The young man who wrote this article will likely be good marriage material for some fine young lady: "Fathers, be good to your daughters." So much wisdom in one of so few years.
31 October 2003
The young man who wrote this article will likely be good marriage material for some fine young lady: "Fathers, be good to your daughters." So much wisdom in one of so few years.
On this day in 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. This event is usually considered to mark the beginning of the Reformation.
Among other things, Luther was a prolific hymn writer. His most famous hymn is "A Mighty Fortress," a christological paraphrase of Psalm 46. In its original form it may well have sounded like this.
30 October 2003
(a Petrarchan sonnet)
When my turn came to cook, I took the car
Out to the grocery store to buy a few
Ingredients to put into a stew,
As well as items to restock the bar.
Back at my stove, I opened up a jar
And poured it in a metal pot on cue,
Then paused the briefest moment to review
The recipe before I went too far.
But efforts in the kitchen often come
To naught if unaccompanied by skill
Or if the task is rushed and done too quick.
For as I turned, my arm toppled the rum
Into the pot below so as to fill
An ordinary stew with quite a kick!
© 1994 by David T. Koyzis
Apparently we got hit, although I didn't feel a thing. Perhaps my hair was a bit more unmanageable, but that's it.
Now we're hearing that a second major blast is heading our way. Authorities are warning that airline passengers on flights over 25,000 feet in the northern latitudes will be exposed to elevated levels of radiation. In short, a good time to stay home.
29 October 2003
Gideon Strauss writes that he wishes he were a conservative, but, alas, he is not. He comes up with some good reasons, most of which I can agree with. But I think he's missed the most important one: there simply is not enough substantive content in the conservative vision.
There are several varieties of conservatives, and their beliefs may or may not be mutually compatible. In my book, Political Visions and Illusions, I treat conservatism as a political ideology in the third chapter. My biggest beef with conservatism in this sense is that it has no real doctrine of the state and its irreducible task in God's world. This is primarily because conservatism tends to defer to tradition, and, since traditions are multiple and dependent on time and place, they inevitably teach us different things.
Unlike liberalism, whose doctrine of the state is quite clear and revolves around a supposed social contract amongst sovereign, self-interested individuals, conservatism in its several forms is compatible with more than one view of the place of the state. This is why the tendency, especially in North America, to contrast liberalism and conservatism is not altogether adequate. After all, one can claim the conservative label and hold to an essentially liberal view of the state. Conservatives here do it all the time.
Now I recognize, of course, that conservatism needn't be reduced to a political ideology. One sometimes hears of people being described as conservative for whom politics may be of secondary interest. Conservatism in this sense is an overarching attitude towards life predisposing the person to hold on to cherished customs, institutions, symbols and beliefs. Some of these may be political, but most are not. This kind of conservative will value the long-established over the ephemeral, the classic over the trendy, in a variety of areas, for example, literature, music, the visual arts, the cinema. She will be exceedingly wary of current efforts to redefine foundational social institutions such as marriage and family in the interest of implementing abstract egalitarian principles. She will generally be cautious towards proposed reforms and tend to stick with the tried and true.
To some extent we could all do well to be conservative in this sense, although every society needs bold innovators and risk takers as well. Yet the defect of such a conservative approach is that in and of itself it lacks an animating vision of life. It lacks a set of normative criteria permitting us to sort out good and bad traditions. It can't tell us why, say, racial segregation in the American south ought not to have been defended or why absolute monarchy, where it still exists, might not be a good thing to maintain. If some conservatives can defend capitalism and others just as easily decry it, then we should probably be reticent in claiming the conservative label for ourselves without considerable qualification.
28 October 2003
See here for the latest images of the sun, which is sending a coronal mass ejection our way. Although this could disrupt satellite communications tomorrow, we could also be treated to a rare display of the aurora borealis, or northern lights, as it is often called.
I have seen the aurora borealis only once in my life. This was in the autumn of 1978 at a monastery near King City, north of Toronto. It was an impressive phenomenon, to say the least. The very next morning we awoke to hear the news that Pope John Paul I, Albino Luciani, had died the previous night after one of the shortest papacies on record. A rather odd coincidence.
Could this magnificent piece of iconography represent a peculiarly American protestant version of the doctrine of the invocation of the saints?
Readers may be interested in the following article, written by James W. Skillen of the Center for Public Justice: "Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea: Herman Dooyweerd's Political and Legal Thought," The Political Science Reviewer, vol. XXXII, 2003, pp. 318-380. The PSR is published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, founded by the late Russell Kirk.
27 October 2003
This is from an article by Bettina Arndt in Australia's The Age: "Beware the two-income trap."
Having mum and dad both in the workforce makes a family more economically secure. Right? Well, no. Not according to a recent book by Harvard law professor and bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren. Her startling proposal is that two-income families may be more vulnerable to financial disaster because they lack the safety net provided by a non-working mum in a single-earner family.
In the traditional family, if dad lost his job or fell sick, mum was available to enter the workforce and do her bit to tide things over, argue Warren and co-author Amelia Tyagi in The Two Income Trap - Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke (Basic Books). Plus the wife played a critical economic role as back-up carer, to look after a sick child or elderly relative.
But the two-income family has no such safety net. "With two adults in the workforce, the dual-income family has double the odds that someone could get laid off, downsized or otherwise left without a pay check," write Warren and Tyagi, producing evidence that the two-income family in the US is more likely to file for bankruptcy than the traditional family.
Today's American two-income family earns 75 per cent more money than its single-income counterpart of a generation ago but actually has less discretionary income once fixed monthly bills are paid, say Warren and Tyagi. One reason is the rise in the housing market, with the two-income family driving up the price of houses by competing for property in areas with good schools. "When millions of mothers entered the workforce, they ratcheted up the price of a middle-class life for everyone, including families who wanted to keep Mom at home."
This would seem to place virtually everyone in bad straits. Single-income families have a tough time making it in a housing market where double-income families have pushed up the cost of living. (Toronto comes to mind here, but even in Hamilton it's not easy.) Yet double-income families are apparently at greater risk for bankruptcy. So where do we go from here?
This morning two of my colleagues, John Boersema and Henry Brouwer, engaged in something of a dialogue on the relationship between the free market and the physical environment. It was meant primarily for interested students, but I sat in for about half of it. John teaches in the business department, while Henry teaches chemistry and has a longstanding interest in environmental issues. While there was a considerable amount of agreement between them on the divine mandate given to human beings as stewards of the earth, there were also differences. John expressed the belief that creation exists primarily for the benefit of humanity, thus in any effort to improve the environment human costs, such a job losses, ought to be taken into account and balanced against the dangers of pollution. Henry, by contrast, is convinced that human beings must be seen as part of creation, all of which has worth insofar as it is created by God, and not merely for its usefulness to people.
I suppose I am closer to Henry than to John on this point. At the same time, it must be admitted that human beings have a special place in God's creation, as affirmed repeatedly in scripture. After all, swatting a fly is not murder; killing a human being is. Any legal system that would conflate the two acts would effectively countenance massive injustice, to put it mildly. Similarly an environmentalism unable or unwilling to understand the difference between these acts risks falling prey to an ideology in the sense in which I use that word in my book.
I would put the matter this way: The worth of every element in the creation is derived directly from its relationship of radical dependence on God himself. Accordingly we must treat nonhuman creation in the awareness of our responsibility to the Creator who has given us stewardship over it. However, we do not treat all of creation in the same way. To treat human beings as we treat, say, cattle or cacti would be unjust. Creation's diversity means that we properly treat it in diverse ways. This treatment must include the preservation of our physical environment, as both of my colleagues would agree.
The boundary between so-called "praise and worship" (P&W) music and other types of liturgical music is rather fluid, and it is not always easy to know where to classify a new worship song. Many, if not most, P&W songs will prove to have been exceedingly ephemeral. They're here today and will be gone tomorrow, to be replaced by something else equally ephemeral. However, I will venture to speculate that Stuart Townend and Keith Getty's "In Christ Alone," which is only two years old, is here for the long haul. The lyrics convey a depth of meaning that goes beyond "vain repetition," and, although the vocal range is a little wide, which means that it starts out rather on the low side for most people, the melody is hauntingly beautiful. It's here for the long haul.
26 October 2003
This morning in church the processional hymn was Henry F. Lyte's "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven," set to Sir John Goss's Lauda Anima. It is a free interpretation of Psalm 103 and is one of my favourites. It is one of the few selections in the hymnal that contains different harmonizations for virtually every verse. According to Cyber Hymnal, it was played at the Queen's wedding to Prince Philip in 1947. It was also played at my sister and brother-in-law's wedding three decades later.
Several years ago one of my colleagues pointed out to me that I was the only one he knew who pronounced the aspiration in words beginning with "wh", such as where, whether, why and the like. He suspected this was an affectation on my part, perhaps due to an effort to be hyper-correct by bringing English pronunciation closer to its somewhat eccentric spelling. As I have lived in a number of different places in North America over the decades and tend to be something of a linguistic chameleon, I couldn't say for certain whether he was correct. A little research on my part (this was in the days before the internet, so I had to look for actual books!) revealed that in some parts of our continent when is pronounced as wen and in others as when. Where I grew up people tend to pronounce it in the latter way. In fact, the only "wh" words in which I do not pronounce the aspiration are whoa and wharf. So it definitely was not an affectation on my part.
I have long been interested in languages and their regional variations. In Europe such variations tend to take the form of dialects, which are very nearly distinct languages in their own right. Prof. Henry Higgins sings about these English dialects to comic effect in the well-known song from My Fair Lady, "Why Can't the English." Indeed it is not always easy for someone from Yorkshire to understand someone from Cornwall and vice versa, if they are not consciously imitating the standard "Oxbridge" variety of English.
Similarly a speaker of Schwyzerdutsch, the German dialect spoken in Switzerland, might have difficulty comprehending a speaker of Plattdeutsch, or Low German. (Marianne Scholte will be able to correct me if I'm exaggerating the differences between the two.) Among Greek-speakers, the Cypriot dialect stands out for being somewhat more archaic than standard demotic Greek. Moreover, before the short i and e sounds the k in standard Greek is often softened to a ch or j, depending on which part of the island the speaker is from. (This is similar to what Italian and Romanian do with Latin.)
In North America, by contrast, the variations in English tend to take the form of mere accents, with some differences in vocabulary. These accents tend to be most pronounced on the east coast, whose settlement preceded the era of mass communication and transportation. Here there are slight differences in speech patterns between towns and cities. The Brooklyn accent may be the most famous, as spoken by the 1970s television character, Archie Bunker. As one moves west the variations become more broadly regional than local.
I am reasonably certain that I grew up speaking a kind of standard middle western American English, the sort disseminated by network news anchors. Yet last year I was talking with a brother-in-law of a brother-in-law, who, as it turns out, grew up not two blocks from where I did in suburban Chicago and even attended my elementary school. Much to my surprise, to my ears he had an accent. As I near the half-century mark I can no longer recall whether I ever spoke as he did. I would tend to associate his manner of speech with the urban neighbourhoods of Chicago itself, but its influence in the suburbs may have been greater than I remember.
Complicating all this is the fact that in probably most languages, a particular dialect or accent comes to be seen as proper or even prestigious, as noted, once more, in the Henry Higgins song. The English spoken by the BBC announcer has tremendous snob appeal in Great Britain, and even in North America. This is, of course, the so-called King's English. The same colleague I mentioned above has often said that a language is a dialect with an army and a navy. In other words, standardized languages depend on a centralized political authority capable of imposing them (I can't really think of a nicer way to put it) on everyone else in the country. If a Northumbrian ruler had succeeded in uniting England more than a thousand years ago, it is probable that something like the Yorkshire dialect would have become the prestige language, as odd as that might seem to us now.
In the United States the southern accent generally lacks snob appeal, unless it is a "cultivated" one from one of the eastern cities, such as Charleston or Atlanta. Furthermore, the distinctive black or African-American version of this often becomes a verbal handicap to those phoning for hotel reservations or to seek employment opportunities. That this is unfair does not alter the fact that one's speech, including one's accent, inevitably affects the way others perceive one. My own great-grandmother, Lucy Jane Hyder, reportedly spoke with the inflections of her Appalachian homeland all her life. In fact, my mother told me that she pronounced the neuter third-person-singular pronoun as "hit," a holdover from Middle English, and even Anglo-Saxon, with an obvious resemblance to the Dutch het.
Here in Canada our variety of English is virtually indistinguishable from that of the United States, except for a few differences in pronunciation and vocabulary, not to mention the ubiquitous "eh," which comes as an unconscious tick at the end of a sentence, with an interrogatory rise in voice at the end. There are fewer regional variations here, but I understand there are more in Atlantic Canada, and especially Newfoundland. I have probably acquired many, if not most, of these Canadian distinctives, while not altogether losing my midwestern American speech patterns. Here I am probably heard to be American, while back in Chicagoland (as everyone there calls it) people ask me where I'm from, assuming I cannot possibly be from around there. I have yet, however, to pick up the pronunciation of schedule as shedule, which I rarely hear used by Canadians outside the studios of the CBC.
If the language of the king once became the standard language of a country through the extension of a uniform administrative apparatus throughout his realm, it may be that nowadays the electronic media are effectively homogenizing our languages. The Brooklyn accent seems to be dying. Even my mother-in-law, who was born there, has lost it over the decades. Nonstandard dialects in Europe are similarly threatened, although one sees efforts here and there to protect them and even, where they have died out, to revive them. The ancient Celtic language of Cornish is an example of this.
What this means to the student of politics is that my colleague's aphorism about the army and navy may be obsolete. It might now be said that a language is a dialect with radio and television networks. In this case, perhaps our political leaders are now taking their cues, as in so many other areas, from the media and not the other way round. Whether (not wether) this is ultimately for the good remains to be seen.
25 October 2003
In one of my "comments" entries, I alluded to the controversy over remarks made by Lt. Gen. William Boykin while speaking to a series of church groups across the United States. Boykin is deputy undersecretary of defence for intelligence and special operations, so he is a top-ranking military man. Here is Jim Wallis' open letter to the general. One observer believes there are probably no grounds for a court martial, although he will likely not be promoted further and could lose his job. Writing in the Washington Times, Wesley Pruden believes that Boykin's comments were no more inflammatory than Bush's and that he is being treated unfairly by the secular élites in the media bent on stamping out any public influence by believing Christians. Ann Coulter obviously agrees with this assessment.
The British Library has now posted two complete early printed editions of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, one likely dating from 1476 and the other from 1483, in the original middle English in which they were written.
This news came as a surprise to me. Soong Mei-Ling, better known to the world as Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, is dead. In truth, I had no idea she was still alive all this time. Here is her story in the National Post obituary: "Madame with charm transformed China: First Lady of Christendom and Dragon Lady dies in seclusion at 106."
24 October 2003
While driving home last evening, Nancy and I saw a billboard advertising the recently launched Puretracks.com, the first legally licensed service in Canada for downloading popular music from the internet. Nancy had seen it earlier in the day, and she called my attention to it then.
The billboard showed a woman dressed as a nun. Or, perhaps I should say, she was wearing part of a nun's habit, but enough of her torso was uncovered to solicit what might quaintly be called prurient interest on the part of particularly male viewers.
We couldn't help but wonder whether the company would do the same thing with, say, a muslim woman in a headscarf. Would they dare to use the symbols of Judaism in the same way? If they did, they would unleash a firestorm of bad publicity amid general charges of religious bigotry. For some reason, in this country Roman Catholics are regarded as fair game for this sort of thing. I hope someone complains.
It might be helpful to remind ourselves of the various criteria to be used in evaluating whether or not a given conflict conforms to the principles of just war. These principles are generally divided into ad bellum (whether the war itself is just) and in bello (the just conduct of war) categories. They were developed over many centuries by a number of philosophers and theologians, including Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Francisco Suarez, and Hugo Grotius. They are accepted by the major branches of Christianity, including Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Reformed.
A. Ad bellum principles:
(1) The cause must be justified.
(2) The intention must be right.
(3) The war must be waged by a competent authority.
(4) The war must have a reasonable probability of success.
(5) It must be fought only as a last resort.
B. In bello principles:
1) Non-combatants, neutrals and third parties cannot be harmed.
2) Existing laws and treaties, e.g., the Geneva Convention on the rules of war, must be honoured.
3) The means must be proportionate to the goals.
4) The enemy must know the terms on which peace can be achieved.
5) The goal must be the return of the aggressor to a rightful place among the nations -- not its extermination or subjugation.
It perhaps ought to be emphasized that, in just war theory, the primary agent responsible for determining the justice of a contemplated military action is the duly constituted political authority itself, in much the same way that a judge or jury are responsible to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant on trial. The role played by individual citizens in either of these is necessarily secondary, in part because of the lack of sufficient information available to those not occupying such authoritative offices. In short, we may come to a preliminary assessment, but of necessity it lacks the certainty we might wish for, as well as an authoritative character.
This is why I myself, in advance of the attack on Iraq, was unwilling to rush to judge whether or not Bush's contemplated action conformed or failed to conform to the ad bellum principles, although I was certainly sceptical about this and remain so. Once the war had started, however, our ability to assess the conduct of the war was somewhat easier (though by no means crystal clear), largely because of the role of the media in disseminating such information to the public.
Given that there have been no "smoking guns" found in Iraq, there is good reason to doubt after the fact that the American-British attack was a just war. On the other hand, given the brutal nature of the Saddam Hussein régime, it is difficult to argue that the Iraqi people would have been better off under his continued rule. Thus there are a number of factors to take into account which further complicate our capacity to assess the recent war from this perspective.
23 October 2003
This morning Nancy and I took Theresa down to St. Joseph's Hospital here in Hamilton for an allergy test. While we were there, we took the opportunity to go to the maternity ward and the level 2 neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where Theresa spent just over seven weeks of her life after leaving McMaster University Medical Centre (MUMC), where she was born 14 weeks early. Although there is construction taking place and a number of departments have been moved, the NICU is still in the same place. We walked down the hall until we were standing right outside the door and could see inside.
Day after day in late 1998 and early 1999 we would enter through this door, take off our overcoats, scrub our hands and arms, and put on smocks over our street clothes. Then we would enter the NICU proper where we would find Theresa's incubator (or isolette, as they called them there) amongst several others in the room. For most of the time she was there, our Theresa was the smallest of the babies -- and certainly the one born the earliest. Her first slightly more than three weeks had been spent at the level 3 NICU at MUMC. Transfer to St. Joe's meant she was out of danger and being "fattened up" to go home. (In fact, the people at MUMC referred to the St. Joe's NICU as the "fat farm.")
Standing outside the door to the NICU this morning brought tears to my eyes. I probably would have got even more choked up if it had not been for Theresa herself, who was blithely unmoved by the experience and continued to chatter away about the pumpkin decorations on the door itself, the flowers at the maternity ward desk, the Anne Geddes babies on the walls, &c., &c. She had other things on her mind, and her own unusual beginnings have yet to make an impression on her. That's probably as it should be now. And it was enough to keep Daddy from getting too emotional.
Theresa turns 5 a week from monday.
22 October 2003
It seems Gideon Strauss is having more server trouble. His weblog has vanished again. Even when it is functional, it loads very slowly. Perhaps it's time to return to blogspot.
Due to an extraordinary eleventh-hour intervention by Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida state legislature, Terri Schiavo is being rehydrated intravenously in hospital. But now her husband is denying her birth family visitation privileges.
Quite briefly in my youth I flirted with the brand of Anabaptism associated with the Sojourners community, whose flagship periodical was at the time known as the Post-American. Why was it so attractive? For two reasons. First, it resonated strongly with my burgeoning commitment to social justice, especially as manifested in public efforts to alleviate poverty. Second, from age 19 I considered myself a pacifist and genuinely believed that Christians ought not to fight in wars – for any reason.
Founded by Jim Wallis and others, Sojourners grew out of the student movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Vietnam was the issue of the day, and many young people were disillusioned by the foreign and defence policies of the American government. The Christians among them were especially cynical about the role of churches in supporting these policies. Seeing evangelist Billy Graham fraternizing rather too easily with the discredited President Richard Nixon in the White House was a continuing irritant. As a youthful baby-boomer with a developing social conscience, Sojourners touched a chord with me.
It didn't take me long to run up against the limitations of their approach. In particular it seemed unable to envision a positive role for the state as a truly political community called by God to do public justice in his world. The ultimate solution to the power of sin on earth was to be found in the church as an alternative community, while earthly communities such as state and government belonged only to the order of providence. This, it seemed to me, failed to do justice to St. Paul's reference in Romans 13 to political authority as precisely God's servant. In the course of writing a review of Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus I discovered that the Greek word the apostle uses for servant, viz., diakonos, is the same one used for a deacon in the church community.
This suggested to me that political authority, normatively speaking, was more than an inadvertent doer of God’s will, as was the Persian emperor Cyrus, but is called, like David and Solomon and their successors, to respond actively to God’s summons to do justice. A king now converted to faith in Christ does not cease to be a king; rather he now rules justly according to God's commands. He exercises the responsibilities of his office as an active doer of God's will. After making this discovery, I could no longer call myself an Anabaptist in the full sense.
Because Anabaptism lacks a positive view of the place of political authority within God's world, it is difficult to find good reason for mounting a trenchant critique of the various secular ideologies that have infused it over the past two to three centuries. If politics falls at best within the realm of God's providential sovereignty, and if one should focus one's redemptive efforts only on building up the institutional church, then the need for discerning the spirits (which was the title I had originally chosen for my book) within the political realm becomes less significant.
This does not mean that Anabaptists will then become enthusiasts for, say, liberalism or socialism. Instead, following Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder (see particularly his The Politics of Jesus, chapter 8: "Christ and Power"), Hendrik Berkhof, and ultimately Karl Barth himself, there is a tendency to lump state authorities as such together with various spiritual forces into the catch-all category of "principalities and powers." There is, in other words, a tendency to conflate creational structure with spiritual direction.
The net result is a tendency to truncate the full scope of Christ's redemption, which now involves breaking the sovereignty of the powers but not reclaiming them as such by reorienting their foundational religious direction. I will write more on this notion of the powers at some point, because it has been extraordinarily influential on a number of protestant theologians in the past half century.
21 October 2003
First Pravda published a fawning editorial on Robert Sarmast's "discovery" of Atlantis. Now The Boston Globe is weighing in with its own rather more sceptical editorial: "Mapping the Mythical," as indicated in the following paragraphs:
The latest book -- "Discovery of Atlantis" by Los Angeles writer and self-described mythologist Robert Sarmast -- offers sonar mapping as evidence that a land mass 1 mile down in the eastern Mediterranean bears a striking similarity to Plato's detailed descriptions.
"If it's not Atlantis," says Sarmast, "then it has to be the biggest coincidence in world history."
Or maybe it's just a lot of rocks. After all, the presumed Atlantis site off the island of Bimini proved to be just that, according to [Boston University Professor Curtis] Runnels, who calls such evidence "pseudo science." Sarmast admits that he published his book without knowing anything for sure -- a lot more mapping and underwater exploration are needed to determine what, if anything, is there.
But that won't stop people from devouring the theory. "All you have to do is put `Atlantis' in a title and you'll sell books," says Runnels.
I should have thought of some way to work the name Atlantis into my book title. Better yet, perhaps I should rename this weblog, "Notes from an Atlantian-Canadian."
20 October 2003
Eddie Thomas asks Gideon Strauss an important question related to the neocalvinist principle of sphere sovereignty:
I assume the sovereignty of the spheres means then that there is no hierarchy of them. How then does one handle conflicts, such as when your work demands that you uproot your family?
I will not claim that a quick or easy answer can be forthcoming. But I think it helps to be able to distinguish between legitimate societal differentiation and an antinormative fragmentation. These are by no means the same thing, although there is a tendency in some quarters, especially those styling themselves conservative, to conflate the two -- and to regret both. I briefly treat this tendency in the third chapter of my book.
Differentiation means that over time the various activities in which human beings engage in response to the cultural mandate tend to disperse themselves into different communal contexts. Thus specific communities known as schools assume the task of educating children, which once occurred within the family itself. Similarly, economic activity increasingly takes place within a business community rather than within the household. In and of itself there is nothing wrong with this tendency.
Where the danger comes is when one of these spheres assumes idolatrous proportions and attempts to crowd out the others. In a consumer society, or what some might call capitalism, economic considerations come to assume larger than legitimate proportions and begin to impinge on other spheres. The family, for example, is reduced to a mere unit of consumption. Education comes to be seen as a kind of business, subject, along with everything else, to market competition.
One of the genuine defects of a consumer society is that stable communities in which people live their entire lives are no longer the norm, but very nearly the exception. When work regularly demands that people uproot their lives, relinquishing longstanding friendships and leaving family behind, this may be a sign that one of the spheres is dominating the others in unhealthy fashion. This is when the conflicts among the spheres are most likely to occur.
I have no immediate solution to this problem. After all, I have willingly uprooted myself at intervals in the cause of procuring higher education. I am now living in a country where I was not born and have no family other than my wife and daughter. Yet whereas in the past this sort of thing was exceptional, it is no longer all that unusual. And that may not be a good thing over the long term.
A healthy society, I would argue, is one in which the various spheres develop in balanced, proportionate fashion, where most people live near family and friends and engage in honest labour in co-operation with co-workers. They work hard, but not at the expense of their other responsibilities. They are conscientious in fulfilling their multiple and overlapping responsibilities as spouses, parents, sons and daughters, employees or employers, church members and citizens, and they refrain from seeking in any one of these their total identity.
When a potential conflict looms, the person weighs his or her responsibilities and decides which takes priority at that moment and in that context. On sunday morning at 11 o'clock I belong in church with my wife and daughter. At noon the next morning I belong in front of my large introductory class. At that moment my responsibility as, say, citizen takes second place. But at 5.30 that evening, except under extraordinary circumstances, I belong at table eating dinner with my family. At that point my role as instructor recedes into the background. If I should be called upon to assume an additional employment-related duty that takes me away from my family at the weekend, then I would need to weigh which takes priority. It is by no means inevitable that work should come first, particularly if my daughter is, say, singing with her church choir that day and needs her dad to be there for her.
As I said, this is hardly a definitive solution to the problem Thomas raises, but it is a place to start.
19 October 2003
Perhaps more will be made of this as we get nearer to the date, but on 7 November former President George H. W. Bush will be presenting his own George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service to one of his son's fiercest foreign policy critics, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Georgie Ann Geyer suggests that this may be a not so subtle way for the former president to signal his displeasure with the way his son is conducting himself in office. Writes Geyer:
The father lived his life in the service of moderate and intelligent internationalism. His manners were always meticulously courteous, as he wooed even critics overseas to see the American position. He was even-handed in the Middle East and thus brought the area to the verge of peace for the first time in history; he was capable of using force but preferred to do it supported by coalitions of friendly states, thus cementing international cooperation.
The son seems to have made posturing against his father's accomplishments and beliefs his life's work.
W has given way to a radical right that abhors international coalitions and manners; he mocks the world and denies any need for its help. He has led the Middle East to the nadir of its hope and possibilities, and he has led the United States to a moment in history in which we face asymmetric warfare from one end of the globe to another.
And above all, he has replaced his father's courtesy and good graces with an almost proud rudeness and scorn for others.
While Geyer fails to mention the genuine incompetencies of the Clinton administration, it is certainly true that the younger Bush can hardly hope to match the depth of foreign policy experience of his father. In fact, few recent presidents could do so. In this case, the son could almost certainly stand to learn something from the father.
18 October 2003
Last evening my wife and I saw Alfred Hitchcock's 1947 film, The Paradine Case, starring Gregory Peck, Alida Valli and Ann Todd. I myself have long been a fan of the master director, whose films span the silent era up to the mid-1970s. His best work came in the decade between 1951 and 1959. The first of his films I saw was Rebecca (1940), a cinematic rendition of Daphne DuMaurier's gothic romance novel produced by the David O. Selznick studio. I was mesmerized by Rebecca at first viewing in the mid-1980s, and I had to see more.
Among the very best of Hitch's works are Rear Window (1954), North by Northwest (1959), and Rebecca itself. Among the best of his earlier British films are The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938). Among his lesser films are numbered Spellbound (1945) and Torn Curtain (1966). The second version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) is quite good entertainment, while Psycho (1960), possibly Hitch's most infamous film, is not, in my view, to be counted among his better efforts. (Clicking on the above links will bring up my reviews of these films.)
As for The Paradine Case, although it too is not one of the better Hitchcock films, the cast is excellent and some quite good performances are delivered by the actors. The most haunting performance is by Alida Valli, as the mysterious Maddalena Anna Paradine. Valli is best known for her performance as the equally mysterious Anna Schmidt in Carol Reed's 1949 classic, The Third Man. Gregory Peck acts reasonably well, but his attempts to imitate a British accent fall flat and are distracting.
The plot revolves around Peck's character, a trial lawyer in London, undertaking to defend Mrs. Paradine from the charge that she murdered her late husband, a wealthy and respected colonel who had lost his vision in a tragic accident before the marriage. Predictably perhaps, Peck falls for his client, thus endangering his marriage to the long-suffering (and rather too understanding) Todd. In many respects this is more of a psychological drama than an actual mystery, as the outcome of the case, while by no means inevitable, is not unexpected by the viewer.
This was Hitch's last film directed for Selznick, and it bears some similarity to Rebecca. Franz Waxman composed the score for both films, and his lush music lends a similar atmosphere to each. Moreover, there is even a scene where Peck visits the palatial Paradine home up in Northumberland which is a little too reminiscent of the scenes in Rebecca's bedroom in Manderley. (We actually wondered whether the same set had been used for both.)
Ultimately the film is too slow moving. It could have been better edited. And, while it succeeded in keeping my attention, especially in the latter half, the actual solution to the murder was not all that surprising when it finally came.
Here is more from the Center for Public Justice's president, James W. Skillen, on a controversial issue in both the US and Canada:
Marriage and Homosexual Rights
October 20, 2003
With a proposed marriage amendment to the US Constitution now working its way through Congress, it is important to clarify the difference between the rights of citizens and the rights of marriage.
Civil rights in the American republic protect every citizen's life, property, religious freedom, free speech, freedom of association, access to a fair trial, and equal treatment under the law. Neither heterosexual nor homosexual orientation should be considered the basis for citizenship and civil rights.
Protecting these civil rights means that many activities and relationships among citizens require no recognition in public law. For example, friendships, including those that are intimate and enduring, have no standing in the law as institutions or organizations. That is as it should be. People who are homosexually oriented, just as those who are heterosexually oriented should, as citizens, have the same right to enjoy such freedom of association.
The civil rights of individuals are not the end of the matter, however. In addition to the rights of individuals there are also rights of different kinds of associations, organizations, and institutions. And this is where marriage and the family come in. Government cannot do justice to human society if it does not distinguish a non-profit research center from a profit-making industry, a church from a university, and a marriage from a friendship.
The political and legal debate over marriage should focus on the question of the institutional identity of marriage and not, first of all, on the morality or immorality of different kinds of sexual relationships. In this regard, marriage should continue to be recognized, as it has been for centuries, as an enduring, covenant bond of love between a man and a woman that legitimately bounds sexual intercourse and the consequences of procreation.
Sexual intercourse holds the potential for life-generation and should therefore be contained within marriage. From marriage children may emerge, and with children the parental responsibility of father and mother in a nuclear family arises.
Public law does not create marriage. Marriage and family originate outside the political bond. Yet just as the law recognizes individual rights, so the law should recognize marriage and the family as institutions with their own rights and obligations. Moreover, the law should regulate marriage and family for purposes of protection, encouragement, public health, and the ongoing stability and well-being of the social order.
Homosexual relationships do not entail sexual intercourse and do not have the potential for life-generation. Consequently, such relationships do not constitute marriage and cannot give rise to families through procreation. The attempt to attain the legal identification of marriage for a homosexual relationship is, therefore, a legal error based on an empirical mistake.
There is no reason to identify different kinds of friendship and other personal relationships, including homosexual relationships, as institutions. There is ample room in the law for individuals to covenant or contract with one another for various social, economic, and moral purposes. If there are good reasons to make changes in health-care policies, hospital visiting rights, and other areas to accommodate "domestic partnerships" in addition to marriages and families, those changes should be designed to accommodate the full range of unmarried partnerships and not only gay and lesbian partners. In other words, it would amount to unjust civil-rights discrimination to single out one kind of non-marital relationship for a privilege usually granted to marriage partners and their families while denying that privilege to other kinds of enduring non-marital partnerships and friendships.
--James Skillen, President
A similar discussion can be found in Skillen's book, Recharging the American Experiment, which, despite its somewhat off-putting title, contains much of value for even Canadian readers.
Had this plot appeared in a novel, the critics would have lambasted it for being too implausible. But, God help us, it's really happening in Florida. A man engaged to a woman carrying their second child is plotting, with the collaboration of the courts, to have his first wife put to death. Naturally his in-laws are fighting it tooth and nail. Read about it here: "Starvation begins for Terri Schiavo", and here: "Drawn toward death: What Terri Schiavo has taught us."
17 October 2003
The following is an article that I wrote for the November 1990 issue of The Reformed Journal:
When I was a child, I thought that all restaurants were owned by Greeks. My father did not himself own a restaurant, but whenever we would visit one, he would invariably strike up a conversation with the proprietor in their shared Hellenic tongue. So often did this happen that I thought Greeks must come, not so much from Greece or Cyprus, as from the kitchens of local cafés near Chicago. It wasn't until the end of my first decade that I began to realize that members of other national communities also made excellent restaurateurs. Italian, French, Lebanese, and Chinese establishments were readily available and well worth visiting. As an early adolescent I even developed a taste for Japanese sushi, that exotic and colourful ensemble of raw fish and rice.
But through all this I noticed something peculiar. I never saw any restaurants specializing in Swiss, Dutch, English, or Scottish cuisine. In my youthful imagination I figured this must be for one of a number of possible reasons: either these northwest Europeans were too busy doing other things that made them more money with fewer headaches, or they couldn't cook. Or perhaps what they did cook wasn't worth sharing with the public.
Some years ago the German sociologist Max Weber wrote a book entitled The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in which he argued that Protestantism, and especially Calvinism, provided fertile ground for the rise of capitalism. Those countries that had undergone the Reformation – such as Switzerland, Holland and England – were economic powerhouses, while those unaffected by the Reformation – such as Italy and Spain – remained economic backwaters.
I will neither dispute nor defend Weber’s thesis here, but I do wish to propose a corollary. After some 35 years of scientific observation, I believe it is possible to articulate a more or less iron law concerning the relation between religion and national cuisine, which I shall take the liberty of calling Koyzis’ Law. Koyzis’ Law holds that those countries influenced by the Reformation produce unimaginative (at best) and sometimes horrific (at worst) cuisines, while those lands bypassed by the Reformation originate highly interesting and varied cuisines. The Dutch, with their rugged Calvinism, are a case in point.
As a Greek American living and working in a largely Dutch-Canadian environment (Redeemer College and the Christian Reformed Church), I have adopted a “when-in-Rome” policy and have gradually plucked up the courage to sample so typical a Netherlandic delicacy as boerenkool. And I have actually come to like it. Yet, as I see it staring up at me from the platter I find myself thinking it would be vastly improved with a little vinegar and olive oil, and perhaps a hint of oregano.
But even the bravest of palates must draw the line somewhere. The Italian supermarket across the street from me contains, of all things, a small Scottish section in the frozen foods case. There, in all its Caledonian glory, one can find the notorious haggis, which only the most hardened Celt (or perhaps stoic Calvinist) could love. The thought of sinking my teeth into a sheep’s stomach filled with the poor creature’s minced lungs and liver (and who knows what else) is enough to make me run back for some more moussaka and Turkish coffee.
It has also caused me to wonder whether I really am a Calvinist at heart. I think so. My gastronomical proclivities have not as yet prompted a crisis of faith. Still, I sometimes feel a little guilty when I experience so much satisfaction eating those typical products of an unreformed worldview while dining with, say, the Eastern Orthodox. My divided loyalties become even more apparent when on family occasions I find myself seated at a table spread with lamb, stuffed vine leaves, and bottles of retsina, and blank stares greet my cheery “eet smakelijk.”
Still, I can take comfort in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Whenever I am tempted to forsake my Calvinism for another tradition boasting more culinary attractions, I have only to remind myself of the witness of generations of sturdy Calvinist saints who have had to endure much more than I have. Besides, who says I can’t wash down those croquettes with another glass of ouzo?
16 October 2003
It seems the story is indeed true. Here is the document from the Canadian Alliance Party's website in pdf format: Agreement-in-principle on the establishment of the Conservative Party of Canada. This means that the Liberals will have some genuine opposition in next year's federal election. Nevertheless the reunited Conservatives will have a lot to overcome in their own fractious past to be much of a threat -- at least this time.
Next wednesday evening at the University of Waterloo Nicholas Wolterstorff proposes to address his audience on the following issue: "Why are Christians and others so reluctant to talk about rights?" Unfortunately I am unable to be present for this, though I would love to be. After hearing his Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary nearly six years ago, I expect he will be affirming the notion of rights. However, if some Christians, myself included, are wary of rights talk, it is because it is being made to carry too much weight in the political and other realms. Rights are being treated as the end of the discussion rather than its beginning.
All the same, I cannot quite bring myself to repudiate the notion of rights altogether, as Robert Kraynak and others would have us do. They are still helpful, if we can manage to understand them in their proper, limited place.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Pope's tenure as bishop of Rome. This Zenit report tells of the day's activities, including an interesting meditation on the meaning and structure of vespers, the evening prayer in the liturgy of the hours.
The Globe and Mail's Michael Valpy, who fancies himself the newspaper's resident expert on all matters religious, gives readers his own somewhat rambling assessment of John Paul II's pontificate, including some comments on the current extraordinary Lambeth conference and the plight of the post-Vatican II Catholic Church in the Netherlands.
15 October 2003
A number of our musical instruments, at least in their modern forms, owe their origins to Italian ingenuity. But who would have thought that Moncton, New Brunswick, would contribute the newest stringed instrument to the orchestra. It seems that two professors from the University of Moncton inadvertently invented the tritare in the process of trying to develop a new number system. Antonio Stradivari, move over.
This story, if true, could alter the entire political landscape in this country: "Alliance, Tories close to unite-right deal." Perhaps. But I'll believe it when I see it.
This is from Tage Lindbom's The Myth of Democracy:
When tolerance is reduced to the mere expression of the general liberal denial of values, it is no longer, as it is claimed to be, an expression of human sentiments and love for mankind. Having reached this point, "tolerance" has lost all meaning and is merely an expression of indifference. It is then only a short way to the demand for a war of extermination against the traditional, the qualitative, the orthodox, the venerable.
Lindbom (1909-2001) was a dissident from the secular juggernaut that swept through his native Sweden in the 20th century. Although his philosophy is rather too platonic for my comfort, he was able to see through the pretensions of especially the ideologies of democracy and socialism. Eerdmans published his book in English in 1996, but unfortunately they have allowed it to go out of print.
Nicholas Wolterstorff will be delivering the Pascal Lectures at the University of Waterloo next week under the general title, "The Importance of Justice." It looks worthwhile. Wolterstorff was our graduation speaker at Redeemer last May.
14 October 2003
During his interview with me, Rich Greydanus asked me why I chose, in chapter 8 of my book, to examine only Roman Catholic and Reformed Christian approaches as alternatives to the five ideologies I explore in previous chapters. I answered that these have come up with the only genuine alternatives. True, there are other christian traditions, such as Lutheranism, Anglicanism, anabaptism, free-church evangelicalism, Methodism and Orthodoxy. But the two alternatives favoured by Roman Catholicism and Reformed Christianity, viz., subsidiarity and sphere sovereignty (or, as I prefer, differentiated responsibility) respectively, pretty much exhaust the possible societal models, assuming we reject those of the secular ideologies. These other christian traditions must work with something approximating these two models or else fall back on one of the ideologies.
With respect to the relationship between the various human communities (“spheres,” if you will) and among communities, individuals and God, it seems to me that there are logically only three possible alternatives, with one of the two initial categories further subdivided in two:
(1) Something in God’s world is sovereign (and I’m using this term as Thomas Hobbes or Jean Bodin would use it, not Abraham Kuyper), whether it be the individual (liberalism), the nation (nationalism), the democratic people (Rousseauan popular sovereignty), the proletariat or homo faber (socialism), or some human tradition or collection of traditions (certain types of conservatism). Everything else in society is arrayed under this sovereign entity. This ideological approach is, I have argued in my book, fundamentally idolatrous and thus unacceptable for the believing Christian.
(2) God is ultimately sovereign, and within this alternative lie two sub-alternatives:
(a) God relates directly, immediately to the multiple entities in his creation, including societal formations and individuals. This is basically the teaching of the Reformed tradition, but antedates the Reformation by at least several centuries. For example, Dante Alighieri and John of Paris in the 13th and 14th centuries followed this approach. Kuyper’s notion of sphere sovereignty is basically an attempt to account for this immediate sovereignty of God over the diversity of his creation.
(b) God is ultimately sovereign, and the things of creation are arranged hierarchically below him. Typically the hierarchy runs as follows:
(or “civil society,” i.e., nonstate communities)
This is the approach found in Roman Catholic social teachings, particularly the principle of subsidiarity. The assumption is that God relates to the multiple entities in his creation through the mediation of some other institution or set of institutions.
Logically it is not possible to postulate a fourth alternative. Either God is recognized to be sovereign or something created is (falsely) deemed to be sovereign. And if God is sovereign, then he can be so in only two ways: immediately or in mediated fashion. Differentiated responsibility is simply the approach that builds on the assumption that God’s sovereignty over his creatures is experienced immediately. If one rejects this, then logically one would have to embrace either some form of subsidiarity with its more hierarchical notion of God’s sovereignty or deny God’s sovereignty altogether in the fashion of the ideologies. Logically there can be no fourth alternative.
13 October 2003
This past week saw the Road World Championship held here in Hamilton. Bicyclists from all over the world competed, as half the city was cut off from the other half by the barricades, racers and spectators. It all ended yesterday. We had to find an alternate route to our church, which is downtown, not too far from the race route. Four helicopters hovered overhead constantly, making us feel as though we were worshipping in the middle of a M*A*S*H episode.
This weekend also saw the beginning of the 35th annual Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest. We drove out today to hear the marching bands which had been in the earlier parade. The trees are wearing their autumnal colours, making for a lovely drive up Highway 8. The weather couldn't have been nicer.
On the way there and back we passed huge numbers of cars going to and from the Rockton World's Fair. There's a lot happening in this region on Thanksgiving weekend.
Unlike Canada, which introduced its dollar coin, popularly known as the Loonie, a decade and a half ago, the United States has not been famously successful in getting its dollar coins into circulation. Over the past three decades the faces of Dwight D. Eisenhower (1971-1978), Susan B. Anthony (1979-1981, 1999) and Sacagawea (2000-present) have graced the obverse side of the dollar coin. However, these are rarely, if ever, seen in circulation. There are reasons. The Eisenhower dollar was simply too large in size. The Anthony dollar was too close in size and colour to a quarter. The Sacagawea dollar was similarly sized, although its colour resembles that of our Loonie.
But the real reason that the dollar coin has never caught on in the US is that the Treasury Department has not pulled the dollar bill from circulation when it issued the coin. If it was serious about pushing the coin, then it ought not to have kept printing the bill. However, given the global symbolic importance of the US dollar, with its readily identifiable picture of George Washington on the front, dispensing with such a potent emblem of American economic power may have been too much to contemplate.
12 October 2003
This weekend I received in change a one-cent piece bearing the new image of the Queen, as shown here. This is the fourth image of Her Majesty to grace our coinage. However, in this case it seems the Americans got there first. They introduced a coin back in 1979 with a very similar look to it, as illustrated here. Did the earlier design influence the later one? Or is the Queen actually coming to resemble Susan B. Anthony as she ages?
Nancy and I made the front page of the current issue of our student newspaper, The Crown.
This photograph was taken in the art gallery on the second storey during the reception following the lecture. Nancy is standing to my right, wearing the regalia of the University of Sheffield. My regalia is from Notre Dame. The artwork in the background is from Brenda Ypma's exhibit, "Feminine Icons," which ran from 19 September through 10 October.
In the same issue there is also a review of Political Visions and Illusions, written by our own Rich Greydanus. Prior to writing the review, he interviewed me for some time in my campus office.
Copies of my inaugural lecture, "We Answer to Another: A Defence of Authority Against its Recent Discontents," are available in booklet form at the Redeemer Campus Bookstore.
While walking down a quiet country road
One day, before the sun had warmed the air,
I paused amid two rows of stately trees
Whose branches soared majestically above
And met to form a ceiling overhead.
They nearly blocked the morning sky from view,
Though solitary rays of solar light
Were able still to pierce the gothic roof
And scatter golden flecks of dancing beams
Across the shadowed earth beneath my feet.
Could some believing architect who lived
In ages past have witnessed such a sight
And, driven to his knees in awe, have thought
That all who would in faith receive his Son
Should meet the Deity in such a place?
© 1988 David T. Koyzis
11 October 2003
Monday is, of course, Thanksgiving Day here in Canada. Yesterday at the child care centre on the Redeemer campus, the children were asked what they were most thankful for. Our Theresa spoke up. "Books," she said, without a moment's hesitation. I suppose that's what comes of having two academics for parents.
10 October 2003
It took a dozen years after his conversion to Roman Catholicism for Fr. Richard John Neuhaus to publish something of his personal story. It appeared as an article in the April 2002 issue of First Things. Some converts become so zealous for their new-found faith that they are eager to anathematize others who have not seen the light as they have, especially those remaining within their former communion. Neuhaus certainly does not conform to this stereotype. In fact, ecumenism is very much a concern for him – not simply the sort of grassroots ecumenical enterprises that bring Christians together across denominational lines, although these are important. In his writings one senses a deep longing for full ecclesial union – one that would see the various ecclesial communities finally establishing full intercommunion, entailing a recognition of each other’s ministries of word and sacrament and an acknowledgement of their members as full participants in the body of Christ. It would be difficult to imagine a more irenic statement than this one directed especially at his former Lutheran co-religionists:
"To those of you with whom I have traveled in the past, know that we travel together still. In the mystery of Christ and his Church nothing is lost, and the broken will be mended. If, as I am persuaded, my communion with Christ’s Church is now the fuller, then it follows that my unity with all who are in Christ is now the stronger. We travel together still."
Nevertheless, despite Neuhaus’ hope for a genuine ecumenism, he expresses scepticism over the approach of much of the professional ecumenical establishment in the World Council of Churches and especially the National Council of Churches in the US. Much of ecumenism in these organizations has been sidetracked by overtly partisan political efforts, as exemplified by the front pages of their websites. A major reason why the ecumenical task has been diverted is that their member denominations, particularly the so-called mainline protestant churches, have lost a sense of their own confessional integrity. One of the reasons Neuhaus left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) after so short a time was his fear that it was in danger of becoming just one more liberal protestant denomination.
According to Neuhaus’ Law, which he has formulated over the years in his Public Square reflections, where confessional orthodoxy is optional it will eventually be proscribed. Where a church body has abandoned the effort to uphold its own confessional integrity, it will inevitably be forced to exclude – or at least marginalize – those who publicly maintain it. (I will not mention by name a certain denomination in this country where Neuhaus’ Law has been played out to the furthest extent, with tragic consequences for its less “with it” members.) Given that the ELCA seemed to be rushing headlong in this direction, Neuhaus had to make a decision. Sectarian protestantism was not an option for him, since the smaller “evangelical” bodies did not share his ecclesial vision of full intercommunion. This left only Rome and Constantinople. Neuhaus went to Rome.
I must admit to having some sympathy for the journey Neuhaus has undertaken. My own personal library contains a number of books recounting similar pilgrimages. Certainly the most famous of these is John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, the author’s eloquent account of his own embrace of Rome in 1845 in the face of the anti-catholicism in England of his day. Then there’s Thomas Howard’s Lead Kindly Light, and a few anthologies containing multiple accounts of conversions to either Rome or Orthodoxy. I have been reading such books since my youth, and I am always on the lookout for new such volumes. I suppose there must be a part of me that wishes I could make a similar journey, even though I’ve never come close to taking any steps in this direction.
As I’ve written before, Rome and Constantinople certainly have the ecclesiological arguments in their favour. This is what would seem to attract the converts from protestantism. Both Rome and Constantinople have sheer antiquity on their side, along with all the weight of hallowed tradition. Given that both conspicuously uphold orthodoxy as they understand it, they compare favourably to the oldline (or “sideline,” as Neuhaus puts it) protestant denominations, whose leaders tend indiscriminately to ascribe the ephemeral fashions of the larger secular culture, no matter how bizarre, to a fresh movement of the Holy Spirit.
I myself have been a member of three church denominations in the course of my life, two of which are confessional Reformed churches. All three are quite small bodies, containing at most only 279 thousand persons. Although two of these have been members of somewhat larger ecumenical bodies, that would effectively put me in communion with possibly up to half a million or more Christians. Yet that leaves close to a billion more fellow believers with whom I am apparently constrained by my church membership to deny the reality of our fellowship in Jesus Christ. This is a situation with which I have never been able to bring myself to be satisfied. Even if I love the particular body of Christians with whom I enjoy a common ecclesial home, I am grieved that there are so many more Christians who do not share in this.
Both of my Reformed denominations owe their origins to departures from a larger body deemed to have compromised the faith in some fashion. In short, their forebears believed they were making a stand for truth, even if it came at the expense of unity. I cannot conclude that they were entirely in error. Yet the reality of such denominational breakups is that the larger body of Christ is cluttered with possibly hundreds of thousands of such groups, each of which is convinced that it has a monopoly on God’s truth. Even if there is a large measure of justification for such breakups, they present us with a problem at the very least. If we are unable to acknowledge the problematic character of this circumstance, we are effectively contributing to its perpetuation.
Neuhaus would likely see me as a sectarian protestant, albeit one who has at times attended congregations affiliated with the “sideline.” I understand fully why he could not bring himself to affiliate with a similar small protestant body. He senses the same problems that I do in both mainstream ecumenism and sectarian protestantism. Yet I am unable to make the same move he eventually did in 1990. Why?
To begin with, the problem of the body of Christ being divided into myriad denominations is not only an ecclesiological problem, although it is at least that. If it were simply a matter of following a generic christian orthodoxy, or what C. S. Lewis famously described as “mere Christianity,” then the dilemma would be much easier to resolve. We would be compelled to submit to the church body where this was most obviously upheld and which had the weight of history on its side. We could ignore the issues that sparked the division between east and west in the 11th century, the Reformation of the 16th century, the revivals of the 19th century, or the Pentecostalism of the 20th century. We could pretend that the confessional differences among Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans and Anabaptists were of no consequence. We could safely ignore the differences among 19th century Princeton orthodoxy, the holiness movements, dispensationalism and the charismatic movements.
Indeed a reading of Neuhaus, as well as of other articles in First Things, would lead one to conclude that Christianity is divided into only four broad groupings:
(2) the mainline/sideline,
(3) evangelical/sectarian protestantism and, very much smaller (in North America, at any rate),
To be a genuinely ecclesial Christian, one for whom faith in Christ and faith in his church is but a single act, as Neuhaus puts it, one must embrace either Rome or Orthodoxy. Neuhaus chose Rome, at least partly because Orthodoxy is itself divided among a plethora of insular ethnic communities and thus presents an ineffective public witness. To be sure, of course, he wishes to affirm the validity of these Orthodox Churches. As he sees it, “the only thing that is lacking for full communion between the Orthodox East and the Catholic West is full communion.” If only it were that simple.
Catholics and Orthodox disagree on a host of dogmatic issues, including, most famously, the authority of the Bishop of Rome, the addition of the filioque clause in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the existence of purgatory, the immaculate conception, cataphatic versus apophatic theology, &c. To pretend that the issues dividing Rome and Constantinople are merely ecclesiological and not confessional is to ignore rather a lot. Then there are the issues dividing both Rome and Constantinople from the various Reformation churches, e.g., invocation of the saints, the authority of general councils, the extent of the Old Testament canon, the Marian doctrines and the relative authority of Scripture and tradition.
I believe that Neuhaus must genuinely have conquered whatever reservations he might once have had over submitting to Rome. He relates something of how this process occurred in the account of his pilgrimage mentioned above. Yet conspicuously absent from his narrative is a grappling with specific doctrines that have always been barriers between Rome and the Reformation. One wishes he would say something about how he came to accept, say, papal infallibility or the belief in Mary’s assumption into heaven.
Although I am firmly persuaded of Neuhaus’ standing as a fellow Christian, as he would certainly be of mine, I must admit to wondering whether his embrace of Rome was not considerably facilitated by the public witness of the current pope, John Paul II, someone likely to be remembered to history as one of the great figures of the end of the 20th century. Could the attractiveness of this one man’s witness have overshadowed the possible confessional obstacles blocking the path to Rome? In short, it is just possible that Neuhaus embraced Rome, less out of adherence to specifically Roman doctrines, and more out of respect for its institutional grandeur and the power of its public witness in the larger society.
As for myself, I am unlikely to follow his lead. I remain dissatisfied with my current ecclesial home within a fractious protestantism. I remain uncomfortable with the fact that I am out of communion with so many of God’s children. But perhaps it is good that I should feel such discomfort, recognizing, with Neuhaus and many others, that eventually “the broken will be mended,” if not in this life, then certainly in the life of the world to come.
A mighty force it is, this thing love,
mighty and altogether good;
alone it takes the weight from every burden,
alone it bears evenly the uneven load.
It bears a burden as if no burden were there,
makes the bitter things of life sweet and good to taste.
There is nothing sweeter than love,
nothing better in heaven or earth;
for love is born of God,
and only in God,
above all that he has created,
can it find rest.
Thomas à Kempis
09 October 2003
My understanding of the regulative principle of worship, as followed by many Reformed Christians, is that if Scripture does not command that we refrain from liturgical dancing it prohibits us from so doing.
I owe a debt of gratitude to the citizens of California for providing me with an unending source of humour to enliven my classroom lectures -- until the next recall election, that is.
Here's the piece by Jonah Goldberg that prompted the letter and here's the advertisement that caused the kafuffle to begin with.
By the way, am I the only one to question the appropriateness of Goldberg's commencement address delivered at the Hillsdale Academy this past spring? I'm sure he received lots of snickers from the graduating teens, but it seems to me a commencement speaker should stretch his or her audience beyond the limits of their own (one hopes) recently abandoned puerility.
To answer Gideon Strauss again, yes, this letter to the National Review was indeed written by my brother-in-law. I'll have to look for the original article that was the basis for his letter.
08 October 2003
I am thinking of proposing a new course at Redeemer in the Government and Politics of California, to be crosslisted with the Department of Psychology under the title Abnormal Human Behaviour.
This is from the Telegraph article on Sarmast's supposed "discovery" of Atlantis:
Mr Sarmast said at his home in California last week: "This is going to rewrite the history books. We are set to make the biggest archaeological discovery of all time."
His research, which cost $500,000 (£312,000) and uses data collected by a Russian scientific survey vessel in 1989, was paid for by the Heritage Standard Corporation, an organisation involved in undersea surveys for oil and gas. He now intends to carry out an expedition to explore the sea bed, to find proof of his theory.
Academics would likely take a dim view of Sarmast's approach, even if his publisher's marketing people are likely applauding. Usually one publishes one's findings only after the big discovery. At least that's the way it's supposed to be done. But Sarmast has published his book before the discovery has been made. This seems a tacit admission that his hypothesis may not ultimately hold water (if you'll pardon the pun). In the meantime he stands to make some money on the circumstantial evidence.
Sarmast is by no means the first person to make money from a book before an hypothesis is confirmed. Several years ago Oleg Filatov authored a book, The Escape of Alexei: Son of Tsar Nicholas II, in which he claimed that his recently deceased father was the tsarevich. Not surprisingly, perhaps, he had not managed to undergo a DNA analysis before the book was published. Whether he ever had one done I don't know. But he certainly had no qualms about earning a bit of extra cash from his claim.
It's ironic that Pravda (which is, after all, the Russian word for "truth") would prejudge the truth of Sarmast's claim before it is verified.
Remember John Turner? For those too young to remember, he was our prime minister for several weeks back in 1984. Now he's back and he's pushing parliamentary reform, as indicated here: "Power of Commons 'is a myth,' ex-PM says; MPs overpowered by PMO, bureaucrats."
Mr. Turner was speaking at the launch of a new Canadian documentary called Does Your Vote Count? which highlights a series of problems faced by members of Parliament. For instance, the video shows that from 1913 to 1979, the government shut down debate 31 times. From 1980 to present, closure has been used at least 166 times.
What ought to be done to rectify this imbalance between the Commons and the government of the day? Relaxation of party discipline would be an important first step:
On party discipline, Mr. Turner called for major changes to the role of party whips, who are responsible for telling MPs how to vote, occasionally threatening MPs that perks will be lost if orders are not followed. "I think the party whip should be lifted except on a throne speech, when the matter of the confidence of the government is at stake, or on a budget, where you're talking taxing and spending," he said.
He said powerful MPs would be an effective counter pressure to the federal bureaucracy, and that restoring faith among the public that their MPs can make a difference will go a long way toward reversing the decline in voter turnout.
Turner might also wish to take up the cause of electoral reform, which would go even further in boosting voter turnout.
Here are two items of interest to those working for justice for the unborn. From Lifenews.com comes the following: "European Group Asks Bush to Recall Pro-Life Mexico City Policy." Despite my differences with the US President over what seems to be an ill-conceived foreign and defence policy, I am with him here, even if the Council of Europe is not.
"The fact that some organizations want to advocate abortion and to perform abortions does not mean the US tax money should pay for it," economist Dr. Maria Sophia Aguirre stated during her testimony before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 2001. "Nothing in the Mexico City Policy forbids these groups from advocacy. It simply denies the use of [United States] funds for this purpose."
For some reason the Council cannot quite bring itself to absorb this reasoning and persists in seeing the issue as one of "human rights and democracy."
Then there's this from today's Breakpoint commentary by Chuck Colson: "In Denial: Abortion May Be Legal, But Its Far From Safe." It seems that women who have had abortions face a significant increase in health problems in the future, and Colson provides some tragic examples. Yet this information is not being adequately publicized. Writes Colson:
These heartbreaking statistics reveal the tragedy of a flawed worldview: a worldview that says that we can have sex out of wedlock without consequences, that birth control will prevent unplanned pregnancies, that abortion is a “safe” solution when contraception fails, and that total strangers with financial incentives can be trusted to care more about teenage girls than their own parents.
Perhaps this is one more indication that we could stand to hear less about rights and more about responsibilities.
07 October 2003
Here is a glowing and remarkably credulous review from Pravda of Robert Sarmast's new book locating the fabled lost continent in and around Cyprus: "Discovery of Atlantis: The Startling Case for the Island of Cyprus." It's not clear from the website who wrote this review, but it appears very nearly to be an editorial, oddly enough.
As Cyprus moves towards full membership of the European Union next May, the government in Nicosia has pledged to ensure that Turkish Cypriots be allowed to vote for the 6 MEPs in next year's elections for the European Parliament. However, good intentions could be frustrated by difficulties of implementation.
With the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government having no control over the Turkish-held north, there are huge practical obstacles to Turkish Cypriot participation in next year's polls.
Suggested solutions include opening polling boths on the Green Line, allowing Turkish Cypriots to vote by e-mail or tolerating on-the-day registration by Turkish Cypriot voters.
Given my paternal roots in the island, I am delighted that the legally-recognized government of Cyprus is moving away from an ethnic towards a more territorial definition of citizenship. This is a necessary first step in breaching the 30-year-old barrier between the two sides of the island.
06 October 2003
I have never been accused of being on the cutting edge of fashion, least of all by my wife. So perhaps I should start reading the style section in The Globe and Mail more frequently. It appears to be a veritable gold mine of advice for the fashion-conscious male. Here are two pieces of advice from "The New Dandy":
Never wear a coloured shirt after 6 p.m. -- white only for a fresh masculine look. Carry a fresh white shirt in your briefcase or LVMH computer bag so that you can make the 6 p.m. switch if not at home.
Fine. I'll keep a white shirt in my office for the next time I have to teach a night class. There's more:
A few sprigs of shoulder hair can be endearing, as James Caan demonstrated in The Godfather, but there is no excuse for nose or ear hair. Buy a grooming kit and use it daily. While you are at it, have a weekly manicure and pedicure after your massage.
Sure thing. The next time I come into the classroom, I hope my students appreciate my better posture (due to the massage, of course), as well as my more even finger- and toenails.
Now about those bow ties. . . .
On 27 November Redeemer University College will be holding a mini-conference on nature and grace in Catholic thought, sponsored by the Dooyeweerd Centre and the office of the Vice President (Academic). Dr. Ed Echeverria, of Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, will be the featured speaker on Thomas Aquinas and Pope John Paul II's 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio. It should be a worthwhile event.
05 October 2003
Many years ago I attended a workshop led by Dr. Emily Brink, music editor for CRC Publications. I don't recall the exact venue, but I rather think it was at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She made an observation that I found startling at the time, but it didn't take me long to recognize that she was almost certainly telling the truth. She said that Christians are among the very few people in our modern society to sing, whether on an organized basis or otherwise. If you think about it, it makes sense.
There are many cultures around the world where singing, along with dancing, is simply a part of life. It's what people do when they get together. It's one of the marks of a genuine folk culture.
By contrast, North American popular culture largely shifts such activities to a professional class, which undertakes them on our behalf. This is by no means a recent phenomenon, as it began already at the opening of the last century, with the invention of sound recording and radio. The music "industry" has thus come to be viewed as very nearly the aural equivalent of a smorgasbord in which the diners do little more than to sample the various delights without contributing anything of their own.
But not in the churches. Here people still sing together. Could it be that the churches are the last bastion of a genuine folk culture here in North America? There may be something to be said for this.