24 December 2004

The Nativity of our Lord


Orthodox Church of America

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
O come, let us adore him:
Christ the Lord!

23 December 2004

'Born again' Yanukovych?

Ahead of sunday's repeat runoff election in Ukraine, the monks of the Pecherska Lavra on the banks of the Dniepr River are praying for Viktor Yanukovych to win the presidency. “If you are a believer, you are for Yanukovich. To stand for Yanukovich is to stand for Orthodoxy. We must protect from the demons in the West,” according to Metropolitan Volodymyr Sabodan, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate. Perhaps he and the monks should get together with the clergy in Cyprus who warned Greek Cypriots of eternal damnation if they voted for the Annan Plan to reunify the island. They would seem to have a lot in common.
US Democrats up for change?

My old Notre Dame classmate and pro-life Catholic, Tim Roemer, is considering a bid for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. He was Representative for Indiana's third congressional district during the 1990s and was a member of the 9/11 commission. If the Democratic Party is in a frame of mind to re-evaluate its position after losing a second time to Bush, it would do well to consider Roemer's prospective leadership very seriously.

22 December 2004

Chair appointed at ICS

This is somewhat old news, but it is worth repeating here: "The Institute for Christian Studies is pleased to announce that Dr. Jonathan Chaplin has been appointed to the Institute's Herman Dooyeweerd Chair in Social and Political Philosophy." This is a well-deserved honour for a highly esteemed colleague. Congratulations, Dr. Chaplin!
Another chance for Cyprus?

Now that accession talks for Turkey are set to begin in October of next year, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, whose country holds the revolving presidency of the European Union, is urging a renewed effort to reunite the island nation of Cyprus. Perhaps history will record that a successful solution in Cyprus began, not with a UN secretary general, but with a neocalvinist political leader.

20 December 2004

Second semester courses

This will be of special interest to my students. My courses for the coming semester are now posted at the political science department's website: POL 122 - Introduction to Political Ideologies, POL 221 - Canadian Government and Politics, and POL 325 - Recent Political Theory. The new term begins on wednesday, 5 January 2005.

19 December 2004

Europe on life support?

Papal biographer George Weigel explores the implications of the Rocco Buttiglione affair for the place of orthodox Christian believers in the new Europe. Writes Weigel:

What kind of polity is it that doesn't want a man like Rocco Buttiglione looking after the administration of justice and the protection of human rights?

A polity in which too many people believe that the God of the Bible is the enemy of human freedom. A polity in which too many people believe that freedom is license. A polity in which "anti-discrimination" has become the excuse for active discrimination against Catholics and others whose moral convictions ill-fit the relativist-secularist opinion mainstream. A polity, in other words, like the new Europe.

The demographers tell us that Europe is dying, physically. The Buttiglione affair tells us that Europe is now on life-support, morally and culturally.

18 December 2004

A green light for Turkey?

After long and difficult negotiations in Brussels, the European Union has given a tentative go ahead to accession talks to admit Turkey. The sticking point was, of course, Cyprus, one of the ten new members of the EU admitted last May. Turkey has thus far refused to recognize the government of Cyprus, which would logically entail declining to recognize its own client state in the north. A last minute compromise has allowed the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to save face by simply giving a verbal declaration of good will. However, eventually Ankara will have to swallow its pride and do the unthinkable. The earliest Turkey might be admitted is ten years from now. Much can happen between now and then to derail the effort. As a consequence, it's not clear that Turkey is that far ahead of where it was two days ago.

17 December 2004

Judicial review comes to Britain

The United Kingdom is often, and somewhat misleadingly, said to have an unwritten constitution. What is meant by this is that that country, like New Zealand and Israel but unlike virtually every other country, does not have an entrenched constitutional document possessing superior status to ordinary statutes. The absence of such a document means that Britain's courts, unlike those of Canada and the US, do not possess the right to rule whether or not a law is constitutional. Parliament is legally sovereign and cannot be second-guessed by the judiciary.

Up until 1982 Canada had a similarly "unwritten" constitution, our principal constitutional document, the British North America Act of 1867, being no more than an act of the British Parliament. We never had parliamentary sovereignty in quite the same way as it could be said to exist across the pond, but only because this sovereignty was shared among federal and provincial legislative bodies in a federal system. However, for the last nearly 23 years our courts have become increasingly active interveners in the political process, most recently handing down a reference decision on Ottawa's proposed marriage-revision legislation. This empowerment of the courts has its positive and negative features. The positive side can be seen when a government is forced to justify its treatment of citizens protected under an entrenched bill of rights, provided the court is not in the business of inventing new rights or unilaterally changing the constitution. The negative consequences are spelled out in F. L. Morton and Rainer Knopff's The Charter Revolution & the Court Party, as well as in numerous articles in First Things and elsewhere.

Despite the absence of an entrenched British constitutional document, the courts are nevertheless finding a way to review acts of parliament. This is reflected in yesterday's important decision by the nine law lords, who are the active members of the House of Lords in its capacity as the country's highest court of appeal, declaring that the Blair government's anti-terrorism law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Although the law lords cannot invalidate a law as such, they can at least put the government of the day in an uncomfortable position. Because Britain is an adherent of the treaties of the European Union, a judicial ruling that it is not living up to these treaties inevitably carries a great deal of weight. Because of Britain's membership in the EU something like an entrenched constitutional document is coming in through the back door, along with the judicial review which it implies.

Is this a good thing? Yes and no. In theory it makes sense to empower the judiciary to check both cabinet and parliament, particularly with respect to protecting the rights of citizens. However, given that constitutional documents spell out those rights in necessarily general terms, they may leave too much room for the courts to fill in the blanks, as it were, and to find rights that were never intended by the drafters. Given, furthermore, that such rights tend to be articulated in narrowly individualistic terms, the courts can rule in ways that subvert basic social institutions, such as marriage, by reducing them to mere contractual relationships. I am inclined to think that one of the failings of the drafters of most constitutional documents, including our own Constitution Acts and the United States Constitution, is that they have imposed insufficient checks on the judiciary itself.

At some point I may post my Christian Courier column from nearly a year ago concerning the courts and the constitution.

15 December 2004

A choir story from the distant past

Some of the members of the Redeemer University College Choir recently posted accounts of their experience singing Handel's Messiah nearly two weeks ago, which they found to be deeply uplifting. Unfortunately I was unable to be there, but I can testify that there is something profoundly moving in hearing young voices blended together in praise of God.

Three decades ago I sang for one year with the Bethel College Choir in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was in the bass section and we were under the baton of an exceedingly competent conductor who would settle for little less than perfection. During the reading break that winter we went on tour to the east coast of the United States, where we sang mostly in church buildings. One of the pieces we performed was Paul Christiansen's magnificent Revelation of St. John, whose text is taken from the opening verses of the last book of the Bible. It was a primarily atonal piece which required great concentration to sing and to keep on pitch. With practice we performed it very well, as I recall.

Except for one occasion. During a concert in upstate New York, we began the Christiansen piece as planned. At the proper time the bass soloist came in, but he did so on the wrong note and managed to take the choir with him. The conductor's face went white as a sheet and a look of terror came over it. I half expected him to stop us and start over again. But soon thereafter the soprano soloist came in. As she had perfect pitch, she not only came in on the right note but succeeded in pulling the choir back to pitch. Because the conductor had his back to the audience, but mostly because the piece was so atonal, no one hearing us was any the wiser. Afterwards we mingled with the members of the audience and their praise was effusive.

11 December 2004

European Turkey and islamic democracy?

Friday is the date when the European Union is slated to decide whether to proceed with Turkey's application for membership. At this point, however, Turkey refuses to budge on the issue of recognition of the Republic of Cyprus, which will almost certainly have an impact on that decision. Victor Davis Hanson compares Europeans to J. R. R. Tolkein's complacent but moribund Ents for even considering Turkish membership. Writes Hanson:

Turkey's proposed entry into the EU has become some weird sort of Swiftian satire on the crazy relationship between Europe and Islam. Ponder the contradictions of it all. Privately most Europeans realize that opening its borders without restraint to Turkey's millions will alter the nature of the EU, both by welcoming in a radically different citizenry, largely outside the borders of Europe, whose population will make it the largest and poorest country in the Union — and the most antithetical to Western liberalism. Yet Europe is also trapped in its own utopian race/class/gender rhetoric. It cannot openly question the wisdom of making the "other" coequal to itself, since one does not by any abstract standard judge, much less censure, customs, religions, or values.

Can Islam become democratic? Can it facilitate the development of democratic institutions or is it an obstacle to these? Mustafa Kemal Attatürk took a secularizing approach to the Turkish Republic after 1923, relegating muslim belief to the private sphere. But it may be that strongarm tactics to keep traditional religions out of the public sphere will provoke an extremist backlash. This is acknowledged by Ian Buruma in "An Islamic Democracy for Iraq?", published days ago in The New York Times. Writes Buruma:

It may be useful to reflect for a moment on how the West itself has coped with religion. The separation of church and state was indeed a necessary condition for democratic development in Europe and the United States, but the separation has never been absolute. Britain's constitutional arrangements include organized religion: the monarch is the protector of the Anglican faith. This may now be nothing more than a formality, but in continental European politics Christian democratic parties are still the mainstream. The first such party, the Anti-Revolutionary Party, was founded in 1879 by a Calvinist ex-pastor in the Netherlands named Abraham Kuyper. His aim was to restore God (not the church) as the absolute sovereign over human affairs. Only if secular government was firmly embedded in the Christian faith could its democratic institutions survive. That is what he believed and what Christian Democrats still believe.

I do not believe this. It is always tricky for an agnostic in religious affairs to argue for the importance of organized religion, but I would argue not that more people should be religious or that democracy cannot survive without God, but that the voices of religious people should be heard. The most important condition for a functional democracy is that people take part. If religious affiliations provide the necessary consensus to play by common rules, then they should be recognized. A Sharia-based Shiite theocracy, even if it were supported by a majority, would not be a democracy. Only if the rights and interests of the various ethnic and religious groups are negotiated and compromises reached could you speak of a functioning democracy.

There is, of course, that neglected phenomenon of consociationalism, which was more discussed a generation ago than today but which retains its relevance for divided polities characterized by deep social cleavages along ethnic, linguistic, religious or ideological lines. The best recipe for political stability may not after all be to suppress differences in the interest of creating an artificial majority but to allow citizens to express these differences in peaceful ways through power sharing at the centres of government. Short of this, there may be no alternative to the authoritarian régimes which have plagued so many countries outside the western world.

10 December 2004

Charles Terpstra (1924-2004): a tribute

The Rev. Charles "Chuck" Terpstra was my pastor at South Bend Christian Reformed Church in Indiana during most of my graduate student years at Notre Dame. He served that congregation between 1982 and 1990, when he retired. He and his wife Jean became good friends of mine during that wonderful time. Chuck was born in Oak Lawn, Illinois, not too far from my own birthplace of Oak Park, both of which are communities just outside Chicago. He served in the US Army during the Second World War. He married Jean Kamp in 1948 and graduated from Calvin Seminary in 1953. He served CRC congregations in Minnesota, New Jersey, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and finally South Bend. After retirement he and Jean moved back to Grand Rapids. They have seven children and at Chuck's death he and Jean were grandparents and great-grandparents.

Chuck had just become pastor of South Bend CRC when I became a member of that congregation in 1983. He was not a flashy orator by any means. But his preaching was heartfelt and he put his whole self into his sermons. I recall more than one occasion when tears would come to his eyes as he touched on something that was especially meaningful to him. Moreover, unlike many preachers, he would regularly treat especially difficult passages of scripture that have confounded even the best of expositors. That took some courage, but it was very like Chuck to do this. Above all, I think of him as a firm Reformed Christian with profound catholic sensibilities. He was far from the sectarianism that has plagued some manifestations of confessional protestantism.

But it's the personal side I will remember most. When I was disappointed by a failed romantic relationship, he was the one I talked with. When my grandmother died in early 1987, I went to him with the news. When I defended my dissertation in November 1986, he was one of two close friends who attended this event, crammed into a fairly small room with my examiners and me. Not long afterwards he and Jean hosted a celebrative gathering at their home in my honour, to which members of my family, including my parents, came. This obviously went far beyond the call of pastoral duty. I recall staying at their home in Grand Rapids on at least two occasions in the early 1990s. When Nancy and I were married near Chicago in 1996, Chuck and Jean made the drive down for the occasion. Finally, when they were up in Hamilton on denominational business a few years ago, I remember them sitting in our living room. Jean was entertaining our Theresa, who was an infant at the time, and succeeded in eliciting convulsive giggles from her. It was a joy to see.

Chuck had suffered from an increasing number of health problems in recent years. I believe the last time I saw him was during my visit to Calvin College two years ago for the first Henry Institute Symposium on Religion and Politics. I last spoke with him at the end of October. He was a faithful reader of this blog, and he even took the time and effort to read my book.

May God grant him rest and may we meet again at the resurrection when God's kingdom comes to fruition. May God grant Jean and the family comfort at what scripture tells us will be but a temporary loss.

09 December 2004

Supreme Court reference

In most other countries a court cannot rule on an issue unless it hears a relevant case which has made its way through the judicial hierarchy. However, Canada is unusual in permitting its governments to refer a question to the Supreme Court for a ruling in the abstract. Two famous reference decisions were (1) the Patriation Reference of 1981 respecting the legality of Pierre Trudeau's effort to patriate the constitution without the backing of the provinces; and (2) the 1998 Reference re Secession of Quebec, in which the right of a province to secede unilaterally from confederation was at issue. Reference decisions are not strictly legally binding, but they are usually treated as if they were.

Today the Supreme Court handed down its long awaited reference decision on the federal government's same-sex marriage legislation. Here is the high court's decision in response to the federal government's four questions:

First question: Does Parliament have the exclusive legislative authority to change the legal definition of marriage?

Supreme Court's answer: Yes

Second question: Is extending the capacity to marry persons of the same sex consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

Supreme Court's answer: Yes

Third question: Are religious leaders protected under the Charter of Rights from having to marry same-sex couples?

Supreme Court's answer: Yes

Fourth question: Is the traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman constitutional?

Supreme Court's answer: The Court exercises its discretion not to answer this question.

From the court's ruling: "Several centuries ago, it would have been understood that marriage be available only to opposite-sex couples." Several centuries ago? Judging from this statement, the justices on the court must be very, very young indeed. I myself remember this ostensibly long-ago era, and I'm not quite at the half-century mark.

The issue will continue to be debated, most notably in the House of Commons itself.
About to hit the fan?

For a long time many of us have been tiptoeing around the increasingly yawning gap separating two institutions here in southern Ontario with roots in the same tradition. Now student journalist Albert Postma brings this out into the open with an article in the Crown which is certain to generate heated debate.

08 December 2004

Apropos apparel?

Just once I'd love to see someone wear a t-shirt with the following motto on the front:

QUESTION AUTHORITY. . .


and on the back:

. . . BECAUSE I TOLD YOU SO!

New blogger

A heartfelt welcome to the bloggosphere is extended to Dr. Robert J. Bernhardt. Please take time to visit his new site, A Voice in the Village, subtitled "My contribution to the current Internet conversation about life and meaning in the Global Village." Dr. Bernhardt is the recently retired pastor of Chalmers Presbyterian Church here in Hamilton and a personal friend.

07 December 2004

Ukraine: what's really going on?

Among the observers of the current turmoil in Ukraine one finds three principal interpretations:

(1) It is a struggle between a democratic reform movement and a corrupt post-soviet oligarchy. The partisans of Viktor Yushchenko are on the side of all that is right and good. Viktor Yanukovych's supporters are trying to hold back progress and are in cahoots with Vladimir "Stalin Lite" Putin's Russia. This is clearly the perspective of Discoshaman, who is writing from the centre of the action (and whose real name I should probably know but can't recall at the moment).

(2) It is a struggle between two geographic and cultural regions, with the largely Greek Catholic west pulling the country towards Europe and the largely russophone and (vestigially) Orthodox east leaning towards Russia. Westerners support Yushchenko and easterners largely favour Yanukovych.

(3) Yushchenko is the latest in a long line of western pawns put in place in countries around the world on the pretext of facilitating democracy. This third perspective is articulated by the former Indian ambassador to Turkey, K Gajendra Singh, writing for the Asia Times Online.

So who is right? Who has the handle on what is really happening in the former Soviet republic? I myself tend towards the second interpretation. In my study of politics over the decades I have long been persuaded of the tremendous impact of political culture in the functioning of political systems. The notion of political culture is roughly synonymous with what earlier generations would have labelled a constitution in the larger empirical sense. It is the intangible complex of attitudes that a community carries towards a variety of factors, such as respect for authority, the rule of law, political participation, styles of leadership, the role of government, national purpose, &c. These are intimately connected with specific arrangements of political institutions to such an extent that efforts to refashion the latter in fundamental ways can collapse if they run counter to the political culture.

With respect to Ukraine, it may well be true that the largely Greek Catholic ukrainophone (is that a word?) westerners value democracy and aspire to membership in the European Union and NATO. There may indeed be more corruption in the east, and Yanukovych may indeed have authoritarian tendencies more in keeping with the country's Soviet past. Yet efforts to portray the current struggle as one pitting the good democrat against the bad autocrat may miss the mark in at least one respect. Even if the russophone east is mired in its old Soviet ways, this is a political reality that must be taken into account in any effort to bring peace and unity to the country as a whole. If Yushchenko wins the runoff vote on 26 December and if easterners feel hard done by, any effort to move Ukraine in a more westerly direction will effectively alienate a large proportion of the population.

That is why a political system whose chief executive is elected on a winner-take-all basis may not be best for a divided country such as Ukraine. The current electoral battle is a zero-sum contest in which one of the halves of the country, in the absence of a tradition of loyal opposition, is certain to feel shut out. Western journalists who can hardly conceal their enthusiasm for Yushchenko might wish to keep this in mind as they file their reports from Kyiv and elsewhere. So by all means the election should be free and fair. Everything must be done to prevent fraud. But it may be that the electoral system itself should be reformed to better reflect the reality of a divided polity. If citizens are no longer fearful of being locked out of the political process and having their legitimate interests ignored or trampled upon, they are less likely to succumb to efforts to subvert elections.

05 December 2004

The greatest Canadian: my nominee

Here is my nominee for the title of greatest Canadian: General Georges Vanier (1888-1967).


National Archives of Canada


Gen. Vanier is best known for having served as Governor General from 1959 until his death in Canada's centennial year, 1967. As the Queen's representative in her capacity as head of state, Vanier was the first francophone and only the second Canadian to fill the position. Prior to his residence at Rideau Hall, he had been in the diplomatic service, distinguishing himself in more than one post between 1928 and 1953. He served in the military during both world wars, losing his right leg in the first, and rising to the rank of major general in the second.

Gen. Vanier was a Christian of deep faith, as indicated in the following paragraphs taken from the government of Canada's webpages:

Although Canada was experiencing turbulent times and General Vanier suffered from a heart condition, he reacted to the news of his appointment [as Governor General] with the deep faith that was his constant companion. "If God wants me to do this job," he said, "He will give me the strength to do it." The Vaniers' strong religious beliefs led them to champion the disadvantaged, youth and the family. Their concern for the state of the family in Canada led them to organize the 'Canadian Conference of the Family' at Rideau Hall in 1964, which led to the founding of the Vanier Institute of the Family.

During General Vanier's term, the separatist cause accelerated in Quebec. General Vanier firmly believed in Canadian unity and his speeches often attempted to improve relations between Francophones and Anglophones. He possessed a masterful command of both languages and promoted a policy of bilingualism long before his tenure as Governor General. The depth of his concern for Canada is revealed in one of the last speeches of his life, where he said, "The road of unity is the road of love: love of one's country and faith in its future will give new direction and purpose to our lives, lift us above our domestic quarrels, and unite us in dedication to the common good... I pray God that we may all go forward hand in hand. We can't run the risk of this great country falling into pieces."

Due to their evident love for God and their fellow humanity, both Georges and his wife Pauline Vanier have been put forward for beatification in the Roman Catholic Church. Their son, Jean Vanier, is well known as the founder of the l'Arche communities in Toronto and elsewhere. We could use more people like the Vaniers in this country.
Ukrainian crisis, continued

A repeat of the second round in the Ukrainian presidential election has been set for 26 December. Unfortunately, the country's parliament failed to adopt a crucial reform of the electoral laws that would ensure that this new ballot is free and fair. In the meantime, might opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko have been poisoned by his political opponents? He claims this is true, and western medical specialists have noted a changed appearance, possibly due to massive exposure to dioxins.

Concerning electoral reform, here is advice from a Canadian. Please do not -- repeat: do not -- adopt a system that translates between 38 and 43 percent of the popular vote into an artificial majority and then gives it all the political power! Bad move. We're struggling mightily over here to rid ourselves at last of this travesty of democracy, with some hope for change on the horizon. Perhaps we need our own velvet revolution.

03 December 2004

Finnish Orthodoxy and a Finnish ancestor

The vast majority of Finns are at least nominal Lutherans, but there is a small percentage of Orthodox Christian Finns, most of whom originally came from eastern Karelia, the historic territory around Lake Ladoga. Today I rediscovered in my vinyl record collection two volumes of Orthodox Church Music from Finland, published by Ikon Records. The first volume contains music sung by the Hymnodia Choir under the direction of Archbishop Paul of Karelia and All Finland, and the second includes music by the Ecumenical Quartet. Texts are sung in both Church Slavonic and Finnish. I think I purchased these at the Anglican Book Centre in Toronto close to 15 years ago, when they were selling the last of their stock of vinyl albums.

Most of my Finnish ancestors were Lutherans, but among the meticulously-kept parish records which have come into my hands one often finds someone listed as having been transferred to the Orthodox parish in Kajaani. This would appear to signify a conversion, probably due to intermarriage.

Incidentally, just yesterday I received a remarkable letter from a distant cousin in New Mexico who found my genealogical webpages. She was kind enough to send me three photographs, one of which (below) is of my great-great-grandfather, Justus Korpinen (1848-1941), who is buried in the cemetery in Oskar, Michigan, located in that state's upper peninsula.


Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Kauppila

Justus Korpinen, seated, with grandson


I was, of course, pleased to receive this, as I had never before seen a photograph of this particular forebear, although I had known of his existence since childhood. I doubt that I look much like him. We both have beards, but I myself am not bald. Then again he was apparently in his 80s when the above photo was taken. By that age I too might be bald.
Is Google taxonomically challenged?

So why does Google News categorize this story under entertainment?
New election to be held

The supporters of Viktor Yushchenko have scored a victory -- for now: "Ukraine's Supreme Court declares run-off presidential vote void." Stand by. There's more to come.

02 December 2004

This day in history

On this date 200 years ago, Napoléon crowned himself Emperor of France, as shown below in the famous painting by Jacques-Louis David hanging in the Louvre.



Caroline Wyatt reflects on his legacy for the BBC: "Napoleon still haunts France." Might the would-be unifier of Europe have been the first person to employ the tools of propaganda on a massive scale? Some think so. According to the Associated Press, "Because of his controversial legacy, the [French] government planned no official commemorations of the coronation. But French media trumpeted the anniversary, and museums are hosting seminars, exhibits and concerts."

01 December 2004

The NYT's startling discovery

The New York Times is supposed to be the arbiter of élite cultural opinion in the United States. It is thus nothing short of remarkable when one of its columnists, David Brooks, discovers something that millions of non-NYT readers have known all along. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are not, after all, the most typical representatives of North American evangelicalism; John Stott is. Writes Brooks:

It could be that you have never heard of John Stott. I don't blame you. As far as I can tell, Stott has never appeared on an important American news program. A computer search suggests that Stott's name hasn't appeared in this newspaper since April 10, 1956, and it's never appeared in many other important publications.

Yet, as Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center notes, if evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose. He was the framer of the Lausanne Covenant, a crucial organizing document for modern evangelicalism. He is the author of more than 40 books, which have been translated into over 72 languages and have sold in the millions. Now rector emeritus at All Souls, Langham Place, in London, he has traveled the world preaching and teaching.

Although I am by no means an expert in that exceedingly nebulous phenomenon called evangelicalism, I am inclined to think that Brooks is on to something. At first blush it might seem somewhat odd that a quiet Anglican priest with utterly orthodox beliefs would be an influence on particularly American evangelicalism, which is largely baptistic in orientation. Then again Wheaton College (I grew up in the city of Wheaton) is the home of the Wade Centre, which houses a host of material related to C. S. Lewis, the Anglican layman who authored Mere Christianity, the Chronicles of Narnia, and many other immensely popular writings. All of which goes to show that evangelicals are not easily pigeon-holed -- even by The New York Times.

30 November 2004

Greatest Canadian

Is Tommy Douglas the Greatest Canadian? So says the CBC.



Runners-up include:

2. Terry Fox
3. Pierre Trudeau
4. Sir Frederick Banting
5. David Suzuki
6. Lester Pearson
7. Don Cherry
8. Sir John A. Macdonald
9. Alexander Graham Bell
10. Wayne Gretzky

29 November 2004

Religious freedom threatened in Toronto

Is religious freedom a human right? Not according to Patricia Hayes, a supposed rights expert with the Toronto School Board. Read Iain T. Benson's "Opposing Religion to Human Rights." It seems tyranny is fully capable of coming dressed in the language of rights.
Live from Kyiv

Discoshaman reports on the ground from Ukraine.
Refugees in Canada?

Since President Bush won re-election, Canada has had an illegal alien problem:

The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada Has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration. The re-election of President Bush is prompting the exodus among Left leaning citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray and agree with Bill O' Reilly. Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal rights activists and Unitarians crossing their fields at night.

What? No political scientists? Read more of this story.
Russia's demographic suicide

Here is a very sad article indeed for those who love Russia and the Russians, not to mention God's image-bearers in general: "Abortion in Russia: No Big Deal." Tragically, abortions outnumber live births in that country by nearly two to one. More than a year ago LifeNews reported that the Russian abortion rate was finally declining. One hopes the trend has continued since then, but it may not be enough to prevent the demographic suicide of Russia over the long term. One senses that, with such a cavalier attitude towards abortion in the population at large, any nascent pro-life movement would have to place educational efforts aimed at changing this attitude very far ahead of any attempt at legislating protection of the unborn, which is almost certainly not forthcoming in the short term. Perhaps such organizations as Zhizn ("life") and the Orthodox Church itself will come to play a significant role in this endeavour.

28 November 2004

First sunday in Advent


St John Fisher
and St Richard of Chichester


Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


Divided Ukraine

The former Soviet republic of Ukraine has its own "red-state/blue-state" phenomenon, as can be seen in the map below indicating the geographic support for the two presidential candidates, Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Yushchenko.


BBC News


Despite the presence of two Viktors, there can, of course, be only one victor. Each has his base of support in one of the two historic regions of the country. Yanukovych is favoured in the largely Russian-speaking east, which is the industrial heartland providing much of Ukraine's wealth. Its primary religious allegiance is to the Orthodox Church. Yushchenko's support base is in the mostly Ukrainian-speaking west, with its historic ties to Poland and Austria. The largest ecclesial body is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, an eastern-rite church in communion with Rome.

Although there were widespread allegations of vote fraud, the breakdown for last sunday's second ballot, viz., 49.46% for Yanukovych and 46.61% for Yushchenko, is not an unreasonable result. Even if a new election is held and there are no irregularities, each side might still be unwilling to accept the loss of its own candidate. Perhaps it is time to devolve political authority to Ukraine's 24 oblasti (administrative districts). Crimea already enjoys considerable autonomy and has its own parliament. Americans in the "blue states" can comfort themselves that they live in a federal system each of whose 50 states is largely self-governing. In a country as sharply divided as Ukraine, instituting a federal system may be the only way to save the country. Moreover, rather than a single president, a Swiss-style executive council with a rotating chairmanship might offer the best alternative.

Yet what is perhaps most needed in Ukraine is a tradition of the rule of law, coupled with the willingness to tolerate and, if need be, to become a loyal opposition. Failing this, secession or civil war becomes more likely.

27 November 2004

Valamo monasteries

Here is an event I would love to have been present to hear: The Valaam Choral Ensemble singing at St. Patrick's Basilica in Ottawa last evening. Few westerners are likely aware that there are two monasteries claiming the heritage of the original Valaam monastery. Because eastern Karelia, where the monastery is located, was disputed between Finland and the Soviet Union in the early 20th century, the monastery itself passed between the respective ecclesiastical jurisdictions of the Orthodox Churches of Russia and Finland. Consequently there is now a Valaam monastery on the island of Valaam in Lake Ladoga (Laatokka in Finnish), and a New Valamo monastery over the border in Finland. Both are likely worth visiting.


St. Innocent/Firebird Videos

Valaam Monastery, Russia
Parallel post-Soviet crises

Not only is Ukraine's presidential election in dispute; the breakaway republic of Abkhazia is undergoing similar controversy over its own contested election results two months ago. In both cases Russia is supporting its favoured candidate, possibly with fraudulent means. Abkhazia is de jure part of the Republic of Georgia, but it is de facto independent under Russian sponsorship. Most of its citizens hold Russian passports. Thus far Georgia has been unable to reassert its authority over the region.

Incidentally Abkhazia is home to those yoghurt-eating centenarians who used to appear on television advertisements in the 1970s. I wonder whether they are still collecting their pensions?
Body, Soul, and Stem Cells

The latest Capital Commentary from the Center for Public Justice, dated 29 November, is written by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, who is always worth reading:

In a September op-ed piece (New York Times, 9/10/04), Yale professor Paul Bloom rightly argued that ideas have consequences. Thus, one's view of human nature will certainly affect one's judgment on issues such as stem-cell research, abortion, and the role of religion in public life.

Bloom, a developmental psychologist, believes that the view of human nature propagated by Descartes--involving a radical mind-body dualism--is mistaken and does not adequately help to explain the way children actually develop. I agree with him and would add that the Cartesian dualism coupled with a sacred-secular value dualism has distorted the worldview of all too many people, including Christians.

The 1940s gospel song, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through," may help those struggling in difficult circumstances to maintain hope fostered by the biblical promise that God will, in the end, "wipe every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 21:4). But to the extent that the song suggests humans are just angels driving around in automobiles--whose spirits will eventually shed their inferior material carriages forever--it is both bad creation theology and a misunderstanding of the biblical hope for fulfillment.

The book of Genesis presents God declaring that everything in and about creation is good--"very good"--and the creation remains good despite the parasitic intrusion of evil. Furthermore, the blessed outcome promised in the Bible is not a disembodied heavenly existence, but "a new heaven and a new earth." It is not for nothing that Christians have for centuries confessed their faith (through the Apostles' Creed) not in the immortality of the soul, but in "the resurrection of the body."

What should matter to those who make this confession is how to fulfill their earthly callings so that the riches of creation can unfold in ways that reflect God's purposes and standards for every sphere of life--economic, artistic, familial, political, and all others. Moreover, Christians should do this in ways that anticipate the new heaven and new earth, where justice and righteousness will fully prevail.

This does not guarantee easy answers to questions about embryonic vs. adult stem-cell research or about the many concerns surrounding abortion. But it does mean that you cannot and should not try to exclude faith-based dialogue from the public square, because different views of human life, including the "naturalism" of most scientists, are all faith-based world views.

Consequently, when Bloom asserts that "the qualities of mental life that we associate with souls are purely corporeal [and] emerge from biochemical processes of the brain" he is making a statement that is no less faith-based than the theological assertion that God "sustains all things by his powerful word" (Heb. 1:3). If the latter is correct, then nothing is "purely" corporeal, not even the dirt under our feet.

So I agree with Bloom's judgment that minds develop in dependence on bodily structures and functions, but I disagree with his biological reductionism. And Bloom should have second thoughts about it too, because if all thought is merely the inevitable consequence of the thinker's biological processes and learning history, then the very enterprise of science is rendered meaningless. A consistent naturalism also renders all moral prescriptions (such as, "Work for the welfare of humankind") meaningless, since such statements would also be the outcome of biological and other processes that are widely variable and sometimes even random in origin. The fact that most naturalists are not moral relativists does not rescue them from intellectual inconsistency; it simply means that as people, they are better than their theories. Let's hope they stay that way.

--Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Professor of Psychology and Philosophy Eastern University

26 November 2004

Democrats doing themselves in?

This is already an old article, but it is worth looking at for Americans interested in the respective prospects for their two major parties: "The Empty Cradle Will Rock: How abortion is costing the Democrats voters--literally." The subtitle pretty much gives away the thesis of the author, Larry L. Eastland. Others have picked up on the phenomenon Eastland has identified, but he brings out some fairly precise numbers. The author's conclusion?

Abortion has caused missing Democrats--and missing liberals. For advocates so fundamentally committed to changing the face of conservative America, liberals have been remarkably blind to the fact that every day the abortions they advocate dramatically decrease their power to do so. Imagine the number of followers that their abortion policies eliminate who, over the next several decades, would have emerged as the new liberal thinkers, voters, adherents, fund-raisers and workers for their cause.

If Eastland is correct, then the Republicans look set to run the United States for the foreseeable future, unless the Democrats change their attitudes. Perhaps they might turn to Democrats for Life for help in reversing their fortunes.
Prince playing hooky?

Remember Audrey Hepburn's character in Roman Holiday (1953), who runs away from being a princess for one day to enjoy the sights of Rome? Could Prince Harry have been doing something similar in Argentina?
Ukrainian crisis

Fifteen years after the opening of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism in the old eastern Europe, is Ukraine experiencing its own velvet revolution? One hopes that the current crisis over sunday's presidential runoff election will not degenerate into civil war. Ukraine is a divided country, with the east largely russified and lacking a strong sense of distinctively Ukrainian identity, but with the west more evidently Ukrainian and leaning towards Europe. More worrisome are the international ramifications, which pit Russia's Vladimir "Stalin Lite" Putin against the European Union and the US. Could Ukraine eventually split down the middle with the east casting its lot with Russia and the west with, well, the West? Stranger things have happened.

Later: It may be happening already: Deputies in Ukraine's east suggest autonomy.
Where is the Holy Grail?

Yet another theory as to the whereabouts of the legendary elusive chalice has run aground. My own theory? It's at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus waiting for Robert Sarmast to discover it.

25 November 2004

American Thanksgiving

Reading Gideon Strauss reminded me that today is Thanksgiving Day south of the border. I have not celebrated this since 1986, the year before I came to Hamilton to teach at Redeemer. But I do have fond childhood memories of this holiday, which I rather think Americans make more of than do Canadians their own early-October Thanksgiving. Unfortunately it falls entirely too close to Christmas, which casts a long backwards shadow over the previous several weeks. In truth, I rather prefer the early October timing, but I do appreciate the four-day weekend concept which Americans have. In any event, happy Thanksgiving Day to our neighbours.
Healing between eastern and western churches?

In his last years, the Pope is doing his best to heal the longstanding breach between Rome and Constantinople by returning to the Ecumenical Patriarch the remains of St John Chrysostom and St Gregory Nazianzen, which had been stolen during the Fourth Crusade in 1204: "Pope to bury schism with saints' bones." However, this article from Scotland on Sunday ends on an obvious wrong note. Istanbul was never "the capital of secular Turkey." Ankara has always been the centre of government in the Turkish Republic.
Order bestowed on ancestor?

Family lore on the paternal side has it that my great-grandfather, George Koyzis, who is variously reported to have lived between 110 and 118 years, was created a member of the Order of St Michael and St George. If he lived as long as he is reputed to have lived, then he may have been around 50 years old when Cyprus came under British control in 1878. The Order was created in 1818 to mark the cession of the Ionian Islands to the United Kingdom. After these were ceded to Greece in 1864, eligibility for the honour was expanded to include prominent colonials elsewhere within the Empire and later Commonwealth.


The Royal Collection
© 2004, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II


The Badge of the Order of St. Michael and St. George


I would love to know whether there is an archive containing a master list of all the recipients of the Order. Perhaps it is possible to write to someone -- in London presumably -- and request such information. This would enable me to prove or disprove the rumour. The fact that only 1,750 persons can hold the Order at the lowest level at any one time leads me to doubt its veracity. I have difficulty believing that my great-grandfather would have been significant enough to make it into such a small company of notables.
Alexander the not so great

Is Oliver Stone's new film, Alexander, worth seeing? We've not seen it ourselves, but it's causing enough of a stir to prompt lawsuits from Greek lawyers angry over the director's portrayal of the Macedonian conqueror as a bisexual. It is also being panned by the critics. Will the producers' recoup the $150 million invested in the film? Seems doubtful.

23 November 2004

A bit o' the bubbly

It had been nearly five years since we last drank champaign -- to toast the arrival of the millennium. But this evening we thought it appropriate to open a bottle in celebration of the publication of Nancy's book. Life is good. God is good. And I'm now married to an author.
Canada's kings

Senator Serge Joyal has made it his life's work to place portraits of all of Canada's monarchs in the buildings on Parliament Hill, including the early French kings. Sen. Joyal has generously used his own money to do this.



François I, Canada's first king?


Given that our first "British" monarch became Canada's only in 1763, one wonders whether our more recent monarchs have been misnumbered. Should Elizabeth II of England be Elizabeth I of Canada, much as James VI of Scotland became James I of England? On the other hand, since Newfoundland is now part of Canada and since it was settled by the British beginning in the 16th century, perhaps the numbering is correct -- at least for some parts of the country outside Ontario and Québec.
An epiphany

Since May I have been on sabbatical, although I have taught one course this semester. Over this time I have been reading and rereading books and articles on the subject of authority, an interest I have pursued since my graduate student days at Notre Dame. One of the subjects of my dissertation, Yves R. Simon, wrote extensively on authority in at least three books: Nature and Functions of Authority, Philosophy of Democratic Government and A General Theory of Authority. During my last year at Notre Dame, I taught four freshman seminars in which I had my poor beleaguered first-year students reading everything from Simon and Hannah Arendt to Stanley Milgram and even Robert Bolt's celebrated play, A Man for All Seasons.

Throughout much of the past half year I have not had much direction. Authority is a huge topic, and one could easily write volumes on it. Even Simon's General Theory is rather less than that, as it treats primarily authority's functions and not other related elements. (In fairness to Simon, this book was published posthumously; thus the title was likely chosen by the publisher and not by Simon himself, who would probably have given it a more modest one.) In my upper-level courses, where I have my students researching a 10- to 15-page term paper, I spend much of the semester telling them to narrow down their topic and bring a sharper focus to it. I've spent most of my sabbatical telling myself the same thing, but without much to show for this effort.

Until recently.

About two weeks ago I went back to the provisional master plan, containing a list of chapters and descriptions of what will appear in each. I began to look at the various theories of authority as propounded by the likes of Arendt, Carl J. Friedrich, Max Weber, Richard Sennett, Lawrence Kohlberg, Milgram, Rousseau, and so forth. It occurred to me that virtually all of these confuse authority with something else, mostly by reducing authority to one facet of the whole. At this point a way of categorizing these theories suggested itself, and I began to write as more of this came into focus.

Then on sunday evening I was sitting at table with Theresa over dinner. (Nancy was out of town this past weekend at the annual SBL/AAR meeting in San Antonio.) In the middle of our meal I had something of an epiphany. Suddenly everything I had been working on over the past six months crystallized into a central thesis, along with a subtitle: "Authority and the human person." I think I've made a rather significant discovery, but I am as yet reluctant to share the contents of this until I have received some feedback from colleagues. (I will be presenting the results of my research at a colloquium next semester here at Redeemer.)

I might add at this point that, because I was feeling so lost in all this, I had asked for prayers from two colleagues near the end of last month. One of these is a rather remarkable prayer warrior who has the uncanny ability -- spiritual gift, really -- to know in advance exactly what people need to be prayed for. (This probably has a name, but I don't know what it is. I have reason to think I was temporarily given this unnamed gift on only one occasion -- when I was in her presence.) The three of us brought my need before God together in my office. I strongly believe that it is more than coincidence that things began to come together for me shortly thereafter.

If I have been writing less in this blog in recent days, you now know why. I still have a lot to read and reflect on. I do not think it will take me seven years to write this book, as it did my last -- and first. But there is still much to do before it's done.

20 November 2004

Kudos to tNP

Congratulations are due to Caleb Stegall and company for receiving another mention in the print media: "Local conservative's Web site catching on nationally."
Europe and America . . . yes, again

The European Parliament has finally approved the new, revamped European Commission -- minus the controversial Rocco Buttiglione, who had the temerity to admit that he actually believes his church's ethical teachings. His treatment at the hands of the EP undoubtedly inspired him to write the following opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal: "Of God and Men," in which he contrasts religious America with secular Europe. Chuck Colson picked up on this in one of his own Breakpoint commentaries a few days ago: "Reconsidering Secularism." David Klinghoffer, though himself a Jew, supports Bush the Christian for reasons given here: "What We Bush Voters Share: In God We Trust." Writes Klinghoffer:

Where, then, does the difference lie between those who look forward to the next four years and those who dread them? It has to do with a philosophical question: not of what is right or wrong, but why certain things are right or wrong.

There are two possibilities. Either we know what's right because God or his earthly agents inform us through objective revelation or tradition — or, we know because that's just what the better-informed human beings appear to have decided, through a subjective process of moral democracy. President Bush is the country's most prominent believer in objective morality.

I wish it were all as simple as this. As a believing Christian who is convinced that one's faith must have public significance, I would seem to fall into the demographic that re-elected Bush. I dislike the fact that so many Europeans -- and Canadians -- are keen, not only to discard their own spiritual heritage, but to try to forget that it even played a role in their histories. I am unequivocally pro-life. I believe that one tampers with long established human institutions at considerable peril. So that makes me a Bushie, right?

Not exactly. Unfortunately, I fear that many Christians, as well as observant Jews, are so caught up in the current culture war polarization that they risk falling prey to three errors by failing to recognize: (1) that, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has aptly put it, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart; (2) that both sides are caught up in the idolatries of the day even as one more easily speaks the language of conventional religiosity than the other; and (3) that politics in the real world inevitably necessitates a willingness, not to seize power, but, along with our opponents, to share it for the sake of accomplishing admittedly partial goods. My own book addresses the second point in particular, although the other two certainly play a role in my argument.

I could wish that the "red state" people, with whom I otherwise identify, would be as wary of the older forms of liberalism and nationalism as they are of the more decadent late forms of liberalism and socialism. I could wish that they would see through grandiose rhetoric attributing redemptive qualities to the spread of freedom and perhaps adopt a more modest, Burkean appreciation for peace, order and good government where it is actually found. I could wish that they would recognize that their own country is but one country among many, all of whose governments are called to do public justice as they best understand it within their own territories. I could wish for more, but perhaps it's best to stop for now.
A right to health care?

Being the father of a special needs child, I can easily sympathize with the parents who fought this case through the courts: "Top court: B.C. doesn't have to fund autism treatment." While I have not followed the case all that closely, I am nevertheless inclined to think that the Supreme Court made the correct decision, as painful as it might be for those involved: "Canada's highest court ruled Friday that it's up to the British Columbia government to decide whether to pay for costly early treatment for children with autism." Clearly some sort of relief must be found for those who can hardly afford the needed $60,000 a year. However, it would have set a dangerous precedent if a court were to order the expenditure of public funds raised through taxation -- a responsibility properly belonging to a representative parliamentary body. It is one thing for a court to decide that the citizen has a right to be free from arbitrary detention; it is quite another for it to rule that she has a right to receive a service irrespective of her fellow citizens' willingness and ability to pay for it.

19 November 2004

Postmodern mediaevalism?

What will international politics look like in the future? Jonathan Edelstein and Gideon Strauss offer their opinions on the subject. Edelstein believes that the current accepted legal definition of sovereign statehood, enshrined in the Montevideo Convention of 1934, is gradually being supplanted by a plethora of international actors which will effectively resurrect much of the untidiness of the western middle ages. Gideon confesses that he is still attached to a world defined by Montevideo, or perhaps the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, with its clear boundaries and institutional symmetry.

Which is more likely to do public justice? My own view is that, in a world boasting "tens of thousands of international actors rather than hundreds", conflicts are far more likely to arise without a clear avenue of appeal for peaceful resolution. Although I have never been an aficionado of the modern concept of sovereignty, it is nevertheless true that its principal architects, Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes, saw it as a way of ending the sorts of civil wars that had plagued France and England in the late middle ages and early modern era. If it is unclear who is the final political authority within a given territory, the possibilities of actual bloodshed would seem to increase.

Yet, as Edelstein points out, there have always been exceptions to the Montevideo/Westphalian international order, even during modernity's heyday. For example, the Order of Malta possesses sovereign status in international law, despite possessing no territory of its own for just over two centuries. Moreover, my own sense of the matter is that holding citizenship in more than one country is far more common today than it was a few decades ago. Perhaps I am simply more aware of this phenomenon because I myself am now a citizen of two countries, with the right to claim two and possibly three additional citizenships. In principle, given that the ordinary person's loyalties are already manifold in a complex, differentiated society, it should be possible to maintain multiple political allegiances as well, particularly when the states at issue enjoy friendly relations.

If the international realm is in fact becoming less tidy and if the classic modern definition of sovereignty is becoming less relevant to global realities, then we would do well to seek international conventions and institutions capable of bringing some order to all of this. In the meantime, I am encouraging my better students to continue their studies in political science with a focus on international relations. For three decades now I have found the neocalvinist school, associated with the likes of Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, exceedingly fruitful for understanding the place of politics in God's world. Unfortunately there is among followers of this school a real dearth of reflection on the international realm. To some extent James W. Skillen has sought to rectify this lack in his own works. But much more remains to be done.
Cyprus in the news again

Could Turkey be admitted to the European Union without extending diplomatic recognition to EU member Cyprus? Bizarre as it sounds, this is what Ankara hopes. In the meantime, could "Atlantis" be nothing more than 100,000-year-old submarine volcanoes? So says a German physicist.

18 November 2004

Really? Even more than Doctor Seuss?

Theresa to her mother, who had just received the first copy of Paul, Monotheism and the People of God from the publisher yesterday: "Mommy, you're my favourite author!"

17 November 2004

Bush's second-term foreign policy team

Ever since the establishment of the National Security Advisor as the chief foreign policy official within the White House, there has been something of an on-going turf war between this person and the Secretary of State, the American counterpart to a foreign minister. This has marked more than one administration. Most famously perhaps, Richard Nixon's NSA, Henry Kissinger, clearly overshadowed Secretary of State William Rogers and eventually replaced him in that office. Now Bush's Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has resigned and will be replaced by the NSA, Condoleezza Rice, pending confirmation in the Senate. What does this indicate for the direction of Bush's controversial foreign policy? According to the Toronto Star, more of the same. This will likely disappoint allies who saw Powell as a voice of reason within an administration otherwise known for its unilateralism. In the meantime this certainly does not help the US to win friends and influence people.

15 November 2004

New book out

This looks like a book worth having: Paul, Monotheism and the People of God. Find a place for it on your shelf. Right next to Political Visions and Illusions.

14 November 2004

Famous quotation

Who is the author of this famous quotation: "A new idea is like a child. It's easier to conceive than to deliver"? Whoever it is doesn't spell his name the way some think it's spelt.
Sarmast's 'discovery'

Robert Sarmast's announcement came today in Limassol, Cyprus: "We have definitely found the Acropolis of Atlantis." However, Cyprus' chief government archaeologist remains sceptical. So when will someone actually go down and take a look?
Judicial overreach, yet again


OTTAWA, 2011 - The Supreme Court of Canada today ruled unanimously that all legal definitions of everything are unconstitutional. Because they discriminate against whoever and whatever does not conform to them, such definitions violate the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Parliament has been given 60 days to rewrite all laws to conform to this decision.

Unthinkable? Would that it were so.
Kuyper at the movies

Our Theresa has recently taken a liking to the Disney film, Mary Poppins, which was released when I was nine years old. This was the first of two cinematic vehicles for the luminous Julie Andrews, whose phenomenal singing voice also graced The Sound of Music a year later. Today, as Theresa was watching Mary Poppins once again, it occurred to me that both films share something else besides a female lead. Each is about a father who is deeply confused about the basics of what Abraham Kuyper called, rather inelegantly, sphere sovereignty. In the first George Banks runs his home as if it were a financial institution. In the second Captain von Trapp rules his family as if it were the crew of a ship. I suppose the films touched such a chord with so many of us because we knew intuitively that a family is a family and children are children. Any effort to treat children as bank employees or naval ensigns is an obvious abuse of legitimate parental authority. In both films Julie Andrews manages to set straight these confused men. I wonder whether she's ever read any Kuyper?

13 November 2004

Cyprus and Atlantis: drumroll please

After months of exploration, American researcher Robert Sarmast is preparing to announce tomorrow the discovery of "evidence of man-made structures submerged in the sea between Cyprus and Syria." If so, then it could confirm that my ancestors were indeed Atlanteans.
Evangelicals, secularists and self-criticism

In the wake of the recent US election, the pundits are predictably calling attention to the large turnout of evangelical protestants which helped to put George W. Bush back in the White House. Needless to say, they are not pleased. Some indeed are likening such "fundamentalists" to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Nonsense, says Paul Marshall in "Fundamentalists & Other Fun People."

In claiming that monotheism and reliance on revelation are necessarily terroristic, these secular pundits condemn Christians, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarians, Sabeans, and Bahais, to name a few, along with George Washington, James Madison, and a host of other Founding Fathers, as inherently violent. Notice, however, that the condemnation extends also to the revealed monotheistic religion of Islam--and no one objects. Yet when Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham said that violence is inherent in Islam, they were pilloried by respectable opinion. These days, religious intolerance and theological illiteracy are far more conspicuous in the pages of the New York Times than among most southern fundamentalists.

There is also hypocrisy and self-contradiction. [Thomas] Friedman seems blissfully unaware that, even as he condemns others for holding out their particular faith as supreme, he is asserting the supremacy of his own passionately held view. His secularist critique attempts the miraculous combination of denouncing others' faith while attacking those who denounce others' faith. Do not try this trick at home. It should be attempted only by seasoned professionals who lack any capacity for self-criticism or even self-awareness.

Indeed, as Timothy Sherratt argues in the latest Capital Commentary from the Center for Public Justice, there is reason for self-criticism on both sides of the partisan divide:

As for confronting their own limitations, Democrats may need little urging. For despite unprecedented unity, strong organization, and an able candidate, the party suffered a clear defeat in the popular vote. Will Democrats be willing to ask the hard questions, however? Will they ask how the party reconciles responsible environmental stewardship with reckless individualism on marriage and life issues? Will they question why liberalism should be the foe rather than the friend of faith-based social services or of parents' primary responsibility for their children's education?

Self-reflection is also long overdue among evangelical Christians who now enjoy unprecedented influence in Republican ranks. Despite their strong defense of a biblical view of marriage, many are unreconstructed individualists who equate stewardship of the environment with liberal elitism and believe that unilateralism in foreign policy is justified because America is God's chosen nation. It is a Christian axiom that all communities, institutions, and persons are broken, reflecting the sinfulness of humanity. But communities, institutions and persons can, by the grace of God, experience transformation. The conditions for such transformation are humility, repentance and forgiveness. In the end, political humiliation rather than political triumph may make for easier transit through this particular needle's eye.

12 November 2004

Requiescat in pace



Yasser Arafat
1929-2004
distinguished winner
of the
Nobel Peace Prize
Kangaroo care

Six years ago last week our Theresa was born 14 weeks premature. Her original due date was 10 February 1999, but she was actually born on 3 November of the previous year. I will not repeat the story told here, which some of my readers have undoubtedly already seen. But during the three and a half weeks that Theresa was at the level-3 neonatal intensive care unit at McMaster University Medical Centre, we were encouraged by the nurses to practise something called "kangaroo care," which involved skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby or father and baby a few hours a day. This supplemented Theresa's lengthy stay in the incubator. Now, however, a new report has been released indicating that premature infants might actually flourish with kangaroo care altogether replacing the incubator. Time will tell whether this technique becomes widespread.
Northern lights

I have seen the aurora borealis only once in my life. In 1978 I had just started a master's programme at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. At the beginning of the year the entire community would go on a retreat to a monastery north of Toronto, near King City. One evening, while there, we were treated to a magnificent display of the northern lights. As we were far enough away from the city, there was no light pollution to obscure it. The date was 28 September. When we awoke the following morning, we discovered that Pope John Paul I, né Albino Luciani, had died overnight after only 33 days on the papal throne. An odd coincidence, to be sure.
Legends with basis in reality?

Do Indonesians' stories of the Ebu Gogo reflect a collective memory of a time when Homo floresiensis walked the island of Flores?
Morse on marriage

Running against the current, Jennifer Roback Morse believes that the definition of marriage ought to be tightened, not loosened. A widened definition, coupled with Trudeau's dictum that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, has more easily facilitated fraud. In fact, marriage was dealt a blow already some four decades ago:

Our modern innovation of "no-fault" divorce is really unilateral divorce. If one person wants a divorce, the marriage ends, regardless of the other person's wishes. We have no idea how many reluctantly divorced people are walking around our society, but no doubt there are a quite a few. People who want to keep working on the marriage — people who want to keep the vows they made — these are the people who are penalized by the current system. Tell me again how this makes us all freer and happier?

Perhaps it's time to repeal the current "no fault" divorce régime and to reinstate the legal supports undergirding marital vows.

11 November 2004

New issues published

Here is a somewhat belated announcement concerning two excellent web-based periodicals. New issues of Comment and The New Pantagruel have come out and are gracing virtual newsstands throughout cyberspace. Not to toot my own horn, but I would be happy if everyone would read my own article in the former, "Modernity and differentiation," which is in some respects a continuation of my article in the September issue, "Westernization or clash of civilizations?" Happy reading.

10 November 2004

The development of liberalism

Joe Carter, the Texas überblogger, has quite adequately recounted the five stages in the development of liberalism as described in my book. The stages are, once again:
1. The Hobbesian commonwealth
2. The night watchman state
3. The regulatory state
4. The equal opportunity state
5. The choice-enhancement state

Each stage beyond the second sees a progressive expansion in the reach of the state, as sovereign individuals, desiring to pursue their own ends, continually alter the terms of the social contract when these ends demand it. At the second stage, the parties to the contract wish to keep government as small as possible, but as the combined effects of their self-seeking lead to inevitable abuses, government is called on to rectify these. Because liberalism recasts political community as a voluntary association, there is no fundamental reason to oppose the state's expansion as long as the citizens wish it. Thus at its third stage, liberals come to expect government to curb the large corporate concerns. At its fourth stage, they call on government further to secure equal opportunity. And finally, in its fifth stage, corresponding to the last four decades, liberals call on government to cushion the impact of a wide variety of personal choices whose consequences would otherwise be destructive.



Is this our future?


But is this really the final stage? I didn't mention it in my book, but I do follow liberalism's logic even further in the classroom. So what lies beyond the fifth stage? I don't know for certain, of course, but I strongly suspect that it's the first stage again. In other words, the development of liberalism may prove to be circular. How so? At the risk of oversimplification, let's examine the most famous sentence in the United States Supreme Court's notorious decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992):

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

This is heady stuff, to be sure. Just imagine. Defining my own concept of the universe, or of existence itself. I didn't know I got to do that. Now imagine everyone doing the same thing. It seems to me that little word chaos was coined some time ago to describe the likely result. Thomas Hobbes had his own expression for it: Bellum omnium contra omnes. "War of all against all." For which, of course, he prescribed the Leviathan, an omnicompetent ruler knowing no legal or ethical bounds, only practical ones. Is this where we are heading? Are we destined to repeat the whole process again? Stay tuned.
Subversion or restoration?

Byron Borger waxes enthusiastic over Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat's new book, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, just out from InterVarsity Press. In the course of his review, Borger alludes to Walsh's Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in a Dangerous Time. Having worked with IVP, I know that an author's preferred title is not necessarily the one that makes it to the cover. Yet I imagine that the subverting part did indeed come from Walsh. While I sense in him a certain affinity for the word subversive, I wonder whether this is the happiest term to use to describe the role of Jesus Christ's followers in God's world. According to dictionary.com subvert has the following meanings:
1. To destroy completely; ruin.
2. To undermine the character, morals, or allegiance of; corrupt.
3. To overthrow completely.

Given these overwhelmingly negative meanings, would it not be better to use more obviously biblical metaphors which see the gospel as yeast (Luke 13:20-21) or mustard seed (Luke 13:18-19)? As salt (Matthew 5:13) or light (Matthew 5:14-16)? To be sure, God stands in judgement on arrogant evildoers and his followers might be seen to be undermining their pretensions. Yet the good news of redemption in Jesus Christ is not a corrupting or decaying influence. It is one of restoring creation to its original goodness -- something altogether masked in the term subversion.

09 November 2004

Election post mortem

In the wake of last week's presidential election in the US, many analysts will be trying to gauge its significance for understanding the state of political life in that country. After the indecisive 2000 election a number of observers noted the peculiar distribution of red (Republican) and blue (Democratic) states.


US News & World Report


A similar distribution can be seen in last tuesday's election:


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Remarkably, this replicates a pattern seen over a century ago after the Democratic Party nominated William Jennings Bryan to oppose William McKinley in 1896. The difference, of course, is that party loyalties were reversed, with Republicans holding the northeast, Great Lakes and west coast, and Democrats holding the south and remainder of the west. The issues then were largely economic.

Today it seems that the frontline in the so-called "culture wars," famously described a dozen years ago by James Davison Hunter, has come to run along the partisan boundary between Democrats and Republicans, something which was certainly not the case as recently as 50 years ago, when evangelical protestants were evenly divided between the two parties and Catholics were firmly tied to the Democrats.

Following Walter Russell Mead, James Pinkerton sees Bush's second victory as a "Revolt of the Jacksonians," that is, of the spiritual followers of Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the US. He might just as easily have mentioned Bryan himself, an evangelical Christian whose last days were spent testifying for the prosecution in the infamous Scopes "Monkey" Trial in 1925.

At the very least, it seems that the Democrats have allowed themselves to move too far out of the American mainstream, particularly with respect to their now monolithic pro-choice position. At a time when support for the current abortion licence is noticeably diminishing, especially among the young, the party's stance is difficult to understand. By contrast, Bush clearly appealed to those voters believing that the unborn deserve legal protection and that a stable definition of marriage ought not to be tampered with. Not only did evangelical protestants go for Bush, but even Catholics favoured Bush over Kerry, despite the latter's membership in the Catholic Church.

There is something of an irony in the respective positions of the Democratic and Republican Parties. More than three decades ago the former adopted a number of reforms intended to democratize more thoroughly the candidate selection process. This would presumably put the party in closer touch with its own grassroots and disempower the old party bosses, such as the late Chicago major Richard J. Daley. Yet, once adopted, these reforms effectively enabled a small dedicated cadre of activists to gain control of the party machinery. These pulled the party increasingly away from the American mainstream and pushed conservative protestants and Catholics into the Republican Party, which had adopted similar internal democratizing reforms. That the Democratic Party has taken an overt secularizing turn has been chronicled most notably by Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio.

I wouldn't wish to overstate the differences between the two parties, both of which represent the larger legacy of liberalism, though drawing on different strands. Using my own categories, the Republicans tend to reflect the influence of the 2nd and 3rd stages of liberalism, viz., the night watchman state and the regulatory state, while the Democrats embody liberalism in its 4th and 5th stages, viz., the equal opportunity state and the choice-enhancement state. Republicans have figured out a way to synthesize traditional christian belief with this classical liberal ideology. Witness Bush's speeches ascribing near redemptive qualities to the spread of freedom. Yet the Democrats have bought into a more obviously secular mindset for which belief in a transcendent God is increasingly foreign. How long this can last is difficult to say. The self-interested desire to win power, if nothing else, may force an internal reassessment within the Democratic Party.

That the Republicans' synthesis might be an unstable one is something which has not yet occurred to its supporters, especially among evangelicals and Catholics. However, for the near future the "Grand Old Party" has the advantage over its opponent.

Postscript: Here is the "Purple America" electoral map from the website of Robert J. Vanderbei of Princeton:



It better indicates the proportionate strength of popular support for Bush and Kerry on a county-by-county basis than the blue/red electoral maps shown above. Support for Bush in the heartland is, after all, by no means unanimous. Nor is Kerry wholly preferred in the metropolis. Thanks to Paul Bowman for tracking this down for us.

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