syncretism, such as that of President Bush and his kind words for Islam. tODD says that this is the first mention he has found on the Cranach blog of syncretism and that I am just bashing Democrats.
Good grief, tODD. I have written tons of stuff on syncretism, including criticisms of the President and my own Missouri Synod. This blog is not all I write. See my book “Christianity in an Age of Terrorism.” Look on the WORLD site for all of the columns I have written on the subject. But if there is any doubt, I hereby affirm: No Christian should join in the worship of or prayer to false gods. That principle is far more important than politics. Is that clear?
Posted by Veith at 07:21 AM
Ethanol & the Tortilla Crisis
Tortilla prices have doubled in Mexico, causing Mexico’s legions of poor people, who depend on tortillas as a major staple of their diet, to riot, destablize the government, and, one suspects, motivating more of them to illegally immigrate to the United States. Why are tortilla prices soaring? Because of the push in the U.S. to replace gasoline with ethanol.
The demand for ethanol, subsidized by the government at the rate of some 50 cents per gallon, has sent corn prices to the moon. This pleases the farm belt, of course, but the high corn prices are not only impacting tortillas, they will soon show up in higher meat prices. The tangled web of unintended consequences. . . .
Posted by Veith at 07:14 AM
Lease it out
The Australia pension fund has engineered a brilliant investment: buying up or leasing toll roads and bridges around the world. The group already gets the tolls on the Indiana tollway, and now it has leased Chicago’s Skyway, a high-rise road that connects Indiana to Illinois, soaring over the industrial wasteland by Lake Michigan.
But leasing off government-operated operations like that has given local governments big infusions of cash, along with the relief of not having to raise taxes to pay for infrastructure improvements. Chicago’s Mayor Daley II has leased off all kinds of city assets/liabilities, and now the city is swimming in cash. Chicago has paid off its debts and has money for a host of new projects.
What do you think of this approach to privatization?
Posted by Veith at 07:09 AM
February 08, 2007
Syncretism & the Democrats’ Imam
The Democrats’ big winter meeting opened with an invocation from an Islamic cleric. The controversy is over the imam’s allusion in to the Iraq war (praying against the “oppressors” and “occupiers”) and the fact that he was a supporter of Hezbollah. It is wildly inappropriate for an American political party to have an invocation from a cleric of a religion that is fighting a holy war against us.
But there is another issue. The Democrats, among whom presumably were Christians, joined in prayer with a Muslim. Isn’t this the syncretism–the mingling of worship of the true God with the false gods–that God judged so harshly in the Old Testament? I realize that we are a multi-cultural, multi-religious society and all that, but isn’t it better to have no prayer than a syncretistic prayer? Isn’t a “Naked Public Square” better than a public square crowded with idols that we are all supposed to pay homage to?
Posted by Veith at 06:48 AM
When Greenland was Green
Jack Kelly, arguing that fluctuations in the earth’s temperature are normal and are due to sunspot activity, includes an interesting history lesson, which perhaps our resident Viking expert, Lars Walker, can confirm:
The planet is always getting either warmer or cooler. The current warming trend began about 300 years ago, in the depths of the Little Ice Age (1350-1900).
The Little Ice Age followed the Medieval Warm Period (800-1300), when global temperatures were about as warm as the climate-change panel predicts they might be in 2080. In those days Greenland was actually green, and wine grapes grew in Nova Scotia.
. . . . . . . . .
Every change in climate has pluses and minuses. But for humans, warmer is usually better. The Medieval Warm Period was a time (mostly) of peace and plenty; the little Ice Age (mostly) of starvation and war.
Posted by Veith at 06:15 AM
February 07, 2007
Time to Take Action on Global Warming
I am enjoying the unexpected grace of a snow day, so my thoughts turn to global warming.
Some people are saying that the problem is so bad that it is too late to do anything about it, that even if we embrace the most extreme Al Gore solutions, it will be too little, too late. Others say that we simply are not going to take any meaningful action, so our doom is certain. The ice caps will melt, and Manhattan and other coastal cities will be submerged.
So I say it is time to take action. We should begin an orderly evacuation of New York City, Southern California, and anyone else on either coast who shares these fears. We should build refugee camps in northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota. Major cities can just be moved and rebuilt. Los Angeles can be relocated to Duluth. Under global warming, those areas will become much more habitable than they now are, but none of the refugees will need to worry about either flooding or getting too warm.
Posted by Veith at 08:27 AM
The right size for a church
Another commenter, Eric, gave this insightful quotation:
A former pastor of mine, a Baptist actually, had a great saying; “better ten congregations of one hundred, then one congregation of a thousand.”
Allen asked why this would be. Here is why: Each of the hundred members in the ten congregations would be able to receive pastoral care. A single pastor, no matter how devoted, is simply unable to “shepherd” a thousand people.
This reminded me of another statement I heard from a pastor, that a congregation has become too big when the pastor doesn’t know all of his members. (The corollary is that another measure of a congregation being too big is when the members do not know their pastor on a personal level.) I don’t know how big that is, and it probably varies. It could be two or three hundred.
At that point, in my opinion, the big congregation should split into two smaller congregations, each with its own pastor. Then they could both grow, then split, multiplying like amoebas until the world is filled with small spiritually-nurtured churches.
Posted by Veith at 07:48 AM
OK, how about Tera-church?
As commenter Erich Heidenreich noted yesterday, my new word for mega-mega churches, giga-church, has already been coined. According to the Washington Post article from three years ago, quoting church growth guru Bill Easum, a megachurch has 2,000 in attendance per Sunday; a gigachurch has 10,000.
So that church I blogged about already was a gigachurch, and now it is launching 9 satellites linked together by video worship. If they all grow as much as the mother ship, and why wouldn’t they?, the church can boast an attendance of 100,000.
So we need to go to commenter Pete’s term, for which he deserves total credit and mention in the Oxford English Dictionary: Terachurch. (I don’t know whether it should be hyphenated or spelled with a capital letter in the middle of a jammed-together compound word, TeraChurch, one of the most annoying spelling affectations of our day.) The word has the added virtue of sounding like “parachurch.”
Posted by Veith at 07:38 AM
February 06, 2007
From Mega-church to Giga-church
How does a church-growth congregation of 13,000 get even bigger? By creating satellite sanctuaries in which worshippers can listen to the preacher via TV. From a Washington Post story on McClean Bible Church:
The evangelical megachurch, one of the country’s largest and fastest growing, is launching an ambitious expansion. It plans to build a “spiritual beltway” around the D.C. region by opening nine satellite locations to bring tens of thousands more into its fold. Through televised broadcasts, congregants at each location would see and hear portions of the same service at the same time.
According to the story, this is the latest church-growth trend. One in four megachurches have already set up satellite sites. Thus congregants will only know their pastor as a TV star. And the pastor will not know or even have to interact with his sheep at all.
NOTE: I realize that I have just coined a new word–the giga-church–deriving from a parallel with computer technology, in which megabytes of memory grew exponentially into gigabytes. The word “gigachurch” for metastasizing megachurches deserves wide currency. Use it and let’s see if it catches on. If you hear the word elsewhere, please report, and remember that you saw it first on the Cranach blog.
Posted by Veith at 06:58 AM
From girly-worship to macho-worship
Though lots of people are crowding into the gigachurches (see above), a new discontent is growing within contemporary Christianity: Churches are too feminized. All of those touchy-feely Bible studies, the sentimental emotional mush of the sermons, the romantic ballads to Jesus–these make men squirm. In fact, 60% of the adults in church on a given Sunday are women, and more and more men are staying home. The Los Angeles Times has an article about a group called GodMen that is trying to bring testosterone back into Christianity:
Hold hands with strangers? Sing love songs to Jesus? No wonder pews across America hold far more women than men, [leader Brad ]Stine says. Factor in the pressure to be a “Christian nice guy” — no cussing, no confrontation, in tune with the wife’s emotions — and it’s amazing men keep the faith at all.
“We know men are uncomfortable in church,” says the Rev. Kraig Wall, 52, who pastors a small church in Franklin, Tenn. — and is at GodMen to research ways to reach the husbands of his congregation. His conclusion: “The syrup and the sticky stuff is holding us down.”
Good points, but the solutions described here are ridiculous, going to the other extreme of having a macho-church service, with cussing, violent movie clips, and attempting to create the atmosphere of a tailgate party.
Try TRADITIONAL WORSHIP. Especially liturgical worship. It works for both men and women. And the focus is on the true God-Man, not you in all of your pathetic gender confusions. (Remember, both feminity and hypermasculinity are both GAY!) And traditional worship, unllike both of these extremes, is not embarrassingly lame.
Posted by Veith at 06:50 AM
February 05, 2007
Screwtape the Movie
Luther at the Movies reports that The Screwtape Letters is going to be made into a movie. And the portents are very promising: Walden media (the pro-family media group with big pockets that is funding the Narnia movies) is putting up the money; Lewis’s stepson Douglas Gresham (who ensured the fidelity of the Narnia movies) is involved; and Ralph Winter (the promising Christian director who made it big in the mainstream with movies like “Fantastic Four”) is producing.
The notice in Variety, linked above, does not give a timeframe, but I can hardly wait. “Screwtape” is one of my favorite books, my first introduction to Lewis when I was just a teenager, and I have read it over and over again at various stages in my life, to which it continually speaks. I’m trying to imagine, though, how it could be made into a movie. Any suggestions?
Posted by Veith at 07:08 AM
Against the yearning for a Caesar
“The worst form of slavery is that which is called Cæsarism, or the choice of some bold or brilliant man as despot because he is suitable. For that means that men choose a representative, not because he represents them but because he does not.” G. K. Chesterton
Posted by Veith at 07:00 AM
Superbowl post-mortem
Someone has said that our country has become so fragmented–so that even Christmas is divisive–that the one national experience we all can share together is the Superbowl. That well may be, pathetic as it is. I was for the Colts, not out of Packer-fan spite against the Bears but because Ft. Wayne, Indiana, is one of my many semi-homes. The AFC is SO much better than the NFC these days that the outcome shouldn’t have been a surprise. The commercials that used to be amusing jumped the shark a couple of years ago, as have the pre-game and half-time spectacles. (Although just having one big act do a mini-concert, like Prince this year and the Rolling Stones before, is better than the frenetic pastiche that was the norm in the past.) Is there anything else to say about this American communal experience?
Posted by Veith at 06:50 AM
Weekly Church Report
Text: Luke 5:1-11, about Jesus calling his future-Apostles from their nets, the miraculous catch of fish, leading up to the promise that He will make them fishers of men.
What I learned: The fishermen worked all night, but caught no fish, until “at His word,” they let down their nets again, whereupon Jesus commanded His creatures to swim into their nets. Similarly, if we are to be fishers of men in evangelism, our own work avails little. We must let down our nets, depend on His word, and trust Jesus to call people into His church.
Posted by Veith at 06:43 AM
February 02, 2007
Thou Shalt Not Covet
Despite the jump in gas prices, higher interest rates, and the weakening housing market, the economy keeps booming, growing 3.4% in 2006. So Democrats, in a line strangely taken up by President Bush, are making an issue of income equality.
This article in the Washington Post details the Democrats’ strategy to exploit the issue so as to endear themselves to the middle class. Here are the baseline facts:
By any measure, the middle class is not becoming poor. But it has stopped getting ahead quite so rapidly. Over the 15 years ending in 2004, median household net worth grew by 35 percent in the United States, with all income groups showing increases, according to a recent report by the Council on Competitiveness.
But wages in the vast majority of households rose by less than 15 percent when adjusted for inflation, while the top 20 percent had increases twice that large in the 20-year period ending in 2005. For the top 5 percent of earners, the report shows wages jumped by nearly 50 percent, as their average annual salary rose to $281,155.
Rising inequality — the growing gap between the rich and everyone else — is often cited as a primary cause of middle-class angst.
Those with this middle-class angst have done well, with a post-inflation gain of 15%. But they are angst-ridden because they are not doing as well as other people.
Inequality alone is not a sign of injustice. The numbers are misleading because they do not indicate social mobility, since those whose wealth rose more than 15% would be bumped up into the evil demographic. And the rhetoric of “isn’t this awful” obscures the fact that the success of the business owners in the evil demographic surely contributes to the economic gains of the people who work for them.
Why should we petit bourgeoisie be dissatisfied with our own blessings just because we are looking at other people who have even more? Isn’t this envy? Isn’t this a violation of the last of the Commandments?
Posted by Veith at 06:16 AM
Spring forward March 11
Lawmakers often seem to think they can change reality by passing a law. In 2005 Congress, thinking to save fuel, voted to have the date for Daylight Savings Time fall back four weeks. This will be the year it goes into effect. So instead of setting our clocks ahead on the first Sunday of April, we will need to spring forwardSprin on March 11.
But such a fiat has broad and unintended consequences. A good number of the nation’s computers and other devices are automatically programmed to switch the time on the old date. Some experts are predicting a mini-Y2K effect. True, that threat fizzled, but the world prepared for the problem for years. This time, with the date just over a month away, many people, companies, and techies are not even aware of the problem.
Posted by Veith at 06:09 AM
Amish industry
Here is an interesting article on an Amish company that makes modular homes. The work is done by hand, of course, with the help of diesel-driven compressed air power tools. (Why is that technology OK to use, but electricity is not? I don’t understand that nuance of Amish theology.) Non-Amish electricians are brought in to do the wiring, and non-Amish truckers haul the products. But the company has no telephones. Customers must drive out to talk to the builders in person. There are no contracts. Deals are made with a hand-shake. The company has a waiting list of five years.
Posted by Veith at 06:04 AM
February 01, 2007
So Stupid
How could people in the public eye be so STUPID? We have Joseph Biden announcing that he is running for president while making an unbelievably racist remark about Barack Obama. We have Time Warner advertising a cartoon show by leaving devices around major cities that look like bombs. I think such utter, thoughtless foolishness must emerge from a hubris and pride that, in these people’s minds, lifts them above reality.
Posted by Veith at 07:09 AM
Battlefield lingo
Check out this glossary of military slang used in Iraq. Which do you think will make it into our broader lexicon? I vote for “dynamic truth.”
Posted by Veith at 06:35 AM
The Geico Caveman
Some critics analyze Hamlet. Some analyze Anne Rice. Others analyze the Geico caveman commercials.
Posted by Veith at 06:31 AM
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January 30, 2007
Development quiz
What percentage of the United States is developed? That is, has 30 or more people per square mile? Make a guess, then click “continue reading” for the answer.
5.4%.
See this article on the myths of suburban sprawl.
Posted by Veith at 07:07 AM
The fault of no-fault divorce
Michael McManus of the organization Marriage Savers is pushing for a reform of the nation’s divorce laws, urging that states throw out no-fault divorce laws. He makes his case in this column.
“Unilateral divorce changed the rules of marriage and how people expect to behave in a marriage and whether to stay in one,” says John Crouch, president of Americans for Divorce Reform. “Under unilateral divorce, you don’t have freedom of contract. Without that ability to have a binding contract, it doesn’t make sense to invest yourself in an institution that can be turned inside out on you,” said Mr. Crouch, based on his experience as a divorce lawyer. “You have to be prepared for divorce. It can happen to anybody. Children cannot rely on marriage.”
Do you agree that no-fault divorce laws should be scrapped, to make it harder to get a divorce? (I do not accept the argument that Christians should have their own permanent marriages, letting the secularists do whatever they want. Marriage has to do with the Kingdom of the Left, God’s rule in the secular order, applicable to believers and non-believers alike.)
Posted by Veith at 06:57 AM
Trial marriage is trial divorce
McManus, in the article linked above, also has a good line about the burgeoning practice of couples living together without marriage:
The tripling of divorces makes young people fearful of marriage, particularly the 35 million since 1970 who saw their parents divorce. That experience fueled the number of cohabiting couples tenfold from 523,000 in 1970 to 5.2 million in 2005. In choosing a “trial marriage,” they have unwittingly chosen a “trial divorce.” Eight of 10 will either break up before the wedding or after. The divorce rate for those who live together first is 50 percent higher than couples who remain apart until the wedding.
Posted by Veith at 06:24 AM
January 29, 2007
I got an author “exactly right”
Some time ago, I wrote a piece in Christian Research Journal entitled From Vampires to Jesus. It was a review of Christ the Lord by Anne Rice.
Subsequently, the magazine received an e-mail from Anne Rice, saying that a reader had sent her the review. She said, “I deeply appreciate the generosity and intelligence of this review, and I think your reviewer got it exactly right in all particulars.”
For a critic to hear that from an author is both gratifying and significant. C. S. Lewis said that the critics who speculated on how he wrote his books were ALL wrong. And surely if Shakespeare could read what some of the Shakespeare scholars have written about him, he would spin around to the point of disturbing the dust encloased in his grave. (Who catches that allusion, including the spelling for “enclosed”?) But here an author of some note says that an article discussing her conversion to Christianity from occultism and analyzing her religious beliefs is “exactly right in all particulars.” Such an endorsement means that future scholars wanting to know the author’s original intentions need to consult my article.
Posted by Veith at 07:35 AM
Two Americas
_Here is a story about presidential candidate John Edward’s $6 million house. I don’t begrudge him his vast trial lawyer wealth, but his campaign rhetoric is all about class warfare between “the two Americas,” the yawning gap between the poor and the rich (like him).
Could it be that the liberal politicians who lament about the terrible economic condition of not only the poor but the middle class, being actually wealthy themselves, are just projecting how horrible they think it would be to make as little money (by their standards) as the American makes? How much of their emotional rhetoric is compassion, how much is guilt, and how much is condescension?
Posted by Veith at 06:41 AM
Obama & the Black Vote
Barack Obama’s big problem in winning the democratic presidential nomination is rather odd. The man who would be the first black president, if elected, is reportedly having trouble winning the black vote. Many African-Americans do not consider him “black enough.” They prefer Hilary Clinton.
Posted by Veith at 06:10 AM
Jesus at Capernaum
At church the pastor preached on how Jesus went to Capernaum to heal the sick and cast out demons (Luke 4:31-44). The people didn’t want him to leave, since he was solving all of their problems. But, the pastor explained, “If Jesus by divine fiat fixed all of their problems, there would remain one: the human heart. And if that remained, all the others would soon come back.” He had to leave them to go to the Cross.
So, any of you using the lectionary at your church, did any you learn any other insights from this text? Or from some other text?
Posted by Veith at 06:06 AM
January 26, 2007
UFOs
Unidentified Flying Objects have come back to the planet. They are being sighted lots of places, including Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Here and here are brand new reports of sightings.
This brings back memories of when I was a teenager, walking home from work after midnight, cutting through a city park. I looked up and I saw three large, eerily-lit metallic spheres.
I blinked my eyes and shook my head, but they were still there, motionless, low in the sky, the three spheres exactly in a row, touching each other.
Just after I recognized that I was seeing Unidentified Flying Objects, my eyes adjusted to the surroundings, and I saw that what I had been seeing were the backs of the unturned-on lights of the baseball field that had caught the moonlight. I was both relieved and disappointed.
Have any of you seen a UFO? Of course, if a flying object is unidentified, that means that no one knows WHAT it is, which is by no means evidence it is any kind of spacecraft. The person who saw the one cited in the first link above even gives a theological explanation. What do you think they are?
Posted by Veith at 06:47 AM
How to get my rare book
OK, yesterday I posted a quasi-commercial for Alvin Schmidt’s DVD on Islam, produced by the Cranach Institute, so I might as well do another one.
A few years ago, I published a book entitled “Painters of Faith” on the Hudson River School of landscape painters. They constituted America’s first artistic movement and the key artists were devout Christians. Anyway, it is a beautifully-made book, filled with full-color illustrations. In it, I talk about the artistic influence of the Reformation, the Dutch protestants, Ruskin, and all kinds of fascinating early Americans who discuss how “secular” subjects (such as natural scenes) can be treated through a Biblical aesthetic. American Christians have a whole artistic legacy, consisting of both theological reflection about the arts and stunningly beautiful examples that came from putting the theory is put into practice.
The book, published by Regnery, is now out of print, but it remains in demand. That means it is commanding ridiculous prices on the used book market. A used copy is available from an Amazon dealer for $344.09!
But I have just recently learned of a place where the book is available at the original price of $25: The Newington-Cropsey Foundation, the conservative art group devoted to these artists that originally commissioned me to do the research thand to write the book. To see it or to order it, go here.
Sorry for the commercial. I just get asked all the time how to get a (reasonably priced) copy, and I found out where this could be done. We return to our regularly scheduled programming. . . .
Posted by Veith at 06:36 AM
Goddess worshippers oppress women
This piece by University of Chicago religious historian Wendy Doniger begins as standard feminist boilerplate on how religions tend to discriminate against women. But when she comes to feminist theology that hails goddess worship, the historian in her comes out:
The goddess feminists are whistling in the dark when they argue, first, that everyone used to worship goddesses (some people did, but many did not) and, second, that this was a Good Thing for women, indeed for everyone, their assumption being that women are more compassionate than men.
In fact, when men as well as women do worship goddesses, as they have done for centuries in many parts of India, the religious texts and rituals clearly express the male fear of female powers, and the male authors of those texts therefore make even greater efforts to control women, as if to say, “God help us all if these naturally powerful women get political power as well.”
There is generally, therefore, an inverse ratio between the worship of goddesses and the granting of rights to human women. Nor are the goddesses by and large compassionate; they are generally a pretty bloodthirsty lot.
Posted by Veith at 06:20 AM
Taboo language
The version of the Academy-award nominated “The Queen” shown on many airlines bleeped out all mentions of the word “God.” Not just profane invocations, but actual references to the Deity, as in “(Bleep) bless you, ma’am.”
The film editing company says this was a mistake, just the work of an overzealous worker. But a company spokesman had an unintentionally hilarious line: “A reference to God is not taboo in any culture that I know of.” Oh, but it is!
HT: Carl Vehse
Posted by Veith at 06:06 AM
January 25, 2007
The Christ of Scientology
is Tom Cruise, according to leaders of the cult:
Tom Cruise is the new “Christ” of Scientology, according to leaders of the cult-like religion.
The Mission: Impossible star has been told he has been “chosen” to spread the word of his faith throughout the world.
And leader David Miscavige believes that in future, Cruise, 44, will be worshipped like Jesus for his work to raise awareness of the religion.
A source close to the actor, who has risen to one of the church’s top levels, said: “Tom has been told he is Scientology’s Christ-like figure.
“Like Christ, he’s been criticised for his views. But future generations will realise he was right.”
So Christ was a celebrity pundit “criticized for his views”? No, He was CRUCIFIED. He sacrified Himself as a ranson for the sins of the world. Celebrities who lay aside their glory, much less sacrifice themselves for others, are hard to come by. But if the scientologist thinks Christ “was right,” then why doesn’t he listen to Him?
Posted by Veith at 06:58 AM
A DVD on Islam
If you are interested in learning about Islam and the threat it poses, you should check out a new DVD, The Great Divide, featuring Dr. Alvin Schmidt. He is the author of a book by that title, with the explanatory subtitle “The Failure of Islam and the Triumph of the West.”
He is also the author of a must-read book on the impact of Christianity on Western civilization. The first edition was entitled Under the Influence, but it is out in a new paperback edition with a new title: How Christianity Changed the World.
Anyway, the DVD is a real eye-opener, even for people, like me, who know a little something about the subject. The presentations are broken up into short sections and come with a discussion guide, making it work well for Bible classes or small group studies.
The Cranach Institute produced this DVD, based on a presentation Dr. Schmidt made in Milwaukee a while back. So consider this a commercial.
Posted by Veith at 06:24 AM
People for the Euthanasia of The Animals
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is an organization of radical animal rights activists. They oppose eating animals, hunting them, wearing their skins, oppressing them on farms. But now, in one of those delicious ironies, PETA is facing legal action for cruelty to animals. It turns out, PETA runs an extensive program of euthanizing animals, saying that they are rescuing the stray dogs and cats from the cruelty and, I suppose, involuntary imprisonment of the local pounds. But in putting all of these animals “to sleep,” PETA allegedly violated the applicable laws about such things.
The bigger lesson is this: Notice that in today’s moral climate, even absolutists like those in PETA who profess an extreme position against any kind of killing nevertheless consider euthanasis to be “ethical.”
Posted by Veith at 06:19 AM
January 24, 2007
The Shi’ites’ religious prostitution
In Islam, a man can contract and end a marriage with the greatest of ease, divorcing his wife just by saying “I divorce you.” This has given rise in the Shi’ite sect to “mutaa,” the practice of temporary marriage, or “enjoyment marriage.” A devout Muslim can have a one-night stand, marrying and divorcing the woman in the course of the evening, all perfectly sanctioned by his religion. This also allows for religiously-sanctioned prostitution, with men paying women for a marriage that may last less than an hour.
The Washington Post has a story about the practice. What is remarkable is the way such sexual immorality is justified–and how the reporter is being all so understanding in telling about it:
Shiite clerics and others who practice mutaa say such marriages are keeping young women from having unwed sex and widowed or divorced women from resorting to prostitution to make money. . . . . . . . . . . .
_”It was designed as a humanitarian help for women,” said Mahdi al-Shog, a Shiite cleric._According to Shiite religious law, a mutaa relationship can last for a few minutes or several years. A man can have an unlimited number of mutaa wives and a permanent wife at the same time. A woman can have only one husband at a time, permanent or temporary. No written contract or official ceremony is required in a mutaa. When the time limit ends, the man and woman go their separate ways with none of the messiness of a regular divorce._. . . . . . . .
Most Shiites believe that the prophet Muhammad encouraged the practice as a way to give widows an income. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, has sanctioned it and offers advice on his Web site.
To their credit, this practice is one reason Sunni Muslims abominate the Shi’ites. But perhaps we can retire the assumption that Islam, for all of its legalism, is necessarily moral.
Posted by Veith at 07:02 AM
Smackdown of a liberal theologian
R. R. Reno, in the indispensable journal First Things, smacks down the liberal theologian Paul Tillich, on the occasion of a letter writer making the ludicrous suggestion that Tillich be numbered among the Church Fathers:
Paul Tillich certainly knew a great deal about Christian tradition, but his overall influence on American Protestantism was largely destructive. He was the master of translating scriptural truths into vague existential slogans that countless preachers easily manipulated into a capitulation to the spirit of the age. American Lutheranism has never recovered from his gloss of justification in Christ as “you are accepted.” His account of the so-called Protestant Principle turns anti-Romanism into a global rejection of any and all forms of historical authority, including the creeds and Scripture itself. The interpretation of faith as the “courage to be” struck me as fastuous when I was a teenager, and as an adult I have seen Tillich used to justify any and every attack upon traditional forms of Christian faith and morals. No, I will not add Paul Tillich to my arsenal, as Valentino encourages. By my reading, Paul Tillich helps the barbarians maintain their illusions. His primary role in the twentieth century was to unburden the consciences of clergy who no longer believed but wanted to maintain their roles and reputations as men and women of spiritual seriousness. I have difficulty thinking of a more destructive writer. Give me the ardent atheism of Richard Dawkins any day over the pseudo-mystery and easy spiritualism of Paul Tillich.
I know just what he means, the fatuousness and dishonesty and faithless cultural conformity. I cannot stand liberal theology. I lived through it in my younger days. I much prefer atheism.
HT: Paul McCain
Posted by Veith at 06:57 AM
State of the Union?
If you have any comments on the State of the Union address last night, please make them. I don’t know what to say.
Posted by Veith at 06:48 AM
January 23, 2007
And now, tolerance for the Zoos
As one by one sexual perversions become socially acceptable, here is the next ledge as our culture hurtles down the slippery slope: Bestiality. The Sundance Film Festival is screening a movie about people who have sex with animals, with those who claim this sexual identity calling themselves “zoos.” Note the positive, tolerant tone of this media piece about the movie, the lack of repulsion:
“Zoo” is a documentary about what director Robinson Devor accurately characterizes as “the last taboo, on the boundary of something comprehensible.” But remarkably, an elegant, eerily lyrical film has resulted.
“Zoo,” premiering before a rapt audience Saturday night at Sundance, manages to be a poetic film about a forbidden subject, a perfect marriage between a cool and contemplative director (the little-seen “Police Beat”) and potentially incendiary subject matter: sex between men and animals. Not graphic in the least, this strange and strangely beautiful film combines audio interviews (two of the three men involved did not want to appear on camera) with elegiac visual re-creations intended to conjure up the mood and spirit of situations. The director himself puts it best: “I aestheticized the sleaze right out of it.”
One movie might not signal a cultural trend, but the cutting-edge ethicist Peter Singer, defender of active euthanasia of the unfit and animal rights, has come out with a defense of inter-species sex.
Well, if we disassociate sex from procreation, the distinction between “natural” and “unnatural” disappears? If sex is only a physical pleasure, what difference does it make how a person attains that release? If love sanctions every sex act, people certainly love animals. If human beings are nothing more than animals, what is so wrong with bestiality? I don’t think secularists have a basis for disapproving of this! So watch for more “zoos” to come out of the closet.
Posted by Veith at 07:21 AM
The religious right is not just evangelicals
The media and the cultural elite conjure up images of evangelical Christians taking over the country. Protestant “fundamentalists” are the boogey-man that liberals use to scare each other, as well as to make moderates run into their arms. But evangelicals make up only part of the pro-life, pro-family, pro-morality social movement. There seems to be a resurgence of conservative, activist Catholics. Judging from this report on the March for Life in Washington yesterday, the Catholic presence set the tone. Drowning out pro-abortion protesters with Hail Mary’s? Also, the presidential candidate who seems to be the favorite of the religious right is Sam Brownback, a convert to Catholicism. And then there is the other preferred candidate of movement conservatives, Mitt Romney, a Mormon. The religious right is, in fact, a rather big tent.
Posted by Veith at 07:06 AM
Dog psychology
OK, I have another TV show I am TiVoing, suited as it is for playing in the background when I am also doing something else, such as writing: The Dog Whisperer. I am fascinated as dog expert Cesar Millan shows pet owners how to be “pack leader” and get their once-snarling, once-rowdy dogs to be “calm and submissive.” Now all Mr. Millan needs to do is write books about child care and corporate leadership.
Posted by Veith at 07:04 AM
January 22, 2007
Clinton & Carter as ecclesiastical founders
Ex-presidents Carter and Clinton are trying to organize “moderate” Baptists into a new coalition to counter the conservative Southern Baptist convention. Seriously. These opponents of Christian political activism, these politicians who invoke the separation of church and state, are trying to starting what would be, in effect, a denomination. Read this from the Washington Post. Excerpts from the article:
The new coalition, which is Carter’s brainchild, would give moderate Baptists a stronger collective voice and could provide Democrats with greater entree into the Baptist community.
. . . . . . . . _Carter and Clinton were raised as Southern Baptists but have expressed dismay over the SBC’s increasingly conservative bent since traditionalists defeated modernists in a struggle for control of the denomination in the 1970s and ’80s.
The leadership battle, which raged over issues such as biblical inerrancy, temperance, homosexuality, abortion and women’s role in the church, culminated in 2000 with revisions to the “Baptist Faith and Message” that barred women from serving as pastors and called for wives to “submit graciously” to the leadership of their husbands.
Carter stopped calling himself a Southern Baptist that year. Clinton attended a Methodist church during his years in the White House.
On Jan. 9 at the Carter Center in Atlanta, the two ex-presidents brought together the heads of 40 Baptist denominations and organizations to launch a year-long organizing effort that they hope will climax with the celebration of a “New Baptist Covenant” in early 2008.
. . . . . . . . _The covenant would not be not a new denomination but a coalition of four historically black Baptist churches — including the 7.5-million-member National Baptist Convention USA and the 2.5-million-member Progressive National Baptist Convention — and several predominantly white Baptist groups, including the 1.4-million-member American Baptist Churches USA and the 500,000-member Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Together, they have more than 20 million members, outnumbering the SBC [with 16 million], which was not invited to the Atlanta meeting.
Posted by Veith at 07:09 AM
Abortion Greys
According to the Washington Post, Democrats are trying to soften their pro-abortion image. They are pushing a measure to increase contraception and provide help for women who choose to keep their babies instead of aborting them. The strategy is to appeal to the so-called “abortion greys.” These are people who believe abortion should be legal but feel at least some moral squeamishness about it. Supposedly the “abortion greys” constitute about 2/3 of the population.
Some of the new congressional Democrats elected in the last election, running in conservative districts, are actually pro-life, or at least “grey.” Democrats are also resolving not to censor or marginalize pro-life Democrats, as they have in the past. They hope to appeal to religious moderates. Do you think this will work? Is this progress for the pro-life movement, or a cynical attempt to finesse the issue?
Posted by Veith at 06:32 AM
Life Sunday & Life Monday
Yesterday was also Life Sunday at our church. Today here in D.C. we will have a big March for Life, marking the national tragedy of Roe v. Wade. We had a thoughtful bulletin insert from Lutherans for Life. It quoted Matthew 18:4: “Whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” The commentary said, “Jesus uses a child to redefine greatness. The ‘greatest’ is the one who, like a child, is in greatest need of care, nurture, and protection.”
Posted by Veith at 06:25 AM
The quality of the wine Jesus made
Our guest preacher, Air Force Reserve chaplain Keith Lingsch, unfolded John 2:1-11, on Jesus’s first miracle, changing the water to wine at the wedding at Cana. (This being the second Sunday of “Epiphany,” the light coming on as to who Christ is. Therefore, after celebrating the Wise Men and Christ’s baptism, we celebrate His first miracle.) One of the many good insights in the sermon I seized on as relating to what the Bible says about aesthetics: When Jesus made the wine, it was “good wine,” far better than the cheap stuff the wedding guests were expecting. In addition to the law and gospel that made up the sermon, I deduced this: Jesus evidently cares about QUALITY.
Use this space to comment either about this point or about something you learned at church yesterday.
Posted by Veith at 06:14 AM
January 19, 2007
America’s treasures
Last weekend I went into D.C. to see that exhibit of Rembrandt prints that I blogged about a few weeks ago. The National Gallery has to be one of the greatest art museums in the world. I saw more classic works that I studied in an Art History class than any other museum I have ever been in. A huge collection of Rembrandt (who has to be one of the greatest of all Christian artists), the only Leonardo da Vinci in America (the Ginevra de’ Benci, on the back of which was found symbols not of a Dan Brown conspiracy but of chastity and virtue), Van Goghs, Impressionists, some of the major Hudson River School paintings, and works by the titular patron of this blog.
Used to, only royalty and the extremely wealthy could own or even see works of art. America, land of equality, pioneered the concept and practice of the public museum. In Europe, the big museums (The Louvre, the Hermitage) grew up when royalty was overthrown. Here, some wealthy people, as at the inception of the National Gallery, donated their collections for the enjoyment and edification of their fellow citizens, an act of civic generosity. So today, the incredible treasures of our culture, in effect, belong to all of us.
Washington, D. C., for all its faults, at least images the greatness of America. On the mall, at one end is the Capitol building, a monument to free government, and at the other is the monument to our heroic founder, George Washington. Between them, in addition to the memorials of our history, are a host of Smithsonian museums that are treasuries of Western culture, from our contributions to technology (see the actual Wright Brother’s first airplane, shown in the same building as the moon vessels in the Air & Space museum) to some of the greatest works of art ever, the pinnacle of both the old and the new worlds.
Posted by Veith at 07:24 AM
China can shoot down our satellites
China has tested a missile that blew up one of its satellites. That capability represents a huge vulnerability for our high-tech military, which depends on satellites–with their GPS systems–for everything from smart bombs to infantry command and control. We civilians are also dependent on satellites, from watching our TVs to figuring out how to get somewhere. Technological dependence means another kind of vulnerability.
Posted by Veith at 07:09 AM
Congressional ethics update
The Senate passed a big reform bill to address Congressional ethics. On the issue of what we blogged about the other day, politicians serving up earmarks for their lobbyist relatives, I can’t tell whether that was completely addressed, although it forbids congressional spouses from being lobbyists. One measure that concerned many people was a proposal to regulate organizations if they try to sponsor grass-roots appeals, such as encouraging constituents to call their congressmen. “Grassroots” citizens are apparently considered a “special interest group.” Anyway, that provision got stripped out of the bill.
Posted by Veith at 07:04 AM
Rejecting a presidential library
The faculty at Southern Methodist University is fighting plans to locate George W. Bush’s presidential library on their campus. They are doing so in the name of academic freedom.
But how is it a violation of academic freedom to have a major repository of historically important records? I thought academic freedom was supposed to increase intellectual diversity, not prevent the mere presence of conservative documents. I suspect this goes beyond mere Bush-hating. I daresay SMU faculty are more worried about their reputation among their Bush-hating peers at more prestigious institutions.
Note to the White House: We’ll take the presidential library here at Patrick Henry College!
_HT: Rich Shipe
Posted by Veith at 06:14 AM
What would Churchill do?
Wesley Pruden yearns for another Winston Churchill, someone with both resolve and the power of language. Pruden’s column has some great quotes, with some obvious parallels to our current struggle with the new Islamo-fascism and our new “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” And this:
“You ask what is our aim?” Winston Churchill told his critics in the spring of 1940, when civilization teetered in the balance. “I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terror, however long or hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”
Posted by Veith at 05:32 AM
January 18, 2007
Covering the Episcopal split
Here in the D.C. area is the epicenter of conservative Episcopalians breaking away from their arch-liberal hierarchy. In fact, some of the people I work with at Patrick Henry College are members of the Falls Church congregation that has gotten so much publicity for affiliating with the conservative episcopal church of Nigeria and is getting sued by the American denomination trying to seize their property.
Anyway, here is an article from the Washington Post about a smaller congregation that is splitting over the same issues. Below the headline, “Praying for Answers,” is the “deck,” which reads, “A majority of St. Stephen’s members voted to leave the Episcopal Church. For people on both sides of the divide, the path to salvation is no longer clear.” The path to salvation? The headline writer is thinking metaphorically, not realizing that the phrase has specific meaning in this context and that at least one side does indeed think the path to salvation is clear, which is why they are breaking away.
Then there is this explanatory paragraph:
Tensions at St. Stephen’s, as at the other eight churches, had been building for years over a question roiling the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the global Anglican community: What does it mean to live according to scripture? Those who voted to leave think the Bible should be read literally, on the story of Jesus’s resurrection and on issues such as homosexuality and salvation. Those who voted to stay believe there can be more than one way to interpret scripture.
I know ONE side talks this way, which is why the other side can no longer have fellowship with them. But is the issue really different ways of interpreting Scripture? How many ways can one interpret the Biblical command not to “lie with a man as with a woman,” a formulation that is almost embarrassingly explicit? One can believe in this teaching. Or one can refuse to believe in this teaching. But how many ways can that really be “interpreted”? More importantly, if Jesus’s resurrection is just a “story,” rather than history, we are, as St. Paul says, without hope and Christianity is simply untrue and churches should just disband.
The article talks about the majority of the congregation who decided to join “the Church of Nigeria.” That description makes them look sectarian and weird. The article does not so much as mention their belief that they are affirming their membership in the world-wide Anglican communion, which the American denomination has left by rejecting its teachings. In fall, the article gets all poignant about how this controversy is getting in the way of all of the strawberry festivals and the pancake breakfasts that church members used to do together. That is to say, the article assumes that church is and should be just a matter of culture, rather than as “a path of salvation.” And that, of course, is the real chasm in all of our churches today.
Posted by Veith at 06:53 AM
Which strategy for GOP?
According to this Washington insider report, the now out-of-power congressional Republicans are debating about how to proceed now. Should they fight the Democrats tooth and nail? Or go ahead and let the winners rule?:
The younger pit bulls want to go after the Democrats quickly and without remorse. Some of the older Republican stalwarts prefer sitting back and allowing new Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her party members to have their moment in the sun and govern accordingly.
“It’s in flux right now as to kind of what direction we take and how we operate now that we’re in the minority,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina.
“There is a group of us who think we have to throw down the gauntlet and be on the offensive from the very beginning in battles from Day One,” he said. “That’s the only way we are going to get back in the majority. Then there are others who say we need to let them have their time.”
Several Republicans confirmed privately that more than two-thirds of House Republicans are favoring a slow approach, while a minority of members think the attacks on Democrats should come rapid-fire.
Which strategy do you think the Republicans should take?
Posted by Veith at 06:12 AM
Checks and Balances
Here is a useful treatment of what Congress can and cannot do in thwarting the President’s ability to fight the war in Iraq. We will see the Constitution’s checks and balances in action. That assumes, of course, that the Constitution will be followed.
Posted by Veith at 06:07 AM
January 17, 2007
Idol smashing
Well, for the first time, I watched the opening episode of “American Idol.” The earlier ones are considered fun because they have all the bad singers who get slammed by the panelists. There were some purposefully silly performers, but others who really thought they were good. It was rather painful to watch them. I felt sorry for them. Except for the egotists who felt entitled. (“I’m 16 years old! I wanted to start off famous, but they blew me off!”) But the show is culturally-positive, in my opinion, because it helps demonstrate that aesthetic standards are real and, at least at this point, objective.
What are your picks so far? The Crack Baby from Madison? The Sailor from the USS Ronald Reagan who won his ship’s version of the show? That true Minnesotan in fatigues whose husband is in Iraq and who was so bold as to sing “His Eye Is On the Sparrow”?
Posted by Veith at 07:00 AM
Top Dogs
For the 16th year in a row, the most popular dog in America is the Labrador Retriever. Little Yorkshire terriers, though, are next, their popularity rising. Here is the top ten list from the American Kennel Club:
1. Labrador Retriever 2. Yorkshire Terrier 3. German Shepherd Dog 4. Golden Retriever 5. Beagle 6. Dachshund 7. Boxer 8. Poodle 9. Shih Tzu 10. Miniature Schnauzer
That Labs still rule is healthy. They are good dogs. My nephew’s Willie is on the boistrous side, but totally loyal and protective. And goofily happy.
Posted by Veith at 06:53 AM
Frengland?
According to newly discovered documents, in 1956, the French government proposed a union with England, to the point of accepting the sovereignty of the British Queen! Sir Anthony Eden said no, but liked the possibility of France joining the Commonwealth. Historians are flabbergasted. As would be Joan of Arc, Robespierre, Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington. . . .
But maybe that should give us an idea. It would be much simpler for the USA to accept new states into the union. Maybe to solve the problem with illegal immigration, we should just accept Mexico into the Union. Or make Iraq a state, thereby making it a democracy. (KIDDING! KIDDING!)
Posted by Veith at 06:41 AM
January 16, 2007
Genuine earmark reform
Here is a must-read report from Robert Novak on what is going on with congressional ethics reform. The Democrats are claiming to be reformers, but their approach is to regulate the behavior of lobbyists rather than the behavior of congressmen. And when it comes to “earmarks,” the privilege of using tax money for pork barrel projects back home, reforming that practice is another story.
A real reformer, Oklahoma’s senator Tom Coburn, has proposed a measure that would prevent “senators from requesting earmarks that financially benefit a senator, an immediate family member of a senator or a family member of a senator’s staffer.” This is being called the “Reid Amendment” because it is aimed squarely at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), whose son-in-law is a lobbyist who has been the beneficiary of millions of tax dollars for his clients. His four sons are also lobbyists. (Click “continue reading” for other examples of Congressmen who are enriching their family members.)
Reid’s motion to table that amendment failed, but he is now battling it tooth and nail.
From Robert Novak’s story, linked above:
Reid is far from the only prominent member who would be violating Coburn’s amendment if it passed. GOP Rep. Bill Young of Florida, former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, secured a $1 million earmark for development of military body armor, a project lobbied for by his daughter-in-law. Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, new House majority whip, has been reported by USA Today as pushing through a $2.5 million airport earmark lobbied for by his first cousin. Ted Stevens, senior GOP member of the Senate, funneled $29 million in earmarks to the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, then headed by his son.
Posted by Veith at 07:24 AM
The Left and the Jihadists
Conservative scholar Dinesh D’Souza has a new book out, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. In it, he blames liberals for 9/11, saying that their legacy of sexual permissiveness and decadent pop culture turned traditional societies, such as those of the Muslims against Western civilization. (The review linked above excoriates D’Souza, accusing him of committing the Jerry Falwell fallacy.)
The thesis is attractive, and I’m glad to blame the cultural left that has, indeed, damaged Western civilization. But if this is true, why is the permissive left allied with the restrictive jihadists?
Note how the neo-Castroites in Latin America are befriending the jihadist who rules Iran. When I covered the Green Party convention, pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, pro-Islamic activists were everywhere. Today, feminists and gays are opposing attempts to remake societies that enslave women and execute gays.) Conversely, if this thesis is true, why does the cultural right–who might be expected to defend the “puritanical” Taliban types–constitute the most reliable opponents of the jihadists?
Posted by Veith at 07:00 AM
Banning X
No, not banning X-rated movies; banning the letter X. That may happen in Saudi Arabia, according to the linked article, because of the letter’s associations with the cross. (It is also associated with the name of Christ, the Greek letter “chi,” the first letter in “Christ.”) This was the ruling of a Saudi theological council, which forbade a business from using the name “Explorer.”
Posted by Veith at 06:40 AM
January 15, 2007
Happy holiday
Today is Martin Luther day, I mean, Martin Luther King day. I know conservatives don’t like it much, since it has been taken over by liberals, but Dr. King stood for some good things. Couldn’t conservatives co-opt the holiday by filling it with conservative meaning? (Like Christians are said to have done to pagan holidays [something this blog has disputed].) We could focus on “the content of our character.” Or honor the involvement of Christians and churches in politics.” Anything else?
Posted by Veith at 08:12 AM
The Baptism of Our Lord
It was good to be back at St. Athanasius after a long and healing holiday time with my family. We worshipped with the new hymnal, the Lutheran Service Book. I had worked on that, but this was the first time I experienced using it in my own congregation. Part of the genius of this “new” hymnal is that it draws on what is so good in what is “old.” We used the service that is essentially the same as the hymnal before last (“The Lutheran Hymnal,” p. 15).
It being the second Sunday of Epiphany, the service focused on that epiphanic moment when Jesus was baptized and the heavens opened, both to him, and, the pastor emphasized, to us. Some highlights from Pastor Douthwaite’s preaching:
On Romans 6:11: “In baptism, you get death over with. You don’t have to worry about it anymore because God has taken care of it.”
The dove that signified to Noah that the death and destruction is over now, in Christ’s baptism, signals that death and destruction is over.
Christ’s Baptism marks the beginning of His ministry, and at the very end of His ministry, He commands US to go into all the world and baptize.
We should not just say (and think), “I WAS baptized.” We should say (and think), “I AM baptized.”
Please post any similar “epiphanies” (moments when the light dawns) from your church service.
Posted by Veith at 07:38 AM
January 12, 2007
The Generosity Index
“Americans are better people than Europeans. Hold on, it gets better. Religious Americans are better than non-religious Americans. And religious Americans tend to be politically conservative.” So says _Jonah Goldberg, summarizing the research of Arthur Brooks, published in his book Who Really Cares?: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism.
That surprising truth is that Americans give much more to charity than Europeans, that belivers give much more than unbelievers, and that conservatives give much more than liberals. This is true on every level, from the poor to the rich. It holds true even when church giving is factored out. Conservative, Christian Americans are just demonstrably more generous than liberal secularists and even more so when the latter are also Europeans.
Goldberg accounts for this by arguing that when liberals and welfare state Europeans see a problem, their kneejerk reaction is that the GOVERNMENT needs to do something about it. They are therefore less likely to try to address the need themselves. They are compassionate only insofar as they can use someone else’s money (i.e., tax dollars), instead of stepping up themselves.
This may be part of it, but Goldberg is stressing the political side, whereas I would stress the religious side. I believe that the Christian faith DOES make us more personally compassionate towards others. And that Christians in America, given the pro-abortion and sexual libertism favored by today’s liberal establishment, do tend to be politically conservative, which is why in the study conservatives look so good. What do you think accounts for liberals and secularists being such tightwads?
Posted by Veith at 07:52 AM
American soccer bends it for a celebrity
Did you know Los Angeles has a major league soccer team, the Galaxy? Did you know America has major league soccer? The Galaxy management hopes you soon will, having lavished $250 million to bring to the states soccer super-star and uber-celebrity David “bend-it-like” Beckham.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of this deal, the average major league soccer player in the states gets $100,000. Beckham’s is a five-year deal, part of which is endorsements, but he will average $50,000,000. He is probably the most popular athlete in the world, so he will probably bring in big crowds in multi-ethnic Los Angeles. Do you think this will finally make adult soccer popular in America?
Posted by Veith at 07:37 AM
The Islamic double standard
So now Iran and its embassy-occupier president are complaining that WE have violated one of THEIR diplomatic offices!. Of course, it wasn’t really an embassy, and we soon released the diplomats we captured rather than holding them hostage.
But the official protests are another example of what is so maddening as we deal with the Muslim world. The jihadists PURPOSEFULLY kill innocent civilians, including women and children, but then get outraged beyond indignation when American or Israeli forces ACCIDENTALLY kill civilians. This double standard underscores how, in their minds, only Muslims are entitled to human rights.
Posted by Veith at 07:28 AM
The Return of the Concordia
The second edition of Concordia: The Book of Lutheran Confessions, the reader-friendly, modern language rendition of the Book of Concord is finally here, all doctrinally-reviewed and officially approved. It’s a beautiful piece of bookmaking, with full-color illustrations and an abundance of study helps. Here is Paul McCain’s description. I worked on “The Smalcald Articles” and “Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope.”
This is a revised edition, addressing some valid criticisms and correcting some mistakes. But it retains the translation of the Large Catechism that strangely proved most controversial in the first edition, making it clear that Muslims and Christians do NOT, in fact, worship the same deity.
Posted by Veith at 07:08 AM
January 11, 2007
What to do with Iraq?
Since a holy war has been declared against us, I believe that we have to fight back, using our military might to protect us by attacking our self-professed enemies. So I am OK with the president’s plan to escalate our war in Iraq. Some concerns and thoughts:
–Our freedoms and our democratic republic were built on the infrastructure of Christianity. Can similar freedoms and a similar government be built on the infrastructure of Islam?
–Why, when we blow up something of our enemy’s, do we feel that we then have to rebuild it?
–Our military does a tremendous job of fighting wars. The conquest of, first, Afghanistan, and then Iraq were incredible feats. Our problems always seem to come when we attempt “nation building.” Maybe, at least in the future, we should use our military to destroy our enemies and then let the people build their own nation. Then leave. And if that nation proves hostile to us, we come back.
–Fighting militias of both sides will be tough, yet necessary. Saddam’s heir apparent, whose name was chanted as he was being hanged, is the Shi’ite terrorist Moqtada al Sadr. Our troops had battled him, until he agreed to “enter the government,” joining al Maliki’s ruling coalition. So al Maliki has tied our hands in dealing with him. But al Sadr and his death squads have to be crushed and the political fallout ignored.
One element in the president’s speech has garnered little attention but could prove very significant: His threat to disrupt the supply lines from Syria and Iran, to the point of bringing in a carrier group. This could mean a firefight with Iranians, which, in turn, could lead to a bigger war with that country. Which may be necessary sooner rather than later, when the Iranians finish building their nuclear weapons.
I do think a Vietnam-style withdrawal would be disastrous. Not only would it mean a bloodbath in Iraq, it would be hailed as a great victory by the jihadists–and rightly so, proving their propaganda that Americans are too soft for war–who would then plunge ahead with more attacks in their quest to conquer the world for Islam. I think the plan of the newly-elected Democratic congress to cut off funding for the war–the tactic used to ensure our defeat in Vietnam–would also be disastrous, both for our troops and for the Democrats themselves.
But what do you think?
Posted by Veith at 07:35 AM
Jefferson on Islam
Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison took his oath of office on a Koran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson, his way of seeming to take a patriotic high ground. Though, as I have maintained on this blog, he had the right to do that, a wonderful irony is at work. Read this article in Slate by the iconoclastic gadfly Christopher Hitchens entitled What the Founder Really Thought about Islam.
It turns out, as a diplomat Jefferson, with John Adams, had to deal with the Barbary pirates who were plundering shipping in the Mediterranean. The two founders met with the ambassador and asked him _”by what right he extorted money and took slaves in this way. As Jefferson later reported to Secretary of State John Jay, and to the Congress:
The ambassador answered us that [the right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.
During Jefferson’s presidential administration, United States naval forces, including Marines fighting on “the shores of Tripoli,” defeated the jihadist terrorists of his day.
Posted by Veith at 07:17 AM
January 10, 2007
Classical California
When he gave his annual state-of-the-state address, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said that California is a modern-day Athens and Sparta:
“We are the modern equivalent of the ancient city-states of Athens and Sparta. California has the ideas of Athens and the power of Sparta,” Schwarzenegger, who played Hercules in his first film role, told legislators at the capitol. “Not only can we lead California into the future … we can show the nation and the world how to get there.”
California is a state rather than a city, but set that aside. Where is the California version of Sparta? San Diego, with its navy and Marine bases? And where is the Athens? Los Angeles? Hollywood? It is true that California exerts great cultural leadership, but maybe it is more like Cimmeria and Hyborea. (A virtual laurel wreath to anyone who identifies those references.)
Posted by Veith at 08:50 AM
We don’t need embryos for stem cells–but still
Researchers have found that amniotic fluid provides an abundant supply of stem cells, meaning that killing human embryos to get them is not necessary.
But the author of the study, Anthony Atala, a scientist from Wake Forest, has written Congress saying that we should still pursue the harvesting of stem cells from embryos. I suspect this is another dramatic example of peer pressure from his colleagues, who cannot be happy with pro-lifers using this discovery to argue against the cause.
Posted by Veith at 07:58 AM
Re-conquering Spain
Muslims in Spain are demanding the right to worship in ancient churches that once were mosques, back in the days when the Moors held the Iberian peninsula. So far, the Catholic church is refusing to allow churches and even cathedrals to be turned into “ecumenical” houses of worship. This article on the controversy points out how “moderate Muslims” are being more effective than the radicals in making Islamic claims on the culture, since instead of violence they use the language of “tolerance.”
Posted by Veith at 07:32 AM
Americans are with the Ethiopians
It turns out American forces have been helping the Ethiopians in defeating the jihadists in Somalia, contributing both air support and troops on the ground. Good, I say. This is with the permission of the rightful government of Somalia. Here are details. This kind of short term attack wherever al Qaida can be found is an essential tactic in the war on terrorism. But I’m sure this will become controversial.
Posted by Veith at 07:25 AM
January 09, 2007
Chavez to start a socialist evangelical state church?
Who says evangelicalism has to go along with right wing conservatism? Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s Marxist dictator, is apparently an evangelical Christian. And now, on the very day the news breaks that he has declared state ownership of his country’s major industries and the advent of a socialist state, his church is wanting to make him Archbishop of a new evangelical state church:
According to media reports coming out of Latin America, President Chavez is considering a proposal that would establish him as the high priest of his own form of evangelical Christianity, convert his cabinet members into bishops of a lower rank, and submit church activities to the civil and military power of his government.
It is still unclear who is behind the proposal. Publicly, it has taken the form of a petition by leaders of “Centro Cristiano de Salvación” (Christian Center of Salvation). The association claims to represent 17,000 evangelical churches and 5,000,000 Venezuelans. Their request is simple: make their denomination the country’s official religion, teach it in all public schools and pay the pastors from government coffers. In turn, they will make Chavez their head bishop and promise to submit absolutely to his authority.
I guess in Latin America, evangelicalism is an alternative to the traditional Roman Catholic establishment. Thus, evangelicalism can be in accord with other revolutionary movements. And yet, ironically, this new mutation wants to emulate the old Roman Catholic integration of church and state, only with evangelical and socialist bishops. Could it happen here?
Posted by Veith at 11:39 AM
Even soundbytes are diminishing–to nothing
R. D. Rosen, who makes his living writing captions, laments how our culture is increasingly reducing complex ideas to captions. He cites the following facts:
In the 1968 presidential race between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, the candidates’ sound bites on network news averaged 43 seconds; by the 1988 race between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, the average was down to nine. An October 2004 study by the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin of 2,166 hours of network affiliate newscasts concluded that sound bites for presidential candidates were up a bit, averaging 10.3 seconds, but more than two-thirds of all campaign stories contained no candidate sound bites at all!
The blame goes not just to politicians and their handlers but to–whom Mr. Rosen mainly blames–but to TV journalists. Video editing is everything, as Mr. Rosen shows with a sports example:
In the 1980s, baseball home run highlights took about 16 seconds, the time it took the hitter to circle the bases; by 1990, they were down to eight seconds — swing …cut to ball clearing fence…cut to hitter high-fiving teammates. ESPN has since refined this art to concentration-dicing montages of batters swinging and baseballs instantly landing in the seats.
Posted by Veith at 10:19 AM
Secular Fundamentalists
British journalist Tobias Jones has written a brilliant article on how all of these militantly anti-Christian secularists are following a fundamentalism of their own. Samples:
After centuries of the naked public square (denuded of religion referents) the public now too had to go naked. The former had been true tolerance, something exceptional and laudable. It allowed everyone to bring their own cosmic testimony to the square. But this new form of “tolerance” changed things. From everyone being welcome, it had become everyone but.
. . . . . . . . .
The tyranny of orthodoxy has been replaced by the tyranny of relativism. You’re supposed to believe in nothing, and hence nihilists and atheists are suddenly rather chic. Postmodernism has taken tolerance to the extremes, where extremists thrive. It’s a dangerous form of appeasement._The greatest appeasers, however, have been the believers. Until recently many hid their religion in the closet. They conceded that it was something private. Until a few years ago religion was similar to soft drugs: a blind eye was turned to private use but woe betide you if you were caught dealing. Only recently have believers realised that religion is certainly personal, but it can never be private.
. . . . . . . . .
Christians feel particularly aggrieved because we believe that Jesus invented secularism. Jesus’s teachings desacralised the state: no authority, not even Caesar’s, was comparable to God’s. As Nick Spencer writes in Doing God, “the secular was Christianity’s gift to the world, denoting a public space in which authorities should be respected, but could be legitimately challenged and could never accord to themselves absolute or ultimate significance”. Christianity, far from creating an absolutist state, initiated dissent from state absolutism.
HT: Bob Waters at Watersblogged.
Posted by Veith at 10:13 AM
A primer on Sunnis, Shi’ites, and what we are up against
Here is a useful “primer” on the theological, eschatological, and political goals of the jihadists of both the Sunni and the Shi’ite sects, including their important differences and why they hate each other (while both hating us).
Posted by Veith at 07:49 AM
Why the pendulum swings between liberalism & conservatism
More from P. J. O’Rourke’s interview with the Wall Street Journal (subscription required):
“The important thing,” he continues, “is negative rights: freedom from. But politics is all about positive rights: what’re you going to give me? In a democracy it’s always vibrating back and forth. People want the government to do everything for them, then when they see that it sucks, they want the government to let them take charge, and when that doesn’t work, they want the government to come back and fix all the problems that they themselves caused when they took charge.” There’s a kind of separation of church and state, Mr. O’Rourke contends: “You simply cannot put your ideas into action.”
Posted by Veith at 07:39 AM
January 08, 2007
The universe has a scaffolding
Scientists have devised a map of the mysterious dark matter that makes up most of the universe but which cannot be perceived. From one of the researchers: “A filamentary web of dark matter is threaded through the entire universe, and acts as scaffolding within which the ordinary matter – including stars, galaxies and planets – can later be built.” Hmmmm.
Posted by Veith at 11:29 AM
Who is funnier, liberals or conservatives?
Conservative P. J. O’Rourke is funnier than just about everyone (though his rudeness and crudeness are rather too much for us “cultural conservatives”). In an interview with the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), he offers his take on the question:
“Conservatives generally tend to be funnier in their private lives,” he explains, “because of the hypocrisy factor. I am of course a big fan of hypocrisy, because hypocrites at least know the difference between right and wrong — at any rate, know enough to lie about what they’re doing. Liberals are not nearly as hypocritical as conservatives, because they don’t know the difference between right and wrong. But anyways the personal lives of conservatives tend to be funnier: They’ve always got the embarrassing gay daughter, and so on.”
In public policy, Mr. O’Rourke claims, “liberals are always much more hilarious. Liberals are always proposing perfectly insane ideas, laws that will make everybody happy, laws that will make everything right, make us live forever, and all be rich. Conservatives are never that stupid.
Posted by Veith at 10:01 AM
Study apologetics with John Warwick Montgomery
My friend, former colleague, and fellow laborer at the Cranach Institute Angus Menuge–a Christian philosopher whom you should read–has asked me to plug the 11th International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights, on July 10-21, 2007, in Strasbourg France. “The academy offers a thorough, up-to-date training in the defense of the faith in the delightful, historic town of Strasbourg, France,” under the tutelage of John Warwick Montgomery, as well as other noted experts in defending Christianity to a hostile culture:
Topics in the 2007 program include:* The Apologetic Task Today_* Philosophical Apologetics_* Scientific Apologetics & Medical Issues_* Historical Apologetics_* Legal Apologetics & Human Rights_* Literacy and Cultural Apologetics_* The Apologetic of C.S. Lewis_* Cults, Sects, and the World’s Religions_* Biblical Authority Today_* Open Discussion
The program is ideal for students, professors, pastors and professionals who seek to sharpen their skills in applying and defending the Christian faith in their vocation.
Deadline for Registration, February 1st.
For full information, go here.
Posted by Veith at 09:22 AM
Cry me a river
I know this makes me a bad grandfather, but some of my favorite pictures of Sam show him crying. Not that I want him to cry or that I would find this so cute if I were in the room, but I just appreciate his expressions of whole-hearted existential indignation. He is SO upset, and yet he just doesn’t understand how well-cared for he is, how loved, and how protected. He reminds me of us and our relationship to our Heavenly Father. This is the place to report insights from church.
Posted by Veith at 08:28 AM
January 05, 2007
Ethiopia update
After extolling Ethiopia for its Christianity (see the blog entry below), I saw in an article linked on Dr. Luther’s site that the country is on the Top 10 List for persecutions of Christians. But reading that article both explains the anomaly and gives a context for Ethiopia’s incursion into Somalia missing from most news reports.
Ethiopian Christians are being persecuted by the same “Islamic Court” councils that had taken over Somalia. They had also taken over sections of Ethiopia and persecuting the large numbers of Christians under their self-claimed jurisdictions. In moving against those radical Muslims headquartered in Somalia, the government of Ethiopia is simply protecting its own people.
For the Islamic Court’s rule and why Ethiopia is winning in Somalia–and why an insurgency is unlikely–click “continue reading.”