Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

30 November 2003

Marshall on al Qaeda's 'real' motives

After the 11 September terrorist attacks two years ago, pundits everywhere attempted to isolate the "roots of terror." Invariably their analyses focussed on economic causes, often to the exclusion of other plausible factors. The argument generally ran along these lines: Material privation, lack of sufficient employment prospects, an inadequate economic infrastructure, and a dearth of educational opportunities have turned people towards violence -- and usually against the biggest kid on the block, namely, the United States. The assumption is that the way to end terrorism is for the US to change its foreign policies in some fashion to address these concerns.

While there may be something to this interpretation, it fails to take seriously the expressed motives of al Qaeda spokesmen themselves, which are unapologetically religious and confessional in nature. To this extent, much of the popular media and academia alike have fallen prey to the Marxian reduction of religion to economics. My friend Paul Marshall is one of the few to take the terrorists at their word, as expressed in the following article: "Misunderstanding al Qaeda: What you weren't told about their targets in Saudi Arabia." Concludes Marshall:

Al Qaeda and its allies aim to kill or subdue all "infidels," Muslim or non-Muslim, who stand in the way of their goal of restoring a worldwide caliphate governed, Taliban-style, by the strictest, narrowest interpretation of Islamic law. Until this fact is finally assimilated, we will continue to have a military that fights superbly against an enemy whose strategic aims we refuse to understand.

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Advent 2003

Today marks the first sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new church year in the western ecclesiastical caldendar. (The eastern churches begin their calendar on 1 September, which is, of course, closer to the Jewish Rosh Hashanah.) Most churches mark Advent in some fashion, even if they do not follow the church year in its entirety. It is traditionally a season for fasting and reflection in the run up to the Feast of the Nativity on 25 December. It is a season of expectation with a double meaning. Liturgically we anticipate the initial arrival of the Christ child on Christmas Day. But in a larger sense we anticipate the second coming of Christ at the end of history.

Some of my favourite hymns are Advent hymns, which often carry both meanings within their stanzas. Even at other times of the year I find myself spontaneously humming or singing Advent hymns, probably more than those for the other seasons. Although this may not seem liturgically correct, there is undoubtedly something right about it, given that the time between the two comings of Christ is an extended Advent season in which our lives are lived in a spirit of constant expectation of the fulfilment of God's kingdom for which we yearn.

It is always a struggle for North American Christians to hold on to the spirit of Advent and to keep it from being overwhelmed by the pre-Christmas shopping season.



Here is one of my favourite Advent hymns, "Saviour of the Nations, Come," which is attributed to St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 397), and translated into German by Martin Luther in 1523 and into English by William Reynolds in 1851. My own arrangement of Johann Walther's haunting tune can be found here (© 2002 David T. Koyzis).


Saviour of the nations, come;
Virgin’s Son, here make thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.

Not by human flesh and blood;
By the Spirit of our God
Was the Word of God made flesh,
Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.

Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
Still to be in heaven enthroned.

From the Father forth he came
And returneth to the same,
Captive leading death and hell
High the song of triumph swell!

Thou, the Father’s only Son,
Hast o'er sin the victory won.
Boundless shall thy kingdom be;
When shall we its glories see?

Brightly doth thy manger shine,
Glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin o'ercloud this light;
Ever be our faith thus bright.

Praise to God the Father sing,
Praise to God the Son, our King,
Praise to God the Spirit be
Ever and eternally.

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29 November 2003

The marriage debate

One of the remarkable features of the current controversy in North America over marriage is that the burden of proof is being placed, not on those who would revise the longstanding definition of this institution, but on those who would maintain it. This runs counter to the way such matters are usually handled in other contexts and has left so-called traditionalists scrambling to come up with adequate reasons for defining marriage as an exclusive sexual union between one man and one woman. Here is a recent contribution to this effort by Sam Schulman: "Gay marriage -- and marriage." Schulman argues that marriage is an institution primarily for the protection and empowerment of women, who will inevitably be hurt by its deconstruction. The debate continues.

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28 November 2003

An abrupt about-face on Iraq

It seems that Canada was in fact preparing to join the US-led invasion of Iraq as late as the beginning of February, until Chrétien pulled the plug at the last possible moment, apparently in response to a public opinion poll. This, according to a report in The National Post. If true, it's a good example of how not to make foreign policy.

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Educational justice in Ontario

The following prayer request was forwarded by someone in Redeemer University College's front office: This afternoon Judge Nordheimer of the Ontario Supreme Court is considering the request of the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools to issue an injunction that would prevent the Liberal government from passing Bill 2 that eliminates the Equity in Education Tax Credit. This should be a matter of prayer for all Christians concerned with justice in the province of Ontario.

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Cinematic portrayals of Jesus

This is from the friday edition of The Hamilton Specator, in the arts section (Go 15): "Jesus Christ movie star: Movies often disputed when filmmakers depict Jesus as more human than divine":

Other than the made-for-TV Jesus in 1999, The Gospel of John is the first major film since Dogma to focus on Jesus. That's no surprise to Nancy Calvert-Koyzis, who teaches a course on film and the Bible at McMaster University. She said The Last Temptation of Christ "left filmmakers with a fearfulness about Jesus films. . . ."

The safest approach for filmmakers has been to make Jesus as a mystical presence, whose appearance is generally heralded by a celestial choir (think Ben-Hur) and whose face is never shown.

If Jesus was shown, it was often as Calvert-Koyzis describes it, "the Hamlet Jesus with blue eyes and blond hair," best depicted by Jeffrey Hunter in King of Kings in 1961.

Unfortunately this article appears not to be on the Spec's website, and even if it were, it couldn't be accessed without a subscription.

I've not yet seen The Gospel of John, although I would like to. I would also like to see Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ, if only to see what all the controversy is about.

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26 November 2003

Dated humour

This one was funnier during the Cold War. It's attributed to John Kenneth Galbraith, although another source says it's a Polish proverb: "Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite."

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Conference on nature and grace

This is a reminder that tomorrow 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 will run from 4 pm to 9 pm.

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25 November 2003

Bush the liberal

From the President's speech at Whitehall last week, speaking as an American: "We're sometimes faulted for a naive faith that liberty can change the world. If that's an error it began with reading too much John Locke and Adam Smith." So he admits it. That's progress of sorts, I guess.

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Open theism

Will open theism be generally accepted one day as a legitimate evangelical theological position? Only God knows. Or does he?

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24 November 2003

Colson on Bush in Britain

In today's Breakpoint commentary Chuck Colson writes on: "Raising Our Sights: God, Morality, and Foreign Policy." As happy as I am to see Colson's Wilberforce Forum come under the beneficial influence of a Reformed worldview, I would be happier still if he could manage to be less partisan than he evidently is. I agree with him in pointing out the deficiencies of those "sophisticates" who squirm so on hearing any reference to God and morality in connection with foreign policy. But embracing a christian worldview need hardly entail embracing Bush's foreign policy agenda, with which it is not difficult to find fault.

One sentence in particular stands out insofar as it sounds a bit too self-congratulatory and ignores recent history:

Our idealism, which has prompted us to get involved when others, particularly in Europe, stayed on the sidelines, is the product of a worldview shaped by our Christian heritage.

Perhaps. But given that between 1939 and 1941 it was the US that was on the sidelines while Hitler was conquering Europe, Colson might wish to be more careful in drawing connections between a christian worldview and specific military actions.

None of this should be taken to diminish my considerable respect for Colson and the good work he is doing in the service of God's kingdom.

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Derbyshire on ideologies

Here is an interesting article by John Derbyshire: "Isms and Wasms: The pros and cons of ideology." According to the author's understanding, an ideology divides the world into two camps, one of which is the repository of all good and the other the locus of all, well, evil. Those in the "opposing" camp are considered beyond the pale and are treated as such, sometimes at the cost of millions of lives.

The age of isms did not end with the Cold War. Nationalism aside, plenty of other isms refused to become wasms in 1989, and a few new isms have sprung up. There are still ideologues among us, and I believe there always will be. The ideologue is a standard human type, found in all times and places. His style of thinking is one of the ways human beings have devised for making sense of the world. I think we are all capable of ideological thinking in some degree; in that sense, the pure ideologue — the "ist" behind the "ism" — is just displaying a common human tendency in hypertrophied form.

Yet Derbyshire admits that ideologies have often originated much that is good. This is what I would call the moment of truth in these ideologies. For example:

The great — and, to my mind, wonderful — improvements in the lives of working-class people that came about in the middle 20th century were driven partly by Marxist and Leninist ideologues, who would have murdered the bourgeoisie en masse if given the opportunity. . . . Similarly, the U.S. civil-rights movement of the 1960s included in its ranks some people who were, or soon became, white-hating racist ideologues; but I'm still glad we got rid of Jim Crow. . . . Once an ism has served its historical purpose, however, I'd like to see it become a wasm as speedily as possible. The fact that this hardly ever happens is, it seems to me, the source of many of the world's ills and annoyances.

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23 November 2003

Rigged elections

It seems Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister turned Georgian president, presided over parliamentary elections in which there was widespread voting fraud. Now he's out of a job, and possibly out of the country. I wrote earlier today of the lack of a sense of loyal opposition in some countries. Election fraud is often a part of this. On the other hand, one could argue that we have rigged elections of a sort here in Canada. It's called the first-past-the-post electoral system. What else would one call it when a party receiving only between 38 and 43 percent of the popular vote repeatedly wins a majority of the seats in the House of Commons and all of the political power?

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Fractious Tories at it again

Disappointed federal Tory leadership hopeful David Orchard is launching a lawsuit to prevent the forthcoming merger between what's left of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance. He is not above bringing out the elderly great-grandniece of Sir John A. Macdonald to support his cause. Remember George Perlin's The Tory Syndrome? It's alive and well at the beginning of a new century.

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Citizen Black

How the mighty are fallen: "Black with his back up against the wall." Conrad Black is, of course, the man who started up the National Post five years ago as Canada's second national newspaper before relinquishing it two years later in a bid to be called "Your Lordship." Our own Hamilton Spectator was owned by him, as were numerous newspapers throughout North America. The Chicago Sun-Times is still, for the moment, one of his publications.

I must admit to having been ambivalent for some time about Black. On the one hand, I always appreciated the early National Post for putting Christianity in a favourable light when the other major papers in this country were quite overtly following a secularizing agenda and taking every opportunity to portray, e.g., the Roman Catholic Church as an oppressive, male-dominated, and mean-spirited organization.

On the other hand, it is difficult to love someone with more than an air of self-importance and even outright arrogance hovering about him. I was especially put off by his repudiating his Canadian citizenship just so he could acquire a life peerage in Britain's House of Lords. This amounted to selling his birthright for a mess of pottage.

We still need a major national publication that would skewer the pretensions of Canada's secularizing élites, but, to be honest, I would prefer someone other than Black to be running it, thank you.

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Georgia on my mind

One of the more difficult things for a fledgling democracy to acquire is a sense of loyal opposition, that is, a belief that a government has the right to govern until the next election, while other parties outside the government proper oppose its policies through constitutional means. Such parties take on the government in parliamentary debate and not in the streets. Unfortunately, this conception is something Georgians are having trouble with at the moment, as indicated in this report over the CBC: "Georgia plunges into political chaos."

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22 November 2003

Jews and school choice

Why would North American Jews oppose school choice? It seems odd that, at a time when intermarriage is at an all-time high and Jewish organizations are warning against assimilation, some of these same organizations are opposed to vouchers enabling parents to choose their children's schools. Fortunately this appears to be changing as indicated in the following articles: "Jews and School Choice"; "The Many Faces of School Vouchers"; "A New Age for Jewish Day Schools? The U.S. Supreme Court Upholds the Constitutionality of School Vouchers."

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21 November 2003

Kennedy, Huxley and Lewis

Forty years ago tomorrow, three persons of significance died: John F. Kennedy, Aldous Huxley and C. S. Lewis, as commemorated by Chuck Colson: "Three Died That Day: Reflections on November 22, 1963." I recall with a vividness that has scarcely faded after four decades the assassination of President Kennedy: the sense of shock and grief at the loss of one so young and especially (since I was only 8 years old) the widow and children left behind. It seemed inconceivable that such a thing could happen in the United States, yet it did.

By contrast, I doubt I had even heard of Huxley or Lewis at that point. Such knowledge would come somewhat later.

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Ancient origins of an American state flag

In the United States every state has its own flag. My personal favourite is that of the state of Maryland, which is more distinctive than its 49 counterparts and has much earlier roots in England.



(From FOTW Flags Of The World website)


The design is from the coat of arms of George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, the black and gold sections belonging to the Calvert family and the red and white crosses belonging to his maternal Crossland family. My wife is, of course, a Calvert.

There is no coat of arms for the Koyzis family, as far as I know. But if there were, it would almost certainly include an olive tree or possibly a cruet of extra virgin olive oil.

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Throne Speech to reverse educational justice

As promised during the election campaign, the Throne Speech of Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government will repeal even the small amount of educational justice granted by the previous Tory government to parents of children in independent schools. This is despite a 1999 ruling of the United Nations Human Rights Committee against Ontario's longstanding practice of funding Roman Catholic schools but not the schools of other religious communities.

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19 November 2003

Marriage issue moves south of the border

It was only a matter of time before Americans were forced to deal with this issue too: "Mass. court backs gay marriages." Moreover, in Massachusetts, as here in Ontario five months ago, a court is the catalyst. An interesting analysis of the trend towards what some are calling judicial supremacy in the United States is found in Michael M. Uhlmann, "The Supreme Court Rules."

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Judicial overreach revisited

My thanks to James Brink for alerting us to the following editorial in the saturday edition of the National Post: "Judicial rule." An overreaching judiciary has been a problem south of the border for decades. Now we are similarly afflicted here in Canada:

Not content merely with their recent, self-granted role as lawmakers, Canada's judges have now also appropriated to themselves the authority to supervise the performance of Cabinet ministers and elected governments, and even to micromanage public projects they feel run contrary to their judicial rulings. Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada declared that judges need not limit themselves to declaring laws constitutional, or not, and prescribing remedies for the victims of unconstitutional ones. Henceforth, judges may also compel governments to report periodically on the actions they are taking to comply with constitutional rulings and to order changes in those actions when the judges are dissatisfied. The ruling clearly oversteps the bounds of judicial authority by trampling the ancient rule that a judge's interest in a case ends with his or her ruling -- if there are issues about one party's or the other's compliance with that ruling, those are to be brought back to court in a separate action. As such, the court's ruling in Doucet-Boudreau v. Nova Scotia (Minister of Education) violates the separation of powers between the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government, marks a dangerous intrusion into the political sphere and potentially imperils our traditions of responsible government.

The majority decision in the 5-4 ruling is bizarrely argued. The five Justices who voted in favour -- including Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin -- insisted that to not give judges these new powers was to invite the "seeds of tyranny to take root." They meant that when governments fail to comply with ordered remedies, governments are behaving tyrannically by flouting the rule of law. Yet there is a much greater danger of tyranny when judges impose themselves in the administration of public programs. Unlike legislators and Cabinet ministers, judges are unelected. They rule by decree, not by public debate, and their decisions are not subject to review by electors. It is topsy-turvy logic to argue that this decision, somehow, will lead to less tyranny rather than more.

At one time I thought that judges in this country were likely to be more restrained than their American counterparts, despite the Charter investing them with new powers. Recent years have demonstrated that, if anything, the opposite is the case. Whether our governments have the will to do anything about this remains to be seen.

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Out with the old, in with the new

At last, our illustrious and beloved prime minister has announced plans to step down on 12 December rather than in February, as he had originally stated. Here is L. Ian Macdonald writing in the Montreal Gazette that "The Liberals' long and damaging agony is ending":

Jean Chrétien has finally come to his senses in agreeing to leave office on Dec. 12. Even then, it will be four weeks to the day since Paul Martin became Liberal leader, the longest transition period in over half a century. Not since Mackenzie King took three months to leave office after the election of Louis St. Laurent as Liberal leader in 1948, has a departing prime minister taken more than two weeks to leave office.

Of particular interest is Macdonald's observation concerning the constitutional difficulties of keeping parliament in session now that Paul Martin is leader of the Liberal Party:

And why was Parliament dismissed last week? So that Chrétien would not suffer the unique embarrassment of sitting in a resumed session as prime minister while no longer leader of the Liberal party. At least, the proroguing of Parliament spares the governor-general an important constitutional quandary -- normally she would invite the leader of the party that enjoys the confidence of the House to form a government. If the House had resumed sitting, Chrétien's position would have been unsustainable in terms of constitutional convention.

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Ambiguous language

In our daily announcement sheet there is mention of "Outstanding student accounts." This might lead one to wonder whether the reference is to student accounts that have not yet been paid, or to accounts belonging to outstanding students.

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18 November 2003

Dispensationalism

Throughout the recent history of the church, various groups have undertaken to formulate detailed eschatological systems that would make sense of the biblical record, especially the apocalyptic books, with their extravagant symbolism. Virtually all such systems have come to be associated with fairly small groupings, some of which would be judged heretical by the standards of the historic creeds of the faith.

However, one of these, dispensationalism, expanded beyond its original home within the 19th-century Plymouth Brethren in England and took root in the larger protestant evangelical movement in North America, especially in the United States. It originated with John Nelson Darby and was popularized by the bible school movement and the Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909. As a result of these two latter elements, dispensationalism's influence took off dramatically.

I myself was not raised in a dispensationalist church, but when I was 11 we began attending a church in which some members were dispensationalists. When I was 15 Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth was published, which purported to set forth a rather precise schedule for the last days. It would become one of the best-selling books of the 1970s. I myself read it and, at least initially, believed every word.

Among other things, dispensationalism claims to be based on a literal reading of the Bible. However, at age 16 I read the Bible through from cover to cover -- minus the Scofield notes. For the life of me, I was unable to find in its pages the more distinctive doctrines of dispensationalism, such as a pretribulation rapture. So I pretty much abandoned dispensationalism as a system of biblical interpretation.

Although dispensationalism has declined among educated evangelicals over the years, undoubtedly because a solid grasp of church history makes its utter novelty conspicuously apparent, it continues to have an impact among those unaware of its recent origins. The runaway success of the Left Behind books, which definitely reflect a dispensational eschatology, is indicative of its continued popularity.

I don't know that I would go as far as those Reformed Christians who proclaim dispensationalism a heresy, at least in the moderate form in which it is generally held today. Yet any system that denies the active presence of God's kingdom in the world and places its hope in an escape from what it sees as a doomed vessel will inevitably tend to truncate the gospel in all its fulness.

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Augustine and lifestyle codes

It occurs to me to wonder whether those Christians who object to dancing, the cinema, euchre cards, alcoholic beverages and a host of other things would be able to affirm the Augustinian statement I cited from Solzhenitsyn a few days ago. My guess is that they would have difficulty doing so, since they implicitly assume that the antithesis between good and evil runs between nondancing and dancing, between refusing and imbibing wine, and so forth.

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Old Believers in today's Russia

In the middle of the 17th century Patriarch Nikon of Moscow imposed a series of reforms intended to bring Russian Orthodox practice in line with that of the Greeks. Millions of Russians dissented from these reforms. They have come to be known to most of us as Old Believers, and they have suffered persecution at the hands of the authorities over the past three and a half centuries. Although their exact numbers are unknown, there are thought to be some two million Old Believers, whose story is told here: "Old Believers: Heterodox Orthodox." What this report does not tell us is that there are colonies of exiled Old Believers in various countries, including Canada, where there are about 500 members.

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17 November 2003

Women in combat, again

It seems the Pentagon covered up the truth about what happened to PFC Jessica Lynch at the hands of her Iraqi captors, as indicated by Elaine Donnelly: "Private Lynch & Amazon Myths." Concludes Donnelly:

There are restrictions on the discussion of war crimes such as rape, but with so many women being exposed to unprecedented risks of capture and abuse, perhaps those rules are in need of revision as well. If Defense Department officials cannot bring themselves to tell Americans the truth about what happens to women in war, perhaps they should not be sending female soldiers so close [to] combat zones in the first place.

At some point sanity will undoubtedly return to the policy-makers, and articles like this might help to point the way.

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Religion and American exceptionalism

I've read more articles like this in recent months: "The Last Christian Nation: The U.S. is alone," by John Derbyshire. I'm sure there must be something to it, but I can't help wondering whether it's just possible that there might be genuine flaws in the foreign policies of George W. Bush and Tony Blair that are aggravating this growing chasm between America and Europe.

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16 November 2003

Excursion to Toronto

Two evenings ago four of my students and I enjoyed the hospitality of Dr. Jonathan Chaplin, who teaches political theory at the Institute for Christian Studies. We met at his home in Toronto with several of his graduate students for a light supper and a discussion of my book, Political Visions and Illusions, and my inaugural lecture, "We Answer to Another: A Defence of Authority Against its Recent Discontents," both of which they had read beforehand.

Jonathan had wanted me to meet with his students for some time, and an informal friday evening worked best for everyone. As he invited me to bring along a few of my own upper-level students, this presented a wonderful opportunity to expose them to a graduate-level discussion, in which they were quite able to hold their own. I was proud of them!

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15 November 2003

Bowing to the inevitable

Here's a headline that's a stunner for all of us: "Landslide victory for Paul Martin: Former finance minister finally claims Liberal leadership prize after long struggle to the top." Poor Sheila.

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Dancing David

Although I grew up within a stone's throw from Wheaton College, my family never had any real difficulty with dancing. Nevertheless, the only dancing I recall doing as a child was Greek folk dancing, something that the local college seems never to have prohibited, presumably because it carried no sexual overtones.

A few years later, as a graduate student in Toronto in the late 1970s, I would occasionally accompany friends to a bar where there was disco dancing. But when I would take to the floor to trip the light fantastic, my steps inevitably resembled, well, Greek folk dancing.

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14 November 2003

"Saint" Ivan the Terrible?

What? Are there really people who want the Russian Orthodox Church to declare Ivan IV, the Terrible, a saint? One wonders how they define sanctity.

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First dance at Wheaton College

Here is an interesting story in today's National Post: "College finally 'footloose': Illinois Christian school: Students to hold first dance after lifting of 143-year ban." A quick google search reveals that this seemingly mundane story is being carried all over North America.

I grew up in Wheaton, Illinois. Although I myself never had any connections with the local college, I've known any number of people who have, including my wife, who is an alumna and taught there for six years. Although Wheaton College has an excellent faculty and can afford to be selective in accepting students, it has developed a reputation over the decades for its rather stringent lifestyle code, which is grudgingly revised every generation or so by the administration and trustees.

All the same, that this would be national -- no, continental -- news seems a bit ludicrous. Many of its faculty are top-ranked scholars who regularly produce fine work respected by colleagues elsewhere. But the media rarely pick up on this. A notable exception to this neglect is Alan Wolfe's article, "The Opening of the Evangelical Mind," in the October 2000 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.

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13 November 2003

Solzhenitsyn as an Augustinian

Although Orthodox Christians are generally ambivalent about St. Augustine and are not certain they approve of his "western" theology, one such Christian, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, appears to have read him. Augustine's influence is evident in the following passage taken from The Gulag Archipelago:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.

It would be difficult to articulate a more profound insight into human nature than this one, with its obvious debt to the one whom the Orthodox call the Blessed Augustine.

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A christian worldview

Here is a remarkable testimonial by young Grant Daves, a 4th-year history and philosophy student at Dallas Baptist University: "Rescued! How Worldview Thinking Change[d] One Young Man’s Life." What I find especially remarkable are two things. First, Daves was changed through reading Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, written by my good friend and colleague, Al Wolters. I can't think of a better place to start.

Second, the fact that this appears on the Breakpoint website indicates the influence that a reformational worldview appears to be having on Charles Colson and his Wilberforce Forum, which is a very good thing.

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First snowfall of season

We are getting hit with an early blast of winter. It was extremely windy last night, and one of our blue boxes blew away. As I write, the ground is getting covered with a thin layer of the white stuff, and it's still coming down. Here's a poem I wrote a number of years ago around this time of year:

THE COMING OF WINTER


I watch the sky above as winter's cloud
Draws near upon the North Wind's chilling breath;
He looks my way but once and laughs out loud
To see earth vainly fight an icy death.
I shiver as he runs his frigid hand
Across the golden fields and crimson leaves,
While glassy footprints punctuate the land,
And frosty fingers blanch the golden sheaves.
I bring my woollen coat around my chest
And pull my muffler tightly to my face.
The North Wind frowns to see me snugly dressed
And walking briskly towards a sheltered place.
The thought of resting warmly by a fire
Will shield me nicely from the weather's ire.

© 1989 by David T. Koyzis

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12 November 2003

Women in combat

Here is Betsy Hart writing on Jessica Lynch, the young American soldier who was captured by Iraqi troops last spring and subsequently freed by her comrades in arms. Although I count myself on-side of efforts to end discrimination against women in the workplace, I have never liked the thought of sending women into combat, which has always struck me as a cowardly and, dare I say it, uncivilized thing to do.

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Students from the past

One of the unexpected surprises I discovered when I first began to teach was the deep bond of loyalty and affection that can grow between professors and students. Indeed I have sometimes come to think of my own students almost as family. Thus it was particularly gratifying that several of my former students drove some distance to be at my inaugural lecture a few weeks ago. We just got back photographs of the occasion, and here is an especially cherished one of me with six of my beloved protégés from years past.



From left to right:
Paul Hogeterp, Phil Teeuwsen, Ed Bosveld, me,
J. D. Alkema, Eric Hogeterp, Mike Hogeterp

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11 November 2003

Remembrance Day

In Flanders fields the poppies blow. . . .




© Queen's Printer for Ontario, 2003


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10 November 2003

Feeble attempt at humour

Of course, we've all heard the one about the psychics' convention that was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.

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Europeans and Americans

Here's Mark Steyn with a rather pessimistic assessment of Europe's future, citing statistics similar to the ones to which I alluded a few days ago:

Europe is dying. As I’ve pointed out here before, it can’t square rising welfare costs, a collapsed birthrate and a manpower dependent on the world’s least skilled, least assimilable immigrants. In 20 years’ time, as those Dutch Muslim teenagers are entering the voting booths, European countries, unlike parts of Nigeria, will not be living under Sharia, but they will be reaching their accommodations with their radicalised Islamic compatriots, who like many intolerant types are expert at exploiting the ‘tolerance’ of pluralist societies.

How happy what’s left of the ethnic Dutch or French or Danes will be about this remains to be seen. But the idea of a childless Europe rivalling America militarily or economically is laughable. Sometime this century there will be 500 million Americans, and what’s left in Europe will either be very old or very Muslim. That’s the Europe that Britain will be binding its fate to. Japan faces the same problem: in 2006, its population will begin an absolute decline, a death spiral it will be unlikely ever to climb out of. Will Japan be an economic powerhouse if it’s populated by Koreans and Filipinos? Possibly. Will Germany if it’s populated by Algerians? That’s a trickier proposition.

It's always a rather dicey business to write about immigration and declining domestic birthrates, because such talk is likely to incur charges of racism. But one need hardly be a biological determinist (skin colour is, after all, merely skin deep) to recognize that culture matters and that ultimate religious allegiance impacts culture.

The tragedy of what Americans these days are calling the "old Europe" is that post-war secularization has sapped its willingness or ability to maintain itself over the long term. This has considerable implications for foreign and defence policies. As I've written before, Europe and Canada will have to carry their own weight within the zone of peace created by NATO if they hope to have a say to counterbalance Washington's. At this point there is little will to do so, which gives our collective complaints about American imperialism a hollow ring.

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Secession movements

Although there are rumours in some quarters to the contrary, I have never been a fan of secessionist movements. Here in Canada Québec separatism never completely goes away, even if it fades into one of its periodic dormant states, as it has now. Like a divorce, breaking up a political community along geographic lines is a messy and painful business, even when it does not involve the shedding of blood, which it often does. No one should wish to see the shattering of Yugoslavia or the Russian-Chechen conflict replicated domestically. As territorial states normatively constitute a space within which it is possible to appeal to a uniform standard of justice, the dismembering of such states inevitably places the doing of justice in a precarious position.

In Québec the Parti québécois governments, when they were in power, always claimed the right unilaterally to separate the province from the rest of Canada if they received a mandate from their own people in a referendum. In 1995, when the aboriginal peoples in the north held their own referendum overwhelmingly opting to stay with Canada, Québec City was reduced to issuing threats and simply asserting that they would not be allowed to do so. Yet it could not come up with a good reason why Québec had a right to separate, but the Cree and Inuit lands did not. The only way to settle such a disagreement, it would seem, is through force of arms, especially since the province would have removed itself from the jurisdiction of those common Canadian institutions that might be able to adjudicate the dispute. For all these reasons and more, I cannot summon up much enthusiasm for separatist movements.

That said, however, if there is an overwhelming consensus within a political subcommunity, such as a province or state, that membership in a larger federation is no longer doing justice to its legitimate interests, then the federal government would be ill advised to hold on to the subcommunity against its will. If a substantial majority of Quebeckers wanted out of Canada, then it is difficult to imagine Ottawa sending in the troops to prevent this. Furthermore, I doubt that Canadians would wish to see the federal government do this.

Had I been alive back in 1861 in the United States, I doubt I would have supported Washington's effort to hold on to the southern states by force. Had the American founders explicitly stated in their Constitution that states, once admitted to the union, had no right subsequently to withdraw, many, if not most, states might have seen fit to stay out altogether. Given that the founders failed even to mention the issue -- a rather major flaw in an otherwise good document -- there was reason, even among those favouring continued unity, at least to give the southern states the benefit of the doubt. The subsequent war resulted in huge numbers of casualties, which might have been averted if a more flexible and conciliatory approach had been followed by both sides.

As I wrote some weeks ago, in its draft constitution the European Union has provided for the possibility of a member state withdrawing from the union. Although I am no more a fan of secession movements than I am of divorce between spouses, placing both on a firm legal basis simply makes sense.

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09 November 2003

Morning prayer

This morning at church the Lord's Supper was actually not celebrated for once. Instead there was a Remembrance Day service in accordance with Matins in the Book of Common Prayer. Matins, or Morning Prayer in the BCP, is an amalgam of the ancient offices of Matins and Lauds in the Liturgy of the Hours. It thus includes both the Te Deum (Matins) and the Benedictus, or Canticle of Zechariah from Luke 1:68-79 (Lauds), after the two readings.

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How often the Lord's Supper?

Many churches in the Reformed tradition celebrate the Lord's Supper only quarterly, while others celebrate monthly. That this was an improvement over the once-a-year reception characteristic of much of the mediaeval west is not to be doubted. But Calvin would have liked to see even more frequent celebration and reception:

Plainly this custom which enjoins us to take communion once a year is a veritable invention of the devil, whoever was instrumental in introducing it. . . . For there is not the least doubt that the Sacred Supper was in that era [the early church] set before the believers every time they met together; and there is no doubt that a majority of them took communion. . . .

Calvin regreted the less frequent reception of his own day and urged reform:

It should have been done far differently: the Lord's Table should have been spread at least once a week for the assembly of Christians, and the promises declared in it should feed us spiritually (Inst. IV.XVII. 46, emphasis mine).

Unfortunately the city fathers of Geneva could not be persuaded to go along with Calvin's wishes. Calvin hoped that his successors might put the matter right:

I have taken care to record publicly that our custom is defective, so that those who come after me may be able to correct it the more freely and easily (Bretschneider, Corpus Reformatorum, XXXVIII,i, p. 213).

After nearly half a millennium, isn't it finally time to follow Calvin on this matter?

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08 November 2003

Post-aristotelians, all of us

Is our contemporary rights culture in North America a bizarre and unstable amalgam of Epicurean self-seeking and Stoic natural law? We appear to believe it is our God-given right to do anything we damn well please, including, well, defying God himself.

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Someone must have complained

That offensive advertisement near Garth and Mohawk has been removed after possibly only a week or two. In its place is an ad for that quintessential and ubiquitous Canadian institution, Tim Hortons.

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07 November 2003

Bush on the global spread of democracy

Last evening US President Bush delivered a speech to mark the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy. In it he described and celebrated what he sees as a global movement towards democratization. Near the end of his address came something that sounds very like a confession of faith:

The advance of freedom is the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country. From the Fourteen Points [of Pres. Woodrow Wilson] to the Four Freedoms [of Franklin D. Roosevelt], to [Ronald Reagan's 1982] Speech at Westminster, America has put our power at the service of principle. We believe that liberty is the design of nature; we believe that liberty is the direction of history. We believe that human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty. And we believe that freedom -- the freedom we prize -- is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind.

Working for the spread of freedom can be hard. Yet, America has accomplished hard tasks before. Our nation is strong; we're strong of heart. And we're not alone. Freedom is finding allies in every country; freedom finds allies in every culture. And as we meet the terror and violence of the world, we can be certain the author of freedom is not indifferent to the fate of freedom.

The test of Bush's policy is, of course, Afghanistan and Iraq, where American policy aims at building democratic constitutions and stable government. No one denies that this is a noble aim. But the future may disappoint these high expectations. Here is Bush on Afghanistan:

With the steady leadership of President Karzai, the people of Afghanistan are building a modern and peaceful government. Next month, 500 delegates will convene a national assembly in Kabul to approve a new Afghan constitution. The proposed draft would establish a bicameral parliament, set national elections next year, and recognize Afghanistan's Muslim identity, while protecting the rights of all citizens. Afghanistan faces continuing economic and security challenges -- it will face those challenges as a free and stable democracy.

My friend Paul Marshall, formerly with the Institute for Christian Studies and now with Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, disputes this assessment, arguing that in its present form the draft Afghan constitution embodies a form of "Taliban-lite."

It is easy to pick Bush's speech apart. Indeed, if one takes its rhetoric at face value, it is infused with a sort of eclectic ideological faith drawing on elements of both liberalism and democratism (but, remarkably enough, not classic conservatism, which is far more suspicious of efforts to transplant successful institutions into other, less hospitable cultural environments). This faith is certain to disappoint anyone confessing it, as the fulfilment of its obvious eschatological vision continually recedes into the indefinite future.

Yet now that the US is there, it has an obligation to do right by the people of the two countries to the best of its ability. That this may not be enough, given the limited resources of even a global superpower, is all the more argument for bringing a multinational force into the picture, probably under the auspices of the United Nations.

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Turkey in Europe?

The European Union is on the brink of an unprecedented expansion. Ten new members will enter in May 2004, but Turkey will not be among them. Despite this, no one wants finally to reject Ankara’s longstanding application.

To begin with, Turkey is a pivotal country occupying an historic land bridge between Europe and the Middle East. Although it has experienced periods of autocratic rule, beginning with that of its founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the 1920s and ’30s, it has been decidedly more democratic than any of its muslim neighbours to the south and east. Moreover it has long had a pro-western outlook, beginning at least in 1952, when it joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, looks set once again to become Europe’s largest city, much as Constantinople was during the middle ages. In short, Turkey is too large and important to ignore.

However, its very size, coupled with its islamic culture, may keep it out of the EU over the long term. Of the current and potential member states of the EU, Turkey has the second highest population at some 64 million, outranked only by Germany with 82 million. France, Italy and the United Kingdom each have just under 60 million inhabitants. Most of the other countries have far fewer.

This might not be an insuperable obstacle to Turkish membership, were it not for the demographic future of Europe as a whole. According to population.com, most European countries will lose population over the next half century, if current birth and death rates continue. Italy will lose the most, having declined by as many as 15 million people. Only Cyprus, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway and Turkey will show a population increase. Nineteen others will decline.

In this context, the EU may eventually appear to be less than the vibrant new actor on the international scene that its proponents hope it to become. It may resemble nothing more than a newly merged megachurch, bringing together several fading predecessor bodies and thus masking the fact that its pews are increasingly empty and its membership ageing. The illusion of largeness and dynamism is there for a time, but the less rosy reality will become evident with the passage of time and of the generations.

Not so with Turkey. Not only is it expected to grow, but its growth will be phenomenal. By mid-century it is expected to have more than 100 million people, far outranking Germany’s 73 million. Were Turkey a part of the EU by then, and if it were still the poorest country in Europe, open borders and freedom of mobility would bring huge numbers of Turks into the heart of Europe. What the Ottoman armies were unable to do at the sieges of Vienna in 1529 and 1683, Turkey might accomplish overnight with its accession to the EU. At least that’s the fear of many European citizens, even if they are reluctant to express this openly.

Turkey has been waiting at the door of Europe for many years. A realistic prospect of EU membership might be incentive for it to clean up its political house, including improving its human rights record and resolving the nearly three-decades-old Cyprus stalemate. If it were to be definitively excluded from the new Europe, it might turn its attention eastwards, where several ethnically-related central Asian countries might make strategic, if undemocratic, allies in a new, potentially anti-western political bloc.

Since no one wants to see this, Turkey will likely be kept waiting for some time to come.

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06 November 2003

TTC refuses ad

Not too long ago I wrote about an offensive billboard Nancy and I saw along Garth Street in Hamilton. Brian Harskamp has drawn my attention to an article, "Sex good, religion bad," that appeared in the latest issue of Marketing Magazine. This is from the article:

In street slang, it's a classic case of getting shown no love. When John Farquhar and company at Toronto's Cyclops Partners tried to get the Toronto Transit Commission to OK one of their transit executions for the current Puretracks.com campaign, they were given a stern "no." The poster shows a midriff-baring nun wearing a massive crucifix, with copy that reads "pure hip hop."

The TTC's advertising advisory board decision to turn down the ad is curious, considering some of the racy ads TTC patrons see while riding the rails. One ad for a televised model search, for example, doesn't leave much to the imagination, showing the backsides of three bikini-clad models in stilettos.

Farquhar surmises the TTC may simply be acting on past experience that told them "sexy is OK, but sex and religion, maybe that's over the line." He adds: "I was actually shocked, because you start questioning your own spectrum in terms of what's acceptable. I didn't see it as anything that should be banned in any particular medium." When it comes to ads, it would seem the TTC is steering clear of the confessional.

Some people claim to be so enlightened as not to be shocked by the things others find shocking. The only thing that appears to shock Farquhar is, not midriff-baring nuns, but people who are shocked by midriff-baring nuns. How unenlightened of him.

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05 November 2003

The Maher Arar case

Could the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, who was deported by US authorities to Syria during a stop-over at New York's Kennedy Airport, cause an international incident between Canada and the United States? Arar claims he was tortured for ten months in his native country. Thus far Jean Chrétien, who is about to be replaced by Paul Martin as Prime Minister, has declined to convene an inquiry into the matter.

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Two views of democracy

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been tried from time to time (Sir Winston Churchill, 1947).

All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy (New York Governor Al Smith, 1933).


In his statement, Smith shows himself to be an adherent of what I have labelled ideological democracy or democracy as creed, or what Russell Kirk somewhat inelegantly called "democratism." As Churchill's expressed appreciation for democracy is much more modest, he could probably not be similarly categorized and is thus relatively free of this ideology.

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Atlantis off Cuba?

Here is another possible location for the lost city of Atlantis: in the ocean between the western edge of Cuba and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. A year or two ago quite a few stories appeared in the news services about the apparent discovery by Paulina Zelitsky and others of what appeared to be a submerged city in the ocean between these two land masses. Here is one example from a year and a half ago: "Canadians may have found lost city." I've been unable to find anything much more recent than this, so I have no idea whether anything came of it.

Naturally, it has sparked speculation about Atlantis, once again, which seems to be a cottage industry in some circles. But if such a city is indeed found to exist, it could be one more piece of evidence of human habitation in lowlying areas submerged by the melting of the glaciers after the last ice age.

If such a city is found, that is.

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Cyprus focussing on EU membership

A solution to the longstanding Cyprus issue awaits a possible change in régime in the Turkish-dominated north. In the meantime, the legally-recognized government in the south is turning its attention to fulfilling the prerequisites for membership in the European Union, which is set to take place next May. But I was surprised at this statistic: "The Cypriot economy is basically service-orientated with more than 65 percent of the population employed in the sector, especially tourism which accounts for 20 percent of GDP." Only 20 percent? When we were over there in 1995, virtually everyone we met, with the exception of two uncles, seemed to be involved in tourism in some fashion.

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04 November 2003

Freedom of choice as the only good

Here is Orthodox theologian David B. Hart on the nihilism threatening a society where choice takes priority over all other social goods:

We live in an age whose chief moral value has been determined, by overwhelming consensus, to be the absolute liberty of personal volition, the power of each of us to choose what he or she believes, wants, needs, or must possess; our culturally most persuasive models of human freedom are unambiguously voluntarist and, in a rather debased and degraded way, Promethean; the will, we believe, is sovereign because unpremised, free because spontaneous, and this is the highest good. And a society that believes this must, at least implicitly, embrace and subtly advocate a very particular moral metaphysics: the unreality of any “value” higher than choice, or of any transcendent Good ordering desire towards a higher end. Desire is free to propose, seize, accept or reject, want or not want—but not to obey. Society must thus be secured against the intrusions of the Good, or of God, so that its citizens may determine their own lives by the choices they make from a universe of morally indifferent but variably desirable ends, unencumbered by any prior grammar of obligation or value (in America, we call this the “wall of separation”). Hence the liberties that permit one to purchase lavender bed clothes, to gaze fervently at pornography, to become a Unitarian, to market popular celebrations of brutal violence, or to destroy one’s unborn child are all equally intrinsically “good” because all are expressions of an inalienable freedom of choice. But, of course, if the will determines itself only in and through such choices, free from any prevenient natural order, then it too is in itself nothing. And so, at the end of modernity, each of us who is true to the times stands facing not God, or the gods, or the Good beyond beings, but an abyss, over which presides the empty, inviolable authority of the individual will, whose impulses and decisions are their own moral index.

This lopsided focus on choice has concrete political consequences, as I have pointed out in chapter 2 of Political Visions and Illusions in discussing the fifth and most recent stage of liberalism, which embraces the choice-enhancement state. Here the state claims a benign neutrality amongst all personal preferences in a variety of areas.

Because the individual citizens are sovereign and because, further, individual preferences differ from one person to the next, the state must refrain from favouring one person’s preferences over another’s. It must simply establish the broad procedural framework within which individuals are enabled to pursue their chosen goals. In a political community containing Christians, Jews, theosophists, agnostics, golfers and sado-masochists, the state refrains from passing judgement on the goodness of any of these worldviews and/or proclivities and acts simply as referee. . . .

This means that what is conventionally called “legislating morality” is not to be admitted in the liberal state. Though not all professed liberals wish to see prostitutes and pornographers allowed to pursue freely their respective trades, there is a pronounced inclination in most to leave such matters to the workings of the market and to refrain from legislating a particular moral conception of, say, proper sexuality. . . .

But at this point fifth-stage liberalism encounters a dilemma. While the liberal state is supposed to refrain from judging the goodness of people’s choices and while it claims a benign neutrality towards the various options lying before its citizens, it cannot overlook the unequal consequences following from the exercise of these choices. . . .

When these undesirable consequences do indeed occur, rather than acknowledge that the quest to validate all lifestyle choices equally is a utopian one doomed to failure, fifth-stage liberals increasingly call on government to ameliorate, if not altogether eliminate, such consequences so they can continue to engage in this fruitless quest. This inevitably leads to an expansion in the scope of government that is difficult to contain within any boundaries whatever. As George F. Will observes, “The fundamental goal of modern liberalism has been equality, and it has given us government that believes in the moral equality of appetites. The result is a government that is big but not strong; fat but flabby; capable of giving but not leading.” This is the liberalism so often castigated by self-styled conservatives in the United States and Canada. Rather than calling on citizens to live up to their commitments and to fulfil their responsibilities throughout the range of communal contexts, this final stage of liberalism demands that government effectively subsidize irresponsible behaviour for fear that doing otherwise risks making government into a potentially oppressive legislator of the good life (pp. 61-64).

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Why is it?

Here's another question of far less weighty significance than the one immediately below: why are those shrink-wrapped packages in the supermarket containing three juice boxes each referred to as "tetras"? The Greek etymology would lead one to think there would be four juice boxes in each package.

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The Tetragrammaton

For centuries devout Jews have refrained from pronouncing the proper name for God given in the Tanakh, or what Christians call the Old Testament. In roman letters the Tetragrammaton, or the four-letter name, is sometimes rendered as YHWH. In the more remote past it was sometimes rendered incorrectly as Jehovah, as in the American Standard Version of the Bible published in 1901. It seems the Tetragrammaton has not been pronounced for so long that no one knows its actual pronunciation. The Jerusalem Bible and New Jerusalem Bible speculatively fill in the vowels, thus making it Yahweh. For centuries, whenever YHWH is encountered in Hebrew, the reader substitutes Adonai, or Lord.

Something has puzzled me about all this: if Jewish believers refrain from pronouncing YHWH, why then are they willing to pronounce it when it occurs in proper names, as in, e.g., Elijah ("YHWH is God") or Adonijah ("YHWH is Lord")? If anyone knows the answer to this, I'd love to hear it.

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03 November 2003

Misquoted in the print media

Despite the heroic efforts of our student newspaper, the Crown, to get the story right, I was misquoted in the most recent issue. I never said, "If you really are what you eat, I'm 95% extra virgin olive oil." What I did say was, "If my diet is any indication, then 95% of my body fat is extra virgin olive oil." They made me sound fatter than I really am.

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A day to celebrate and remember

Five years ago today our daughter Theresa was born. She should not have been born for another three months, and her original due date had been set at 10 February 1999. Because she was born so early, she spent her first slightly more than ten weeks in hospital. This is from my personal journal, dated thursday, 5 November 1998:

Where to start? Our world has been turned upside down in the past two days. Theresa was born two days ago, 3 November, at 8.28 pm EST. Needless to say, she is very early. Nancy began having contractions around 11 am that day, but she thought they were only Braxton-Hix contractions. By 4.30 they were getting worse. I returned from campus at that time. Nancy phoned the doctor and then the hospital. We drove down there, fully expecting to be back that evening. But once they had hooked Nancy up to the monitors and looked her over, it became clear that she was indeed in labour. To say that we were stunned would be an understatement. It’s a good thing we got there when we did. The next little while was filled with doctors and nurses rushing about. The labour was painful at times, but it was fairly brief. As soon as Theresa was born, they worked over her for a few minutes and then whisked her over to the neonatal unit, where she is now and will likely remain until sometime around her due date.

While it was all happening, it seemed as though I were seeing it happen to someone else. It felt like watching a movie or a television programme. I did feel faint at one point after the baby was born and had to sit on the floor. I felt a little panicky when she didn’t cry at first, but she finally let out a brief yelp.

Theresa is so small. She weighed in at 941 grams, which is about two pounds. She looks so fragile. She’s in an incubator hooked up to all sorts of monitoring equipment. She has tubes in her nose, but she’s breathing room air rather than oxygen, which is good. She’s being fed intravenously through her navel. We both were able to hold her last evening after she was bathed.

The contrast between what we were feeling on that momentous day five years ago and the celebrations that will take place today could hardly be greater. Most births are greeted with unmitigated joy, in recognition that God has brought a new life into the world. For Nancy and me, however, while we will always celebrate this day, the actual event itself was fraught with anxiety and fear, which is not the way things normally occur.

Each year since then, however, we have gone to great efforts to reclaim the day, which by now, like all birthdays, has become one of joyful celebration of the young life God saw fit to give us. As I wrote some days ago, Theresa does not yet understand the significance of her early birth. Right now, in fact, she is tending to confuse her birthday with Halloween and dressing up in costume. We gave her one of her gifts already yesterday: an umbrella, which seemed appropriate given the rainy weather. She thus undoubtedly thinks of her birthday as a four-day celebration, climaxing in two parties today, one this morning at the campus child care centre where she spends three mornings a week, and this evening with three of her friends at home.

In my spare moments I am working our experience into a book that I hope will be of benefit especially to other parents who have gone or are going through a similar experience. In the meantime, what this day has come to symbolize for us more than anything is the unexpectedness of God's grace, which comes to us in ways that we cannot always understand, but which nevertheless manifests his love and care for us.

Happy birthday, Theresa!

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01 November 2003

Ice in the infernal regions

What? Jews for Allah? Is this for real or is it a joke?

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Conservatism as an ideology

Below follows one paragraph from the third chapter of Political Visions and Illusions. This illustrates two of the ways in which conservatism can indeed be considered an ideology. There's more to my argument than this, but I'll whet the appetite with these remarks only:

What conservatism as a whole seems unable to do is to formulate a generally accepted, transhistorical criterion by which to distinguish what in a tradition is worth saving and what ought to be discarded. To be sure, many conservatives profess to believe in the existence of what [Russell] Kirk calls “an enduring moral order” in which “human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent,” and by which our multiplicity of traditions might be judged. In this respect such conservatives are closer to a Christian understanding of the world than to an ideological belief in the unlimited malleability of the world to suit our own human ends. Yet even on this issue conservatives err, first, by failing sufficiently to distinguish the traditions, institutions and mores of their own society from the transcendent order they claim to uphold, and, second, by underestimating the dynamic character of that order. Change and development are not defects; they are an integral part of creation as God has structured it. Conservatives have difficulty recognizing that structure and change, far from being opposed, in fact presuppose each other (p. 87).

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Capital punishment and atonement for sin

Several years ago I wrote a column for Christian Courier in which I argued against reviving the death penalty in this country. This was in the wake of the case revolving around Carla Faye Tucker, who had been convicted of murder in Texas, but had converted to faith in Christ while in prison. Then-Governor George W. Bush refused to intervene to commute her sentence, despite their apparent shared membership in the Body of Christ, and she went to her death, confident she would soon be in the presence of her Redeemer.

In my column I did not dispute the justice of the death penalty, which is almost perfectly just if imposed on one who has wrongly taken another life. Instead, I argued that it would be unwise to maintain it for two reasons. First, given that our criminal justice systems are prone to make errors, as evidenced most famously in the cases of David Milgard, Donald Marshall and Guy Paul Morin here in Canada, it would be unwise -- and unjust -- to impose a punishment so obviously irreversible. Second, thinking of Tucker again, prematurely ending a life cuts short the possibility of a genuine repentance that might come further down the road during a sentence of life imprisonment.

I cannot exactly say I have second thoughts about this. Nevertheless, more recently I have found myself wondering whether a refusal to face even the possibility of capital punishment might tend to erode a sense of the seriousness of sin and redemption, and thus of justice itself. There is, after all, something that makes sense about offering a life for a life. Central to Christianity is the belief that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23) and that the shed blood of Jesus Christ, uniquely God and man, pays for our sins. Short of this payment, we ourselves must die. Is it possible that a society that has lost sight of the intrinsic justice of "life for life" will tend to reduce justice to a mere spineless sentimentality that refuses to make necessary judgements for fear of causing offence? Will it further find it increasingly difficult to understand why the death of God's Son was made necessary by our sins?

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All Saints

Today is All Saints' Day in the western church calendar. Here is the collect for the day, as prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer:

O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Here are a few of the wonderful hymns typically sung today in the churches: "For All the Saints," "Jerusalem the Golden" and "Who Are These Like Stars Appearing."

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