Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

30 July 2004

Ararat and the Armenian genocide

Last evening I finished watching Atom Egoyan's film, Ararat (2002), whose subject matter is, among other things, the Armenian genocide of 1915. First, the Armenian genocide.

The Armenians historically lived in the southern Caucasus region in the borderland between what are now Russia and Turkey. They claim to be the first christian nation, having converted to the faith in 301. They have stubbornly held to this faith, although, as nonchalcedonian believers, their Armenian Apostolic Church separated itself from the mainstream of the church in 506. The Armenian language is an Indo-European language with its own distinctive alphabet. Because of the location of historic Armenia, it has been subject to virtually every invading force sweeping through the region, most recently the Persians, Turks and Russians.  At the end of the 19th century most Armenians lived within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire, while a substantial minority lived across the border in Russia. The latter became the nucleus of Soviet Armenia and the post-Soviet Armenian republic.

In 1915 all this changed. To be sure, Armenians had been subject to persecution at the hands of the Turks before, most notably in 1895-6.  But in the second year of the Great War, the reformist Ottoman government, run by the Committee for Union and Progress -- better known to history as the "Young Turks" -- undertook a more systematic extermination of the Armenians.  As the last major Christian millet in the Empire, the Armenians were suspected of favouring the cause of Russia in the Great War. As a result they were deported en masse from their historic homeland and forced to march into the Syrian Desert, where more than a million perished in what has come to be called the Armenian Genocide.

Did all this really happen? Turkey continues to deny it. But hundreds of thousands of overseas Armenians have horrific tales to tell of their grandparents' and great-grandparents' suffering during this episode. So Armenians have a mission to tell the world, similar to that of the Jews and the Holocaust.

Enter Atom Egoyan, the Canadian film director, born in Cairo, Egypt, of ethnic Armenian parents. Two years ago he made Ararat, a film which obviously comes straight from the heart. Much as Stephen Spielberg made Schindler's List to tell the tale of the sufferings of Jews in the Holocaust, so has Egoyan attempted to bring the plight of Armenians before the world. My own judgement is that he has not succeeded.


Like The French Lieutenant's Woman, this is a film about the making of a film. But it's also about the Armenian-American artist, Arshile Gorky, whose painting of himself and his deceased mother (right) apparently took ten years to complete. Yet it's also about an encounter between a young man returning from Turkish Armenia and a customs official at Pearson Airport in Toronto, played by Christopher Plummer. And it's also about the tensions between an academic art historian (played by the hauntingly beautiful Arsinée Khanjian, Egoyan's wife) and her step-daughter, who just happens to be sexually involved with Khanjian's son by her first marriage and blames Khanjian for her own father's death. Got all that?

Where does the Genocide fit in? Well, the film within the film is about the Genocide, with the screen play based on the account of Clarence Ussher, an American physician who was witness to the tragedy. The making of the film is the thread holding the plot together, although the continuity is often sacrificed to the continual flashbacks, a currently fashionable cinematic convention which can leave the audience in confusion if not done right.

The end of the film leaves the viewer with a mixed message. The makers of the film-within-the-film are possessed of a mission to tell the world the truth about the Genocide. So apparently is Egoyan. However, the surprising conclusion of the encounter between the young man, Rafi, and Plummer's customs agent leads one to think that the subjectivity of all truth claims makes truth virtually unknowable. Is this really what Egoyan wanted to communicate? If so, it would seem to subvert the entire reason for making Ararat. Might this indicate the work of more than one hand in the screenplay?

Finally, the characters in the film are one-dimensional. Motives for their actions are not really explored. Only Christopher Plummer's character appears to have any genuine depth. Khanjian's character is aloof and severe, and does not elicit the sympathy of the audience, despite her undoubted beauty. In short, the film is about too many things. The definitive film about the Armenian Genocide has yet to be made.

Incidentally, my wife thinks I'm watching too many films these days about historic tragedies and people losing their homes and homelands. She's right. Two weeks ago we were watching An American Rhapsody, which I was profoundly affected by. I think it all has something to do with the 30th anniversary of the Cyprus tragedy, which saw my relatives lose their homes and at least part of their homeland.

Labels:

|

29 July 2004

Surprising connections

What does a well-known European princely family have to do with Canada's longest serving prime minister? I wouldn't have known until a few days ago.

Last week I checked out of the local public library a lavishly illustrated book titled, Tsar: The Lost World of Nicholas and Alexandra. Although it appears to be simply another coffee table book, it is actually a quite well written account of the lives and times of the doomed Russian imperial family in the twilight years of Romanov rule. As I was reading it, I found a reference to a Princess Cantacuzene, whose surname struck me as being remarkably similar to that of the Cantacouzenos dynasty, which ruled the Byzantine Empire during the later centuries of its existence. Wondering whether there was a connection, I naturally did a search over the internet and discovered that they were one and the same family. The Cantacouzenoi were one of a number of prominent Greek families in the Phanar neighbourhood of Constantinople, who were known collectively as Phanariotes and were holdovers from the glory days of Byzantium. The Turkish sultan selected two members of one of these families to serve as vassal princes over the Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, now part of Romania. This brought some of the Cantacouzenos family north of the Danube, where they stayed on. 

A branch of the family moved farther north and east into Russia and settled there, retaining their princely status. One member of this family, Prince Michael Cantacuzene, married Julia Grant (1876-1975), granddaughter of Ulysses S. Grant, famed Civil War general and later president of the United States. She thus became Julia Grant, Princess Cantacuzene. In 1899 she met Canada's future prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, shortly before her marriage to the Russian nobleman. Years later the two met again, and a correspondence began which lasted throughout the 1930s and '40s right up until his death. Among other things, they shared an interest in spiritualism and efforts to contact the dead. After her divorce, there was apparently even talk of marriage between the two, but nothing came of it.


Library and Archives Canada

Julia Grant, Princess Cantacuzene


One mystery solved. But now there's another: was Maurice Paléologue (1859-1944), the last French ambassador to imperial Russia and the man largely responsible for bringing Russia into the Great War, related to the Palaeologos dynasty, the last to rule the Byzantine Empire before its fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453? According to this site, he was indeed.

|

28 July 2004

Bosveld published

I have just received in the mail a copy of an article by Ed Bosveld, one of my protégés and a bigwig in the CLAC, published in the Canadian Labour & Employment Law Journal (vol. 11, no. 1, 2004), and titled, "Loopholes and the Law: Facial Jewelry, Personal Expression, and the Regulation of the Workplace." Congratulations, Mr. Bosveld! To celebrate I think I'll go out and have my ears pierced. Or at least my beard trimmed.

|

Athens, Constantinople and the victory of nationalism

One of the things that struck me when I first visited Athens in 1975 was its sheer newness. Unlike many European cities, which are centuries old and have substantial sections dating back to their earliest days, Athens has the feel of a modern industrial city. This surprised me. After all, Athens was supposed to be an ancient city, whose heritage included Solon, Pericles, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. It was known to be the birthplace of democracy and the centre of the classical Greek world.

To be sure, all of these elements were there, and Athenians are justifiably proud of the vestiges of this earlier history.  However, the city itself could not boast a continuous existence as an urban metropolis.  Indeed for long centuries, extending well into the 19th, Athens was a sleepy Turkish village consisting only of the neighbourhood known as the Plaka, nestled at the base of the Acropolis, and the various ancient ruins scattered around the vicinity.  The modern Greek capital was "invented" in 1834, the very year Toronto was incorporated as a city and the year after Chicago was started.


Gauntlet

Athens


The Greek revolt against the Ottoman Turks broke out in 1821 and continued throughout the following decade.  Nearly ten years later the Greeks had won the support of the European powers, but not for all of their aspirations.  The Ottoman Empire would not be supplanted by a revived Byzantine Empire centred in "The City," i.e., Constantinople. Rather a small Kingdom of Greece was created at the very foot of the Balkan Peninsula -- much smaller than today's Greek Republic.  The majority of ethnic Greeks remained within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire, while a minority were left to create a Greek state in land that was largely a rural backwater.  The major centres of Greek culture at the time -- Thessaloniki, Constantinople, Smyrna and Alexandria -- remained on the outside. The seaside town of Navplion was chosen as the first capital and a junior member of the Bavarian Wittelsbach dynasty became its first king.

The small territory of this new Greek kingdom just happened to include Athens, an unimposing village long since lapsed into obscurity, but with a luminous history in the distant past.  In 1834 the government of the kingdom decided to move the capital from Navplion to this unpromising location in deference to its classical heritage.

Yet well into the 20th century, Constantinople remained The City, the real urban centre of Greek civilization.  To be sure, many Greek Orthodox Christians moved to the new Greek kingdom to be free of Turkish rule.  But just as often, if not more so, Greeks moved in the other direction: to the more prosperous urban centres within the Ottoman Empire, where they were more likely to be able to make a comfortable living.  These cities were Turkish, but not in an ethnic sense.  They were in fact polyglot and had been for many centuries.  In Constantinople itself one was likely to hear many languages spoken in the street, Greek being especially prominent.  Constantinopolitan Greeks saw Athens as an upstart, unlikely to take the place of this ancient second capital of imperial Rome.


Texas Tech University

Constantinople


However, the 20th century saw the beginning of the end for these polyglot cities.  The Treaty of Lausanne fixed the boundary between Greece and Turkey.  Those on the wrong side of this arbitrary border were sent packing.  After Naser had come to power in Egypt in 1952, Greeks were no longer welcome in Alexandria and began to leave.  After Turkish authorities stood by and did nothing to stop an anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul in September 1955, Greeks started to leave The City, moving to Greece or North America or Australia.  Istanbul became ethnically Turkish.  Thessaloniki had become wholly Greek, although it had boasted a large Jewish population prior to the Second World War.  Smyrna was destroyed in 1922, its polyglot character eliminated during the massacre in September of that year.

The old empires are gone.  Artificially contrived nation-states have taken their place.  Millions of refugees were created in the process. Citizenship has come to be tied to ethnicity and not to territory of birth. Is this progress? Nationalists would say yes. Greater homogeneity has been effected, but at great human cost. My own relatives have been victims. Small wonder then that, while I am able to see the positive contributions of virtually all the ideologies, I have a blind spot where nationalism is concerned. Nationalism may create solidarity serviceable to the creation and maintenance of political community, but it has done so at the expense of legitimate human diversity. The primary casualty has been justice itself.

Labels: ,

|

26 July 2004

Islamism and western naïveté

For those governments which have persuaded themselves that keeping their distance from the United States or changing their foreign policy will prevent their citizens becoming targets for terrorism, Paul Marshall sounds a wakeup call. In the meantime, Chuck Colson calls attention to the decision of the Washington Theological Consortium in the US to accept as an affiliate member the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg, Virginia, an institution funded by Saudi Arabia as part of an effort to disseminate the influence of Wahhabism, one of the more hardline sects of Islam. Will this new relationship help to build mutual trust between Christians and Muslims? Possibly, though there is certainly reason for scepticism.

|

25 July 2004

Musical favourites again

It was another slow weekend, as we're not quite over the virus that hit us last weekend. We took lots of time to listen to my vinyl collection, including the following pieces by Maurice Ravel: the lively and jazzy Piano Concerto in G Major, Rapsodie Espagnole, Alborada del Gracioso (both Spanish-influenced pieces), and Cinq Mélodies populaires grecques (which are very nice but not very Greek-sounding to my ears) ; works by Sergei Prokofiev, including the dramatic and stirring Symphony No. 5 (written at the end of the Second World War, whose horrific human cost the Soviet Union had borne so heavily), and the much lighter Classical Symphony, Lieutenant Kijé Suite, and Love for the Three Oranges; Leoš Janácek's rousing Symfonietta (on a record I purchased in Prague in 1976); and Heitor Villa-Lobos' Twelve Études for Guitar. Theresa seems to have developed a taste for Ralph Vaughan Williams' music and kept requesting to hear it. She also likes guitar music.

|

At last. . .

It's finally here, what everyone has been waiting for: J. M. Spier's An Introduction to Christian Philosophy, translated into Scots Gaelic. Enjoy!

|

24 July 2004

Conservative critics

Now that Paul Martin has unveiled his cabinet, opposition leader Stephen Harper has chosen his own shadow cabinet. Rob Merrifield and Randy White were indeed demoted, with Steven Fletcher taking the former's place as health critic. Merrifield's offence was to suggest that "Canada's abortion policy should include counselling for women who seek to terminate a pregnancy." With him in mind, The Hamilton Spectator's Casey Korstanje rejoiced that "[h]appily. . . Canada's parliamentary system has a way of shaving off the extremists." Yet if Canadian voters agree that pro-lifers are extremists, why did they increase the number of pro-life MPs by ten on 28 June?

|

Greece and Cyprus

This is a summer of anniversaries. Thirty years ago yesterday the 7-year-old military dictatorship in Greece collapsed and the next day, former prime minister Constantine Karamanlis returned from exile in Paris to assume the leadership of the new civilian government. The return of democracy to Greece was a direct consequence of the Cyprus crisis, which had broken out only a week earlier, on the 15th, when the military régime in Athens had launched a coup d'état in Cyprus, overthrowing the elected government of President Makarios. Athens' clear intention was to annex Cyprus, thereby fulfilling a longstanding irredentist dream of Greek nationalists everywhere: enosis, or union, between the two countries.  This quixotic effort, clumsily instigated by an unpopular régime with a reputation for brutality, proved to be the catalyst for Cyprus' tragic division.  Turkey took the opportunity to launch an initial invasion, establishing an occupation zone between Kyrenia and Nicosia, which it subsequently expanded to include nearly 40% of the island on 14 August.

This was a frightening time for our family, as we attempted to maintain contact with relatives there. My grandparents were already elderly at the time. If they had died before 1974, they would still have lived to a ripe old age and would have been spared the ultimate indignity of losing their homes and belongings. Thank God, everyone in my father's immediate family was accounted for within a few weeks, though they had become refugees in their own country, something they could not have imagined beforehand.

The old dream of enosis, even if Turkey and Britain had been favourable, would scarcely have been workable. Cyprus and Greece are different. Greece is the Balkans; Cyprus is Europe. During my first visit to Greece, I saw beggars on the street. In Cyprus there were none to be seen. Cyprus is visibly more prosperous than Greece and its people are more cosmopolitan. Behind the wheel, Greeks view traffic signals as mere suggestions and drive accordingly; Cypriot drivers come screeching to a halt at the mere sight of a pedestrian and are unfailingly courteous. Some Cypriots still nurture the old nationalist dream, but they are now a dwindling minority. The two countries would not have got on well together. It would have been a brief marriage, ending eventually in divorce.

Now both countries are members of the European Union, finally achieving a kind of enosis, albeit on vastly different terms. Let's hope and pray that the north can finally be brought into this on equitable terms for all Cypriots, Greek and Turkish alike.

|

23 July 2004

Once more with feeling: "I'm personally opposed, but. . ."

Here is Princeton University's Robert George, who put a delightful spin on the logic of this oft-repeated position a decade ago:

I am personally opposed to killing abortionists. However, inasmuch as my personal opposition to this practice is rooted in a sectarian (Catholic) religious belief in the sanctity of human life, I am unwilling to impose it on others who may, as a matter of conscience, take a different view. Of course, I am entirely in favor of policies aimed at removing the root causes of violence against abortionists. Indeed, I would go so far as to support mandatory one-week waiting periods, and even nonjudgmental counseling, for people who are contemplating the choice of killing an abortionist. I believe in policies that reduce the urgent need some people feel to kill abortionists while, at the same time, respecting the rights of conscience of my fellow citizens who believe that the killing of abortionists is sometimes a tragic necessity-not a good, but a lesser evil. In short, I am moderately pro-choice.

Labels:

|

A cautious step into partisanship

As I have often said, I am not a very partisan person. This is mostly because there is no existing party in this country which comes close to my own political persuasion, which might be described as christian democratic. That said, I have decided to become a member of a political party for the first time in my life. I have just applied for membership in the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, primarly to support the candidacy of Jim Flaherty as party leader. Why? I have no illusions about the principled nature of the party itself, despite the presence of a statement of principles on the application form. But Flaherty has a number of things going for him, primarily an acquaintance with and sympathy for the Catholic principle of subsidiarity and the Reformed Christian principle of sphere sovereignty, both of which, though rooted in different social ontologies, have similar implications for the relationship between state and nonstate communities.  As Gideon Strauss put it, after hearing Flaherty's speech at the Royal Botanical Gardens last December,
Jim Flaherty's political philosophy is a blend of fiscal conservative pragmatism and Burkean small-platoon conservatism. His concern for character and community, especially in its most intimate setting, the family, incline him positively towards the neocalvinist idea of sphere sovereignty and the Roman Catholic idea of subsidiarity. I do not doubt that Mr. Flaherty knows how to bend his speech to suit his audience. But I think there is more going on here than rhetorical sophistry.

Flaherty favours reinstating the recently repealed tax credit for parents of children in independent schools. He rightly understands the dangers to religious freedom posed by an overreaching judiciary captivated by a narrowly individualistic conception of rights. He also values the place of entrepreneurial initiative in the province's economy.

I do hope, however, that Flaherty will not follow the example of some of his fellow Conservatives and vilify the state and its normative task of doing public justice. The welfare state, when fine-tuned to avoid subsidizing irresponsible behaviour, has a legitimate role to play in softening the harsh edges of a market economy and caring for the vulnerable. This is something social democrats are more easily able to see than self-styled conservatives.

So, while Flaherty is no philosopher-king and likely has a number of flaws -- which may become painfully evident when and if he becomes premier -- my prudential (if fallible) judgement at this moment in time is that Flaherty is worthy of support.

|

22 July 2004

Lament for a potion

"Molson and Coors to merge": Isn't this the sort of thing George Parkin Grant warned Canadians about after Diefenbaker's defeat?

|

The fate of the Pontic Greeks

Few people are aware any more of their existence, but prior to 1923 the north coast of what is now the Turkish Republic was home to hundreds of thousands of Pontic Greeks, living in such ancient coastal communities as Sinope and Trapezous (Trebizond). Nowadays we tend to think of Greeks living in Greece and Turks in Turkey, with an international boundary neatly separating the two nationalities. But at the beginning of the last century, it was impossible to draw such a geographical line between them. The major centres of Greek culture were Thessaloniki, Constantinople, Smyrna (all three within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire), and Alexandria, Egypt. By contrast, Athens, a city very nearly invented 66 years earlier, was a provincial backwater. Yet even these same culturally Greek urban centres had substantial numbers of Armenians and Jews. Together these three communities -- differentiated by religion rather than by that shadowy notion of ethnicity -- formed the backbone of the Ottoman economy.


Pontic Association of Katerini


The Pontic Greeks had their own distinctive dialect and musical tradition. By the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne, which ended the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922, all Orthodox Christians were expelled from the territory of the new Turkish Republic and "repatriated" to Greece, while all Muslims were deported to Turkey. (The only exceptions were the Turks of western Thrace in northern Greece and the Greeks of Constantinople, who were allowed to stay put.) This meant that Pontic Greeks, who had inhabited the shores of the Black Sea for some 3 thousand years, were forced to leave their homes behind and move to a country many of them had never seen. Although dispersed to Greece proper and beyond, they have attempted to maintain their distinctive traditions wherever they have settled.

There is a wonderful website devoted to the subject of Pontic music, the Pontic Music Homepage, which includes a number of excerpts from recordings of the region's folk music. I discovered this five years ago and occasionally check back to see whether its author, Leigh Cline (a nonGreek with an active interest in such music), has updated the pages and musical files.

Ever since my relatives became refugees almost exactly three decades ago, I have a special place in my heart for people who have lost their homes and homelands, whether legally (e.g., by treaty) or illegally (e.g., by invasion and dispossession). This includes the Pontic Greeks.

|

21 July 2004

Another book review

The Public Justice Resource Centre has published a review of my book: "Public opinion as inherited illusion: Koysis [sic] on ideologies," written by John Hiemstra, my colleague and counterpart at The King's University College in Edmonton.  The Public Justice Resource Centre is the educational arm of Citizens for Public Justice here in Canada.  Although it undoubtedly does good work, its beneficence appears not to extend to the proper spelling of surnames.

|

Confusion over dates

CNN is confused: "Buoyant Blair celebrates 10 years." Continuing: "British Prime Minister Tony Blair was celebrating 10 years in power Wednesday after successfully facing down his parliamentary critics over the war in Iraq." Not quite. On this date in 1994 Blair was named leader of the Labour Party. He became prime minister three years later in 1997.

|

Paul Martin's minority government

Our prime minister has unveiled his new cabinet. See here for more details on each member.

|

20 July 2004

Neo-Calvinism and piety

The relationship between neo-Calvinism and piety has been much on a number of younger minds of late. Most recently James Brink and Rob Joustra have written on this, and it came up during my lengthy conversation with Mr. Joustra last month on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. In the course of the latter we discovered that Mr. Joustra and I come to the question from almost precisely opposite directions. Let me tell something of my own journey.

Three decades ago I was an undergraduate student at Bethel College, north of St. Paul, Minnesota. Bethel is associated with a baptist denomination with roots in what its members delight in describing as Swedish Pietism. At the time I had little understanding of what this meant, but in the course of my studies I came up against the limits of pietism. At Bethel there was a pronounced emphasis on cultivating a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is, of course, all well and good. I myself was raised by devout Christian parents, and my mother's deep piety in particular had a profound impact on my growth in the knowledge of God and his ways. From her I learned to listen for God's voice and to try to conform my will to his in everything. The knowledge of Jesus Christ she communicated to me was definitely heart- and not just head-knowledge. No dry formal faith from her.

But at Bethel I had difficulty seeing what implications this personal relationship was supposed to have for the way we live our lives, besides telling others the good news and avoiding a number of proscribed practices such as tobacco, alcoholic beverages (but not caffeine!), euchre cards and dancing. In chapel services and on other occasions, I would hear people speak of what they called "full-time christian service" as opposed to presumably "secular" occupations. The implicit assumption was that in some lines of work one is serving God to a greater extent than in others. Ministers, missionaries, church youth workers, and so forth, were seen to be serving God "full-time," whereas farmers, labourers, lawyers, businessmen, statesmen, and others, were in "secular" work in which they were serving God to a lesser extent, if at all.

Some, of course, tried to salvage this approach by asserting that even labourers and businessmen were called to engage in evangelism, that is, to witness to their colleagues and try to win them for Christ. Such witnessing would presumably sanctify such occupations, but without addressing any of the central issues intrinsic to the occupations themselves. Those articulating this strategy still accepted the division between "sacred" and "secular" occupations, the latter of which were recognized to have worth only insofar as they were made serviceable to the overriding goal of personal evangelism.

My second year at Bethel I came into contact with neo-Calvinism, primarily through a fellow student who introduced to me writings associated with the Institute for Christian Studies and the old Wedge Publishing Foundation in Toronto. Years later I can see that not all of this literature was of uniformly high quality. Yet it opened up to me a way of looking at the world that was more integral than the openly dualistic form of pietism I had found at Bethel. It was the beginning of a journey that would lead me to what I am doing now.

Where did this take me with respect to the genuine piety I had inherited from my mother? My mother was not and is not a neo-Calvinist -- although my parents have become inadvertent disseminators of the neo-Calvinist vision insofar as they have given my book to friends and acquaintances, some of whom are not even Christians. For a while I found it difficult to pray, but this was due not so much to anything found in neo-Calvinism as to a reaction against pietism magnified by my own youthful pride.

Later, when I came to understand that there is a legitimate place for genuine piety, I began to look in more than one direction, all of which affirmed the primacy of Scripture. I've written before about my discovery of the Daily Office and of the liturgical use of the Psalms. Together these shaped my piety in my adult years. Where neo-Calvinism has played a role, however, is in cultivating a creation-affirming rather than a creation-denying piety. There is a hymn we used to sing in the Baptist church where I spent my teen years:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Apart from the fact that the visual metaphor doesn't make sense -- why on earth would anything turn dim in the light of Jesus? -- it bespeaks a form of piety that calls us to flee the world rather than to live obediently within it. I cannot help contrasting this refrain to Psalm 119:105: "Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." The emphasis here is obviously far different.

But what of those for whom an emphasis on cultural engagement is a substitute for a deep life of piety? This is the concern expressed by Mr. Joustra and the already much missed Graham Ware. When I was living in Toronto, I was friends with a young married couple one of whom was studying at the ICS. They were no longer in the habit of attending church, implicitly assuming that cultural engagement and the affirmation of creation were somehow adequate substitutes for the weekly assembly of believers to hear the word and receive the sacraments. I could not understand the logic of this, although I never tried to argue the point with them. Here it seems to me that Augustine offers a more balanced perspective: We do not flee creation, nor do we cease to love created things. We simply love things ordinately while loving their Creator all the more. Cultural engagement is not a substitute for attending to prayer, the reading and hearing of the Word, and the reception of the sacraments. Mere activism without a solidly grounded piety is likely to degenerate into mere busyness -- and possibly even works righteousness, which is the death of true faith.

Pietism -- like any other -ism -- is an exaggerated emphasis on personal piety to the exclusion of much of the fulness of the rest of life. Yet much as the ideology of liberalism does not itself negate the legitimacy of individual liberty, so the excesses of pietism cannot obviate the need for cultivating a heartfelt personal relationship with our Creator and Redeemer. Pietism, no. But piety, definitely yes: a piety capable of encompassing the entire life of obedience before God and our fellow human beings.

|

A painful anniversary
 
Thirty years ago today: "1974: Turkey invades Cyprus."

|

19 July 2004

Progress in Iraq

Here's something we don't read in the western press: "Iraqi Prelate Tells of the Good Going On."  Chaldean Bishop Rabban Al-Qas reports on the progress being made in his native country since the fall of Saddam Hussein:
"Under Saddam there was only poverty. Now the economy is slowly reviving thanks to what the government and the Americans are doing. New building sites are opening, new construction is going on. All this is going on in spite of terrorist attacks. How many people paid in blood their commitment to rebuild Iraq? Italians, Japanese, French, Americans, Koreans. No one talks about power plants restarting, oil wells reopening, agricultural programs being launched, roads being rebuilt" not to mention the "150 daily newspapers in the country" and the demonstrations which were banned under Saddam, he said. "Western Europe and pacifists have been blinded to what is going on in our country," the prelate said. In fact, "something new is sprouting here, a democracy, young, but real, and in need of help," he said. "Now there is no excuse not to help us. Before it could be argued that everything was under U.S. control. Now there is a U.N. resolution and power is in the hands of the Iraqi government."

|

Physics theory to be changed

Here's good news: Hawking: Black holes aren't so inescapable after all.  Perhaps there's still hope for my office.

|

Getting to know old friends again

Over the weekend Theresa was ill, and Nancy and I didn't feel exactly on top of things either. We spent a lot of time resting and listening to music, mostly on my 30-year-old stereo which I recently set up again. Among the music we listened to are the following: Aram Khachaturian's lively Violin Concerto (which the composer subsequently adapted for flute at the request of the great Jean-Pierre Rampal), Ralph Vaughan Williams' English Folk Song Suite and Fantasia on the Old 104th Psalm Tune, Nikos Skalkottas' Three Greek Dances, Kurt Weill's Mac the Knife, Mikhail Glinka's Jota Aragonesa, Antonio Vivaldi's guitar (read: lute) concerti, Burt Bacharach's Make It Easy on Yourself (quintessential '60s popular music!), Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra, and more than one album of Russian folk music. Much of this is on vinyl and I thus had not heard it in years. I feel a little as though I am reacquainting myself with some wonderful old friends from my youth, as well as introducing them to my daughter.

|

From Hungary to Los Angeles: a moving film 
 
This past weekend we watched a film which I would enthusiastically recommend.  It's called An American Rhapsody, directed by Éva Gárdos and released in 2001.  Neither Nancy nor I recall this being in the theatres, but since it was released less than a month before 9/11, the publicity surrounding the former may have been overwhelmed by media coverage of the latter.  The story revolves around a middle-class Hungarian family, Peter and Margit Sandor, forced to leave their native country in 1950, at the height of the Stalinist terror.  They succeed in escaping, but only by leaving their infant daughter Suzanne behind -- ostensibly only temporarily.  The mother, Margit, beautifully played by Nastassja Kinski, is persuaded to follow this plan only on condition that Suzanne will be smuggled out separately and brought to them days later in Vienna. However, when Margit's mother, with whom Suzanne was left, discovers that her grand-daughter will be drugged and put into a bag to keep her from crying and being heard at the border, she panics at the last moment and takes her back at the risk of her own life.  Indeed she herself is arrested, spending five years in prison, and little Suzanne is brought up by a foster family in the countryside.

Eventually, in 1955, the Sandors, now settled into a comfortable suburban life in southern California, succeed in getting Suzanne out of Hungary, but at the heart-breaking cost of severing her from the only family she has ever known.  The remainder of the film is a poignant look at the resulting tensions this creates at the centre of the family's life, as they grapple with Suzanne's sense that she is in the wrong place and does not really belong.

What I found so affecting about the film is that all of the main characters are sympathetic.  All of them do what they think is the right thing -- particularly what they believe to be in Suzanne's best interest -- yet all are powerless in the face of forces working against them, and this inevitably brings turmoil to a young life.  The plot is resolved at the end, but a sense of melancholy remains.  A bicycle never ridden.  The aching love of a childless peasant couple.  The inanities of 1960s youth culture.  A home lost and then found.

Two details in the film struck me as not true to the period.  First, the Sandors are shown sneaking across the border from Hungary into Austria and making their way to Vienna.  However, in 1950 Austria, like Germany, was under Allied occupation, with Soviet troops in the eastern part.  Like Berlin, Vienna itself was under four-power control.  (Remember The Third Man.)  Crossing into Austria would not have taken the Sandors out from behind the Iron Curtain -- not until 1955, when the Soviets withdrew from their sector.

Second, was steam still in use in the Hungarian railways in 1965?  A decade later when I was in Czechoslovakia, virtually all the railways there were by then electrified.  (I did, however, see a steam-powered train on a branch line in the countryside.)

These are small flaws in an otherwise great film. I should finally point out that the plot behind this film is based on Éva Gárdos' own life story. Suzanne is Gárdos. At the end she dedicates it to her own parents, which adds to the film's poignancy.

Labels:

|

18 July 2004

Whither conservatism?
 
Caleb Stegall has alerted us to this article from The New York Times by David D. Kirkpatrick: "Young Right Tries to Define Post-Buckley Future." Kirkpatrick quotes Stegall:

"Conservative is a word that is almost meaningless these days," said Caleb Stegall, 32, a lawyer in Topeka, Kan., and a founder of The New Pantagruel, newpantagruel.com, an irreverent Web site about religion and politics named for the jovial drunkard created by [François] Rabelais. "It tells you almost nothing about where a person stands on a lot of questions," he said, like gay marriage, stem cell research, the environment and Iraq.

To which I would say yes, but there's much more to it than this. Because conservatism consists merely of a cluster of attitudes supportive of existing institutions and sceptical towards change, it lacks a solid theoretical and spiritual base. Is Christianity true? is generally not the question conservatives would ask themselves. Rather they would ask: Has it been useful in maintaining social order? As for a theoretical articulation of the nature and task of the state, different conservatives will tell us different things. But of course I've said all this before.
 
Stegall's parents once taught at the American Academy in Larnaca, Cyprus, where my father was educated some sixty years ago.

Labels:

|

How not to fight terrorism
 
Whatever one thinks of US policy in Iraq -- and there is ample reason to dispute it -- the Philippine government's action is dangerously wrongheaded: "Philippine Troops to Withdraw Monday in Bid to Save Hostage." We are now more rather than less likely to see a rash of kidnappings of foreign nationals in a bid to "persuade" their governments to withdraw their troops from the country.

|

Erdogan's reforms

Stephen Kinzer analyses the efforts of Turkey's paradoxical prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to reform a largely islamic country with an eye to bringing it into the European fold: "Will Turkey Make It?"  Kinzer writes:

In little more than a year as prime minister, Erdogan has proven himself more committed to democracy than any of the self-proclaimed "secular" leaders who misruled Turkey during the 1990s. He has secured passage of laws and constitutional amendments abolishing the death penalty and army-dominated security courts; he repealed curbs on free speech, and brought the military budget under civilian control for the first time in Turkish history. He authorized Kurdish-language broadcasting, swept aside thirty years of Turkish intransigence on the Cyprus issue, and eased Greek–Turkish tension so effectively that when he visited Athens in May, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis proclaimed that the two countries now enjoyed "a relation of cooperation based on mutual trust."

This reform program is especially important because Prime Minister Erdogan, who is leading it with passion and vigor, has had a long career in Islamic politics. He prays every day, and his wife wears a head scarf. By clinging so firmly to Islam while pulling his country toward democracy, he undermines the view that the two are incompatible.

All well and good. But, some observers ask, does Erdogan have a hidden agenda? What do we make of a Turkish leader who is both pro-Europe and a devout Muslim? After all, the Ottoman sultans could be considered pro-Europe as well; they simply wanted to see it under Ottoman suzereinty! In any event, December will see a European Union decision on whether to proceed with Turkey's longstanding application for membership. A positive decision would appear to entail a changed understanding of Europe's identity. A negative decision could drive a disappointed Turkey to turn increasingly towards the middle east to find a renewed islamic identity.  No one wants to see that.

|

17 July 2004

Esperanto again
 
Does the word oxymoron appear in Esperanto? Or is the language so completely regular that such a word couldn't possibly be rendered in it? Are there dialects of Esperanto? Are there Esperanto folk songs? Esperanto slang? Esperanto cuss words? Do the "Esperanti" live in entirely symmetrical cities, dwellings, &c.? Would they have no need of laxatives because they are so unfailingly regular?

|

Book on Cyprus
 
My personal library contains a number of books on Cyprus, covering different subjects related to the island.  There are, of course, the heavily photographed volumes, intended primarily to attract tourists or to remind one-time visitors of their travel experiences.  Others are more substantive, dealing with the history or politics of the island.  My personal favourite is Sir David Hunt's Footprints in Cyprus: An Illustrated History.
 

It is a collection of chapters written by respected scholars taking us through the various stages in Cyprus' history, from prehistoric times to the present political division and stalemate.  The writing is, however, quite accessible to a lay readership.  Virtually every page carries beautiful photographs worth lingering over at leisure.  Sadly, many of the places shown are on the north side of the Green Line and thus not easily reached from the south.  Footprints was first published in 1982 and then updated in 1990.  I purchased my own copy at a bookstore in Limassol, Cyprus, in 1995.
 
Another book, History of Cyprus, by Cleanthis P. Georgiades, covers essentially the same ground, but it is more tendentious (Greek nationalist), less polished, and less well (if at all) edited.  I'd stick with Footprints.

|

Genevan Psalms en español
 
I have added a new link to my Genevan Psalter pages: the psalms in Spanish, including several set to the Genevan tunes and a number of more contemporary renditions.  Thanks to Steve Larson for calling this collection to my attention.

Labels:

|

16 July 2004

Building our vocabulary
 
As often used in academia, the media and elsewhere:
 
Broadmindedness, n. the mental state predisposing one to accept the truth claims of a plethora of mutually incompatible reductionisms.
 
Narrowmindedness, n. the stubborn refusal to admit that the sheer variety in the cosmos might be reduced to a single key element.

|

15 July 2004

Election 2005?

Could the new Liberal minority government engineer its own defeat in the Commons and send us back to the polls within the next year? That's what party insiders are indicating. Of course, they would wait until they were higher in the public opinion polls before doing so, in hopes of securing the majority that eluded them last month. In the meantime Paul Martin has announced that the new Parliament will not meet until 4 October.

|

More biblical plagues

They're coming closer: "Emergency declared over Peterborough flood."

|

A favourite royal

Given my American birth and upbringing, I suppose it would not be surprising that I am not sentimentally attached to monarchy as an institution. All the same, I do have a favourite member of the royal family. It's Prince Michael of Kent, grandson of King George V and first cousin to the Queen.


Photograph © Anthony Crickmay


Why do I like him? He devotes much of his time to the support of charitable organizations and undertakes the heavy schedule of public duties expected of other members of the royal family. Yet he receives no parliamentary stipend and is self-supporting, relying on the income from his own successful consultancy business. Given his own blood relationship to the tsars, he also has an abiding interest in Russia, devoting time to charity work in that country, in addition to facilitating Russian-British trade relations. In short, he appears to be a conscientious public servant costing little if anything to British taxpayers. What more could you ask?

|

Revised pages

I have updated my personal and Cyprus pages.

|

European Turkey or Turkish Europe?

If Turkey were to join the European Union, it would have the largest population of all member states by 2015, according to this article in the Turkish Press. In fact, Turkey's population nearly equals that of all 10 of the newest EU members. It is not difficult to see how this might affect Turkish application for EU membership.

|

13 July 2004

Da Vinci hoax

As an academic historian, Gregory Daly effectively skewers the pretensions of Dan Brown's controversial novel, The Da Vinci Code, pointing to numerous flaws. My wife did something similar with the book, using the tools of a biblical scholar. Judging from both of these critiques, it would appear that Brown is attempting to pass off obvious bunkum as truth. Shame on him.

|

The "personally opposed" argument revisited

Here is David Blankenhorn on Catholic politicians, such as John Kerry and Mario Cuomo, who assert that they are personally opposed to abortion but do everything to facilitate it legally in their public lives:

What if they told us that they "personally" believed in clean air and in corporations doing more to reduce air pollution, but that since that is a "religious" belief -- remember all those Bible verses about being good stewards? -- they in fact, as a matter of actual politics and policy, have absolutely nothing to say regarding corporate-generated air pollutants and toxic wastes. We would laugh at them if they said that.

It seems to me that Sen. Kerry's position on abortion is very clear. He's solidly, firmly pro-choice. In my view that is an honorable position. But Sen. Kerry, please spare us the part about how you actually hold the opposite position "personally" but are only pro-choice because the separation of church and state requires you to be.

|

Wrong year on cheque

Last week I inadvertently wrote the wrong year on a cheque at the bank. Hearing my "oops," the teller asked me if I had written June rather than July. It was worse than that. Much worse. I had the wrong millennium. I had written 4002, rather than 2004.

|

Northern Ireland parades

This story should cause pain to all followers of Jesus Christ: "Catholics, Protestants clash after Orange parade." The Battle of the Boyne was a long time ago. After 314 years, perhaps it's time to call it a day and move on.

|

12 July 2004

AIDS and abstinence

The controversy over the best way to prevent the spread of AIDS has been going on for more than two decades now. Ought people to be taught the virtues of abstinence or should we assume that they will not abstain from sexual relations and urge the use of condoms instead? The Bush administration argues for the former alternative, and he has the President of Uganda on side. But not everyone agrees:

U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to attend the week-long meeting, accused the Bush administration of using ideology, not science, to dictate policy.

She said the U.S. AIDS initiative required that one third of all HIV prevention funding go to "abstinence until marriage" programmes.

"In an age where five million people are newly infected each year and women and girls too often do not have the choice to abstain, an abstinence until marriage programme is not only irresponsible, it's really inhumane," Lee said.

"Abstaining from sex is oftentimes not a choice, and therefore their only hope in preventing HIV infection is the use of condoms," she added.

Congresswoman Lee's argument has a rather obvious flaw. She appears to assume, not only that women and girls are often victims of unwanted sexual intercourse (which may indeed be so), but that men will do what they wish anyway, irrespective of any official advice to abstain. Yet if this is the case, why does she think that men will be persuaded to use condoms, if they cannot even be trusted to avoid nonconsensual sexual relations?

|

Biblical plagues

What's next for the people of Edmonton? Frogs? Locusts?

|

11 July 2004

Nana Mouskouri

Included in my vinyl record collection are at least two albums by the renowned popular Greek singer, Nana Mouskouri. In one she sings in French and the other in Greek. I cannot say that I've followed her career closely over the decades, but I think she must easily have recorded thousands of songs. This German-language website reveals that she has sung in many more languages than I had thought, including German, English, Hebrew, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, the Corsican dialect of Italian, and Latin. But not Esperanto. Imagine if she were to work for the European Union in Brussels. She might be able single-handedly to cut their massive translation budget in half.


BBC

Nana Mouskouri


In fact, she was elected to the European Parliament in 1994, representing Greece's New Democracy Party, and served until 1999. She succeeded the late actress, Audrey Hepburn, as an ambassador for UNICEF, in which capacity she has attempted to raise awareness of the plight of children in the two-thirds world.

|

Saturday excursions

Here are some places to visit on a summer saturday in the Hamilton region: the Devil's Punch Bowl, the Stoney Creek Dairy (whose website has been under construction for years!) and the Erland Lee (Museum) Home, site of the first Women's Institute. In the basement of the latter there is a model of the long defunct Hamilton, Grimsby & Beamsville Electric Railway, one of a series of radial railways that crisscrossed southern Ontario in the first decades of the last century. All of this goes to prove that one needn't go too far afield to find interesting things to see.

|

10 July 2004

Down-home cuisine

A week ago this evening our extended family dined at this Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant in Lancaster County. Nothing fancy, but large helpings served family-style at long tables. For those working in sedentary professions and valuing their waistlines, it's a dining experience not to be repeated too often.

|

Educational Equity in Ontario

Here is the latest Capital Commentary from the Center for Public Justice, dated 12 July 2004:

In 2001, Jim Flaherty, Ontario's Minister of Finance, announced that the Progressive Conservative government would support the enactment of the Equity in Education Tax Credit. This landmark legislation would provide partial tax relief for parents of children in independent schools. It would be phased in over five years and would eventually apply to the first $7,000 of tuition fees. The measure was justifiably hailed as a partial victory for those groups, including the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) and the Ontario Multifaith Coalition for Equity in Education, which had long argued for funding of all schools, irrespective of their confessional status.

Behind this move was a history of contention over education extending back to Canadian Confederation in 1867. Section 92 of the British North America Act (now the Constitution Act, 1867) gave the provinces exclusive jurisdiction over education. But section 93 provided that educational rights of "the Queen's Roman Catholic subjects" in Ontario and of Protestants in Quebec were to be protected by law. In Ontario this was eventually acknowledged to entail the full public funding of the system of Catholic (or "Separate") schools from elementary through secondary levels. Protestant and Jewish schools were conspicuously excluded.

Against the backdrop of this obvious inequity, the United Nations' Human Rights Committee issued a report in 1999 criticizing Ontario's educational policy as blatantly discriminatory. The committee recommended that Ontario either extend public funding to all independent schools irrespective of religious orientation or withhold such funding from all such schools. To remove funding from the Roman Catholic schools so late in the day would be politically impossible. Yet the extension of financial support was also controversial. Teachers' unions, the opposition parties, and much of the press opposed it, fearing a further loss of resources from the cash-strapped public system. Then-Premier Mike Harris, already unpopular due to his government's fiscal austerity measures and an abrasive personal style, looked set to ignore the UN ruling.

Flaherty's tax credit legislation thus took the people of Ontario by surprise. Toronto's National Post expressed support, while the Toronto Star was vehement in its opposition. Yet the latter's fears of a massive hemorrhage of students from the public schools failed to materialize. Ontario had now joined three other provinces in providing at least some financial support for parental choice in education, even if it fell short of full equality.

However, victory celebrations proved premature. A provincial election in 2003 brought the Liberal Party to power under the leadership of Dalton McGuinty. Premier McGuinty had fought the tax credit, both as leader of the opposition and during the election campaign itself. As promised, his government repealed the law, adding insult to injury by making it effective retroactive to the beginning of 2003, when the previous government was still in power. The OACS filed for a temporary injunction in court to prevent this, but without success.

This would seem to be the end of the quest for educational justice in Ontario. Yet that may be too pessimistic an appraisal. After all, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other parents were given a brief taste of the real thing for one short year, before it was snatched from them. They are unlikely to be satisfied with a return to the status quo. Moreover, the UN committee report still stands, and this time Ontario is deliberately, rather than passively, in contravention of it. The issue will not go away. British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba have had partially funded independent schools for some time now, without the apocalyptic predictions of opponents coming true. The battle will simply have to be fought again.

--David T. Koyzis, Political Science, Redeemer University College, Ontario, Canada

|

09 July 2004

Milner on PR

In today's Globe and Mail Henry Milner eloquently makes the case for adopting some form of proportional representation: "Reports of PR's perils are greatly exaggerated." Thanks again to Eric Hogeterp for calling this to my attention.

Incidentally, Mr. Hogeterp is the one who, during the referendum campaign in 1992, alerted me to the fact that, if the Charlottetown Accord, which I supported at the time, was approved, it would likely have the effect of entrenching our current first-past-the-post electoral system, thereby making it that much more difficult to change. As a result, I was less displeased at the accord's failure than I might otherwise have been.

Labels:

|

Pennsylvania notes

American border officials are being extra cautious these days. When we entered the US at the Peace Bridge last week, all of our documents were thoroughly scrutinized and we were asked numerous questions. We speculated that this might have something to do with a terrorist threat over the upcoming holiday weekend. Now we learn that the US Department of Homeland Security is preparing for an attack sometime before November's presidential election.

While driving through New York and Pennsylvania we noticed that most of the flags were flying at half-staff. We thought perhaps it had something to do with war-related casualties, but my father-in-law told us that they were lowered to honour the memory of President Reagan.

Speaking of flags, while we were having lunch at a little mom-and-pop diner near Meadville, Pennsylvania, about a dozen soldiers walked in wearing camouflage fatigues with US flags on their shoulders. When our Theresa saw them, she exclaimed, "Look at all the American people!" Later on, while standing in one of the cemeteries we visited, she picked up a maple leaf from the ground and then, remembering its presence on Canada's flag, wondered aloud where our flag was.

William Calvert was married to Elizabeth Deihl, or Diehl (1779-1848), whose gravestone is immediately next to his at the St. Peter's Church cemetery. As we were driving back into town after visting this site, we stopped into a small variety store owned by a Deihl. Despite Nancy's likely blood relationship to the proprietors, we did not receive special treatment.

Altoona appears to be a stronghold of Methodism. One of Nancy's cousins-in-law grew up in the Evangelical United Brethren, which merged with the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1968 to form the United Methodist Church. He said that, despite the existence of some 22 Methodist churches in Altoona, their members could fit comfortably into only two congregations. This sounds like the so-called mainline protestant churches here in Hamilton.

Labels:

|

A favourite vinyl record

In recent weeks our family has been reorganizing our house, which has involved a massive cleaning out of the basement, throwing out or donating scores of bags of various things that have been cluttering up our living space for years. One of the byproducts of this grand effort is that my old stereo system has been moved to a place where it can actually be used. This includes a turntable dating from the 1970s and scores of vinyl recordings of mostly classical, folk, liturgical and some popular music. After many years I am now listening once again to the music I love -- locked, to be sure, in an obsolescent technical format but never to be displaced in my heart by the more contemporary compact discs.



A perennial favourite is one of the first sound recordings produced by the National Geographic Society, The Music of Greece, released in 1969 and reissued in 1972. The first in a series of recordings of the music of the world by the Society, it is now a collector's item. My father bought up several copies of this wonderful recording and gave one to each of his children. The various pieces on this record were collected "on the ground" from ordinary people in churches, theatres, cafés and fields. Nothing was recorded in studio. In the background of at least one song the listener can hear foot stomping and at the end of another there is applause. We are even taken into a church building to hear the priest and cantor intone the ancient Byzantine chant of the Orthodox liturgy. Moreover, The Music of Greece contains one of the most beautiful renditions of a folk song which I have ever heard: the haunting M'ekapses yitonissa. Finally there is a song faintly reminiscent of one of Manos Hadjidakis' tunes from his classic score for the 1960 film, Never on Sunday. Could the composer have been subconsciously quoting an ancient folk melody?

Yesterday afternoon Theresa and I danced to the music of this delightful record. Might the National Geographic Society be persuaded to reissue it once again on CD? It should definitely do so.

|

08 July 2004

Why I am not a premodern

I have recently come across another review of my book written by one Calvin Townsend and published in the spring issue of The Review of Politics. It is titled "Idols of Modernity," and for some bizarre reason it has been posted on a website styling itself as "The Information Source for the Home Building Industry." Although I do not know Townsend personally, I understand that he teaches political studies part-time at Trinity Western University and appears to be a Straussian of some sort, judging from his critique of my approach. For Townsend it seems I am too modern, caught up in "'routinized' versions of neo-Thomist and neo-Calvinist illusions." The reviewer continues:

The irony of the book, in this reviewer's judgment, is that the author could have found much better support for his critique in a return to premodern Christian political thought and the tradition of Christian natural law which for centuries was the cornerstone of western ethical and political thought. I agree with Leo Strauss that a return to the wisest of the ancient thinkers could be a source of liberation from the tyranny of modern ideologies.

Reading this critique has reminded me that, whatever my affinity for the likes of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and Johannes Althusius, I am not a premodern. To be sure, I was delighted when the O'Donovans published From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought, containing a variety of classic, premodern political philosophy texts. I strongly believe that we ignore the wisdom of our forebears to our peril; indeed we have much to learn from them. I heartily dislike the sort of cultural amnesia which assumes that enlightenment commenced the day before yesterday and everything preceding it is a product of unreasoned prejudice and superstition.

At the same time, the notion that we can simply return to premodern ways is a nonstarter for at least two reasons. To begin with, since premodernity comes in both christian and classical pagan versions, it is by no means obvious that there is a single phenomenon called premodernity. As a Christian himself, Townsend would evidently have us recover the christian elements. Yet his appeal to Leo Strauss, who definitely followed the classical Greeks and Romans and was deeply suspicious of attempts to ground political philosophy in divine revelation, would take us in a different direction.

In the second place, I believe it is necessary to distinguish between what might be called spiritual and structural components of modernity. The former category would include the likes of the social contract, with its assumption that all communities and the obligations thereto can be reduced to voluntary associations; the idolatrous esteem for human autonomy and the concomitant denigration of all heteronomous authority; the belief that human beings are capable of saving themselves; and the deprecation of creation as a source of evil. This spirit of modernity we must definitively reject.

The latter category would include the rise of political democracy; the post-westphalian consolidation of national states; technical advances in the fields of communications, transportation and economics; and the softening (but not the elimination) of gender roles. These structural components we can cautiously affirm as products of legitimate cultural development, even if such development has occurred under the misguided influence of a secular worldview.

I have recently read Meic Pearse's Why the Rest Hates the West: Understanding the Roots of Global Rage. He writes of the deepening chasm that has opened between the west and all other societies, which remain premodern in their underlying assumptions. At some point I hope to write a review of this book, possibly in tandem with Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism, so I will not say too much about it now. However, after undertaking a devastating analysis of the sorry plight of a decadent west so certain of its own evident superiority, Pearse concludes that it is time for the west to rejoin the rest and put aside its promethean ways. He is especially damning of the sexual revolution and the havoc it has wreaked on those societies least able to afford its excesses. So far so good.

But then I go back to Robert Putnam, whose Making Democracy Work compares the "premodern" south of Italy with the ultramodern north, with the latter coming off much more favourably than the former. Putnam's study indicates the presence of a vibrant civil society functioning in the north, based on higher levels of interpersonal trust and co-operation than in the south. Ought we to regret the smoothly functioning political institutions, revolving credit associations, amateur football clubs, the relative lack of corruption, and other manifestations of a highly differentiated society? I don't think so.

In the same way, although I can easily resonate with an intentionally premodern political theorist such as Robert Kraynak, whose Christian Faith and Modern Democracy is delightfully contrarian and offers a worthwhile dissenting perspective, I cannot ultimately follow his prudential judgement that the best constitution at present would be a pre-democratic constitutional monarchy. (That said, I quite agree with him that the classical mixed constitution is superior to unadulterated democracy.)

The old cliché has it that we cannot turn back the clock. Too often this is an excuse to do nothing about a particularly odious development commonly, albeit erroneously, thought to be progressive. Yet a number of biblical scholars and commentators have noted that while paradise began with a garden, redeemed humanity will live in a glittering city. As my esteemed colleague, Al Wolters, puts it, redemption in Jesus Christ means the restoration of creation, not its repristination. We should not wish to repeal millennia of cultural development, even if it has occurred under the influence of pagan and secular worldviews. This is why I believe neo-Calvinism represents such a significant advance in our understanding of God's world. We cannot simply be content to drag our feet in conservatistic fashion. We cannot return to the old ways -- at least not all of them. God's world is an intrinsically dynamic world; creation order includes within its very structure the possibilities of further development, under the obedient guidance of his image-bearers.

So I happily accept Townsend's critique. Guilty as charged: I am not a premodern.

|

07 July 2004

Coyne favours PR

In recent days The National Post's Andrew Coyne has written two articles in favour of proportional representation. Thanks to Eric Hogeterp for directing my attention to these. The following paragraphs are from his 3 July article, "First-past-the-post will kill Canada." It concurs with what I have been telling my students for years:

In a less distortionary system, the representation of the parties in Parliament would be spread more evenly across the country. There would be more Tories from Ontario and Atlantic Canada, more Liberals from the West, more federalist MPs from Quebec -- and fewer Bloquistes. In short, we would have a Parliament that looked more like Canada, and less like, I don't know, the European Union. Our politics would split more on questions of ideology and less on regional or linguistic lines.

That, to me, is the clinching argument for moving to some form of proportional representation, along the lines of the hybrid model recently recommended by the Law Reform Commission of Canada. There are other distortions associated with first-past-the-post -- its tendency to discriminate against smaller parties, or the ability of a party to win a majority, not only with fewer than than half the votes, but with fewer votes than its nearest rival -- which is why several of the provinces are looking seriously at reform.

But it's at the federal level that it's most needed. The present system rewards regionalism and grievance-mongering, which is why we now have a Parliament dominated by what are, in essence, three regional parties. We need a system that encourages the growth of national parties, with national visions.

Labels:

|

Bluegrass psalms

I wonder whether anyone has thought to arrange the Genevan Psalms for bluegrass banjo. Perhaps my brother-in-law would be the person to take on this project.

Labels:

|

Long queues at Peace Bridge

We had no difficulty crossing back into Canada two days ago at the Peace Bridge between Buffalo and Fort Erie. But for those trying to enter the US it was a different story. We were thankful not to be caught in such an horrendous backup.

|

Greece beats Portugal

Those reading my book know that I am disinclined to flirt with anything remotely connected to ethnic nationalism. However, it is definitely appropriate to congratulate the Greeks on their Eurocup victory.

|

Names again

Last year I wrote that "identities are always in some fashion relational, and not merely self-chosen. We are not solely responsible for deciding who we are; others inevitably have a share in this." While this is certainly true of general names for groups of people, personal names are obviously different. Here I am inclined to add one more item to my list of pet peeves: after I have introduced myself to someone as David, he or she unilaterally shortens this to "Dave," a name which I do not call myself and which those knowing me best would not call me either. Fortunately very few people actually do this.

|

06 July 2004

Curve Beer

Yes, it seems there was actually a beer named for the Horseshoe Curve, brewed locally in Altoona.


Keystone Crossings


I was never a fan of American beer for reasons which should be obvious to anyone who's had the misfortune to taste it. On the other hand, there are a number of local microbreweries in the US whose products rank with the best of the European brews. Whether Curve Beer was one of these I cannot say.

|

Election 2004: detailed results

Here are the results on a province-by-province basis: 2004 Canadian Election Results. Also Elections Canada maintains a website enabling one to locate results on a riding-by-riding basis, including a search function by postal code.

|

Election results: a few ridings

As I was out of town last week, I missed much of the coverage of the election. Here are the results from a few ridings of interest:

Rob Merrifield easily won re-election in Yellowhead. This race was of interest to me since Merrifield is the employer of one of my protégés, Eric Hogeterp.

David Sweet narrowly lost the unmemorably named Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale. Sweet is a Christian and former head of Promise Keepers. He has a copy of my book, which he now has more time to read while preparing for another go at it in about four years.

Beth Phinney won re-election in my own riding of Hamilton Mountain. That means we residents will continue to enjoy her Beth Phinney Reports on a regular basis.

David Christopherson won the neighbouring riding of Hamilton Centre for the New Democrats, thus halting the stank-eyed juggernaut in its tracks.

Redeemer alumnus Ken De Vries came nowhere close to winning Elgin—Middlesex—London for the Christian Heritage Party. But knowing Mr. De Vries as I do, that will not stop his name from appearing on the ballot in the next election.

Finally, Ed Broadbent handily won Ottawa Centre for the NDP, thus marking the former party leader's return to the political arena. Should Jack Layton be concerned?

Have I missed any other key races? Post a comment and let me know.

|

Travels through the Alleghenies

Our family just returned from just short of a week in Pennsylvania, where we were attending two family reunions, one for my wife's family and the other for mine. The first took us to Altoona, where my father-in-law was born and grew up and where a number of Nancy's cousins and an elderly aunt still live. Altoona is snuggled in the Allegheny Mountains, making for some spectacular scenery and a remarkable 19th-century engineering feat which we were privileged to see during our stay.

Nancy's great-great grandfather, Michael Henry Calvert (1809-1879), was one of the early settlers of Altoona and a grandson of Benedict Calvert of Mt. Airy Plantation, Maryland. We were able to locate his grave stone in the Fairview Cemetery. Two neighbourhoods in the city were named for him: Calvert Hills and Calvertville. My father-in-law grew up in this vicinity and gave us a guided tour, complete with memories of friends and relations and the houses in which they had once lived. Somewhat later in our travels Nancy was able to locate the cemetery where her 3rd great-grandfather, William Calvert (1770-1847), was buried. This was at St. Peter's Lutheran Church, near Newville.

Altoona is a railfan's paradise. The Pennsylvania Railroad dominated the life of the city for generations, and a number of my in-laws worked for the company in its heyday. It was long a competitor with the New York Central for the Chicago to New York run until it merged with its rival in 1968 to form the ill-fated Penn Central. In 1976 the PC merged with a number of other eastern US lines to form Conrail, which became the equivalent of what Canadians would call a Crown corporation until it was privatized some years later. Altoona residents nurture the memory of the PRR in a number of ways. We ourselves visited two associated landmarks. The first was Horseshoe Curve, a remarkable engineering feat completed in 1854 which allowed trains to make it up a particularly difficult stretch of the Allegheny Mountains. It is styled the "eighth wonder of the modern world." Over the Independence Day weekend just past festivities were planned to mark the 150th anniversary of the Curve, and Vice President Dick Cheney was expected to be present.


Railroaders Heritage Corporation

Horseshoe Curve


The following day we visited the Railroaders Memorial Museum, right downtown adjacent the railroad tracks. In addition to indoor exhibits there are quite a few old Pennsy cars and locomotives outdoors, all lovingly maintained by those dedicated to the memory of the late great railroad which provided transportation for Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries. There were apparently other rail-related sites in the area which we did not see.

From Altoona we drove southeast towards York, just north of the border with Maryland. Here we celebrated my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. Here too there is an historic railroad, which we nevertheless did not ride. This was the first time in a number of years that our extended family was together. I most enjoyed the music that is a feature of our family gatherings. My sister's lovely and talented daughters harmonized especially well. Remarkably, although I have written of the dangers posed by popular music to genuine folk music, we found ourselves singing some of the jazz standards of the 1930s and '40s, that is, the popular music of the day. As my brother-in-law is an accomplished bluegrass banjo player, we were delighted to hear him perform as well.

While in that part of the state, we drove through nearby Lancaster County, known as Pennsylvania Dutch (i.e., Deutsch) country. It is particularly known for its Amish residents and culture, reflected in the presence of horses and buggies and of farms lacking electrical power.

It was a successful trip in every way, but we're glad to be home again.

Labels: , ,

|

04 July 2004

Liberal minority to be reduced?

Recounts in two ridings could further reduce the Liberals' minority status by as many seats. Co-operation with the New Democrats could still leave them three seats short. Interesting times are ahead.

In the meantime Fair Vote Canada has given us a sense of what the election results would have been if this country had proportional representation:

If seats had been awarded to parties on the basis of the votes they received, the Liberals, Bloc and Conservatives would have had fewer seats and the NDP and Green Party more seats. For example, rather than 135 seats, the Liberals would have received about 113. The NDP, rather than 19 seats would have had about 48. The Greens, rather than no seats, would have had about 12 seats.

Perhaps it's finally time for electoral reform.

Labels:

|