Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

31 January 2004

Professor investigated

Here's an interesting story from a year ago: "University professor was investigated under Patriot Act." Somehow the surname seems oddly familiar.

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Court decision

The Supreme Court of Canada has quite sensibly ruled that the majority of parents are not criminals: "Supreme Court upholds spanking law."

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30 January 2004

Canadian humour

I'm not big on ethnic jokes, but there are a few good ones involving Canada. For example, there's the one about four persons from different countries who are given responsibility for writing an essay on elephants. The American picks this title: "Building a bigger and better elephant and sending it to the moon." The Frenchman comes up with the following: "The love life of the elephant." The Briton's entry is: "Elephants and the stiff upper lip." The Canadian writes: "Elephants: a federal or provincial responsibility?"

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Course evaluations

I just received back the course evaluations from last semester. Somewhat to my surprise, there was a fairly solid consensus among my students that Ancient and Mediaeval Political Theory would be immeasurably enhanced by relocating the class to a "licensed establishment." I am sure the Dean of the Social Sciences Division has taken note of this, and it will undoubtedly come up at my year-end review.

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Cyprus unity at hand?

The push is on for a settlement of the 30-year-old Cyprus stalemate, and the US is getting involved: "US vows to push for Cyprus accord before key EU date."

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Related by marriage?

From the CBC: "Calvert holding Martin to health care promise." Could the premier of Saskatchewan be a distant in-law? My guess is that he probably is in some way.

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Steel giant falters

This is bad news for Hamilton: "Stelco to file for creditors protection."

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Just defence policy

One need hardly be a flaming militarist to recognize that we are not carrying our weight with respect to our own defence: "NATO head eyes Cdn defence budget." And if not, we shouldn't be surprised if we are not listened to in Brussels and Washington.

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29 January 2004

Bloopers, part II

Here is some more inadvertent humour from student papers and exams:

Concerning conservative statesman Edmund Burke: "He wanted to keep up with the status quo."

"In 1798, Madison and Jefferson issued the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in response to the Alien and Sedation Acts which aimed at silencing Jeffersonian Republicans." Sure. If you can't keep them quiet any other way, by all means put them to sleep.

The followers of at least one ideology seem to gravitate towards nudism: "Too often, conservatives look to the past with nothing but rose colored glasses on."

Did Canada's foremost philosopher write his famous Lament for a Nation in the local pub? "Grant raises several good pints in his assessment of the Canadian people."

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Moralism or political wisdom?

Chuck Colson's Breakpoint commentary for today, "American Moralism: Why the World Needs More of It," is not one of his better contributions. Back in 1987 Paul Marshall wrote an essay, "Politics Not Ethics: A Christian Perspective on the State," that Colson and his associates could stand to read before so recklessly embracing "moralism." Here's Marshall on moralism:

[I]n politics we must be concerned with more than morality in general. We must talk about a particular type of morality -- that of governments and states. It is not enough to know that some things such as wife battering or pornography are bad. We have to know whether they are properly matters for government action and we have to grapple with the judicial minefields of family legislation and censorship. Similarly, we must not think that something has to be immoral in the first place for governments to do something about it. Some actions, such as driving through a red light, are quite all right if there isn't a law against them. Laws can be regulations of things that are not wrong in themselves but whose regulation would achieve a good public purpose.

Unfortunately Colson's ready embrace of moralism shows little understanding of the limits and complexity of politics, particularly in the international realm, which is surprising in someone with his political experience. Here's Colson:

This attempt right now to bring democracy and freedom to the Middle East isn’t only about national security. It stems from the moral conviction that tyranny and despotism are bad and democracy is good.

The only reason we care about the freedom of people thousands of miles away is our moralism and commitment to universal moral principles. Our concern for human rights is a product of America’s Christian heritage. We refuse to sit idly by while the human rights of others are trampled.

One need hardly be a political realist to recognize that a single well-meaning nation can hardly right all wrongs in the world. A further recognition of the role political cultures play in specific political communities would caution against the facile assumption that democratic forms of government can simply be transplanted into inhospitable soil. The following must thus be asked: what can and ought a single government do internationally, given the divine mandate to do justice? An appeal to an undifferentiated morality will offer next to no guidance here.

Colson would probably define himself as a conservative in some sense. Yet in this case he would probably benefit from a reading of Edmund Burke rather than Woodrow Wilson, whom he is increasingly coming to resemble.

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What's your favourite number?

Mine is BR 115 .P7 K655 2003. What is it? It's the Library of Congress number for Political Visions and Illusions.

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Update on Gary Chiang

This message was posted today by our vice president (academic), Dr. Jacob Ellens: "Please give thanks to our Lord that Gary Chiang came through his operation well yesterday afternoon. He will remain in hospital for a dozen days for monitoring but his doctors are pleased with the outcome. A relieved and grateful Jennifer [his wife] plans to teach today."

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28 January 2004

Is there a European problem?

In "Europe’s Problem—and Ours," author George Weigel reflects on the gap that has developed between Europe and the United States since the end of the Second World War and suggests that it is largely due to what he calls the European problem. Writes Weigel:

My proposal is that, at its most fundamental level, this “European problem” is best understood in moral and cultural terms. My further suggestion is that the “problem” is not just one besetting our European friends and allies; their “European problem” is our [i.e., America's] problem, too.

Weigel cites the by now familiar statistics concerning Europe's coming depopulation, coupled with the emptying of its churches and a burgeoning immigrant muslim population. He argues that a number of "Slavic" thinkers, such as Vladimir Soloviev, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and of course the current pope (whose biography Weigel authored), have understood the crisis of European civilization better than most other observers. Americans furthermore have reason to be concerned about the European problem, in part because the Roman virtue of pietas "teaches us both reverence and gratitude for those on whose shoulders we stand." Americans are, after all, heirs of European civilization.

One could, of course, easily point to flaws in Weigel's analysis. For example, it overlooks the possibility that ill-conceived foreign and defence policies in Washington have exacerbated unnecessarily the gap between Europe and America. If the French and German governments were unwilling to come on-side the Bush administration's agenda in Iraq, then at the very least one would have to judge that the arguments put forth in its favour were simply not persuasive enough. For this failure the US President and his closest advisors must ultimately bear responsibility.

On the other hand, it is difficult to deny the reality of the larger cultural crisis in Europe to which Weigel alerts his readers. Recently I was conversing with two older Dutch-Canadian men who had grown up in the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, a once thriving Reformed denomination in which all were well versed in the Scriptures and, as one of these gentlemen put it, "everyone was an amateur theologian." Sad to say, in the space of a generation or so the GKN, along with the other major churches in the Netherlands, were decimated as the young were largely lost to the church and outright heresies came to be preached from the pulpit with impunity. Indeed the merger of the GKN with two other bodies into the united Protestant Church of the Netherlands is hardly a sign of confessional and spiritual vigour but more resembles the merger of three unprofitable corporations attempting to cut their losses. If Weigel's analysis is correct, then it may be that the prolonged crisis occasioned by the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 eventually had its impact on the culture as a whole, including the health of the churches.

And what of Canada? Canada has historically been more conscious than the US of its connections with Europe, and especially Great Britain. However, my experience living in this country for nearly two decades has persuaded me that Canadians are more determined than even Americans to forget their roots in European civilization without having anything coherent with which to replace it. Liberal education in the larger universities appears to have been replaced by highly specialized technical training. Our national media regularly -- and for the most part unfairly -- attack the largest christian church in this country with seeming impunity. Certain parts of the country, especially Québec, are in the grip of an oppressive secularism unwilling to accommodate confessional plurality to any great degree. Ontario itself has recently repealed the groundbreaking law allowing parents of children in independent schools to claim a tax credit for tuition.

Yet there are signs of hope on both sides of the Atlantic. I like to think that my own employer, Redeemer University College, is part of this, along with other similar organizations, including the Christian Labour Association of Canada and the Center for Public Justice. Even in Europe it may be that, by God's grace, much as the Irish re-evangelized the continent after the collapse of the Roman imperium, Africans, Koreans and Filipinos, as well as the faithful remnant among the Dutch, Swiss, &c., will help to reinvigorate the christian churches in the new century.

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Prayers requested

Please pray for my colleague in biology, Dr. Gary Chiang, who is scheduled to undergo surgery for a brain aneurism this afternoon in Toronto. This came up very suddenly and is, of course, a quite dangerous condition. I will keep everyone apprised of further developments.

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27 January 2004

Thanks, guys

Some undergraduate students make it exceedingly difficult for their professors not to become fond of them. Redeemer University College seems to have more than its fair share of these. Three of them have generously shovelled our driveway in recent weeks, one the day of my wife's surgery a few weeks ago and two more this afternoon. On more than one occasion God has sent ministering angels to us in the form of students.

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Inbox snowed under

My email inbox has been cluttered with large numbers of error messages containing attachments, some of which purport to come from Redeemer students. Here's an article that seems to explain what's going on: "New massive computer virus strikes." If you get these, by all means don't open the attachments.

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Snow day

The snow day is a venerable Canadian tradition dating back to the first time horses and sleighs, the all-terrain vehicles of their day, were replaced by automobiles and paved roadways requiring ploughing. It is a movable feast day of the highest order, one or more of which occurs virtually every winter in this country. Last year we had one very near the end of the second semester -- in April, as a matter of fact. This year it falls much earlier in the season -- today. Classes at Redeemer and most other educational institutions are cancelled, leaving us with plenty of time to try to free our driveways from the encroaching polar ice caps.

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26 January 2004

Sovereignty versus pluriformity

This semester I am teaching Modern Political Theory, the second of two courses in the history of political theory. We are reading a succession of primary sources, along with Dante Germino's Machiavelli to Marx: Modern Western Political Thought, our principal secondary source. I do not use many audio-visual materials in my upper-level political theory courses, but a few years ago I created the following illustration to help students get a sense of the character of the period we are studying:



The single black line at the left of the diagram represents the synthesis of Greco-Roman and Christian cultural elements in mediaeval Christendom. Thomas Aquinas' scholastic philosophy stands at the pinnacle of this grand synthetic civilization. Around the year 1500 the line divides into two, with the upper line representing sovereignty and the lower line pluriformity. The sovereignty line is the philosophical mainstream in the modern era, with such figures as Machiavelli, Bodin, Grotius, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Marx setting the tone. As different as they are, they are compelled by their religious commitments to seek the principle of unity within God's creation rather than in God himself.

Those along the lower line, including Luther, Calvin, Althusius and (mais bien sur!) Kuyper, are able to affirm a high degree of societal pluriformity because they recognize, in Oliver O'Donovan's words that "unity is proper to the creator, complexity to the created world." Those recognizing the truth of this dictum are far less likely to fall into the reductionisms characteristic of the modern era. Consequently they are less likely to be attracted to the various manifestations of political absolutism that follow upon these.

Montesquieu is something of a borderline case. In some respects he would appear to be a typical modern, yet in holding that it is possible -- and indeed desirable -- to divide sovereignty among more than one governmental body, he is most atypical. Both Hobbes and Rousseau believed it dangerous, if not ultimately impossible, to divide sovereignty. Montesquieu was an admirer of the English constitution and had an influence on the American founders in the 1780s.

To see the full-size version of this illustration click here.

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Parisian problems

Oh, the joys of laundering in a foreign country. Just be sure not to hang those headscarves out to dry in a public place. You might wind up en prison.

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25 January 2004

Thirty-one years later

On thursday tens of thousands of people turned out in Washington, DC, for the annual March for Life on the 31st anniversary of the US Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion on demand, as reported here: "Under the Radar: Abortion and its discontents." Predictably perhaps, the major news services all but ignored the event. A google search reveals that, with a few exceptions, only pro-life organizations covered the event. More heartening was the large presence of young people under 25, who are increasingly opposed to abortion, according to recent opinion polls.

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24 January 2004

Spreading freedom where no one has gone before

Could George W. Bush have been looking at this website or something similar when he came up with his dream of sending human beings to Mars? Could this be the logical consequence of a Wilsonian foreign policy here on earth? Making the solar system safe for democracy would seem to necessitate first making its planets safe for human habitation.

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Why is it?

Although I've lived in Hamilton for nearly 17 years, I've never been able to figure out why the city bus system is still called the Hamilton Street Railway when the last streetcar ran way back in 1951.

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23 January 2004

Bush at work

Why on earth would the White House post a transcript of this non-press conference on its website?

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Dooyeweerd on international politics

The following is taken from my dissertation on the political thought of Yves R. Simon and Herman Dooyeweerd, "Towards a Christian Democratic Pluralism" (University of Notre Dame, 1986):

Whether Dooyeweerd would actually favour the establishment of a world state of some type cannot be gleaned from his sparse comments on the international arena. Readers of Dooyeweerd differ on this point. C. T. McIntire sees Dooyeweerd as defending "the modern anarchy in the international politics of states and nation-states as normative." L. Kalsbeek, on the other hand, sees at least the possibility in Dooyeweerd's thought of "an organization of nations with a supranational police force at its disposal to maintain order among states which have relinquished the right to wage war on their own account." This writer is inclined to agree with Kalsbeek that the seeds of a supranational political order are indeed to be found in Dooyeweerd. It may be that Dooyeweerd would not be willing to accept all the implications of a world state, but his thought as a whole seems at least to tend in this direction.

I am not certain I would now come to the precisely the same conclusion, and a rereading of the relevant section in Dooyeweerd's New Critique of Theoretical Thought (pp. 473-477) reveals more nuances than I picked up nearly two decades ago. Here is the relevant passage from the New Critique quoted by Kalsbeek. It is one of the few places in his writings where he deals with international politics and the dilemmas raised by it:

The Christian view of the State must never capitulate to a naturalistic theory of the "raison d'État" elevating the "sacred egotism" of the States to a kind of natural law in international relations. Such a theory is intrinsically false and contrary to the individuality-structure of the States as well as to the basic structure of the international order.

The internal vital law of the body politic is not a law of nature but bears a normative character. A State can never justify an absolutely selfish international policy of the strong hand with an appeal to its vital interests. God has not given the States such a structure that, with a kind of natural necessity, they are compelled to carry on a Kain's [sic] policy for the sake of self-preservation. Only a blind man does not see that the vital interests of the nations are in a great many ways mutually interwoven. It is not the political structure of national life but the sins of the nations that have caused the individualistic selfish power of the States to dominate international politics.

In international legal relations the internal public juridical structure of an individual body politic is necessarily correlated with that of the other States in public juridical, inter-communal relations. Similarly the love of a particular country cannot fulfil the moral commandment in the international moral relations between the States without its counter-weight in international love of one's neighbour among the nations. Any absolutization of patriotism leads to a blind chauvinism, which lacks the true moral sense of love. It is an absolutely un-Christian thought that the commandment of temporal societal love of one's fellowmen is not valid in international intercourse between the nations organized in States. International relations are also subject to the moral law; they cannot be ruled by a purely egotistic principle. But the structural principle of the international norm of love is not identical with that of private moral intercourse between individual men (III, pp. 476-477).

The difficulty raised here is finding concrete mechanisms to ensure that the central love command given to humanity is followed in the international realm when the temptation is so great simply to use state sovereignty to follow one's own self-defined interests at the expense of those of other states. Federation is a possibility, as Dooyeweerd himself admits (pp. 475-476), although he does not seem to envision it encompassing the entire globe.

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Dealing with the cold

This is one of the coldest winters we've had in a decade or so. The new temperature sign at HDCH read -19 C, as I drove past this morning. These are the sorts of temperatures I associate with my early years in Chicago and Minnesota.

While in Minnesota some thirty years ago, I came up with a way to start up my car in the morning while others had trouble. Before retiring for the night, I would go out and start the car and keep it running for about ten minutes. While the engine was warming up, I would take a shovel and pile snow on top of the hood. This would insulate the front of the car and help to keep the heat in. Sure enough, the next morning there would still be enough heat to get the engine going fairly quickly. I've had to resort to this method here in Hamilton only a few times.

Of course, if you're fortunate enough to have a garage, you needn't worry about this at all.

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22 January 2004

Blogging for votes

The 2004 presidential campaign south of the border may go down in history as the first blog campaign, as reported in today's Toronto Star.

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21 January 2004

Global federation

In principle, I have no real objection to the establishment of another layer of federal government encompassing the entire globe, as proposed by H. Henry Meeter. However, I can see some potential problems with the idea:

(1) A mere nation-state is limited by the existence of neighbouring nation-states. One of the genuine deterrents to a state committing injustice in the international realm is the threat of other states intervening. A global federation would have no comparable external limitations. This might increase the chances of a global tyranny, the ultimate nightmare scenario.

(2) Would such a federal government have the power to tax? And if so, would there be a sufficiently representative parliamentary body on such a massive scale to supervise this power? Related to this is the question whether such a government would be directly elected or whether it would represent merely the constituent states, i.e., the current United Nations model.

(3) Existing federations tend to encompass an area marked by either a single culture or similar cultures. A global federation would find it difficult to function in cohesive fashion given the sheer diversity of cultures spanning the earth's surface. Even the European Union is finding it difficult to integrate so many different languages and peoples into a federal unity. Imagine trying to integrate a world characterized by Huntington's clash of civilizations.

(4) The mere existence of a global political unit might tempt some people to assume that it, and not God's law, is the ultimate source of all right and law, since there is nothing obviously higher than it on earth.

(5) Working towards a supranational global federation, however laudable, may tempt reformers to bypass the more immediate goods connected with facilitating better international relations. In short, they may be reaching for too lofty a goal when proximate goals are more easily realized.

What we need are solid reformational scholars to work out a principled theory of doing justice in the international arena, something which has thus far not been a strength of particularly the Kuyperian/Dooyeweerdian approach.

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No ban after all?

It seems the French are having second thoughts: "Doubts rise over ban on scarves in schools." Perhaps they couldn't stomach the bad publicity certain to come if they started filling the jails with Sikhs refusing to remove their turbans, Jews wearing yarmulkes, muslim school girls sporting headscarves, &c.

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Bush speaks to the nation

Here is the text of last evening's State of the Union address, delivered by President Bush. This address, delivered every 20 January, is the closest thing the US has to Canada's Speech from the Throne.

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Vanauken and a southern victory

I wonder whether Jake Belder is aware of Sheldon Vanauken's "what if" essay titled "After the South Won" in his Under the Mercy. Vanauken, known for his best-selling A Severe Mercy, was a student of C. S. Lewis, an Anglophile, a Confederate sympathizer, and a convert from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism.

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20 January 2004

A neocalvinist theory of international (or supranational) politics

Here is an interesting passage from H. Henry Meeter's classic The Basic Ideas of Calvinism (6th ed.):

[F]rom the Calvinistic point of view there can be no objection as a matter of principle to clothing such a world court with limited powers. The federal government of the United States has received a measure of federal power delegated to it by the member states which form the Union. This idea of a federal government clothed with mandatory powers has always been considered to be in perfect harmony with the views of Calvinism, as long as the rights of the states of the Union received adequate protection. Thus also a federal government of a United States of the world, it would seem, would be in full accord with Calvinistic principles and ideals, as long as the rights of the member states would receive adequate guarantee and protection (p. 151).

Might this contain the seeds of a neocalvinist theory of international relations, something only implicit but not worked out in the writings of Kuyper and Dooyeweerd?

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Bloopers, episode I

The following, from an exam, was written, no doubt, by a westerner: "What is good for the west may cripple the maritimes, and having a system that allows for that is crucial to Canada's existence."

The following was apparently written by one of our more militant students: "I understand why governments rise and fail, and some of the things I can do to help."

On an exam, someone -- apparently a Beatles fan -- coined a new ideology, "Marxism-Lennonism." Perhaps he got by with a little help from his friends.

Then there was the convert who "accepted the faith after years of study and immoral living." That must have been some catechism class!

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19 January 2004

Coming attractions

Bloopers from past student papers, exams, &c.

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Clash of rights claims in Hungary

Here is an article of interest from Transitions Online: "Hungary: Gay, Calvinist, and Expelled." It is not difficult to conclude that the Hungarian Reformed Church's Karoli Gaspar University did not handle the case at issue very well, assuming the accuracy of this report. However, the central issue raised by the case, viz., that of the respective conflicting claims of corporate religious freedom and the individual rights of church members, is more complex than some would make it out to be. Incidentally, there are two humorous inaccuracies in the article, one of which is especially egregious: it seems Hungary's new Equal Opportunity Act "has been condemned by the four major Christian churches in Hungary -- Catholic, Jewish [!], Evangelist [should be Evangelical, i.e., Lutheran] and Reformed."

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18 January 2004

Fr. Jape on liberalism

Writing for the brand new journal, The New Pantagruel, Fr. Gassalasca Jape, S.J., interacts with Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, of First Things, and David Walsh, of the Catholic University of America, on the liberal project in particularly the United States. Fr. Jape's reflections are the latest round in a long-running debate among Christians concerning the prospects of recovering something from the ruins of a decadent late liberalism. Fr. Neuhaus is, as I have called him, a liberal critic of liberalism. He and Walsh accept the "betrayal of liberalism" thesis: that the contemporary "choice-enhancement state," which expands the state beyond its normative competence in the interest of subsidizing all manner of choices, represents a betrayal of the early liberalism of, say, John Locke, Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson. Fr. Jape represents the other side in this debate, which holds that contemporary liberalism, with its fixation on choice for its own sake, is the true heir of Locke, Smith and Jefferson. Those in the latter camp understand better that liberalism is not simply a neutral system or arrangement of institutions serviceable to a variety of ends; it is, rather, a spiritual force rooted in its own religiously-based view of the good life and the place of politics within that life.

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17 January 2004

The faith of a child

Last summer I wrote of the sad article in Atlantic Monthly by one Philip Wentworth, who lost his christian faith at Harvard in the 1920s. Shortly thereafter I wrote of my own grandfather, who, though baptized and confirmed a Lutheran, found it difficult, and perhaps ultimately impossible, to believe. These are haunting stories and one can hardly fail to be affected by them in some fashion. However, these stories are far from being my own. I have always found it more difficult not to believe. I have sometimes thought that, if Christianity were one day to be proscribed and if in a moment of weakness, like the apostle Peter, I were to deny the faith, even my persecutors would be able to see through it. They would know I was not speaking from the heart. I would have Christianity written all over me. Indeed I cannot remember a time when I was not aware of belonging to Christ.

Only a few close friends thus far know of the following incident from my early childhood. Even now I post it here with some hesitation.

At age 5 something occurred that I have come to see as a seminal experience in my pilgrimage. One day the index finger on my right hand became severely infected. Within hours the infection had worked its way under my fingernail, pushing it away from the finger itself. My parents took me to the doctor. I cried mightily as he removed the fingernail and treated the infection. I can no longer recall the precise treatment, but I imagine he must have given me an antibiotic of some sort. For the next few weeks I also had to soak the affected area in epsom salts dissolved in water on a regular basis.

The doctor told me and my parents that the fingernail would almost certainly never grow back and I would have to get used to not having it. My parents reiterated this to me, carefully explaining the likely adverse result of the infection. More than four decades later, I can no longer recall what prompted me to say this, but I told them with complete certainty that they were wrong and that God would make it grow back. Over the following weeks they kept trying to explain to me as carefully as they could the doctor's prognosis. And each time I would tell them calmly that, no, it would indeed grow back.

I cannot say how much time passed after this, but at some point my mother noticed hard tissue beginning to grow where the nail had once been. Sure enough, it was a new nail. My mother and father both expressed amazement. I calmly took it in stride. After all, I had told them, hadn't I? The nail would be coming back in, and indeed it did. The doctor was just as amazed as my parents when he saw it. But I was not.

Afterwards I didn't think much about this event from my sixth year. After all, the healing of a fingernail is a rather small matter in the larger scheme of things. It was not as though I had been healed of blindness or cancer. I went to school, graduated from university, pursued graduate studies, and got the job I have now. I was probably in my 30s before I really understood the significance of what had happened. It now seems evident that I had indeed known that God would heal my finger completely, but I can no longer recall how I knew it. To be sure, I had been brought up on the stories of Jesus healing the paralytic, the blind, the lepers, and so on, so I knew it was possible. But I had no reason to think it would happen to me. There was no audible voice that I recall.

I have had only a very few such experiences throughout the course of my life. They certainly do not happen every day or even every year. Like the stereotypical Reformed Christian, I am more likely to hear God speaking through the reading and the preaching of the Word. I am not one to expect the extraordinary. I have little patience with those who believe they can somehow manipulate God's healing power for their own chosen ends. Yet sometimes God does indeed choose to manifest his presence in startling, unexpected ways that cause us to sit up and take notice, even if it takes years actually to sink in. But it comes by his grace and in his time, not ours.

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16 January 2004

Calvinism and politics

In researching an essay I am writing for an anthology on religious freedom, I have been undertaking a survey of the Reformed confessional documents of the 16th and 17th centuries, including the French Confession (1559), the Scots Confession (1560), the Belgic Confession (1561), the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). I was reminded of three things in reading these: (1) each of these confessions finds a place of honour for the civil magistrate, uniquely regarding his role as a confessional matter, while ignoring a whole range of other human cultural and social activities; (2) all are united in ascribing to the magistrate responsibility for upholding the so-called first table of the law, viz., defending the true religion and even suppressing heresies; and (3) virtually all Reformed Christians have effectively abandoned their own confessions' commitment to what might be called the confessional state in favour of a full measure of religious freedom. In only two cases that I am aware of, viz., in the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, has a confessional document (Belgic Confession, article 36) been explicitly altered to adjust to the changed attitudes of the members. These changes were made largely under the influence of Abraham Kuyper's principle of sphere sovereignty.

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15 January 2004

Dijkema on blogging

The new issue of The Crown carries an article by Brian Dijkema on blogging at Redeemer.

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14 January 2004

What? We're not the first?

Bush may wish to commit the resources of the US federal government to the colonization of the red planet, but it seems that the private sector beat him to it.

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Bush to push marriage

Although President Bush is likely to take the heat in some quarters for proposing a $1.5 billion initiative to promote marriage, in principle I have no difficulty with this. In fact, it might just prove to be a better use of resources than sending human beings to the moon and Mars.

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Gideon Strauss and multiple choice questions

Gideon's weblog is not always easy to get to since he changed servers a few months back, but it is always worth reading when and if you can manage to find it. Here is a gem from today which I am tempted to inscribe on a blank page just after the title page of my book, if it goes into a second edition:

There is a Victoria Roberts cartoon that The New Yorker often uses in its own advertisements. A middle-aged woman in a big chair says to a seated, suit-wearing man holding a drink, "Don't worry, Howard. The big questions are multiple choice."

There is a sense in which that is not a joke. The universe being structured a certain way, it is likely that the big questions do have answers that are wrong and answers that are right, and it is also likely that the range of answers, both wrong and right together, is limited by the possibilities embedded in the structure of reality. The challenge is less that of forging a brand new answer out of the depths of your creativity, than that of slowly, carefully, discovering the options, and then seriously, passionately, seeking to identify the truth.

Which truth may, on the other hand, come at you blazing out of a burning bush when you are just going about your everyday business.

Perhaps I can use this to justify my treatment of only five ideologies rather than twenty-five.

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Journal to be in Redeemer library

I have requested the library at Redeemer to subscribe to The Brandywine Review, beginning with the first issue.

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News from Paris

One of our political science students, Yolisa de Jager, is spending the semester in France, studying at the Sorbonne. She is keeping a weblog of her experiences. Let's hope she updates it frequently. . . en anglais ou en français.

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A possible explanation?

Are some of the claimed human encounters with UFOs really traceable to demonic activity? Charles Colson thinks so: "The Real Culprits: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men."

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13 January 2004

Government formed in TRNC

A coalition government has been formed in North Cyprus, consisting of the pro-EU Republican Turkish Party and the centre-right Democratic Party. President Rauf Denktash appears to be softening his anti-unity position, paving the way for a possible settlement before the crucial date of 1 May, when the legally-recognized Cyprus Republic is due to join the EU.

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12 January 2004

A patriotic pre-schooler

I have in the music folder of my computer a midi file of Scott Joplin's immortal Maple Leaf Rag. When I played it for Theresa, she asked me what it was called. When I told her the name, a glimmer of recognition came to her eyes. She assumed the song was about this.

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What? No bow ties allowed?

Rumour has it that plans are afoot to sneak me into a predominantly student seminar dressed as an undergrad. And none of the disguises seem to call for grecian formula.

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11 January 2004

Samba in mid-winter

Around this time of year, with temperatures plummeting, many of us yearn for someplace with warmer climate. Brazil might be nice. Here is my contribution to making us all feel a little warmer. It's called "At the beach in Rio" (Copyright © 2002 David T. Koyzis). It borrows shamelessly from the style of the Brazilian samba music of the 1960s, particularly the likes of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Sergio Mendes, with maybe a hint of Burt Bacharach thrown in for good measure.

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Sola scriptura: a coherent doctrine?

For an intelligent discussion of the dilemmas surrounding the protestant principle of sola scriptura, see the discussion engendered by Rob Joustra and picked up by Richard Greydanus.

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Past the season

Those Greek and Turkish dolls are still lying side-by-side under the Christmas tree, peacefully co-existing. What does it mean? It means it's time to take down the tree.

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10 January 2004

A significant step in BC

A potentially important chapter in our country's political history has opened in British Columbia: "Inaugural meeting of B.C. electoral reform assembly called historic." It could see that province abandon its current first-past-the-post electoral system in favour of some variety of proportional representation. If it can happen in BC, it can happen in the rest of Canada as well.

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A new tower of Babel?

This evening, as we were reading to Theresa the story of the tower of Babel from one of her bible story books, I couldn't help thinking of this.

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Heresy trials and confessional integrity

In the wake of the recent turmoil threatening to divide the Anglican communion, the Church of England is proposing to revive heresy trials for the first time in more than a century and a half. This would help to "rid the church of its reputation 'for believing anything or nothing.'" No one likes heresy trials, of course, and no one would argue that they should be employed in cavalier fashion over peripheral matters. All the same, where heresy trials have become inconceivable within a given communion, that communion has effectively given up on the possibility of maintaining its own confessional integrity. Similarly, where political authorities are unable or unwilling to administer penalties for crimes committed, they have effectively abandoned their own central calling to uphold justice.

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09 January 2004

New and noteworthy journal

Last summer I learned of the launching of a new journal, The Brandywine Review of Faith & International Affairs. It is published by the Council on Faith & International Affairs at St. Davids, Pennsylvania.



It promises to do something that other journals are not doing, namely, to relate the truths of Christianity to the complexities of international relations. Prominent in the fall 2003 issue, numbered vol. 1, no. 2, is an article by Paul A. Brink, "Debating International Human Rights: The 'Middle Ground' for Religious Participants." Brink is one of the more illustrious graduates of the political science programme at Redeemer University College and is currently teaching at Eastern University. Yet another protégé to take pride in.

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Bush's dream and 'responsible' budgeting

Among the flaws in Bush's programme, as Skillen points out, is that under his presidency the "country has jumped off the budget cliff into deficits and a mounting national debt never seen before." Now Bush is planning to send Americans back to the moon and on to Mars, and even to create permanent human colonies there. All the same, the White House is insisting, somewhat implausibly, that Bush will propose a responsible budget for the US government.

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Bolivia's lost sea coast

Bolivia lost its outlet to the Pacific Ocean in a war fought with Chile from 1879 to 1883. Since then it has pushed for the return of this territory, thus far without success, making it one of only two landlocked countries in South America. Remarkably the issue has come into the open again, as seen in this report in MercoPress: "Chile: No way will we give Bolivia sovereign access to sea."

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Kudos to OSSL

Congratulations are due to the CLAC's Ontario Student Solidary Local, based here at Redeemer University College. It was awarded one of two asterisk awards by Catapult magazine for having "been influential in the past year, practically serving and helping others serve the God who is Lord of all of life." As some of the OSSL's movers and shakers are protégés of mine, I feel a special pride in them. Well done!

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The Democrats versus Bush

This year is, of course, a presidential election year in the US. With the considerable flaws in George W. Bush's domestic and foreign policies, the Democrats should be able to unseat him. However, they probably will not. James W. Skillen, of the Center for Public Justice, explains why: "Iowa and New Hampshire and..."

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08 January 2004

ETs and loss of faith

Here is today's Breakpoint commentary by Chuck Colson: "The Cosmic Drama: Does It Include ET?" In it he points out, following Benjamin Walker, that belief in extraterrestrial life began more than two millennia ago with the epicurean materialists who sought to rid the world of transcendent religion. Writes Colson:

Today we’re witnessing a huge resurgence of interest in extraterrestrials. As was the case two thousand years ago, those who reject belief in God are at the forefront of the search for Little Green Men. Some people spend their whole lives trying to prove something is “out there.”

Colson's analysis rings true. Some months ago I wrote of my agnostic grandfather, who could not manage to embrace the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for his sins, but flirted with a variety of eccentric beliefs, including the presence near or on earth of UFOs and extraterrestrials. In some people the search for intelligent life beyond earth does seem to take on the dimensions of a spiritual quest.

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Church union in the Netherlands

As of 1 May the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland) will cease to exist as a distinct denomination. This church will formally unite with the Dutch Reformed Church (Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands to form the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. This report is from the REC website:

Three Netherlands churches cast their final vote on union December 12. Each of the three synods met separately on December 12 and approved the merger. The churches will become the Protestant Church in The Netherlands. The formal union will take place May 1, 2004.

In the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands (GKN), the vote was 66 to 6 in favor of the union. In the Netherlands Reformed Churches (NHK), the vote was narrower, 51 to 24, just making the two-thirds majority required. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in The Kingdom of The Netherlands (ELK) voted 30 to 6 in favor.

That same evening, the three churches celebrated together at the great Dom Church in Utrecht.

The GKN was one of the founding members of the Reformed Ecumenical Council in 1946. The new Protestant Church in The Netherlands will continue its membership and be the first REC member to include a Lutheran element in it. In addition, the new PCN will be the host for the next REC Assembly in Utrecht in July 2005.

The two Reformed denominations and one Lutheran denomination have been in union discussions for decades, with the Reformed churches beginning the talks in the late 1960s.

For those unfamiliar with Dutch ecclesiastical history, the GKN is the church body that Abraham Kuyper was instrumental in establishing in 1892 by bringing together the heirs of two earlier secessions (1834 and 1886) from the NHK, the national church. Some of my colleagues at Redeemer University College were baptized and raised within this body. It is the denomination with the closest historic ties to the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

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Lost or found: the northern tribes

Last week our family read the following story from Luke 2:36-38:

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

I'm quite sure I've read this story many times over the decades, but this time I happened to notice that her genealogical origins were in the tribe of Asher, one of the ten northern tribes carried away by the conquering Assyrians more than seven centuries earlier. Most of the references in the New Testament are to Judah (Jesus himself) or Benjamin (Paul the Apostle), which were part of the historic southern kingdom of Judah.

This account of Anna's origins makes me wonder whether the northern tribes were also subject to the Persian king Cyrus' edict allowing the Jews to return to their land. It also makes me wonder about the origins of the Samaritans of Jesus' day, since the northern tribes were apparently among their ancestors. If Anna was descended from one of these northern tribes, then why was she worshipping at Jerusalem rather than at the site of the Mt. Gerazim temple destroyed by John Hyrcanus during the Hasmonean period? In short, why was she not considered a despised Samaritan?

If anyone knows the answers to these questions, I'd love to hear them.

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The red planet

If women are from Venus, then are men really from here?


AP photo

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07 January 2004

France's dilemma

There are, of course, at least two sides to every story. Here is an explanation in The International Herald Tribune of the dilemma facing the French government in its effort to defend laïcité, or secularism: "The long, bloody path that led to French secularism." Author Diana Pinto writes:

Islam's demands, especially for those in the camp of laïcité, or secularism, are deemed to break the (often bitter) republican contract that other religions were forced to swallow in the past. This is why many republican, Jewish and Christian elites, and a significant number of Muslims, are upset that the republic is paying so much attention to the Muslims in religious terms. With religion and politics so intertwined in Islam, they fear that a Muslim political Trojan horse (and even a fundamentalist Islamic monster) has slipped unnoticed into the republic. Hence their refusal of state attempts to channel religious identity into a new type of republican contract. They are convinced that such a religious openness is creating a problem rather than solving one. . . .

One thing is clear, however. Chirac was not condemning Islam to second-rate status within the French republic. He was desperately playing with a Rubik's cube of religious identities; by moving one square on one side, he ran the risk of changing the geometry of all the other sides. In speaking about France's future, he was exorcising the ghosts of its painful past.

What would happen if France were to abandon its 99-year-old experiment with laïcité? What if it were finally to recognize that religion cannot be banished from the public realm and that someone's religion inevitably forms public policy, even if that religion is misleadingly labelled secularism? Might such a recognition lead to a greater tolerance of confessional pluralism within the republic? Or would it lead to a more explicit embrace of Rousseau's ostensibly tolerant but in reality supremely intolerant civil religion?

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Look out below

One of these days a Saskatchewan farmer may receive a surprise visit from above: "Russians secure prairie emergency landing site."

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06 January 2004

Turkish turmoil?

Are the government of Turkey and the country's military at odds over the former's determination to settle the lengthy Cyprus stalemate? The military denies reports to this effect which have appeared in the Turkish press. Ever since the founding of the Turkish Republic by Mustafa Kemal 80 years ago, the military has jealously guarded his legacy and has been a force that governments ignore to their peril.

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Benson on France's headscarf issue

Here are Iain Benson's reflections on an issue that has been causing controversy both within France and without: "Secularism and the Deeper Questions of Religion and Society." This piece was republished in The National Post. Writes Benson:

If the Stasi Commission recommendations are followed, Jewish yarmulkes, Muslim veils, Christian religious symbols (visible crosses or medallions) would all be banned as would “political” symbols of whatever sort. Not banned, however, would be the crasser and ubiquitous symbols of mass marketing. There is a blindness and conceptual confusion to this kind of distinction.

Nike, you will recall, was a Greek goddess of victory before she became known as a kind of winning running shoe. Let us think about the French recommendations for a minute.

Let us assume that one were to refound a cult worshipping the goddess Nike and as part of the reverence for her began wearing clothing emblazzoned with her name. This would, on the reasoning of the recent Commission be forbidden. However, if in the next seat was a person wearing the same sweatshirt of item of clothing, sporting the same logo out of mere fashion sense - - this would be allowed. Pride in fashion is more important, it would seem, than pride (or humility) in religion. Nike, as a matter of fact, is all around us as is her brother god Reebok, but nobody seems to understand the significance.

Or, to consider another example, say that in that spirit of youthful humour all the non-Muslim girls began wearing Muslim headscarves, it could not be argued that they were wearing them for religious reasons but merely for fashion ones. Perhaps it could be said that their wearing of them was “political” and so they could be banned for that reason. But if it could be proven that the girls wearing them were too dull or disengaged in contemporary issues to be either political or religious, then, well, then they could be worn.

The French rules show a few things. First, that the French, like many Canadians in fact, do not understand the role of beliefs very well and have chosen, as the examples above show, to restrict religious beliefs along rather arbitrary lines but leave in place beliefs dedicated to perhaps even more base motivations than humility. If ones’ beliefs are restricted to merely fashion and being “cool” then, fine. But if it is more than that, then lookout, you have offended “laicism.”

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Thaw between India and Pakistan?

This would indeed be good news if something substantial comes of it: "Historic step for India, Pakistan." So soon after the two countries stood on the brink of nuclear conflict, the longstanding enemies may be on the verge of mending fences.

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05 January 2004

A favourite Bible story

As our family is in the habit of reading scripture and praying together in the evening, this provides a time, not only for hearing the Bible directly in translation, but also for reading stories from one of four children's bible story books in Theresa's personal library. Theresa now has a fairly extensive repertoire of such stories she likes to hear. But her all-time favourite has to be "the fruit one," that is, the temptation in the garden and the fall into sin. Why this particular one has captured our daughter's imagination is hard to say. We've now read it to her in the four versions, and she has it memorized in one. Whether she has a rudimentary childlike sense of her own sinfulness we cannot say. More than likely, it simply reflects her love of fruit. Two of the books render the forbidden fruit as a pomegranate, and she has expressed considerable curiosity about this exotic-looking taste treat.

Her second-place preference is probably the story of Jonah, certainly the more conventional candidate for a child's favourite.

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The Canadian flag again

On second thought, I wonder whether it would not have been better to choose a flag retaining more of the existing symbols of the country and its people. The red ensign was plainly a nonstarter, but why not have a flag including at least the shield portion of the coat of arms shown below:



This incorporates the symbols of England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Canada itself. To be sure, the inclusion of the fleur-de-lys in this ancient crest originally reflected the English king's claim to be king of France (as if the Hundred Years' War had not ended), but it might just as well do double duty in representing Canada's origins as Nouvelle France. Our flag might thus have resembled the Queen's personal Canadian standard, minus, of course, the embellished "E" in the centre:


Canadian Heritage

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04 January 2004

Wallace and Gromit

Thanks to the holiday generosity of relatives, our family is now enjoying the adventures of Wallace and Gromit, the cheese-and-cracker-loving man and dog duo imported from the UK. The two characters are cleverly animated, with stories appealing on two levels to both children and their parents. Parents will detect allusions to Alfred Hitchcock's films, complete with great scores composed by Julian Nott, whose music is remarkably reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann's Hitchcock scores. I had assumed the animation was computer generated, but it seems that the creators use old-fashioned methods, taking as long as six years to put together the first episode.

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Georgia still on my mind

It is difficult to understand why Mikhail Saakashvili would want the Georgian presidency, given that both of his predecessors were eventually hounded out of office. At least Eduard Shevardnadze had the good sense not to prolong his exit in Jean Chrétien style.

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03 January 2004

The Maple Leaf Flag

For Christmas I received a colourful and informative book, I Stand for Canada: The Story of the Maple Leaf Flag, written by Rick Archbold. It tells the story of how this country gained its own flag, beginning with Canada's historic association with the maple leaf in the 19th century up to the adoption of the current flag in 1965. Had I been a part of the flag debate in the early 1960s, I would probably have opted for the proposal floated by the so-called heraldic purists, Col. Archer Fortescue Duguid and John Matheson, consisting of the traditional symbol of three red maple leaves joined at a single stem, but without the blue side stripes shown below:



I cannot imagine that I would have joined John Diefenbaker's rearguard effort to maintain the old red ensign.

Printed in the book is Alexander Muir's 19th-century anthem, "The Maple Leaf Forever." At the beginning of the 21st century it is difficult to understand why anyone would have thought this an appropriate anthem for a country boasting such a large proportion of francophone citizens. Several years ago the CBC sponsored a competition to provide new, less obviously divisive lyrics for this song, and the winning entry was written by Vladimir Radian, who included verses in French and English. Still, the new "Maple Leaf Forever" is not likely to supplant "O Canada" as the official anthem.

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Cyprus in the new year

This year the internationally-recognized Republic of Cyprus, whose territory encompasses only the southern part of the island, is scheduled to join the European Union. Here is an article from the Turkish Press that sets out the position of the Turkish Republic on the island, as well as on Iraq: "2004 – The Year Of Cyprus And Iraq." President Bush has added his voice in favour of a settlement in the island: "Bush urges Greece to push for reunification of Cyprus." In the meantime, TRNC President Rauf Denktash has invited the leader of one of the opposition, pro-EU parties to form a government. Yet with a stalemate in the breakaway country's parliament, this effort may not meet with success and new elections may have to be held.

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