faux pas, n. surrogate dads.
31 May 2004
It seems that a new study has found that physicians' neckties harbour pathogens, thereby facilitating the spread of infectious disease. The Israeli medical student who undertook the study is recommending a switch to bow ties as a possible remedy. But he does not say whether these should be made available over the counter or by prescription.
Saturday saw the class of 2004 graduate from Redeemer University College. The speaker was Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham, Director, Law and Public Policy, of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, whom I was privileged to introduce. The student speaker was none other than our own Brian Matthew Kelvin Dijkema, who not only graduated with a BA in political science but managed to earn the undying esteem of his professors, who honoured him with the annual Faculty Award. Kudos to Mr. Dijkema. (And thanks for not mentioning any of my paedagogical eccentricities in your speech!)
There is much I could write about what is always a moving event for those of us who have shepherded these young people through an undergraduate education. I could simply repeat what I wrote last year at this time, but I think Rob Joustra has said it best with his own touching tribute to the class of 2004. I have nothing to add.
30 May 2004
St. Paul's, Irvine
Prairies and forests: Illinois's natural history
But recently I have become aware of the natural history of Illinois, which has long been called the Prairie State. This started as I was looking at one of my several books about the Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad, the electric interurban railway that operated between 1902 and 1957. I was surprised by an early aerial view of the trackage in Wheaton, which indicated that at the beginning of the 20th century there were very few trees in my home town. By the middle of the century, when I was growing up, trees were to be found everywhere, leading me to believe that DuPage County was once heavily forested. As it turns out, there had indeed been forests, but not when Europeans arrived in the early 19th century. By then it was prairie, consisting of tall grasses and an absence of trees. So how did the prairies supplant the ancient forests?
Many scholars believe that the prairies, far from being a pristine pre-human landscape, were created by the aboriginal inhabitants, who subjected much of the North American continent to periodic controlled burnings. According to Steve Pyne,
the modification of the American continent by fire at the hands of Asian immigrants [now called American Indians, Native Americans, or First Nations/People] was the result of repeated, controlled, surface burns on a cycle of one to three years, broken by occasional holocausts from escape fires and periodic conflagrations during times of drought. Even under ideal circumstances, accidents occurred: signal fires escaped and campfires spread, with the result that valuable range was untimely scorched, buffalo driven away, and villages threatened. Burned corpses on the prairie were far from rare. So extensive were the cumulative effects of these modifications that it may be said that the general consequence of the Indian occupation of the New World was to replace forested land with grassland or savannah, or, where the forest persisted, to open it up and free it from underbrush. Most of the impenetrable woods encountered by explorers were in bogs or swamps from which fire was excluded; naturally drained landscape was nearly everywhere burned. Conversely, almost wherever the European went, forests followed. The Great American Forest may be more a product of settlement than a victim of it (Pyne 1982: 79-80).
Following European settlement of these territories, the forests generally returned. According to William Denevan,
The thesis of prairies as fire induced, primarily by Indians, has its critics (Borchert 1950; Wedel 1957), but the recent review of the topic by Anderson (1990, 14), a biologist, concludes that most ecologists now believe that the eastern prairies "would have mostly disappeared if it had not been for the nearly annual burning of these grasslands by the North American Indians," during the last 5,000 years. A case in point is the nineteenth-century invasion of many grasslands by forests after fire had been suppressed in Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, and elsewhere (M. Williams 1989,46).
Perhaps then the forests that cover much of the upper midwest of the United States are of fairly recent vintage. A century after those old photographs were taken, my hometown of Wheaton is covered with a variety of trees, both deciduous and coniferous. Trees have a stately beauty that no other plant can match. They provide shade and food, as well as wood for homes and furniture. In the jewish and christian traditions they are symbolic of faithfulness and steadfastness (see, for example, Psalm 1). They are among the most long-lived of all living things. Whatever beauty the prairies may have had, it is difficult to imagine my homeland without its trees.
28 May 2004
During my stay in Wheaton, I was pleased to meet and get to know Vincent Bacote, who is apparently the lone Kuyperian in the Bible and theology department at Wheaton College. Although he is a young scholar who has taught there only since 2000, he has already come up with a memorable redesignation of the Cultural Mandate in Genesis 1:28 ff as the "First Great Commission," the second being Matthew 28:18-20. I wish I'd said it first. We could have used Bacote's input in our earlier discussion of this issue in April.
Most of this week -- monday through yesterday -- I spent at the Scripture and the Disciplines conference at Wheaton College in Illinois. It was sponsored by the Wheaton College Faith and Learning Program, the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Center for Theological Understanding, and the Christian College Consortium. I attended with four of my colleagues and one of our alumni.
According to the mission statement, "This conference provides the venue for Christian scholars in the humanities and social sciences together with their colleagues in Biblical and Theological Studies to explore new avenues for scholarship deeply rooted in Scripture." There were a number of plenary sessions as well as discipline-specific sections meeting separately. Among the plenary speakers were Timothy George, David Lyle Jeffrey (formerly of the University of Ottawa and now of Baylor University), Mark Noll and Alvin Plantinga. My colleagues, Al Wolters and Craig Bartholomew, played an active role in the discipline-specific sections.
These sections included biblical and theological studies, economics, English, history, political science, psychology and sociology. The three political science sessions were organized by James W. Skillen of the Center for Public Justice. Readers will not be surprised to hear that I found these the most worthwhile part of the conference. I was pleased to learn from Skillen that he will shortly be publishing two books, In Pursuit of Justice: Christian-Democratic Explorations and With or Against the World? America's Role Among the Nations. Fans of Skillen's writings will look forward to reading these.
Alvin Plantinga I have known since my graduate student days at Notre Dame some two decades ago. We were members of the same church congregation in South Bend, Indiana. I was amazed to learn from him that he travelled to Iran two years ago, where he delivered a series of lectures on christian philosophy, in which there is apparently considerable interest in an almost wholly muslim country. As he explained it, Iranians tend to believe that all western philosophers are atheists along the lines of Bertrand Russell; they are thus fascinated by the notion that there might be philosophers who believe in God.
As I grew up in Wheaton, I was happy to do a considerable amount of walking around the town, revisiting some of the places of my childhood and youth. I found two used book stores near the college campus. I also walked downtown where I visited a locally famous popcorn shop operating out of a store wedged in an alley way between two buildings. The secret recipe has been a local favourite for decades. I also walked two blocks of the Illinois Prairie Path, on which I had bicycled virtually every day during summers while a student.
All in all, it was a worthwhile trip.
26 May 2004
Is it true that the Frisian-speaking ancestors of several of our students might have been able to read Beowulf in the original language?
25 May 2004
Daniel Pipes is a controversial commentator who has written extensively on Islam and terrorism. Although he is himself Jewish, he regrets the dechristianization of Europe in his recent opinion piece, "Muslim Europe." Perhaps this fate could be avoided if European countries were to increase immigration from Latin America, subsaharan Africa, the Philippines, Korea and China, that is, precisely those parts of the world where Christianity is growing.
One of the greatest Canadian composers of church music was Healey Willan (1880-1968), born in Surrey, England, and longtime organist at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Toronto from 1919 until his death. Although his music is not as well known as that of his contemporary, Ralph Vaughan Williams, it has a stark beauty rooted in the church's ancient tradition of plainsong. It is by no means flashy or unusual music. It owes nothing to some of the more imaginative schools of the 20th century, including polytonality and 12 tone music, although at least one of his pieces manifests the influence of the still new genre of jazz.
Willan's approach to liturgical music can be found in Giles Bryant's description from the recording whose cover is shown above:
The standard he demanded of his choirs was high. He achieved a blended sound, entirely without vibrato and with a very limited tonal and volume range -- which entirely suited the resonant acoustics of St. Mary Magdalene's. There was never a hint of showing off in the choirs' work -- it was always geared to the needs of the liturgy. Willan was fond of quoting R R Terry, the famous director of music at Westminster Cathedral: "The reason why plainsong is so unpopular in some places is that it gives more glory to God than it does to the choir."
Perhaps so. But a good, well-directed choir singing a simple setting of the mass on an ordinary sunday can send forth as sublime a sound as possible this side of paradise. And Willan's music definitely enhances the choral repertoire. Nancy and I worshipped at St. Mary Magdalene's several years ago. Some three decades after Willan's passing, his music was still being sung and the high standards he imposed on his choirs was being maintained.
There is one mystery surrounding Willan which I have been unable to solve and would welcome any assistance from someone more in the know than I. The text, "Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour," was set by Willan to the tune, ST. OSMUND. There is a widespread belief that Willan composed the tune, and this is reflected in a number of hymnals. However, The Hymn Book of the Anglican Church of Canada says of this tune: "proper melody from the Solesmes version, harmonized by Healey Willan." Is the tune his own, or did he merely arrange it? I'd love to know.
24 May 2004
Judy Paris, Realtor
23 May 2004
Canadians go to the polls on 28 June. The Liberals, who have ruled this country since 1993 without credible opposition, could win only a minority government, if the pollsters are correct. In Québec the Bloc québécois looks set to stage a comeback in the wake of the sponsorship scandal. Moreover, according to the report in The Globe and Mail, "An Ipsos-Reid poll of decided voters published over the weekend found that 35 per cent of voters would choose the Liberals, while 26 per cent would opt for the Conservatives. The NDP would garner 18 per cent of the votes." Although actual representation in the House of Commons depends on riding-by-riding results, a nationwide vote percentage that low is conventionally thought to put a plurality party in minority territory. Minority governments tend to be short lived.
Gift of Finest Wheat is a wonderful hymn which I never tire of singing.
Am I the only person who thinks it rather weird to sing this hymn in church?
22 May 2004
An old friend pointed me to the following website, and I am passing it along to readers of this blog: Studies in Grace. It is operated by Trace James, someone of reformational conviction whom I knew during my undergraduate years in Minnesota some three decades ago. What is it?
Studies in Grace™ is a non-profit educational ministry of instruction in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, which exists for the purpose of broadening and deepening the experience of the life in grace of those who participate in its classes. It does not adhere to the specific theologies of any particular church, but in its perspective on the Scriptures and life is broadly evangelical (we teach that one must respond personally and individually to God’s gracious gift of salvation) and reformed (we believe that the Christian life involves positive engagement with society on many levels).
It looks worthwhile and I wish everyone involved in this ministry God's blessings.
21 May 2004
Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson, both on the faculty of McGill University, have no difficulty with homosexual relationships, but they oppose efforts to expand the legal definition of marriage to cover them. According to the authors,
Because heterosexuality is directly related to both reproduction and survival, and because it involves much more than copulation, all human societies have actively fostered it (although some have also allowed or even encouraged homosexuality in specific circumstances). Heterosexuality is always fostered by a cultural norm, not merely allowed as one "lifestyle choice" among many.
Could the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) become a kind of Mediterranean Taiwan, enjoying most of the benefits of normal relations with other countries, but falling short of full diplomatic recognition? Greek Cypriots fear such a possibility, but it could happen.
19 May 2004
Most people would hold that one of the preconditions for a healthy, vibrant democracy is a high degree of freedom of speech. Thus it seems incredible that the Supreme Court of Canada would uphold a federal law severely restricting this during an election campaign. One wonders what is the purpose of the Charter guarantee of "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication" when the court sees fit to interpret this any way it damn well pleases. Although I am not a terribly partisan person, I am encouraged that Conservative leader Stephen Harper has promised to repeal the law which the Court upheld if his party comes to power next month. It is also encouraging that Canada's two national newspapers have come out against this draconian ruling.
Andrew Heard, Simon Fraser University
Canada's ruling junta
This unsettling development illustrates the danger of one party ruling uncontested for so long a time without serious opposition. Given that the party in power controls -- virtually monopolizes -- the legislative agenda and even appoints the justices of the very court called upon to interpret the law, it is small wonder that Canada is in danger of becoming a Mexican-style one-party-dominant semi-democracy at best.
Stanley Kurtz writes in The Weekly Standard on "The End of Marriage in Scandinavia: The 'conservative case' for same-sex marriage collapses." According to Kurtz,
Marriage is slowly dying in Scandinavia. A majority of children in Sweden and Norway are born out of wedlock. Sixty percent of first-born children in Denmark have unmarried parents. Not coincidentally, these countries have had something close to full gay marriage for a decade or more. Same-sex marriage has locked in and reinforced an existing Scandinavian trend toward the separation of marriage and parenthood. The Nordic family pattern--including gay marriage--is spreading across Europe. And by looking closely at it we can answer the key empirical question underlying the gay marriage debate. Will same-sex marriage undermine the institution of marriage? It already has.
Yet I wonder whether this will prove not to be true over the long term. If marriage is not a mere human institution, but is instead part of the deep structure of every society, then it may be more resilient than we give it credit for. Half a decade ago Francis Fukuyama wrote The Great Disruption, in which he observed that, after the troubling social indicators besetting the west after about 1965, these same societies began to reknit their social fabrics in the 1990s, leading, among other things, to a decrease in crime rates. This suggests that, as Christians would put it, God's creation order will reassert itself in ways forcing people to acknowledge the distinctiveness of marriage.
In the most recent issue of the influential Journal of Democracy, there is a series of articles on Christianity and democracy, including: Daniel Philpott, "The Catholic Wave"; Robert Dudley Woodberry and Timothy S. Shah, "The Pioneering Protestants"; Elizabeth Prodromou, "The Ambivalent Orthodox"; Peter L. Berger, "The Global Picture." Another article of interest in the current issue is Arend Lijphart, "Constitutional Design for Divided Societies." Journal of Democracy was started in 1990, when communism was collapsing and democracy appeared to be the wave of the future.
Here is Joel Belz on the current scandal surrounding the US occupation in Iraq: "No Preservatives: Abu Ghraib is the fruit our culture has spent a generation preparing." Writes Belz:
we've been building a culture that asserts its right to goof around playfully with the kinds of things that, when seen now in the context of the Iraqi jails, horrify us. The violence, the sexual slavery, the domination, the bizarre—all these are the stock in trade of America's music industry, of cable TV, of video stores, of the internet, and of newsstands in grocery stores. We like to kid ourselves into thinking that we're just playing games with all this stuff. But then when a few young but morally rudderless Americans are transported halfway around the world, made to think they are on the side of virtue, and asked suddenly to act responsibly, we're surprised that they can't.
18 May 2004
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger speaks out on the decline of Europe and its loss of identity and hope for the future. This comes at the very moment of the EU's expansion to encompass a total of 25 members. However, there are now renewed demands to include some reference to God or Christianity in the new EU constitution. These have come from predominantly Catholic Poland, Ireland, Italy and Spain, while a more secular France is happy with the current draft.
The latest news has it that Mrs. Gandhi has turned down the premiership of her adopted country.
Theresa has now officially outgrown her need for an afternoon nap. Unfortunately her parents have not.
Here is the latest Capital Commentary, written by Stephen Lazarus, Senior Policy Associate at the Center for Public Justice: "Foreign Aid That Really Works."
17 May 2004
India's new prime minister was raised a Catholic and may or may not still be practising that faith. In any event, she appears not to be a Hindu, although her and Rajiv's children were raised Hindu. Will the christian minority in India fare better under the new government than under the hindu nationalism of the BJP? Let's hope so.
16 May 2004
We've been hearing this for some time, and now the scientific evidence is in: there are definite health benefits in the moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages. From saturday's Toronto Star:
Tasters at the aptly named Santé [health] Wine Festival taking place through Sunday in Bloor-Yorkville are not only comparing more than 200 wines, they are also clearing their arteries, protecting themselves against cardiovascular disease and improving bone mineral density. Several studies suggest they may also be reducing the risk of gallstones, diabetes, lung infections, ulcers, emphysema, dementia and perhaps even some forms of cancer.
It's important to note that benefits are linked only to moderate consumption -- two 4 to 5 oz. glasses of wine per day for men and one for women. More not only cancels benefits but can rapidly accelerate risks and harm.
On the other hand, any less than one or two drinks a day may not be good for you, either. Quoted famously is R. Curtis Ellison, chief of preventive medicine and epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine. "The bottom line is, never go more than 24 hours without a drink," he has advised. Abstinence is "a major risk factor for coronary heart disease," according to Ellison, who clearly believes a tipple a day keeps the cardiologist away.
Now if only we could persuade our legislators to slash the so-called "sin taxes" on beer, wine and spirits in the interest of easing the burden on our health care system.
. . . that the flags of Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Denmark all contain crosses, yet the Scandinavian countries are among the most dechristianized in the world.
15 May 2004
In the new issue of Comment, Vincent Bacote writes of the "Gifts of 'Father Abraham'." Here he recounts his own distress at discovering in Abraham Kuyper, for whose vision he was otherwise enthusiastic, expressed viewpoints that can only be described as racist. Fortunately Bacote is able to affirm Kuyper's overall understanding of the relationship between faith and life despite the latter's belief that "Aryans" are superior to their fellow human beings with skin of darker pigment.
Indeed in his day Kuyper was by no means alone in his belief in racial inequality. The following was spoken by another Abraham, surnamed Lincoln, in the first debate with his rival for public Office, Stephen A. Douglas, in 1858:
I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races.
There is a physical difference between the two, which in my judgment will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong, having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects---certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man.
One can, of course, choose to focus on the offending elements in Lincoln's speech, as they undoubtedly reflect the future US president's genuine convictions. At the same time, it seems clear in which direction Lincoln was attempting to move his audience, namely, towards a recognition of the rights of black Americans and of the injustice of involuntary servitude.
We can undoubtedly find countless examples among our ancestors of unenlightened attitudes towards the races, the role of women, and so forth. Yet rather than causing us to believe in our own superiority to them (might this be a kind of chronological rather than epidermal racism?), it should instead engender in us humility for two reasons. First, we should be humble in acknowledging what we owe to those who came before us, however atavistic some of their opinions may appear generations later. But second, being aware of the blind spots in our forebears should make us aware that we ourselves may be unable to see clearly on issues where we unthinkingly reflect the prejudices of the larger society.
Will Sonia Gandhi lead India after her party's upset victory at the polls? It remains to be seen. However, if my mother-in-law and husband had both been prime minister and had both been assassinated on the job, I somehow think I wouldn't be anxious to take on the same position any time soon.
14 May 2004
So what is it, pray tell, that makes me a "summer blog warrior" in Gideon Strauss' eyes?
As mentioned earlier, I recently finished reading Vinoth Ramachandra's Gods That Fail. Ramachandra lives in Sri Lanka and is regional secretary for south Asia of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Following Bob Goudzwaard and others, he makes a connection between idolatry and ideology. He is particularly astute in understanding how our idols become tyrannical and their connection with contemporary ideologies:
When human beings give to any aspect of God's creation (for instance, sexuality and/or fertility) or to the works of their hands (e.g. science, the nation-state, the market mechanism) the worship that is due to the Creator alone, they call up invisible forces that eventually dominate them. When what is meant to be a servant is treated as a master, it quickly becomes a tyrant. . . . [T]he cult of idolatry leads to the sacrifice of the weak and apparently useless members of society (from foetuses to other ethnic groups, to the infirm or the mentally handicapped), to the destruction of the earth's eco-systems and the abdication of human responsibility for the planet.
Idols are sustained and animated by belief-systems which disguise their role in human affairs. These belief-systems (or ideologies, which after Marx have acquired the pejorative sense of 'theoretical reason corrupted by self-interest') lend an air of legitimacy to every idol. Thus we may call nationalism the ideology that encourages uncritical allegiance to one's nation over other communities by fostering myths about ancestral heroes, sacred territory, a united past, the superiority of traditional customs and systems of knowledge, etc. It thus justifies acts of violence against all those deemed to be outside the nation and boosts the credibility of those who assume themantle of 'leaders of the nation' (pp. 112-113).
Although I had not come into contact with this book before writing my own book, any reader of both will find a number of similarities in analysis, primarily, I am inclined to think, because we have both read Goudzwaard's writings (although Ramachandra cites Goudzwaard only once in the entire book). What is not clear to me after reading Ramachandra on ideology is whether he sufficiently distinguishes between a Marxian definition of ideology as "false consciousness" and a "Goudzwaardian" understanding of ideology as idolatrous. The two are not precisely the same, although there are connections between them. For Marx an ideology is always conservative and is oriented towards propping up an existing power arrangement in society. To be sure, such power can be exercised in idolatrous fashion towards the achievement of idolatrous goals. But the mere exercise of power by some over others is not itself idolatrous. Indeed, the legitimate exercise of power is known as authority, which is properly found in a variety of social settings. The legitimacy of authority is something a Marxian analysis is unable to make sense of.
Perhaps my esteemed colleague Al Wolters' distinction between structure and direction has something to offer here. Authority is part of the structure of society within God's world. As such it is the good creation of God. However, due to the impact of sin, it is capable of being exercised either in obedient fashion or in service to some idol. Within the political realm the latter would entail the acceptance of an ideology of some sort. Thus the possession of power is not itself idolatrous unless exercised in the service of an idol. I believe Ramachandra understands this on some level, but he would do well to make it more explicit.
Will India's unofficial ruling family return to power? "Gandhi victory stuns India."
Here are two quite different interpretations of the relationship between affluence and consumption. First this from The Akha Heritage Foundation:
It is not difficult to show that Americans use a disproportionate share of the earth's resources. From the perspective of people living in the poorer countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, most Americans consume enormous quantities of all sorts of things: energy, metals, minerals, forest products, fish, grains, meat, and even fresh water. Compared with the average citizen of Bangladesh, for example, Americans on average consume 106 times as much commercial energy.
When we look at the world as a whole, we can see that our country is responsible for a lopsided share of the total consumption of key products and materials. We use one-third of the world's paper, despite representing just 5 percent of the world's population. Similarly, we use 25 percent of the oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper.
And then this from the Acton Institute:
Affluent people want cleaner air and are willing and able to pay for it. They begin to demand clean rivers for both health and aesthetic reasons. Affluence affords a person respite from the tyranny of scrambling to do whatever it takes to survive, and in that respite a person has the opportunity to contemplate how his or her actions affect the human society and the planet in general and to make any reforms necessary to discontinue or prevent any derivation from the responsibility to be biblical humanitarians and stewards.
Most of the Third World is currently in the most polluting phase of the industrialization process, a phase that the First World is leaving behind. Dr. Bjorn Lomborg’s widely publicized book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, has been fiercely condemned by eco-groups, but they have not been able to shake his key point: An objective analysis of the world’s available eco-data shows virtually all of the First World environmental trends are virtuous. This creates a strong argument that affluence has moral potential after all, that the best thing we could do for the environment is to make the Third World more affluent.
So who's right? Are the advanced postindustrial economies of Europe, North America and an increasing number of east Asian countries to be judged better or worse with respect to their stewardship of God's earth?
12 May 2004
Here is something I would love to see: Byzantium: Faith and Power, an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 23 to July 4, 2004. If I were in New York, I would definitely make plans to see this.
In the fifth chapter of my book, I allude to the passage of the 17th amendment to the US Constitution as part of a larger effort to democratize more thoroughly the American political system. This amendment provided for the direct election of Senators. Was it a good idea or not? Bruce Bartlett argues that it was not in "The problem with the 17th." Bartlett believes that the 17th amendment effectively upset the careful balance that is American federalism. He further argues, with less plausibility I'm inclined to think, that it paved the way for the huge expansion of the federal government in the mid-20th century. Here's Bartlett on the procedure replaced by the amendment:
Few people today know that the Founding Fathers never intended for senators to be popularly elected. The Constitution originally provided that senators would be chosen by state legislatures. The purpose was to provide the states -- as states -- an institutional role in the federal government. In effect, senators were to function as ambassadors from the states, which were expected to retain a large degree of sovereignty even after ratification of the Constitution, thereby ensuring that their rights would be protected in a federal system.
The role of senators as representatives of the states was assured by a procedure, now forgotten, whereby states would "instruct" their senators how to vote on particular issues. Such instructions were not conveyed to members of the House of Representatives because they have always been popularly elected and are not expected to speak for their states, but only for their constituents.
Bartlett is not the only person convinced that this amendment was a mistake. So is Ralph A. Rossum, in Federalism, the Supreme Court, and the Seventeenth Amendment: The Irony of Constitutional Democracy. Furthermore, there are a number of groups in the US dedicated to the repeal of the 17th amendment, mostly to defend states' rights and curtail an overweening Washington.
Although it's not clear to me that repeal will have the effect its proponents think it will, they have nevertheless called attention to a legitimate feature of federal systems, viz., the need for representation of the constituent governmental units at the federal centre. Here in Canada our Senate on paper represents the provinces, but the fact that our Senators are effectively appointed by the Prime Minister negates this representative character. Americans have the enviable luxury of debating whether state legislatures or the state's voters should elect Senators. We haven't got even that far in this country. In many respects, Canada is more decentralized than the US, with the provinces jealously guarding their interests. However, our upper chamber does not adequately represent these interests in Ottawa. In fact, because of the way its members attain their seats, the Senate has become one more arm of what many would see as an already excessively centralized prime ministerial government. Although Senate reform is a cottage industry among some academics and pundits, it has yet to go anywhere despite several false starts. Our neighbours to the south are considerably ahead of us on this score.
Sen. John Forbes Kerry is the first Roman Catholic in more than a generation to be a serious contender for the US presidency. Yet, like an earlier JFK whom he claims to admire, Kerry too is claiming that he will be a president who just happens to be a practising Catholic. He will not be taking instruction from the Pope, or even from his church's social teachings. Here's is Fr. Robert Sirico, who finds Kerry's refusal to 'inform his conscience' detrimental. To those objecting to the church's role in forming the conscience of its members, Sirico writes:
If religious leaders cannot set the terms of their moral guidance, how are they religious leaders? To be sure, all Catholic politicians must follow their consciences. But the church must also be free to exercise its role as the former of conscience. To let the Catholic Church be Catholic is as essential to pluralism as people's freedom to accept or reject its teachings. Let us not confuse matters by claiming that a church that claims moral authority over the believer is violating anyone's rights.
Somehow it seems appropriate to mow the lawn and to have one's hair trimmed the same day. . . just as long as one doesn't mix up the cutting instruments.
11 May 2004
On saturday evening at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, the senior, intermediate and junior choirs performed in concert. Our Theresa is a member of the junior choir and appears to be the youngest member. Last September, when she wasn't quite five years old, she began singing with them, but at that time she didn't seem quite to grasp what was going on and what was expected of her. Now she is quite an enthusiastic participant and keeps wanting to play the teaching cassette over and over so she can sing along. In keeping perhaps with Theresa's fascination for foreign languages, the director, Mrs. Susan McKay, a local award-winning elementary school teacher, had her small charges singing in Zulu and Latin. Theresa's favourite by far was O Sifuni Mungu, a southern African rendition of All Creatures of Our God and King. She is still singing it, three days after the concert.
The senior choir sang, among other things, my own Credo in Septuple Metre, a metrical version of the Apostles' Creed set to an original melody with a 7/8 time signature. This was the first time I had heard it sung by a group larger than a quartet. (An organ arrangement of this was played at my inaugural lecture last September.) It was also the first time the trumpet descant, which I composed later, was added. The members of the choir told me they were initially thrown off by the metre, which is common in Greek and Balkan folk music, but not at all in western music. But once they were used to it, they did quite well, I'm happy to say. A most enjoyable evening, all in all.
If the Southern Baptist Convention does indeed adopt a resolution in favour of christian education, it could also portend a departure from the usual Baptist affirmation of a particular understanding of church-state separation. Baptists, at least in the US, have generally claimed to favour something approaching Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation" between church and state. This is often taken to imply, among other things, a pro-choice position on abortion and an opposition to government financial support for independent schools, as seen in the American Baptist Policy Statement on Church and State of the American Baptist Churches. A much briefer "Affirmation of Our Faith" by the Baptist General Conference, a small body with Swedish origins, similarly claims that "Church and State must be kept separate as having different functions, each fulfilling its duties free from dictation or patronage of the other," although it refrains from drawing any specific implications.
The Southern Baptist Convention appears to have modified this somewhat rigid understanding of church-state separation. According to its website,
We stand for a free church in a free state. Neither one should control the affairs of the other. We support the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, with its "establishment" and "free exercise" clauses.
We do, of course, acknowledge the legitimate interplay of these two spheres. For example, it is appropriate for the state to enact and enforce fire codes for the church nurseries. It is also appropriate for ministers to offer prayer at civic functions. Neither the Constitution nor Baptist tradition would build a wall of separation against such practices as these.
The second paragraph would appear to lean very slightly towards what might be labelled a more accommodationist approach to church-state relations -- one which would have government treating the various religious communities and their activities in an even-handed, equitable fashion. This could open the door to the ecclesiastical acceptance of a legitimate government role in recognizing and supporting financially the prior rights of parents to educate their own children. If so, it would mark something of a watershed in the larger Baptist communion.
The latest issue of Comment is now available for reading. Here is the table of contents:
Cyberpunk, Orwellian Fears, and the Faces of Tyranny: Changes in the Future, and What They Tell Us about What We Fear By Daniel Silliman
George Grant and the Primacy of Economics, by David T. Koyzis
Gifts from "Father Abraham", by Vincent Bacote
In Defence of Unions, by Ed Bosveld
Lessons from Old Europe, by Jonathan Chaplin
The Age of Look and Feel, by Dave Bruce Hegeman
May readers far and wide be edified.
10 May 2004
Congratulations are due to my friend and colleague, Dr. Elaine Botha, on the occasion of her retirement from Redeemer University College. May God bless her as she continues to live in the service of his kingdom.
Some books are simply inappropriate for children. Here's one that should be avoided. (See the saturday, May 8 entry.)
This is from Linda Frum's interview with Prime Minister Paul Martin in saturday's National Post:
LF: What is your position on gay marriage?
PM: I've been quite open that this is a question I have had to wrestle with. I have essentially come to the conclusion that it is a Charter [of Rights] question. It is a question of human rights and that tilts the balance. I don't think you can discriminate when it's a question of human rights.
LF: But what is your personal view of it?
PM: I just gave it to you.
LF: I've heard you say that as a Catholic, you are against abortion, though that's not how you would vote on it in the House.
PM: Absolutely. I am a legislator. I basically will vote where I think the public interest lies. I voted pro-choice.
My comments below would appear to be relevant here as well.
08 May 2004
And it seems the Irish Republic's postal service is cartographically challenged: "EU stamp 'swaps' Crete for Cyprus."
The offending stamp
"The stamp's makers say there was no mistake, and artistic licence was used." Well, I'm sorry, but a closer look indicates that the island in the lower right corner is definitely Crete, and not Cyprus. There's more from the Guardian:
Mr [Peter] Geoffroy suggested that Cyprus' postal service should take revenge by producing its own EU map issue - and connect Ireland to its neighbouring island and old imperial master, Britain.
In Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, symbol-sensitive Protestants also found fault with the stamp, which has erased the staunchly defended border between Irish south and British north.
Could this be the opening volley in a coming Great Philatelic War?
Someone across the pond has quite the sense of humour: "Turkey Becomes Christian and Unites with Cyprus."
While we're on the subject of protégés, Shawn de Raaf, who graduated from Redeemer with a degree in political science, has co-authored a new publication under the auspices of the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation, a public policy consulting firm in Ottawa. It is titled, "Understanding Employment Insurance Claim Patterns: Final Report of the Earnings Supplement Project." Here is the summary:
This report contains a series of lessons learned from the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation’s research on work and reliance on Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. These lessons lead to the general conclusion that workers’ frequent reliance on EI should not be viewed simply as a problem of workers becoming familiar with the program and learning how to benefit from its rules and provisions; rather, in many cases, it is a symptom of their difficulties in finding year-round employment due to inadequate skills, insufficient education or limited job opportunities in their region. The lessons also caution against concluding that non-reliance on EI necessarily reflects better labour market outcomes. For many workers, their non-reliance on EI can reflect the barriers they face in securing stable employment or their inability to qualify for benefits. The report concludes by examining the EI program itself to better understand its shortcomings and to identify priorities for future research.
Congratulations to Shawn and his colleagues.
Incidentally Shawn is the husband of author Alison Gresik, also a Redeemer graduate.
07 May 2004
Could it be that the general decline in social courtesies has something to do with children growing up too quickly and adults refusing to grow up at all? Judith Martin, aka "Miss Manners," thinks so. Perhaps adult men should start wearing bow ties and fedoras once again. It couldn't hurt.
It's official: next autumn Mr. Michael C. Hogeterp will be teaching Introduction to Political Science (POL 121) at Redeemer University College during my upcoming sabbatical. He thus becomes the first Redeemer alumnus to teach in the department. Hogeterp is research co-ordinator for the Committee for Contact with the Government of the Christian Reformed Church of North America. Here is an excerpt from his testimonty before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights of the House of Commons last year:
When the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] is understood to be inflexible on a given point, opportunities for conciliation are suspended. This absolutizes rights and hinders the dynamic conciliatory interchange that gives rights meaning in the long term. Using rights claims as trump cards is not a recipe for social cohesion, inclusivity, or justice.
Living in a community with our differences is made possible by open conversation directed toward just policy and not by defences that absolute rights claims set up. We certainly hope Canadians are committed to an open, inclusive, and respectful dialogue.
One more protégé to take pride in.
If the largest protestant denomination in the US were to come on side of the movement for christian primary and secondary schools, that would be a huge boost indeed for what is now only a minority phenomenon, even among Christians.
Volume 1, issue 2 (spring 2004) of The New Pantagruel is now on line. Here are some of the articles to be found in its "pages":
Why Attack Liberalism? (I hope to respond to this myself, since its author misunderstands the character of liberalism.)
The Morality of Complacency, from Icarus Fallen by Chantal Delsol
Weddings and Wrong Choices by Ragan Sutterfield
Baylor 2012: Universal Vision in a Particular Place by Andy Black
The War for the Family by John Zmirak
Whig vs. Augustinian Thomists by Jeremy Beer
And don't forget the poetry and fiction. Happy reading!
Ordinarily I wouldn't write in this way about particular students, but here's one young man I'd love to see in more of my courses. He's already been in two of them. Scroll down to the Wednesday, April 21, 2004 entry to learn more about him.
06 May 2004
Pity the poor people of the Kaliningrad oblast, a piece of the Russian Federation stranded on the Baltic Sea and now completely surrounded by the European Union, as represented by Poland and Lithuania. Once known as Königsberg, its chief city, also called Kaliningrad, was the capital of East Prussia prior to 1945 and best known as the birthplace and lifelong home of Immanuel Kant. From The Globe and Mail: "'Paper Curtain' descends on Kaliningrad." Here is the predicament of the city's residents:
As of today [1 May], if Kaliningraders want to travel to Poland or Lithuania they have to get a visa, which they didn't need before.
Even if residents only want to travel to other parts of Russia, and can't afford to fly, they have to apply 28 hours in advance to the Lithuanian embassy for permission to board a specially sealed train that crosses Lithuanian territory on the way to Moscow.
What's the answer? Lawyer Sergei Pasko would have Kaliningrad effectively joining the EU, while remaining nominally part of Russia. Whatever happens, it seems evident that the status quo cannot continue.
On our recent trip to the United States, I was reminded again of some of the differences between that country and Canada. They're not always easy to discern on the surface, but they're there. One of these concerns post-secondary education. Here in Canada -- at least in Ontario -- this field is dominated by a very few provincial universities, some of which may have had christian origins but are by now rather thoroughly secularized. These tend to be concentrated in the major urban centres. The universities may or may not include affiliated colleges, some of which are church-related. For example, as one drives past the University of Waterloo, one sees a rather patronizing sign calling attention to the "church colleges." These include Renison College, St. Paul's College, Conrad Grebel College and St. Jerome's University, affiliated with the Anglican, United, Mennonite and Catholic churches respectively. All are related in some fashion to the University of Waterloo itself. Nearby Waterloo Lutheran University retained its independence but changed its name to Wilfrid Laurier University some three decades ago, thereby abandoning its Lutheran heritage.
Then there are the colleges, such as Mohawk College here in Hamilton. Elsewhere this would be called a polytechnical school and, accordingly, it offers the bachelor of applied technology. The very word college in Canada -- and indeed throughout the Commonwealth countries -- has an indeterminate meaning. It could be a polytechnical school, a private secondary school (e.g., Upper Canada College), a graduate theological school (e.g., Knox College), a school affiliated with a university, or even a professional association (e.g., Ontario College of Teachers).
By contrast, in the US, where I grew up, post-secondary education is far more decentralized and encompasses a variety of types spread throughout the country, including metropolitan areas, middle-sized cities and small towns. There are the publicly-controlled state universities (counterpart to our provincial universities), independent universities and colleges, church-related and confessionally-based colleges, ivy league schools, and so forth. These are scattered far and wide, popping up in the unlikeliest places but firmly rooted in the hearts of their supporters. Driving through Michigan, as we did last week, one frequently encounters signs alerting travellers to Eastern Michigan University, the University of Michigan, Spring Arbor University, Albion College, Kalamazoo College and -- somewhat off the beaten path -- Hillsdale College, Ave Maria College and -- way up in the UP -- Finlandia University. There education is not simply a matter of state governments undertaking to educate their citizens. It is a matter of particular communities -- some overtly confessional and some not -- becoming aware of the need to educate their young people, refusing to wait for someone else to take the initiative, and deciding to do something themselves.
Despite its Canadian location, Redeemer University College conforms to this American pattern. It was established 22 years ago by Reformed Christians of Dutch heritage, who sought to establish a university rooted in an overtly christian worldview. One of its models was certainly the Free University of Amsterdam, but it also joined several institutions south of the border, including Calvin College, Dordt College and Trinity Christian College, established along similar lines. Yet Redeemer is definitely a Canadian institution.
I must confess to preferring the decentralized, bottom-up approach to post-secondary education, of which Redeemer is a part. I rather like driving into a small American town and seeing an equally small college (read: undergraduate university) there. Its very existence speaks well of the people who have sacrificed to make it possible and to keep it going through the ensuing decades. That many of these supporters are Christians with a vision of education in the service of God's kingdom makes their efforts all the more praiseworthy. I could wish for more such efforts in this country.
05 May 2004
Turkey is feeling the negative effects of the latest European Union enlargement: "Cyprus Technicality Ticks Turkish Truckers."
Condolences to Toronto hockey fans.
Good news for Canada; not so good news for Ontario, Alberta, BC, Yukon: "Canadian divorce rates declining."
04 May 2004
Larry Kramer puts a different twist on the usual arguments in favour of a "living constitution," which is generally supposed to entail something approaching judicial supremacy. He argues instead, in "We the People: Who has the last word on the Constitution?", for something he calls popular constitutionalism, in which the courts would defer to the judgements of the electorate on issues of constitutional significance. Writes Kramer:
Making this shift would not entail major changes in the day-to-day business of deciding cases. There would still be briefs and oral arguments and precedents and opinions, and the job of being a Supreme Court justice would look pretty much the same as before. What presumably would change is the justices' attitudes and self-conceptions as they went about their routines. In effect -- though the analogy is more suggestive than literal -- Supreme Court justices would come to see themselves in relation to the public somewhat as lower-court judges now see themselves in relation to the Supreme Court: responsible for interpreting the Constitution according to their best judgment, but with an awareness that there is a higher authority out there with power to overturn their decisions -- an actual authority, too, not some abstract "people" who spoke once, two hundred years ago, and then disappeared.
One could, of course, argue that this popular supremacy is already enshrined in the formal amendment process, yet amending an entrenched constitutional document, in both the US and Canada, is "practically impossible." What is required instead is a sense of restraint on the part of judges themselves.
Paul Marshall believes that the Bush administration is effectively abandoning Sudanese Christians who have been fighting for more than two decades to free themselves from the domination of islamic law: "Saving Sudan: The State Department should stand up to Khartoum."
Who on earth could this be? (Look at the web address.)
If Greek Cypriots had approved the UN plan to reunify their island, they would have been saddled with an abysmal national anthem chosen from hundreds of entries submitted last year. Not only is it filled with basic harmonization errors, such as parallel octaves and fifths; it also resembles the mediocre Soviet national anthem, recently readopted as the Russian anthem by President Vladimir "Stalin Lite" Putin. I guess that's what happens when political efforts to conciliate diversity peacefully are allowed to override sound aesthetic judgement.
03 May 2004
I have just returned from 9 days south of the border in Illinois and Michigan, along with my family. Our trip had two purposes. First, we were in the Chicago area for the baptism of my wife's infant niece a week ago sunday. Second, this past weekend we went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I attended the second annual Symposium on Religion and Politics, sponsored by The Henry Institute at Calvin College.
We stayed the first night in Battle Creek, Michigan, making our way to Elmhurst, Illinois, the second night, where we stayed with my sister-in-law and her family. The baptism was administered according to the Maronite rite in a largely Lebanese congregation. The liturgy has some similarities to both Roman and Byzantine rites, with generous use of Aramaic, the language of the very first Christians two millennia ago. The weather was delightful. It was the first time in years we had been back in "home" territory without it being oppressively hot. We were pleasantly surprised at the number of flowering trees in the central DuPage County region where I grew up. The topography is generally not very interesting, but spring is little short of spectacular this year, making it a wonderful time to be visiting. We found a number of things to do with the extended family, including visits to the DuPage County Historical Museum and the Cosley Zoo, both in Wheaton. The former boasts an elaborate model railway in the basement, showing the Chicago & North Western and Chicago Aurora & Elgin railroads as they once made their way through the middle of the county. Another highlight of our stay was a brief visit to First Presbyterian Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, where Nancy and I were married and Theresa baptized. I suppose it could be considered our home church in a sense. They have just opened a new and impressive addition to the church building. This is obviously a thriving and growing congregation in an otherwise shrinking denomination.
After our stay in the Chicago area, we made the drive up to Grand Rapids, where I attended and presented a paper at the Henry Institute Symposium, which took place at the new Prince Conference Center at Calvin. The schedule offered a number of interesting papers and presenters. I was pleased that my own paper was scheduled for the very first session, when people are still fresh and enthusiastic and able to come up with good questions. The paper's title was "Redeeming Authority: towards a recovery and proper understanding of authority and its place in human society," which was a slight reworking of my inaugural address. The discussant was Stanley Carlson-Thies, who is with the Center for Public Justice and worked in the White House in 2001-2002.
Among the other sessions I attended was one devoted to Catholic political thought, a perennial interest of mine. Brian Peterson of the University of Dayton gave a paper on Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in which he argued that Neuhaus' embrace of Catholicism has everything to do with his perception of this historic faith's political utility in upholding the American democratic experiment. I think Peterson is right to a large extent, but I suppose I would wish to give Neuhaus more credit than that. Then Fr. Peter Bisson, SJ, delivered a paper describing the Jesuits' commitment to liberation theology since 1975. Although the paper was interesting and made some good points, one would hardly know from his account that liberation theology had long passed its sell-by date.
The most discouraging session was titled "Beyond Kuyperianism" and was chaired by my former colleague, John Bolt, now teaching at Calvin Seminary. David Van Drunen and Darryl Hart argued for the most dualistic and lutheranizing reading of Calvin imaginable. Those arguing for the cosmic scope of redemption in Christ, including my current colleague and great friend Al Wolters (who was mentioned by name), came in for a drubbing. It's almost as if someone were to defend, and even glory in, the residual platonic and manichaean elements in Augustine's thought at the expense of the obviously more biblical elements. Why on earth would anyone, particularly a Reformed Christian, do this? Why would one wish to affirm that Christ's redemptive grace touches only a part of our lives, leaving aside the full range of cultural activities for which we were created?
Two of the saturday sessions are worth mentioning as well. One was on religion and American foreign policy. Robert O. Smith of Baylor University discussed the phenomenon of christian zionism among American evangelicals. Joe Kickasola of Regent University discussed Bush's middle eastern policy, especially with respect to Iraq. In response to a question I posed to him, he professed to favour a redrawing of state boundaries along ethnic lines. He even said -- perhaps hyperbolically -- that he prays for the creation of an independent Kurdistan, of all things. A Wilsonian commitment to self-determination still lingers in some places, it seems. One can only hope it stays out of the corridors of decision-making power.
The second session was devoted to evangelicalism and political and social life. It featured one Debra Daniels, who gave an interesting paper titled, "Evangelical Egalitarianism and Mutual Submission," as well as Robin Weinstein, whose presentation dealt with welfare reform in the US, particularly under Bush. Weinstein is a recent graduate of Eastern University, where he took courses with Paul Brink, one of my own protégés who is now teaching there.
On friday evening we heard a keynote address delivered by Dr. Kwame Bediako, "A New Christian World: Reading the Signs of the Kingdom Amid Global Geopolitics," which he had earlier presented as the first of the Stone Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary some weeks earlier. Bediako sounded many of the same themes as Philip Jenkins in The Next Christendom, particularly with respect to the shifting of the global centre of Christianity towards the African continent.
In summary, the conference was worthwhile, and our travels a success. Now back to work.
02 May 2004
I have recently read Vinoth Ramachandra's Gods that Fail: Modern Idolatry & Christian Mission, which was recommended to me by a contact at Princeton a few weeks ago. There are some similarities between his thesis and my own, as expressed in Political Visions and Illusions. I will be indicating some of these in future posts. But on this weekly celebration of the Resurrection I've chosen to highlight a passage from his book relevant to christian worship:
The gulf between modern Christianity and the spirituality of the Bible is . . . seen in our selective use of the Psalms, which were the song-book of the people of Israel and the New Testament church. The psalms not only reflect every human experience (e.g. confusion, anger, fear, anxiety, depression, uninhibited joy) but they force us to stop pretending that everything is fine with the world. The psalms of lament (e.g. Psalms 10, 13, 35, 86) are passionate complaints at God for the contradictions between his promise and the reality the people experience. These psalms are rarely used in Christian worship today. Yet these psalms are acts of courageous faith: courageous, because they insist that we must face the world as it is and give up every childish pretence; but also of faith, because they stem from the conviction that there is nothing out of bounds where conversation with God is concerned. To withhold any part of human experience, including the darkness of unanswered prayer and the negative aspects of life, from that conversation is to deny the sovereignty of God in all of life. So, paradoxically, it is those who suppress their doubts under a litany of jolly choruses who may well be guilty of unbelief: for they refuse to believe that God can handle their rage (pp. 42-42).
01 May 2004
No sooner did Cyprus join the EU, but Robert Sarmast has now launched his promised expedition to find Atlantis off the southeastern coast of the island.
Here is the latest Breakpoint commentary on the misnamed March for Women's Lives that took place in Washington last weekend: "Don’t Tell Me What to Do: The Words That Are Unraveling Our Society." The issue is, of course, abortion:
What we are seeing, of course, is the logical consequences of the desire for personal autonomy in an era of moral relativism. People can say with a perfectly straight face and without a twinge of conscience, “Yeah, it is wrong. It is murder. But nobody is going to tell me I can’t do it.” . . .
The “don’t tell me what to do” mentality will unravel the very fabric of our society. If people actually believe that their autonomy is so important that it gives them the right to kill the innocent, then none of us is safe. I wonder how many of those folks getting bused to Washington ever thought of that.
Europe is now a bigger place, as 10 new members take their place in a 25-member European Union.
Eight of these are former communist countries. Two island nations, Cyprus and Malta, complete the number of entrants. Cyprus enters under a cloud, due to the failure to unify the island nation in advance of EU membership. Will there be another chance at a settlement of the 30-year-old Cyprus issue? Perhaps not.