Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

31 July 2003

Just borders

How does one justly draw boundaries between two states? How does one justly partition a formerly powerful but now fractious empire? Wherever one places the boundary, people will inevitably believe they are on the wrong side and feel hard done by. Worse, they may suffer persecution and outright death. This happened in India in 1947 when the British territory was divided into muslim and hindu states. It happened at the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union in 1991. Then, of course, there is the forced partition of Cyprus in 1974. Now Ethiopia and Eritrea face a similar dilemma, as reported in this CNN report: "UN warns of 'another Cyprus' over Eritrea-Ethiopia."

There is a burgeoning subfield within political science dealing with the problems of secession, and the Beiner volume I mentioned some days ago carries some essays on this subject. Suffice it to say that virtually all boundaries, particularly when they are first demarcated, cause problems and result in injustices. I would love to see an effort by reformational scholars of politics to address this issue in systematic fashion.

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PR in Quebec at last

Here's an encouraging report from Fair Vote Canada:

NEXT QUEBEC ELECTION WILL BE PROPORTIONAL

Quebec will abolish the current voting system in favour of proportional elections in time for the next provincial election. Minister responsible for Reform of Democratic Institutions, Jacques Dupuis, said on July 9, "There is a big enough consensus in our society for us to go ahead. That is the mandate I have received from the Premier."

Prior to last spring's provincial election, the Parti Quebecois government announced its intention of adopting a proportional voting system. The project has been taken up by the new Liberal government. The third party in the National Assembly, Action Démocratique du Québec, also favours the move.

At the Estates-General, held in February, 90 per cent of the participants – over 800 Quebecers from across the province – voted in support of proportional representation.

I wouldn't wish to attach utopian expectations to this development, but many of the flaws in our political system are more likely to be rectified under proportional representation than under our current first-past-the-post system. Let's hope the rest of the country will catch up to la belle province.

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Mine's just right for me?

Theresa has a number of Barney videos in her collection, although she hasn't watched them recently. Barney is, of course, the purple dinosaur who appears on the American PBS television network, captivating toddlers and preschoolers alike, while less evidently appealing to their parents. Most of what is on this programme is innocuous, and much of it actually has some value, teaching the undoubted virtues of co-operation and tolerance, if not of courage and fidelity.

But there is one song which I fast-forward through when it comes on. Its refrain goes like this:

O, a family is people, and a family is love; that’s a family. They come in all different sizes, shapes and kinds, and mine’s just right for me; O mine’s just right for me.

The song proceeds to describe some of these kinds, including this one:

A girl I know lives with her mom; her dad lives far away. Though she sees her parents just one at a time, they both love her every day.

To be sure, there are children watching the programme whose parents are divorced, and they need to be assured that they are still loved by them. But conspicuous by its absence from this song is any recognition of the tragedy of the broken home and its devastating impact on children. By repeating the upbeat refrain after this stanza, the authors of the song fail to acknowledge the hurt that divorce brings to children. "Dry your eyes, and keep singing; everything's fine," the lyrics seem to say.

I cannot help concluding that the lyrics are aimed more at assuaging the guilt of the parents than at reassuring the children. When parents hear the obviously happy youngsters on television singing "mine's just right for me," they can heave a sigh of relief and pretend that the pain is not there. Yet I imagine that there are small children now hearing that song who, as they grow to maturity, will come to hate it because it minimized the genuine anguish they felt at their parents' shattered marriage.

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30 July 2003

Orthodox Christianity and democracy

This article appears in the March 2003 (vol. 71, no. 1) issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion: "Byzantium, Orthodoxy, and Democracy," by Aristotle Papanikolaou. I may write further about this, as it has a theme similar to that of an article published in the Review of Politics ten years ago and written by an obscure political scientist at a small Canadian undergraduate university.

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Althusius, Montesquieu and the future of federalism

The Canadian Journal of Political Science (CJPS) is the journal received by all members of the Canadian Political Science Association. The CJPS is far superior to its US counterpart, the American Political Science Review (CPSR), which is narrowly quantitative in orientation and parochially American. Its superiority is manifested in that it actually publishes articles of interest to scholars for whom the study of politics is irreducible to a positivistic understanding of science.

A particularly noteworthy article appears in the new issue of CJPS (June 2003, vol. 36, no. 2): "Federalism at the Crossroads: Old Meanings, New Significance," by Thomas Hueglin of Wilfrid Laurier University. Here is the abstract in English:

Federalism has remained a contested concept. The constitutional certainties of the modern federal state are under attack from confederal practices of negotiated agreement. such practices have their traditional roots in the political theories of Althusius and Montesquieu. The central argument of this article is that the American Federalists broke with that older tradition and deliberately misinterpreted Montesquieu along the way. Consequently, the predominant reading of federalism emphasizes federal supremacy over the idea of a social compact among equal partners, territorial representation dominates over the recognition of social community, and the allocation of divided powers is guided by national prerogatives rather than regionally differentiated policy needs. Recent trends towards a more collaborative form of federalism indicate that the old model of constitutional federalism may be replaced by new practices of treaty federalism.

This suggests that something like asymmetrical and nonterritorial federalisms, which would have been understood by Althusius and Montesquieu, not to mention by the electors of the Holy Roman Empire, may be the wave of the future, particularly here in Canada and in an integrating European Union.

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The future of Russia

Here is some good news at last out of Russia, whose population rate is well below replacement level: "Russian Abortion Rate Finally Declines." This report is from LifeNews.com:

Part of the blame for the high abortion rate lies at the feet of a horrible Russian economy. Following the collapse of communism, it took years for the economy to stabilize.

Now, following four years of better economic times, the Russian birth rate is finally back on the rise. Last year, there were 9.8 births for every 1,000 people compared to 9.1 the year before.

However, population experts still predict Russia, during the middle of the century, will be the largest country in the world but only have one-quarter of the population of the United States.

I have long been an admirer of the Russians and their rich cultural contribution in the arts and literature. The possibility of there being fewer Russians in the future can only be lamented. Thus any good news, however modest, is to be welcomed.

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Review in Public Justice Report

The new issue of the Public Justice Report, of the Center for Public Justice, carries a review of my Political Visions and Illusions. As there is no name affixed to the review, I have to assume that it was written by Center president James W. Skillen.

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29 July 2003

Settlers in north Cyprus could bloc settlement

Cyprus has ratified its forthcoming membership in the European Union, but the benefits will not apply to the breakaway north, as indicated in this Associated Press report. Although Turkish Cypriots overwhelmingly favour the island's reunification, their leader Rauf Denktash does not and may have a way to stay in power despite their contrary wishes.

Turkish Cypriots staged mass demonstrations earlier this year demanding the resignation of Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash for rejecting a United Nations reunification plan that would enable a unified Cyprus to join the EU next May.

Turkish Cypriot opposition parties saw the demonstrations as a sign they may defeat the hardliner Denktash in December's presidential election.

But they fear their victory may be blocked by the increasing influx to the north of thousands of impoverished settlers from mainland Turkey who are granted voting rights on arrival.

The continued presence of these illegal settlers from Anatolia could obstruct unification. On the other hand, it is well known that Turkish Cypriots are not famously fond of their mainland counterparts, whose unwanted presence could conceivably be a catalyst for their coming to terms with Greek Cypriots.

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A child's understanding of death

We have been reading Bible stories to Theresa since she was quite small, and gradually we have been expanding the repertoire to encompass the ones dealing with death. I'm not sure whether she understands what it means that David killed Goliath or that Daniel's enemies tried to have him killed or that the Three Holy Children might have died in the fiery furnace. Yesterday she was pretending that a monster was eating her dolls, her stuffed animals, &c. But this was all fun and games.

While we were at my sister-in-law's home near Chicago two weeks ago, we came upon a newly hatched baby bird lying in a neighbour's gravel driveway, not too far from the tires of their car. The tiny bird seemed to have fallen out of its nest, or was possibly even abandoned by its mother. We were not certain which. In any event, there was only one nest nearby and that was above the kitchen window of my sister-in-law's house. There was an attempt to place the baby bird in that nest, but this proved impossible as the nest was inaccessibly lodged in a small vent.

Theresa was concerned for the baby bird, and she kept saying anxiously, "Oh no, it's going to die again," obviously unaware of death's irreversibility. I don't know what happened to the small helpless creature, but I rather imagine it did not survive beyond a few hours at most.

When Theresa was born at only 26 weeks, she rather resembled a small featherless bird with precious little flesh to fill out her bones. She had no bum to speak of, and the contours of her ribs were much too visible. Seeing that little bird brought back memories of this for me. At the very outset of Theresa's life, it was not clear that she would survive, a fate too painful for her parents to contemplate. However, medical science, a sturdy constitution, sheer determination, and the prayers of huge numbers of God's people brought her through the ordeal with remarkably few after effects.

We have told her that she was smaller than most babies when she was born. Naturally she does not yet understand the significance of this. Whether that will come in another year or two -- or maybe even longer -- I cannot say. But I do know that if God cares for the fallen sparrow and numbers the very hairs on our head, he surely loves the child born into the world too soon.

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28 July 2003

Children at the Lord's Table

I was once at a church service in which the children were called up to the front of the sanctuary before being dismissed to sunday school. It was a communion sunday, so the table at front was spread with a white cloth, on top of which were placed the bread and wine to be distributed later in the service. The children were shown the elements and told in effect, "This is what all the grown-ups are going to have after you leave, but you can't have it until you're older." I was disturbed by what was being communicated to these youngsters: "The body and blood of Christ shed for our salvation lies here before you, but it's not for you."

I have often thought that many of the Reformed churches have an inconsistent approach to the sacraments. Since the time of the Reformation, we have affirmed with the historic church that baptism is a sign of the covenant and is thus properly administered to infants. Because we believe God's grace in Jesus Christ comes to us before we are conscious of our salvation in him, we pour the cleansing waters of baptism on our newborn children, trusting that his grace will eventually work to bring them to repentance and the living of the new life. This practice flows out of our strong view of election and our belief that God's saving power is not limited to those able to express an adult faith.

But when it comes to the Lord's Supper, we suddenly find ourselves abandoning this high view of God's grace. In the Christian Reformed Church young people must first make public profession of faith before being admitted to the Lord's Table. Since this usually does not occur before the age of seventeen or eighteen, this means that they will probably not have been nourished by Christ's body and blood until they are nearly out of the parental home. Admission to the Table thus becomes a rite of passage similar to the first date, the driver's licence, going off to university and voting in an election.

Remarkably the Orthodox commune the child immediately after baptism, thereby manifesting -- at least on this issue -- a more vivid sense of God's grace than the typically Reformed Christian. I strongly suspect that this Orthodox practice is a very ancient one -- nearly 2 millennia old, in fact. Its roots are almost certainly in the Jewish passover meal, in which adults and children alike partake.

I am delighted that our family is now attending a church where children are brought up from sunday school to receive communion along with their parents. There is something incalculably rich and meaningful in having my wife and daughter accompany me to the front of the sanctuary to be nourished by the body and blood of Jesus Christ for our salvation. God's grace is for the entire family, not only for those able to theologize about it.

"Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14).

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Statistical genealogy: everyone's related to everyone else

Last year I discovered that I (and of course other members of my immediate family) are descended from Alexios I Comnenos, one of the greatest of Byzantine emperors, who reigned from 1081 until his death in 1118. He is variously my 25th through 29th great grandfather.


Alexios I Comnenos


How unusual is it to have aristocratic and royal ancestors? Not at all. If we go back 20 generations, multiplying each successive generation by 2, each of us supposedly has 2,097,152 ancestors of that generation alone. After 30 generations each of us apparently has 2,147,483,648 ancestors of that generation. After 40 generations we each have 2,199,023,255,552. These numbers are clearly fantastic, because the numbers of human beings that have ever lived on earth are far, far short of 2 trillion! This means that if we go far enough back we are descended from the same fairly small number of people many times over, particularly if our origins are in the same part of the world.

For example, each of us in my line of the family is descended from Charlemagne in more than 100 different ways through at least three of his offspring. Thus anyone claiming special status for being descended from royalty is making an exceedingly insignificant claim. It certainly will not put one in line for any thrones! The real pleasure in researching genealogy comes to those already possessing a love of history in general.

Coincidentally, shortly after I came to the above conclusions, confirmation appeared in an article by Steve Olson, "The Royal We", The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 289, no. 5 (May 2002), pp. 62-64. Citing Mark Humphrys, who maintains a website titled "Royal Descents of Famous People", Olson argues that "everyone in the world is descended from Nefertiti and Confucius, and everyone of European ancestry is descended from Muhammad and Charlemagne."

Before the fall of his regime, Saddam Hussein had employed professional genealogists to demonstrate his descent from the prophet Muhammad, obviously to enhance his legitimacy among traditional Muslims. As it turns out, virtually any westerner he would chance to meet (not to mention his fellow Arabs) is also descended from Muhammad. It's simply not a statistically significant claim.

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Lieberman and life issues

US Senator Joe Lieberman was chosen by Al Gore to be his vice-presidential running mate in the 2000 presidential election. Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew, but many of his political positions show no evidence of his religious allegiance, as noted in this report from LifeNews.com:

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Lieberman (D-CT) toured a nanotechnology company on Tuesday. During an interview following the tour, he said he would "rescind the Bush administration restrictions on stem cell research." In August 2001, President Bush prohibited federal funding of any new embryonic stem cell research conducted after that date. Lieberman is one of the leading Democratic presidential candidates and favors abortion.

One wishes he would take his own tradition more seriously as he considered his stance on such issues. Otherwise it is difficult not to conclude that he has compartmentalized his weekday life from his sabbath life.

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27 July 2003

More definitions

vegetarian, n. a person who avoids meat and eats only vegetables.

seminarian, n. a person who eats only seeds.

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Introducing the family: Archbishop Edwin Sandys

The Very Reverend Edwin Sandys (1519-1588) was Archbishop of York during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. He may have been my 13th great grandfather, depending on whether his 2nd great granddaughter, Elizabeth Gorsuch (1641-after 1680), married my 9th great grandfather, Capt. Cornelius Howard (1637-1680), which is in doubt.



Sandys was sympathetic to the puritan cause in England, and he was one of the people responsible for the translation of the Bishops' Bible, a predecessor of the King James Version. Here's more from a rootsweb genealogical website:

He was educated at Cambridge University, became Master of Catherine Hall, and Vice-Chancellor of that University. On the death of King Edward in 1553, he preached a sermon proclaiming Lady Jane Grey Queen, for which act he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, his cell mate being John Bradford. About a year after, he was pardoned by Queen Mary and removed to Germany where he was followed by his first wife (whose children died in infancy of the plague.) He returned to London arriving on the day of Queen Elizabeth's coronation.

On December 21, 1559 he was made Bishop of Worcester by Queen Elizabeth. In 1570, he was made Bishop of London. In 1577 he was promoted to the Archbishop of York, which office he held until his death.

Sir Edwin Sandys (1561-1629), the son of the Archbishop, was a member of the council of the Virginia Company at the time the first settlement was established at Jamestown in 1607. He was responsible for the establishment in 1619 of the first representative assembly in the Americas, the Virginia House of Burgesses. His sister Anne (1570-1629/30) may have been my 12th great grandmother.

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26 July 2003

English irregularities and ideological labels

Have you ever wondered why there are theologians but no anthropologians? Astrologers, but no biologers? Zoologists, but no theologists? Have you never pondered the riddle of why a scientist is not defined as a follower of scientism? Why is a follower of Calvin a Calvinist but a follower of Luther not a Lutherist?

On papers and examinations I constantly come across my students using words such as liberalist and conservatist and I just as constantly mark these wrong, telling them that such words do not exist. The proper words are, of course, liberal and conservative. At some point it finally dawned on me that, in so rendering these words, my students are simply drawing an analogy from such parallel terms as socialist, nationalist, anarchist and the like. If an adherent of socialism is a socialist, then why is a follower of liberalism not similarly called a liberalist? It’s a good question, of course. Every language has inconsistencies, and English seems to have more than its share.

Truth to tell, I rather wish there were such words as liberalist and conservatist. There is a sense in which every right-thinking person can call him- or herself liberal insofar as he or she values personal freedom and wishes to protect it. But the same person must just as well be conservative insofar as he or she strives to defend existing good against the encroachment of evil. If ideologies are -isms, then perhaps we should indeed label those who take their liberal and conservative inclinations in an ideological direction precisely liberalists and conservatists.

I faced something of this irregularity in the English language when I was working on chapter five of my book. What should I call the ideology professing a belief in popular sovereignty? Should I follow Russell Kirk and call it democratism? Or radical democracy perhaps? In the end I settled on the terms democracy as ideology, ideological democracy, and democracy as creed. There are no -ism endings, which I would have preferred, but democratism is not a widely used or understood term, and is rather inelegant in any case.

Similarly, I would not generally take patriotism to be an ideological label, despite the presence of that tainted suffix. The patriotic person I take simply to be someone who loves his or her homeland, however that be defined. This love is an ordinate love, as Augustine would understand it, and not an idolatrous one that puts homeland in place of God.

Someone once said that those striving at all costs for rigid consistency have small minds, and this must surely apply to language. Had I tried artificially to limit all -ism words to ideologies alone, then I myself could probably be judged to have been in the grip of – yes – an ideology!

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Still no prospect for Cyprus solution

The following is from VOA News: "Cyprus Observes 29th Anniversary of Island's Division." Unfortunately, the opening of the green line three months ago has done little to encourage renewed talks aimed at a permanent settlement.

The U.N. special envoy to Cyprus, Alevero De Soto, says the open border is a small thing, compared to what is needed on the island.

"It does not solve the Cyprus problem; it doesn't reunify the island; it does not get Turkish Cypriots into the EU," said Mr. De Soto. "All the pending issues regarding territory, property claims, how they would govern themselves if they were to get back together again, even the security problems - they are all pending.

"Nothing has been resolved," he continued. "All you have is a certain freedom of movement. The parties know what they have to do to get the [U.N.] secretary-general involved again, and that is to accept a serious framework and timetable for negotiations, that is to pick up where we left off when the secretary-general's three-year effort didn't come to a conclusion at the beginning of March."

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25 July 2003

Continued influence of the 1912 Psalter

My parents-in-law are longtime members of Christ Church of Oak Brook, a large independent congregation with Reformed leanings. (Its founding pastor, Arthur DeKruyter, graduated from both Calvin College and Calvin Seminary.) For many years they sang from the OPC's Trinity Hymnal. But a few years ago they produced their own hymnal, the Christ Church Hymnal, undoubtedly making them one of a very few congregations to undertake such a project on their own. Not surprisingly perhaps, this hymnal contains a number of metrical psalms, and these come largely from the 1912 Psalter. The most surprising of these has the metrical text of Psalm 46 set to the tune for "America the Beautiful," a juxtaposition that many would likely find slightly jarring.

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Theodorakis in Minnesota

I was privileged to see Theodorakis in concert in Minneapolis in the fall of 1973. It was the final year of his exile (which none of us could know at the time of course), and I made the effort to go downtown to see someone whose music had been such a part of my life up to then. I went with some Greek friends who had moved to Minnesota at the same time I did. (One of these is now president of the Greek Bible Institute near Athens.)

To my astonishment, Theodorakis appeared to be largely self-taught. His conducting style was fairly haphazard, and he simply waved his arms about without any seeming method. But his orchestra nevertheless knew exactly what to do, and they did it very well indeed. I wish I could recall which of his music they played, but the memory of this event has faded with the passing of the decades.

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Mikis Theodorakis' music

Among the music we listened to and danced to at my aunt's house last sunday evening were the songs of the famous composer, Mikis Theodorakis (1925- ). He is best known outside of his native Greece for his film scores for "Zorba the Greek" and "Z." "Zorba's Dance," so full of exuberant energy, is the piece of his music that most North Americans would immediately recognize. (Wasn't the restaurant in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" called Dancing Zorba's?)

I would be hard pressed to say whether Theodorakis is a popular or classical composer. He draws on Greek folk idioms, but his music has both an emotional depth and intellectual expansiveness that would make it difficult to classify as popular per se. Yet, unlike many 20th-century classical composers, he does not shy away from singable melodies -- or catchy tunes, as some would put it. The bouzouki is the instrument featured most prominently in his compositions.

I suppose my favourite of his melodies are a song translated from Greek as "Paper Kites," and the various songs from his score for the documentary, "Island of Aphrodite," written about my father's native island of Cyprus.

Theodorakis has always been a political activist, mostly associated with what is conventionally called the left. He was arrested during military rule in Greece (1967-1974) and went into exile for the duration. The movie "Z" has an obvious political message related to this period in his country's history. After the fall of the colonels, Theodorakis returned to Greece and became involved in politics once more. Somewhat uncharacteristically he served in the conservative government of Konstantinos Mitsotakis at the beginning of the 1990s.

Most recently he entered the fray with several statements against the recent US action in Iraq, as seen in this website. He is without a doubt Greece's greatest living composer, and his music is well worth hearing -- and sometimes dancing to.

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The family and the marketplace

This item from Charles Colson's Breakpoint commentaries made me a little uneasy at the very least: "Families and Markets." It concerns a conference this past spring in which "Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, an economist at the Hoover Institution and the author of Love and Economics, told the attendees that 'the market needs the family.'"

When most of us think of family, we do not automatically think next of the economic marketplace. We think of holidays spent together, stories told and songs sung at bedtime, confiding in each other fears and aspirations for the future, mealtime rituals, photo albums, picnics in the summer, arguing with a sibling about something inconsequential (or consequential), looking out for a little brother or sister at the school playground, baptisms, marriages, pain over a divorce, grieving at a death, attending church together, leaving home for the first time, and returning home with the first grandchild.

I am confident that Dr. Morse did not intend to reduce the family to a mere player in the market. There is surely some legitimacy to pointing out the relationship between family and market as long as we don't start there and leave it at that.

The very next day, in fact, Breakpoint continued with Morse's observations on the dangers of extending the logic of the marketplace, with its emphasis on personal choice, into the institution of marriage. Under the influence of the market, marriage comes increasingly to be seen as a mere contract, whose terms can be altered at the discretion of its parties. But, as Colson properly puts it, marriage is a covenant, not a contract.

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24 July 2003

Definitions

leprokhan, n. 1. an Irish gnome misspelt; 2. a Mongol ruler with skin condition.

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Political cultures and local government

Americans are famously attached to their local governments -- seemingly much more than Canadians. I was reminded of this during our recent visit to the Chicago area. The greater Chicago area, known as Chicagoland to its inhabitants, boasts hundreds, if not thousands, of overlapping municipal governments, ranging from cities and villages, to townships, to school districts, sanitary districts, and counties. My hometown of Wheaton is located in DuPage County, but it is also located in Milton Township. The public school district is called District 200, whose boundaries do not quite coincide with the Wheaton city limits.

It is nothing short of remarkable that Americans, with their historic fear of overweening government, are seemingly content to live under myriad governments, whose overlapping nature rivals the various feudal fiefdoms of mediaeval Europe. Yet if the state of Illinois, whose capital city is "downstate" in Springfield, were to attempt to consolidate all of these into a Chicago megacity, there would be an insurrection.

By contrast, here in Ontario, we are rather accustomed to the provincial government embarking on waves of municipal consolidation every generation or so. Some three decades ago Preston, Galt and Hespeler were combined to make Cambridge. Fort William and Port Arthur became Thunder Bay. Then in the late 1990s a Toronto megacity was created by the Mike Harris government. And at the beginning of the new millennium the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth became the new city of Hamilton.

It is difficult to imagine the residents of Cook County, Illinois, willingly becoming a Chicago megacity, requiring the extinction of Oak Park, Maywood, Berwyn, Cicero, Hillside, Evanston, &c., &c. What this would seem to indicate is that the autonomy of local governments has a firmer place in what might be called the unwritten American constitution than it does in Canada's. Thus while the written document indicates that the US is a federal system with only two levels of government, the unwritten constitution is more of a three- or four-level federal system. If Americans fear government, they appear to fear the local variety least of all.

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Rootedness in a homeland

One of the places we visited during our travels was Dundee, Michigan, near where my cousin and her family live on a farm. For the past three years it has been home to a huge new Cabela's store, which is changing the flavour of the little community.

My uncle is a farmer who has lived on this land all of his life. As he was showing us his antique tractors, we stood outside his barn. He pointed to a small white building to the southeast and told us that he was born in that house. The house where my cousin grew up, and where we used to visit them in the 1950s and '60s, was about half a mile to the north of their present home.

What would it be like to be born, grow up, live and die on the same land? It's difficult for me to fathom. My education and employment have condemned me, and those like me, to living far from the land of our birth. Yet there is something to be said for being so strongly rooted in a local community. For me it may amount to little more than nostalgia for a vanished way of life that I was never part of. But for my uncle it is real life. And my cousin and her family are part of this again after living elsewhere for a number of years. I admit to envying them to no small extent.

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23 July 2003

Acton Institute on Kuyper

First it was Althusius. Now the Acton Institute's latest newsletter features a brief piece on Abraham Kuyper, whom they view as being "in the liberal tradition." There is perhaps such a thing as a nonideological liberal who is simply attached to freedom, and in this sense Kuyper can plausibly be described as liberal. On the other hand, the Acton Institute is about considerably more than an attachment to freedom. To the extent this is true, Kuyper would certainly not approve of everything they are up to or even of their basic approach, which tends to extend the efficacy of the economic marketplace rather too far.

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Visit to the States

Nancy and Theresa and I just got back from our annual visit to family in Michigan and Illinois. We had a great time. I will not bore readers with every little thing we did. But there were a few highlights worth mentioning:

- A personal tour of my uncle's collection of antique tractors at his farm near Dundee, Michigan.

- A visit to the recently refurbished Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. My favourite exhibits here were the Great Train Story and the Pioneer Zephyr. (I am a railfan, after all.) Theresa liked Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle and the Idea Factory.

- A visit to the Fox River Trolley Museum, where they've extended their trackage south to the Blackhawk Forest Preserve. Afterwards we stopped for Tastee Freez ice cream, something I remember fondly from my childhood.

- A big fat Greek dinner at my aunt and uncle's house, including two kinds of souvlakia, string beans and kolokithia (zuchini), kidney bean salad, tsatsiki, and what is arguably the world's greatest beer, Pilsner Urquell, brewed in the Czech Republic. The highlight of the evening had us all dancing to nostalgic Greek songs I had last listened to some 30 or 35 years ago. (Theresa loved this part. "I'm having a wonderful time," she beamed to her great aunt in the middle of a two-step.)

- Several violent storms passing through the area, making for heavy downpours, high standing water, downed tree branches, but cooler than normal temperatures.

- Patio seating at a restaurant, which we enjoyed due to the mild temperature.

- Arriving back home again after ten days on the road.

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Beiner on citizenship

Here's more from Beiner's book:

Citizenship, in the pluralistic world of nation-states, can never be universalistic. But it can be based on accidental territorial coexistence rather than ethnic homogeneity or ascriptive community. The jus soli is a liberal principle of state-formation, which allocates citizenship according to birthplace, and it stands in sharp contrast to the jus sanguinis, which identifies co-nationals by bloodline and 'constitutive attachments' rather than by historically accidental coexistence on the same (arbitrarily demarcated) piece of land (p. 110).

I agree with Beiner here except to note that jus soli is not so much a liberal principle as the foundation for a differentiated state community, i.e., for a state which is understood to be a political community rather than some other community. In a world made up of such states everyone has a political home of some sort. If you have a birth certificate showing that you were born in, say, Liverpool, then you are a British citizen and must be recognized as such.

Pity the unfortunate person born in, say, Trapezounta or Sinope, of Greek Orthodox parents before 1923. He can never go home. He is not a citizen of the Turkish republic, despite his having been born within its territory. The same can be said of our friend in the old city of Jerusalem. He was born in Lod, but that is not enough to make him a citizen of Israel. Where citizenship is defined by a nonpolitical factor, e.g., adherence to a particular faith, mother tongue, skin colour, &c., the possibility of some -- and perhaps many millions -- of people being without citizenship is magnified.

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21 July 2003

Nationalism and communal identity

Here's more from Ronald Beiner's excellent collection of essays on Liberalism, Nationalism, Citizenship. To those who argue an automatic connection between national identity and political self-determination, Beiner answers as follows:

The question for a political philosopher here is not the relevance of identity, but how to assess the normative claims embodied in conflicting visions of identity. . . . The appeal to identity by itself gives us no reason to favour the distinctively nationalist way of conferring identity, as opposed to other possibilities, such as a determinedly non-nationalist civic identity (p. 109).

In other words, where communities of shared identity make conflicting claims, political deliberation must attempt to adjudicate these claims. However, where there is no common political framework to enable this to happen, and where one (or more than one) community simply asserts its right to self-determination as a non-negotiable, then warfare seems to be the only route left. Nationalism would privilege the claims of self-styled national communities at the expense of other legitimate communities, with justice being the principal casualty.

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20 July 2003

Hannah Arendt on nation and state

One more book I've been reading recently is Ronald Beiner's Liberalism, Nationalism, Citizenship: Essays on the Problem of Political Community, also a collection of previously published essays. His "Hannah Arendt As a Critic of Nationalism" reminds us of some of the features of Arendt's argument in her classic Origins of Totalitarianism, particularly the middle section on Imperialism. She believes that there is a tension between nation and state, as indicated in the following passage:

The state inherited as its supreme function the protection of all inhabitants in its territory no matter what their nationality [i.e., ethnicity], and was supposed to act as a supreme legal institution. The tragedy of the nation-state was that the people's rising national consciousness interfered with these functions. In the name of the will of the people the state was forced to recognize only "nationals" as citizens, to grant full civil and political rights only to those who belonged to the national community by right of origin and fact of birth. This meant that the state was partly transformed from an instrument of law into an instrument of the nation (p. 110).

Arendt's scepticism towards nationalism of any kind made her a nonzionist champion of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. More than half a century later this may sound like an oxymoron, but in the 1940s this stance would likely have been more comprehensible.

Beiner judges that Arendt's critique of nationalism is too historicist and that she would have done better to mount a normative counter-argument. Yet given her penchant for free political action and her dislike for the application of abstract theorizing to politics, she may not have been able to bring herself to do so.

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19 July 2003

Witvliet on worship

I've been reading John Witvliet's Worship Seeking Understanding, which consists of a series of previously published essays gathered into one volume. The most interesting of these for me is "The Spirituality of the Psalter in Calvin's Geneva." Witvliet notes that the Genevan Psalter was compiled over a period of decades, so that up until two years before Calvin's death Genevan Christians had access to only a partial psalter for liturgical use.

It is interesting to note which psalms were translated and versified first.

Almost all of the first psalms set in metrical form were either wisdom psalms or psalms of confession. This is perhaps a natural result of the placement of sung psalmody immediately following the prayer of confession in the Genevan liturgy. The other striking pattern in the early metrical psalms is the predominance of psalms that either lament or reflect on trouble caused by the psalmist's enemy. In fact, this tendency is so marked that psalms of praise are strikingly underrepresented. Only three of the twenty-two texts in the 1539 Psalter are psalms of praise (p. 208).

We all know of the ubiquitous "praise and worship" genre. Perhaps we need to acquaint ourselves with the "lament and confess" genre.

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18 July 2003

Postal strike in Canada?

A generation ago a postal workers' strike would bring to a halt much of life and the economy as bills failed to arrive, people failed to pay them, &c. Now, however, the threat of a postal strike seems far less disruptive. After all we pay bills by phone or over the internet. We send packages via courier services such as UPS and FedEx. There would be inconvenience to be sure. But we are simply far less dependent on conventional postal services than we used to be.

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16 July 2003

Incoherent stand by Mennonite Church?

Here is a report from Lifenews.com that does not put the Mennonite Church in a very favourable light: "Mennonite Church Opposes Abortion and Pro-Life Laws."

The Mennonite Church is taking a stand against abortion, but not in favour of laws that would limit it.

The Mennonite Church USA has adopted a policy saying most abortions are "counter to Biblical principles," but it is urging its members to refrain from lobbying for laws that would involve "using the government to force others to comply with our Christian standards." The church claims such laws unfairly target women and the poor.

Because ecclesiastical assemblies are usually forced to put together statements on political issues that are products of compromise among different viewpoints, such statements can turn out to sound somewhat incoherent. I would tend to think that institutional churches should refrain from taking positions on specific laws, which are a matter of prudential judgements. However, to discourage members from pursuing laws to protect the unborn seems wrongheaded.

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Acton Institute on Johannes Althusius

Here is something interesting on Johannes Althusius, the Calvinist political theorist who is sometimes seen either as a precursor to Abraham Kuyper or as a forerunner of John Locke. Given that the website carrying this piece belongs to the Acton Institute, and given that its orientation is liberal, it is not surprising that they would tend to see him as a proto-liberal rather than as a pre-Kuyperian.

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14 July 2003

Judicial overreach

Here is the latest Capital Commentary by Jim Skillen of the Center for Public Justice: "From Legal Judgment to Political Approbation." Writes Skillen:

The U.S. Supreme Court was established to make one kind of judgment: to decide whether laws passed by state and federal governments square with the requirements of the Constitution. The court is increasingly becoming something else: a committee that gives the final stamp of approbation to laws that its majority believes best fit our changing society.

The court, it seems, has abandoned any pretence to be judging in accordance with the text of the Constitution. This was first seen in the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 and it's become increasingly evident in more recent cases.

At one time I thought our own courts in Canada would act in a more restrained way after patriation of the constitution in 1982. But this has turned out to be far from the case. Here there is no confirmation process to scrutinize appointees to the Supreme Court. Appointment lies in the hands of the Prime Minister alone, albeit with the presumed input of the Minister of Justice, so a crucial check on the court is missing here. The Court has often been in the position of having to make controversial political decisions that the government of the day prefers not to have to make for fear of alienating voters. This has encouraged a certain irresponsibility in our elected officeholders, who are tempted to pass the buck to an unelected tribunal which need not worry about suffering defeat at the polls. Trudeau's patriation has thus made our political system markedly less democratic.

Perhaps it is finally time to consider ways to rein in the courts in both countries.

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13 July 2003

Israeli Arabs

I should perhaps clarify what I wrote two days ago about the Palestinian Christian we met in the old city of Jerusalem. He and his family were among those who fled Palestine at the time of the proclamation of the state of Israel in 1948. They were not allowed to return, despite their birth within the territory of Israel proper. Many, if not most, of these are the Palestinian refugees of whom we hear so much.

Yet it is true, of course, that there are many Israeli Arabs who have full rights of citizenship and whose political parties are represented in the Knesset. Israel's record with respect to its own religious minorities, while defective from a western standpoint, is exemplary relative to that of its neighbours. While travelling in the middle east in 1995 my wife and I met another Arab Christian who successfully sought and received Israeli citizenship, believing he had a better opportunity of living a fairly normal life as an Israeli than as a citizen of the unknown quantity represented by a future Palestinian state.

Nevertheless, pity those whose parents and grandparents fled the new state of Israel in 1948. They have nowhere to go. Israel will not take them back. Nor will the Arab countries where their refugee camps are located accept them as full citizens. Their governments prefer to use them as weapons to subvert Israel. That this is tremendously unjust is scarcely in need of saying.

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The 1912 Psalter

Although the UPCNA no longer exists as a separate denomination, its liturgical impact is with us still. This church body was the primary mover behind the 1912 Psalter, a join project of several Reformed denominations, mostly in the US.

It began as an effort to update the UPCNA's previous Psalter of 1887. (The UPCNA was an exclusive psalm-singing church until 1925.) The resulting Psalter employed a diversity of metres as compared to the old Scottish Psalter of 1650, Sternhold and Hopkins, and Tate and Brady. Unfortunately the tunes chosen as settings for the texts were very largely limited to those composed in the previous generation or so. Many of these were not particularly strong melodies and eventually went into deserved oblivion. (The Genevan Psalter went unrepresented.)

The 1912 Psalter formed the nucleus of the Christian Reformed Church's Psalter Hymnal, and influenced the Orthodox Presbyterian Church's Trinity Hymnal (now shared with the Presbyterian Church in America) and a number of other hymnals published by the Reformed Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its predecessor bodies.

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More wonderful hymns

This morning we sang two more of my favourite hymns, Richard F. Littledale's translation of Bianco of Siena's "Come Down, O Love Divine," set to Ralph Vaughan Williams' Down Ampney; and Catherine Winkworth's translation of Johann Franck's "Deck Thyself, My Soul, with Gladness," that wonderful eucharistic hymn from the Lutheran tradition.

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More on Leo Strauss' "insidious" impact

Here is one more entry in the long line of recent articles about the influence of Leo Strauss (1899-1973) on particularly American politics: Paul Knox's "The Strauss Effect." For some odd reason the authors of these articles detect some connection between Straussians and the so-called religious right. Knox should read Strauss' essay, "What Is Political Philosophy?" and note how the author casually dismisses what he derisively calls political theology, i.e., reflection on politics based on divine revelation. In the argument between Athens and Jerusalem Strauss definitively sides with Athens.

What Knox did get right is the impact Strauss had on the late George Parkin Grant (1918-1988), Canada's foremost (political) philosopher.

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12 July 2003

Greece as an ethnic state

Again, lest it appear that I am singling out Israel's citizenship policy, other states in the region have similar policies. For example, by the Treaty of Lausanne ethnic Turks in western Thrace were permitted to remain in Greece as were Constantinopolitan Greeks allowed to remain in Istanbul. Yet Greek policies towards its Turkish minority have been far from exemplary, as indicated in this report by Human Rights Watch: The Turks of Western Thrace. Furthermore, because it is assumed that to be Greek entails membership in the Orthodox Church of Greece, members of minority religious groups are often viewed as potential fifth-columnists.

Some years ago evangelist Costas Makris, a Greek evangelical, was prosecuted under Greece's anti-proselytism law. This was publicized in certain christian circles, but it was not well known elsewhere.

The ethnically-based state is far from dead, although membership in the European Union is forcing some states to change their citizenship laws to recognize a territorial concept of citizenship.

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Hannah Arendt on Palestine

Uniquely among 20th-century political philosophers, Hannah Arendt sought to recover a distinctive place for politics in the world. Though one might legitimately question the success of her approach, it is interesting to note that her aversion to sovereignty, coupled with her love of political action amid the human condition of plurality, led her to reflect on the zionist project in Palestine in a series of prescient journal articles written in the 1940s. These were posthumously reprinted under the somewhat unhappy title, The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and the Politics of the Modern Age (Grove Press, 1978, now seemingly out of print).

In these essays she believed that the zionist enterprise in Palestine would be mortally threatened if the Jewish settlers sought to establish unilaterally a sovereign Jewish state. Warning that this would result in a permanently marginalized Arab community with irredentist ambitions, she believed it wiser to work for a bi-national federation in Palestine as a joint project of Jews and Arabs. This dual character would extend from the central government all the way down to local municipal councils. More than half a century later it is difficult to argue with her.

It is, of course, possible that by 1948 this had already become impracticable, given the hostility that had grown between the two groups. Yet Arendt (herself a Jew) understood better than most that politics cannot be reduced to a mere instrument for realizing the aspirations, however legitimate, of a particular ethnic group. Politics, in her view, has everything to do with the fact that people's interests are multiple and that power is created, not by the possession of superior arms, but by ordinary people acting in concert within the public realm.

To harness politics to ethnic ambitions is to reduce the public realm to the status of a private household where people are constrained to behave rather than free to act. This is the antithesis of genuine politics as she understood it.

Conspicuous by its absence in Arendt's political thought is the concept of justice. Yet as a refugee (twice!) from nazi-controlled Europe, she understood what it was to be stateless and to have no place of one's own in this world. Therefore she believed Palestine would have to be home to two peoples and not only one.

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Another political party for Canada

Here is an interesting would-be entrant into federal politics: The New Consensus Party. It sounds as if it could be moving beyond our current and excessive executive-dominance towards a more independent parliament. Or else it could simply be so many more promises.

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11 July 2003

Israel, the Arabs, and the just state

Gideon Strauss writes:

One of my colleagues recently said that he was a fierce supporter of Israel, "not for religious but for sociological reasons." I like that. I believe that there is a sound moral argument to be made in support of the state of Israel, without significant reference to any Christian eschatological scheme.

To which I say, yes, but. . .

Obviously I believe that Israel's legitimate security needs must be taken into account in any just settlement of the longstanding middle east crisis. Those Palestinians wishing to push Israel into the sea are effectively wishing that a massive injustice be done to millions of people. One can hardly countenance this sort of thing.

At the same time, the existence of a state where citizenship is based on religion or ethnicity is problematic at the very least. The problem is multiplied where persons born within its territory but who happen to fall outside the bounds of the favoured titular nationality are not recognized as citizens.

During our trip to the holy land in 1995 Nancy and I talked with a Palestinian Christian who worked at a christian bookstore in the old city of Jerusalem. He was born in Lod, during the last years of the British mandate. He was not an Israeli citizen and his national status was in some doubt. He carried a 30-year-old Jordanian passport, but he was not certain of its validity. After the capture of the west bank, he was offered Israeli citizenship but turned it down, expecting that Israeli occupation would be temporary. The offer had not been repeated in the decades since then.

The just state offers equitable treatment to all persons residing within its territory, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, mother tongue, ideology, &c. Where it withholds citizenship from those born within its territory because they are of the "wrong" ethno-religious group, it does injustice. Because Israel offers citizenship to Jews born elsewhere but withholds it from hundreds of thousands born within its borders, this presents a political problem at the very least.

However, lest one think I am unduly picking on Israel, something similar can be said of many, if not most, countries now present within the vast lands once belonging to the Ottoman Empire a century or more ago. Large numbers of Orthodox Christians lived within the territory of today's Turkish republic, and large numbers of Sunni Muslims lived within what is today Greece. The Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 mandated a population exchange, which sent Greek Orthodox Christians "back" to Greece and Muslims "back" to Turkey, even if they didn't speak the language of the receiving country. After 1952 Alexandrian Greeks were "encouraged" to leave Naser's Egypt. After 1955 Constantinopolitan Greeks were pressed to leave Istanbul and Turkey.

Similar population exchanges -- now known as ethnic cleansing -- have occured in the former Yugoslavia. I could keep going in this vein. The past century has seen scores of millions of people uprooted from their homes and countries, mostly as a consequence of the rule of ethnic nationalists wishing to homogenize their subject populations.

Having seen my relatives in Cyprus become refugees in the events of 1974, I have great sympathy with people who are prohibited from returning to their homes. Thus I feel for Palestinians who are not permitted to return to theirs when a Law of Return openly solicits citizens from elsewhere in the world.

At the same time, while the various Arab countries push for Palestinians to return to Palestine, I do not see them offering to allow the millions of middle eastern Jews to return to the countries of their birth. Some weeks ago I wrote of Bat Ye'or and her fascinating historical account of The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam. "Bat Ye'or" means "Daughter of the Nile" and is a pseudonym for an Egyptian Jew now living in exile in western Europe. The fact that she bears a pseudonym indicates that she obviously fears for her life. She is now a British citizen, we are told. If she were to show up at an Egyptian embassy and ask that her citizenship in that country be restored, I doubt very much that her request would be granted.

Thus if Israel is a state predicated on the ethnic rather than territorial principle, the same can be said of most other states in the region. Egypt is the Arab Republic of Egypt, despite the presence of some 8 million Coptic Christians whose origins are non-Arab.

In short, although the argument against Israeli citizenship policy has a large measure of justice in it, it would be far more potent if it were matched with a similar demand that Israel's neighbours do justice to the plurality of peoples who currently live or once lived within their jurisdictions. Otherwise such an argument looks conspicuously like antisemitism pure and simple.

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My childhood church

I was brought up at Bethel Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, Illinois, at a time when it met in the basement of a building on Union Street, just down from Wheaton College's famous Blanchard Hall. Most of this church's members would eventually end up as Immanuel Presbyterian Church, now in nearby Warrenville. (It's a long story.)

Recently I've been singing through a book of sunday school songs with Theresa, while accompanying on guitar, and some of these I recall singing at Bethel. In addition to bringing back good memories, these have also made me thankful for my early upbringing in the faith and for the many people, particularly at Bethel, who contributed to that.

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Abortion and radical feminism

Those labelling themselves pro-choice have consistently argued that the right of a woman to obtain an abortion is a basic human right. But Elizabeth Fox-Genovese disagrees. An adult convert to Roman Catholicism, she abandoned the radical feminism of her earlier years, judging that, far from empowering women, it actually deprecated female corporeality and made the male body normative for women as well.

With good reason, the radical women’s movement has insisted that responsibility for children has undermined women’s ability to compete equally with men for material goods and status. In insisting that no woman may be compelled to bear a child, the movement has sought to liberate women from the handicap of their bodies — indeed, so far as possible, to liberate them entirely from those bodies. This strategy rests on the disquieting premise that for women to achieve full dignity and freedom they must become as much like men as possible. Radical feminists inadvertently appropriate the very assumption they publicly denounce, namely that the true measure and embodiment of humanity is man. Consider the logic: For a woman to become the best she can be, she must become as little like a woman as possible.

Or, in the words Alan Jay Lerner put into Prof. Henry Higgins’ mouth, "Why can’t a woman be more like a man?" It is hardly surprising that increasing numbers of women are finding this strategy far from liberating.

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10 July 2003

Whither the former UPCNA?

The United Presbyterian Church in North America (UPCNA) was a stronghold of Reformed confessional identity for the century after 1858, and was made up of seceding and covenanter groups with roots in Scotland. It was headquartered in Pittsburgh and its geographic strength was in western Pennsylvania. In 1958 it entered into organic union with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA), thereby forming the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA), the largest Reformed body in the US.

Here is an interesting essay by a New York pastor, the Rev. Albert Rhodes Stuart: "Diminishing Distinctives: A Study of the Ingestion of the United Presbyterian Church of North America by the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America." Both of these bodies are now part of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

However, due to liberalizing developments in the latter, a self-styled confessing movement has arisen and local congregations are signing up across the country. Look at the map and see where its support base is: Pennsylvania, which has far more confessing congregations than any other state. Could the end of the 1958 union be shaping up at the beginning of the 21st century? It seems the UPCNA never really died; it simply became part of the confessional wing of the PC(USA).

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09 July 2003

Vatican favours Cyprus' unity

Now even the Pope is adding his voice: "John Paul II Encourages Talks to Overcome Cyprus' Division." Unfortunately I doubt that his opinion will carry much weight with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who vetoed the UN's latest plan in April.

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US tiring of imperial role

Something like this had to happen sooner or later: "U.S. might ask NATO to take over control of Iraq occupation."

Such a change would discomfit some administration hard-liners, as it would force the United States to share decision-making on Iraq with European leaders who opposed the U.S.-led invasion, analysts said. It might also require seeking a mandate from the United Nations Security Council, which the United States failed to get before launching the war to topple Saddam Hussein.

But as the single most powerful nation in NATO, the United States would retain military command while spreading the burden and costs among a number of nations, thereby easing demands on overstretched American forces, diplomats said.

Public opinion polls show that American support for the continued US presence in Iraq is slipping. Next year is a presidential election year, which is undoubtedly influencing the administration's actions. Americans will not want to bear the burdens of the rest of the world indefinitely.

Incidentally Canada has a role to play here, but thus far our public spending priorities, which have allowed our defensive capabilities to atrophy, do not support such a role. This cannot be continued either and will have to change if a more equitable international order is to be established and maintained.

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Time has come to resolve Cyprus impasse

At the weekend the Washington Times carried an opinion piece by Rep. Donald M. Payne (D. New Jersey), a senior member of the House International Relations Committee. Writes Payne:

The time has come for the United States to advise Turkey's leadership — in very clear terms — that its occupation of Cyprus must quickly come to an end. Turkey, today with lessened leverage over the United States, should not be allowed to continue blocking resolution of the situation in Cyprus. The only chance Turkey has to modernize by joining the EU is to release Cyprus from the grip of its aggression and show the world that Turkey itself has turned the corner and is an increasingly enlightened global citizen.

Then, and only then, Cyprus can be reunited, bringing security and prosperity to all its citizens and a glimmer of peace to the eastern Mediterranean.

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08 July 2003

Waiting 94 years for a Cubs victory

Now here's dedication for you: "At 113 Years Old, Cubs Fan Holds Out Hope." If I were she, I think I'd cultivate other interests -- with the time I had left.

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Update on colleague

Last week I reported on my friend and colleague John Byl's accident. This morning he phoned me here at home, returning my earlier call, and we spoke together for about ten minutes. It was remarkable to hear his voice at all given what he went through only eight days ago. He is still in considerable discomfort, and he is experiencing persistent double vision. Please pray for his full and speedy recovery.

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Philip Schaff and the fate of the RCUS

Since 1985 I've had in my personal library a thin, privately printed volume published in 1893 on the occasion of The Semi-Centennial of Philip Schaff, that is, the 50th anniversary of his academic career, which began in 1842 at the University of Berlin and culminated in 1892 at Union Theological Seminary in New York. (He died the year this volume was published.)

Between its covers are numerous testimonial letters written in Schaff's honour, some material by Schaff himself, and other relevant material. Schaff writes here of his reception into the German Reformed Church in the US:

In October [1844] I was received into your Synod, at Allentown, and delivered, in Dr. Bucher's church, at Reading, my inaugural address on the "Principle of Protestantism," in the German language, which some hearers misunderstood for Latin or Greek. It was a vindication of the Reformation on the theory of progressive historical development, which was then regarded as dangerous, but is now very generally accepted.

Schaff goes on to recount the controversies surrounding his teaching, mostly having to do, not so much with his Hegelian view of history, as with the validity of earlier Roman Catholic baptisms for those received into the Reformed Church, which he defended.

Schaff is, of course, best known for editing and publishing the writings of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, as well as the Creeds of Christendom.

As for the denomination Schaff served, the (German) Reformed Church in the United States divided and went in two very different directions. The majority of the RCUS united with the former Evangelical Synod of North America (the church of Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr's family) in 1934 to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church. In 1957 that church joined with the Congregational and Christian Churches to become the United Church of Christ, by far the most liberal of the protestant denominations in the US.

However, a smaller group remained out of the 1934 merger and continues as the Reformed Church in the United States. It is one of the most confessional of the Reformed church bodies, with its strength mostly in the Great Plains states. It is odd to think of its members having 2nd and 3rd cousins who are members of the UCC.

Did Nevin and Schaff have anything to do with the peculiar double fate of the old RCUS? My guess is that Schaff's Hegelianism facilitated the two mergers which, despite his intentions, would produce a dangerously nonconfessional body. Yet I also imagine that trends were already afoot in the RCUS that were eroding its confessional identity, even in the 1840s. Some of these were fought by Nevin and Schaff, ultimately unsuccessfully.

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Bilingual duplicity in US presidential race?

All of the presidential candidates for the Democratic Party in the US are openly in favour of maintaining the current abortion licence -- except, it seems, in Spanish. The Spanish versions of their websites leave out this information, possibly to avoid alienating hispanic voters, who are, of course, overwhelmingly Catholic. See this report from LifeNews.com.

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07 July 2003

EU and Italy encourage unity in Cyprus

It seems that Italy and the European Union are spearheading an effort to encourage Greek and Turkish Cypriots to collaborate in a number of fields, including theatre, sport, medicine and art restoration.

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Another Russian palace

While sitting in the optometrist's office this afternoon, I picked up a magazine and found an article about Pavlovsk, a palace built near St. Petersburg beginning in 1777 by Catherine the Great for her son and heir, Paul, and his wife, Maria Fyodorovna, who had been born a German princess. In that same year the future Alexander I, who would be instrumental in defeating Napoleon, was born to them. Click here for more of the history of Pavlovsk.

Paul himself would be emperor for only four years. He was assassinated in 1801 in a palace coup and Alexander put on the throne in his place.

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Introducing the family: Cypriot ancestry

Admittedly I've not done any work in researching this branch of the family. All I have is hearsay from relatives. I doubt records were kept before 1878, the year Cyprus passed into British hands. Surnames tend to mean little in the island, as most people went by patronymics until recently. (My own father was born with a patronymic only and no surname, which he adopted in adolescence from his grandfather's.) In any event, if there are records they have not been posted on the internet.



At Paphos,
with a nonrelative


Statistically, however, it is likely that my father is descended from virtually everyone who was living in Cyprus as recently as half a millennium ago, including nobles, clergy, peasants and towns people. (But not monastic clergy, of course, since they are celibate.)

More on what is called statistical genealogy later.

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The Mercersburg movement

While a graduate student I became intrigued with a 19th-century movement in American church history that is not very well known today, particularly among evangelicals but even among confessionally Reformed Christians. This was the Mercersburg movement in the German Reformed Church in the United States in the decades before the Civil War. It coalesced around the persons of John Williamson Nevin (1803-1886) and Philip Schaff (1819-1893) at the German Reformed seminary in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.

It might be called a high church movement bent on recovering a liturgical emphasis in the Reformed churches, including Calvin's doctrine of the sacraments (both baptism and the Lord's supper), a scepticism towards the revivalistic "new measures" so dominant in the protestant churches of the time, and a catholic understanding of the church. Remarkably, Mercersburg managed to have both a confessional and ecumenical emphasis. There was a special love for the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the confessional standards of the German Reformed Church and easily the jewel of the Reformation-era confessional documents.

The downside of Mercersburg was its Hegelian approach which assumed rather too easily the inevitability of progress, especially that of the various churches towards a higher ecclesiastical unity. Hegelianism properly emphasized the importance of history, but without adequately taking into account the dangers of historicism.

Yet Mercersburg might well be understood as a valuable corrective to the revivalist strain playing such a huge role in American protestantism. As Mark Noll puts it, "the works of the Mercersburg men remain a guide-post for Christians who share their convictions: that the person of Christ is the key to Christianity; that the Lord's Supper, understood in a classic Reformed sense, is the secret to the ongoing life of the church; and that study of the church's past provides the best perspective for bringing its strength to bear on the present."

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06 July 2003

Welcome back again

Welcome back to Gideon Strauss, who has returned from his month-long sojourn in South Africa and is blogging again. Never having been to the southern hemisphere, I cannot imagine what it would be like to move from winter to summer in a few hours.

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Singing his praises

We are attending church with considerable enthusiasm these days. A wonderful, nearly Kuyperian, sermon. The Body and Blood. The Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. And Edward Hayes Plumptre's "Thy Hand, O God, Has Guided," set to Basil Harwood's tune Thornbury. It had been years since I last sang this in the liturgy. It feels like coming home after a very long time away.

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The Barmen Declaration

In January 1933 Hitler's National Socialist German Workers Party came to power in Germany. The following year, on 29-31 May, the Confessing Synod of the German Evangelical Church met in Barmen to draft a confession, calling the churches to an orthodox confession of faith. This was in the face of efforts by the nazis to co-opt the churches into support for Hitler's racist programme. The resulting confession, the Barmen Declaration of 1934, was drafted by Karl Barth and Hans Asmussen, Reformed and Lutheran theologians respectively, and approved by the Confessing Synod. Here is the magnificent second paragraph:

2. "Jesus Christ has been made wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption for us by God." 1 Cor. 1:30

As Jesus Christ is God's comforting pronouncement of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, with equal seriousness, he is also God's vigorous announcement of his claim upon our whole life. Through him there comes to us joyful liberation from the godless ties of this world for free, grateful service to his creatures.

We reject the false doctrine that there could be areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

Among those Christians in Germany who would pay with their lives for their stand was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was put to death at Flossenburg in April 1945, only three weeks before it was liberated by the Allies.

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05 July 2003

The Russian constitution

This is from an anonymous 19th-century Russian: "Every country has its own constitution; ours is absolutism moderated by assassination."

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The state in the middle ages: Byzantium versus the west

It is usually said that the modern state, with its centralized administrative apparatus and uniform system of justice, is only around half a millennium old. This is certainly true in the west.

However, throughout what westerners call the middle ages the remnant of the Roman Empire centred in Constantinople maintained something reminiscent of the modern state in the territories under its rule. This can be seen in a fascinating article by Angeliki E. Laiou, "Byzantium and the West." In this article she has two fictional men from France and Venice respectively, Hugh and Paolo, travelling to Constantinople in the late 12th century and observing the differences from what they are accustomed to at home:

Here Hugh would have come up against a first astonishing experience, that is, the existence of a representative of the central government, functioning as such, in a place remote from the capital. Such an experience could not have been duplicated in any other European state. At the time, in France the effective power of the Capetian king was still limited to his own domains, certainly not extending to Champagne, even though he was the suzerain of the count, Henry the Liberal. The very fact of the existence of a large and relatively unified state would have been something to wonder at. On the way, Hugh would have seen to his astonishment that important aspects of government which in France were in the hands of the feudal nobility were here clearly in the control of the state, and therefore uniform. He must have been surprised that there was no diversity of weights and measures. More importantly, he would have noted the existence of a single currency, issued by the imperial mint, at a time when his own kings were just beginning the long effort to recapture the monopoly of coinage. He might have compared the gold Byzantine coin to the small, silver, and still relatively scanty coins of Champagne. He could not but have been struck by the fact that there were no private castles, which could become strongholds of aristocratic opposition to the government, and that traveling was relatively safe.

I cannot help thinking of Herman Dooyeweerd's definition of the state as the community created by the government's monopoly of coercive swordpower over a defined territory. To this extent the Byzantine Empire appears to anticipate the rise of the state.

However, lest we wax too enthusiastic over the Byzantine political model, we should recall that it was in the west, where the nobility and the clergy possessed their own power bases distinct from the monarchy, that constitutional and representative government arose. The post-Byzantine east has had a more difficult time transcending the ancient political culture of monarchical absolutism which has effectively retarded the growth of democracy.

Thus the uniformity in the administration of justice in the Byzantine Empire was definitely advantageous compared to western feudal fragmentation, but the balance of competing estates in the west was over the long term more conducive to the development of constitutional government.

This autumn I plan to have my students in ancient and mediaeval political theory read Laiou's article.

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More ancestors: Benjamin and Elizabeth Bentley

On our honeymoon Nancy and I visited Big Stone Gap, Virginia, where my maternal grandmother was born. While there we found the headstones of my 2nd great grandparents (that is, great great grandparents), Squire Benjamin Bentley (1849-1903) and Virginia Elizabeth Wells Bentley (1854-1917), in the Riverview Cemetery in East Stone Gap.



The Bentleys, late 1890s?


Benjamin's ancestry can be traced back only to the beginning of the 18th century in Alexander County, North Carolina, and possibly to England at the end of the 17th century.

Elizabeth's ancestry can be traced very far back and connects in innumerable places through both of her parents with what genealogists call the world family tree. The world family tree consists of centuries of royal and noble genealogies from whom virtually everyone is descended in some way. Elizabeth's parents were also (like my wife and me) named David and Nancy, surnamed Wells. David was murdered, apparently by the Ku Klux Klan or a predecessor group, on the last day of the American Civil War in 1865. Nancy died of measels some two decades later.

David's great grandmother was named Hannah Howard, whose ancestors seem to include the Howards who were the Dukes of Norfolk in England. Nancy's grandmother was named Jerusha Booth, whose ancestors include several generations of knighted Booths going back to Adam de Booth (b. 1255, d. ?).

More on the world family tree later.

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04 July 2003

The plight of Christians in Iraq

According to Marie Angel Siebrecht, Christians are in an increasingly difficult situation in Iraq. Here are her remarks in a Zenit interview:

The few Christians who stayed in Iraq are tempted to leave the country. In a certain sense, they are being forced to emigrate. They feel they have no role to play in the new Iraq. There is talk of the Shiites, of Sunni Muslims, of Kurds, but no mention of Christians when thinking about the future. It is true that they are only a minority, but they have a right to be there, just like the rest.

Do pray for our brothers and sisters in that ancient and troubled land.

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Russian websites

The Moscow Kremlin is now on line in a colourful website that will prompt many to alter their travel plans in a north-easterly direction.

Then there's the Alexander Palace website for anyone with an obsession for Russian history. Bob Atchison has long nurtured a dream to restore this lavish palace built by Catherine the Great in the 18th century. He has poured his life into this project, and he maintains this website with obvious devotion.

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Confession of a Byzantine-rite Calvinist

Yes, indeed. It seems there was an ecumenical patriarch in the 17th century who was highly influenced by Calvinism and incorporated distinctively Reformed themes into a confessional document published in Geneva in 1629. Here is a sample chapter from the Confession of Cyril Lukaris:

Chapter 14. We believe that free will is dead in the unregenerate, because they can do no good thing, and whatsoever they do is sin; but in the regenerate by the grace of the Holy Spirit the will is excited and in deed works but not without the assistance of grace. In order, therefore, that man should be born again and do good, it is necessary that grace should go before; otherwise man is wounded having received as many wounds as that man received who going from Jerusalem down to Jericho fell into the hands of thieves, so that of himself he cannot do anything.

Patriarch Cyril's influence on the Orthodox Church did not last. His views were subsequently repudiated by the church. Imagine what might have happened if his views had prevailed.

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Prayers urgently requested

Please pray for my friend and colleague, John Byl, who was struck by a pickup truck near Tillsonburg, Ontario, while bicycling home from a camping trip on monday. This is from the announcement that will be appearing in the church bulletin on sunday:

John and Catherine Byl and their family are deeply thankful to the Lord for His protection of John from serious injury when he was hit by a drunk driver while John was riding his bicycle in Port Burwell on Monday. John did suffer many lacerations on his side as well as a cracked bone in his leg and a separated shoulder and is still experiencing double vision. Please pray for his rapid recovery and recuperation in the days and weeks to come

I spoke with Catherine yesterday afternoon by phone. John was supposed to be released from hospital today, but there was some uncertainty about this. At the time I called they were about to take x-rays to try to determine the cause of his double vision, which was not going away. Please pray for complete and speedy healing for a friend and colleague.

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03 July 2003

End of the line for the Great Third Rail



Forty-six years ago today (3 days after my baptism, in fact!) my favourite railway suspended passenger service for the last time. The Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad began life in 1902 as an electric interurban railroad linking the city of Chicago to its western suburbs in DuPage County and the Fox River valley. It was powered by an electrified third rail and was popularly known as the Great Third Rail. Freight service was suspended in 1959 and the railway itself folded altogether in 1961. It was done in by the building of the first great expressway out of Chicago, the Congress (later Eisenhower) Expressway, which took away the CA&E’s one-trip access into “the Loop.”

CA&E car 431; Illinois Railway Museum, 1983


I became interested in this defunct railway at around 8 years of age, a year or so after the last of the trackage had been torn up. I took up this interest again during graduate school. While studying for my written comprehensive examinations, I bicycled almost daily along the abandoned right of way, now known as the Illinois Prairie Path.

Two years ago I composed the following to commemorate the centenary of the CA&E: “The Great Third Rail Rag” (© David T. Koyzis, 2001). It is written in the style of the popular music of the time.

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02 July 2003

American empire?

Is America an empire? These days the word empire almost always has a derogatory ring to it, mostly because it is assumed to entail a large and powerful nation exploiting a smaller, peripheral people and its territory.

But Paul Johnson defines it differently in this New Criterion article: "From the evil empire to the empire for liberty." For him empire simply connotes what most others would describe as sovereignty, that is, absolute authority or "unqualified rule." In this respect empires attempt to bring order where this is either lacking or severely weakened.

Under this definition America almost certainly is an empire. How else might one explain George W. Bush's claim to be exploring "all options" to end the longstanding troubles in Liberia, where there are few genuine American interests at stake? That the US risks spreading itself too thin would seem evident, given that its troops are already heavily committed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yet it is also clear that the United Nations is incapable of supplying a semblance of order within the international arena. What are the alternatives? There are no easy answers. But an article by James W. Skillen in the Public Justice Report provides a possible place to begin.

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Seeking closure in north Cyprus

Here is another of those poignant stories coming out of Cyprus in the wake of the opening of the green line just over two months ago. Angelique Chrisafis recently returned to her hometown of Komi to try to learn the fate of family members who disappeared during the events of 1974: "Looking for the bones."

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A new use for the Documentary Hypothesis

Biblical scholars have long been familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis of Karl Heinrich Graf and Julius Wellhausen, which uses literary analysis to determine authorship of the books of the Pentateuch. Now it seems that contemporary scholars are finding that this theory has wider applications: "New Directions in Pooh Studies: ueberlieferungs- und religionsgeschichtliche Studien zum Pu-Buch." I am sure Rich Greydanus will appreciate this.

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