Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

31 August 2004

The Secret Garden and the Yorkshire dialect

One of the classics of children's literature is Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, published in 1888. This was one of Nancy's favourite books as a little girl, and Theresa has been watching an animated version of the story on video. I myself did not come into contact with the book and its story until quite recently. What I find most fascinating about it is the author's use of the Yorkshire dialect in the speech of several of the characters.

For example, the servant Martha tells the heroine Mary of her fondness for the moor:

"I just love it. It's none bare. It's covered wi' growin' things as smells sweet. It's fair lovely in spring an' summer when th' gorse an' broom an' heather's in flower. It smells o' honey an' there's such a lot o' fresh air--an' th' sky looks so high an' th' bees an' skylarks makes such a nice noise hummin' an' singin'. Eh! I wouldn't live away from th' moor for anythin'."

I was surprised to see the old second-person-singular pronoun in Martha's speech as it long ago dropped out of standard English: "Canna' tha' dress thysen!" ("Can you not dress yourself?") and "I'll help thee on with thy clothes if tha'll get out o' bed. If th' buttons are at th' back tha' cannot button them up tha'self."

Was this obsolete pronoun really still in use in Yorkshire in the late 19th century? Is it still in use there? Are there other dialects of English in which it is still a living part of the language? I'd be interested to know.

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National Reform Association

When I was growing up my father used to receive a fairly thin periodical -- more of a newsletter really -- called The Christian Statesman, published by the National Reform Association. Four decades later I can no longer recall whether I read any of the articles in its pages. It was certainly never a topic for family conversations. At the time I didn't realize how old it was. In fact, it's been published since 1864 and is now on line, with issues extending back to 1991. (Might all 140 years eventually be scanned and uploaded?) In the July-August 2002 issue there is an article by Oliver Woods, titled "Abraham Kuyper: God's Renaissance Man." I know little about this (other!*) NRA, but it would appear to merit some attention.

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Mars Hill interview

This morning, at the rented studios of CFMU radio at McMaster University, I was interviewed by Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio Journal on the topic of Christianity and ideology. I am told that my interview should appear in two months' time.

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30 August 2004

The US Senate race in Illinois

As I follow the race for the Senate seat from Illinois, I cannot help wondering whether there are voters who are reluctant to support a candidate who appears to believe that abortion is a mere medical procedure -- and a constitutionally-protected one at that -- yet cannot quite bring themselves to vote for someone who believes that the US Constitution protects the right of citizens to own and carry machine guns!

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Al Qaeda

Paul Marshall reminds us of the continuing reality of al Qaeda's threat to the west: "Four Million." Joseph Loconte detects affinities between radical Islam and mid-20th-century European fascism: "Barbarism Then and Now." In the meantime Afghanistan and Russia are the most recent targets of islamist terror. And France is finally under threat over its ill-advised headscarf law.

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29 August 2004

Rapprochement between churches?

Might the Vatican's return of this cherished icon to Patriarch Alexii of Moscow help to improve a longstanding troubled relationship between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches?


Russia Journal

The Mother of God of Kazan

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28 August 2004

Lessons from the Great War

John Derbyshire reminds us that 90 years ago this month saw the beginning of that watershed conflict variously known as the Great War, the First World War and World War I, "perhaps the great civilizational catastrophe of the past half-millennium." The generation that fought that war is, of course, long gone, with perhaps a few centenarians holding on here and there. So we are prone to forget that, for those who went through the war, nothing was ever the same afterwards. However, could it really be true, as Derbyshire argues, that the Great War "was an event like no other, from which nothing can be deduced"? Are there really no lessons to be learnt from it? I can think of at least two.

First, remember that the war was sparked by an act of nationalistic terror, viz., the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne by a Serbian nationalist two months earlier. Austria-Hungary went to war to punish Serbia and defend its honour. Russia was persuaded, quite against its own interests, to enter the war to protect a "brother" Slav nation. Germany sided with a fellow Germanic monarchy. True, the world is not divided up amongst more or less equal powers at the moment. Yet I should think the lesson of the war is that, where nationalism -- and particularly ethnic nationalism -- carries the day, a stable international order becomes elusive. Nationalists make conflicting, absolutist claims incapable of being adjudicated peacefully.


Balkans '21

Map showing conflicting claims
of the various Balkan states prior to 1912


Second, and like unto the first, where raison d'état becomes the overriding consideration during warfare, everything becomes possible, including the sidelining of those principles limiting the conduct of war. It is no accident that total warfare co-incided with the rise of the totalitarian state. If no means are out of bounds for a state fighting its enemies, then no means are likely to be deemed improper for a state's domestic policies, particularly if they have been harnessed to one of the totalistic secular ideologies.

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27 August 2004

Israel and its Arab citizens

Erik Schechter's "The Two Solitudes" gives us a vivid sense of the continuing threats to justice and stability in a state where citizenship is allocated along ethnic or religious lines rather than along territorial lines. In the meantime Dr. Amir Al-Naffakh argues that the Arab world itself is sorely in need of political reforms.

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Flags

Two weeks ago, while at Toronto's Union Station, I picked up a marvellous book, titled The World Encyclopedia of Flags, by Alfred Znamierowski. It's one of the best treatments of its kind, covering, not only the current flags of the world's nation states, but obsolete flags, the flags of states, provinces, Länder and cantons, international organizations, and even religions, ethnic groups and ideological movements. Sections are devoted to "families" of flags, i.e., those flags possessing a common heraldic ancestor. Few people are likely aware, for example, that the blue, white and red tricolours of a number of Slavic countries count the old Dutch flag of the United Provinces as their common forebear. This is because Peter the Great patterned his Russian flag, once again in use in the post-Soviet era, after the flag in use at that time in the Netherlands, which he visited during his tour of western Europe at the end of the 17th century.



Reading this book inspired me to try my hand at creating a flag representing the neo-Calvinist movement begun by Abraham Kuyper in the Netherlands in the late 19th century and now spread around the world. Here is what I've come up with thus far:


© David T. Koyzis


The green and blue colours represent the totality of creation, marred by the fall into sin, signified by the dark line running diagonally. The white shield at the centre represents redemption in Jesus Christ. The Greek letters X and P are the first two letters for Christ (XPICTOC). The cross, of course, represents the shed blood of Christ effecting the redemption of creation. The intertwined rings at the bottom of the shield represent the various spheres of human activity all of which stand under the judgement and redemption of Christ. The gold border around the shield represents at once the costly character of Christ's sacrifice and the fulness of the kingdom of God.

Will it fly? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

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26 August 2004

A new banknote

The Queen continues to age gracefully on this new 20-dollar bill to be released into circulation next month by the Bank of Canada:


Bank of Canada


My question is: does printing out a page from a blog containing a picture of a banknote constitute counterfeiting?

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Site feed added

Look to the top of the sidebar. For what it's worth, this blog now has site feed.

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Changes in UK abortion law?

Some people have had their minds changed on the abortion issue through the experience of a premature birth. If enough people undergo this or hear of such cases, a consensus might be built to change the law, as indicated here: "MPs call for abortion law review."

Nigel Jones, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, said his daughters, due to go to university next month, were both born 10 weeks early in 1986.

"I have never been anti-abortion and am still not against a woman's right to choose," he said. "But the fact that foetuses almost as old as my daughters were when they were born early can be terminated does make me feel that it is time to reconsider the law."

Both girls, Amy and Lucy, achieved five As in their A-levels this week. Mr Jones said: "I am so proud of them and for me they are a symbol of why the law must be reviewed."

In this case, Jones was moved from a pro-choice stance to one marginally less so. I myself have long been pro-life, but the birth of our Theresa at 26 weeks brought the issue much closer to my heart. Here once again is her story: "A Smile From the Womb." Incidentally, this essay, originally published in The New Oxford Review, will soon be republished in a high school ethics anthology by Christian Schools International.

Thanks to the formidable Mr. James Brink for calling this to our attention.

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25 August 2004

Planned cities and new beginnings

As a child I had aspirations to be an architect and perhaps even a city planner. I was particularly enthralled by an article in the May 1960 issue of National Geographic titled, "Metropolis Made to Order: Brasília," about the construction of a new capital city for Brazil. It was filled with photographs and illustrations of half-constructed buildings, including those housing the three branches of government, the various ministries, a cultural centre, commercial and banking establishments, residences, schools, and even a large teepee-like cathedral. Two aerial diagrams showed a symmetrical city spread out along a lake and resembling the torso and wings of a giant bird. Extensive green spaces carved out of the hinterland separated the buildings, undoubtedly making it rather taxing for would-be pedestrians.


John de Garis

Congressional buildings, Brasília


What a fascinating notion: building a city from scratch out of a wilderness! It seemed such a daring and exciting venture. I immediately set about trying to design capital cities of my own for fictitious countries of my devising. None of these boyish designs survive, so I can no longer recall what they looked like. But I rather think they shared many of the qualities of Brasília itself, excepting the huge expense.

I would eventually learn that the notion of a planned capital city was by no means new. It had been done before and it would be attempted again. In one of the earliest efforts the Emperor Constantine the Great moved his capital from Rome to a new Rome built on the foundations of ancient Byzantium, to be rechristened Constantinople. It would serve as a capital of the Roman and Ottoman Empires successively until 1924. In 1703 Russia's Peter the Great built a new capital on the banks of the Neva River and the shores of the Baltic Sea -- on land recently seized from Sweden. St. Petersburg ("Sankt Pieterburg") supplanted old Moscow and the Emperor forced Muscovite nobles to pull up roots and move to his new city. The fact that it was so vulnerable militarily would come back to haunt its residents some 240 years later when the nazis besieged what was then called Leningrad for 900 horrible days.

Two hundred years ago the United States built a new capital on the shores of the Potomac River in land detached from Maryland and Virginia. (The segment from Virginia was later returned to that state.) In the 20th century Australia built Canberra and Pakistan built Islamabad as the centres of their respective governments.


http://www.eryptick.net/

Parliament, Canberra, Australia


Nowadays I am less interested in the physical undertaking of building a new capital city than in what it symbolizes, namely, a new political beginning. Constantine built Constantinople in part to mark the adoption of a new religion for his empire. Old Rome was irretrievably pagan; new Rome was established as a christian city for a christianized empire. Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg as a symbol of a new Russia oriented towards western Europe. That neither imperial Rome nor imperial Russia fully put aside the old ways is immaterial. The very abandonment of the old capital represented an intention to break with tradition as fully as possible.

Rome and Russia were already ancient realms by the time their new capitals were chosen. However, the fledgling United States, formed in 1787 out of the 13 states which had so recently broken with the British Crown, required a new capital to correspond to its own newness. Its very name, honouring the first president, George Washington, carried the hopes and aspirations of the new federal republic. Much as Washington set the tone for his presidential successors, the building of the city of Washington would come to characterize the seemingly limitless possibilities of a country already expanding west beyond the Appalachian frontier.

And what of Brasília? From the time of independence in the 19th century, Brazil's rulers had wanted to settle the vast interior of the country. When republic replaced empire in 1889, an interior location was set aside for a prospective new capital city. However, not until 1956 were concrete steps taken in this direction. In 1960 Brasília replaced Rio de Janeiro as the centre of the federal government. Like all cities, it has never been entirely completed and undoubtedly never will be. Sad to say, however, only four years after Brasília's inauguration, a military coup dislodged the civilian government and misruled Brazil until 1985. Did the grand effort of planning a new city in a relatively poor country impair the political system's functioning, making it ripe for an authoritarian government? Perhaps.

I myself tend to wonder whether such a tangible symbol of breaking with the past might tend to mislead citizens into believing that they really have done so -- that they have succeeded in putting aside their own traditions, good and bad, and embracing entirely new ones created, as it were, ex nihilo. Even revolutions, such as the French and the Russian, change far less in the political culture than their proponents would like to see. The old ways are simply carried into the new capital or the new régime. I also wonder whether the resources employed to build a new capital might have been put to use in less spectacular pursuits that would nevertheless better have served the public interest.

Yes, there is an undeniable excitement in a national effort to build a new capital city from scratch. But justice is more likely to be found in the ordinary activities of a government conciliating diverse interests than in a government bent on capturing its citizens' imaginations and mobilizing them for flashy, expensive projects not immediately related to their genuine needs.

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Terror in Russia?

Has Russia been the victim of a co-ordinated terrorist attack? "Russia fears terror strike after two planes crash within minutes."

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24 August 2004

Baxter abroad

I have added the new blog of Joshua Baxter to my sidebar. Joshua recently graduated from Redeemer with a political science minor and is off to Japan to eat sushi teach English.

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Educational justice: back to basics

Is government obligated by its jural mandate to recognize the prior right of parents to educate their own children? If one recognizes that governments, and the democratic majorities behind them, have normative limits placed on their authority, then I believe that it is indeed so obligated. It might be useful here to link to several articles dealing with this issue from the website of the Center for Public Justice, written over the past 15 years or so: "Completing Freedom with Justice in Education," by Charles L. Glenn; "True Education Reform Requires Equal Treatment Under the Law," by James W. Skillen; "Parental Involvement in Education," by David Van Heemst; and "Educational Choice Won't Work Without Perestroika," by James W. Skillen. A good book-length treatment can be found in Skillen, ed., The School-Choice Controversy: What Is Constitutional, reviewed here. Here is Skillen on the subject:

Government's job is not to try to monopolize educational service, but to do justice to the variety of services rendered by parents, teachers, churches, and schools in the education of children. A just public system will build up unity in the midst of diversity not at the expense of diversity. Government should use its public power to guard against racism and poverty, to overcome the growing gap between the educated and uneducated. And it can do this better by upholding a genuinely pluralistic system in which all choices count equally.

And here is Glenn:

Freedom is without meaning if you cannot exercise it. We have, in this country [i.e., the US], educational freedom only for those with money. The National Center for Educational Statistics estimated, several years ago, that 70 percent of the families with incomes over $50,000 had chosen the schools their children would attend, through residential decisions or through paying tuition or through using public school choice and selection programs. For those with low or moderate incomes, educational freedom is an illusion. That is why all the surveys show that the population group showing least support for educational vouchers is white suburbanites. The groups expressing most support for vouchers are black and Hispanic urban residents in the age category with young children.

Perhaps it's finally time to abandon the notion that a one-size-fits-all school system is capable of doing justice to all families, whatever their foundational religious commitments.

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A semblance of normality in Cyprus

In accordance with new rules attendant upon Cyprus' membership in the European Union, trade between north and south Cyprus resumes. Might the time be drawing near when the Green Line itself can be dismantled?

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23 August 2004

Help for diabetics

Could this potential breakthrough at the U of T offer hope to diabetics? "Discovery may help diabetics: Researchers find potential stem cells in pancreas."

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Dubious move

Are President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon justified in flouting international law for domestic political purposes? They appear to think so: "Israel builds more settler homes" with apparent US approval.

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21 August 2004

Mycenae in Bulgaria?

Am I the only person to think that this 2,400-year-old Thracian mask recently unearthed in Bulgaria:



Toronto Star


resembles this Mycenaean mask of Agamemnon which is currently housed at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and is a millennium older?

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Theresa's favourites

When we woke up this morning, Theresa wanted to go downstairs to listen to music. First she wanted to hear Ralph Vaughan Williams, and then she requested "Lay-on-your-cheque." It took me only a moment to realize she was speaking of Leoš Janácek.

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The marriage issue once more

A few weeks ago I questioned the enthusiasm of the Centre for Cultural Renewal for a National Post editorial favouring civil unions. Apparently I was not the only one to call this stance into question, because Iain Benson felt it necessary to respond as follows: "On Having a Strategy to Engage Culture About the Nature of Marriage: The New Game of Governance and Law Without Morality or Philosophy." He believes that embracing civil unions is a second-best option offering at least some chance of preserving a semblance of religious freedom in Canada, which is otherwise threatened by the current direction the courts are moving us.

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20 August 2004

Hellenism intrinsic to Christianity?

We Reformed Christians are well known for desiring to purge unbiblical elements from the ways we articulate and live out the faith. This is part of the principle of semper reformanda taught at the Reformation. We are alert to any foreign influences in, e.g., the church fathers and the mediaeval theologians. While we love Augustine, we are painfully aware that he retained a number of neoplatonic elements in his thought, including the time/eternity dualism and the notion of evil as the privation of good. And of course Thomas Aquinas made free use of Aristotle and the stoics in articulating his philosophy. Perhaps a little too much use, from our vantage point.

However, not all Christians are inclined to engage in the sort of "de-hellenizing" exercises Reformed Christians undertake. John Mark Reynolds is one of these, as indicated in his essay, "Athens and Jerusalem: Reflections on Hellenism and the Gospel," posted on the Orthodoxy Today website. Here is Reynolds, arguing that the marriage between Athens and Jerusalem is essential to maintaining the integrity of Christianity itself:

It is hard to see how the "marriage" of Christian doctrine and Hellenistic concepts made by the Fathers could be undone without destroying the Faith. The Fathers produced the central formulations of Christian doctrine. They did so using Hellenistic ideas. [Frederick] Copleston and others have pointed out this providential marriage between Greek language and Christian dogma. To other thinkers like [Nancey] Murphy, such a connection is anything but providential. They have suggested rethinking the trinity and other classic Christian doctrines. The Fathers and the Creeds reflect, they say, too much Hellenism to be useful in modern times. Since the infection groups rarely believe the Creeds are the product of inspiration or strongly authoritative, they feel free to reject them.

Reformed Christians need to rise to the challenge raised by Reynolds and others, particularly those in the historic Catholic and Orthodox traditions. I may write further about this in future, but at this point it seems wise to point out the crucial difference between communicating the gospel in the language of the not-yet-believing hearers and accepting their religious presuppositions to the point of articulating a synthetic christian/pagan version of the faith.

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Bush and the environment

The latest Capital Commentary from the Center for Public Justice is penned by Gordon College's Timothy Sherratt: "Doing Justice to Environmental Complexity." For some odd reason self-styled conservatives in North America have been insufficiently supportive of a governmental role in the proper exercise of environmental stewardship. The current Republican administration of US President Bush has done nothing to rectify this deficiency. There is a certain irony in this, according to Sherratt:

Conservatism has come a long way. It can distinguish among the roles and norms of economy, national security, core moral issues, and social institutions, and it has begun to fashion appropriate governmental responses to each.

But on the environment, the Republican leadership has regressed towards a shallow libertarian treatment by designating the environment a free-market, small-government issue. Its policy proposals are a mix of market-based solutions, eased regulations, and deference to energy needs.

Even within the Republican Party there are those taking a more sophisticated approach to the environment. At this point, however, the current administration is not listening to these voices, which "represents poor stewardship and not even good conservatism."

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19 August 2004

A saint for Europe?

According to the Britain's Daily Telegraph, Robert Schuman, a devout Catholic who co-founded the European Union half a century ago, is unlikely to be declared a saint by the Vatican. Why? Although he was an ascetic and celibate who attended mass daily and "sought to live by scriptural guidance," there are no miracles credited to his intercession. "Schuman supporters lobbied hard for a favourable interpretation of the rules, arguing that Franco-German reconciliation in the bitter aftermath of the Second World War was itself miraculous. So far, the Pope has responded coolly."



Robert Schuman


Incidentally, given the Catholic foundations of the EU, it is no accident that the principle of subsidiarity has been incorporated into its treaties.

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Right stance, wrong reason

This is a fairly typical argument made by market-oriented conservatives in favour of parental choice in education: "Killing Opportunity":

Voucher programs provide failing public schools with the incentives they need to improve. Under the current system, urban public schools don't have to worry too much about providing students with a quality education because their students have no real opportunity to leave. Vouchers force public schools to compete with private schools for their students, as well as the state funding those students generate, by providing a better education.

Such may indeed be the case, but it rather misses the point: parents should have prior right in choosing which school their children attend because a child's education is properly a parental responsibility. Even if voucher programmes did not have the effect indicated in the quoted passage, justice still requires that parental educational decisions be respected by government.

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18 August 2004

Maps and music

I have added two links to my sidebar. The first of these is for the classic Shepherd's Historical Atlas, which was first published the better part of a century ago, went through several editions, and is now posted at the website of the University of Texas library. I have long had an affinity for maps in general and for historical atlases in particular. Here is a Shepherd map of the distribution of the "races" (i.e., ethno-linguistic groups) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as found in the 1911 edition:



The second link is to the Cyprus music page on Kypros-net. It contains ancient hymns and kalanta (carols) for the holy days of the church year, folk songs and popular music. I especially like the music of Mihalis Violaris, which I've enjoyed since I was in my teens.

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17 August 2004

New discovery or publicity-seeking?

Could Shimon Gibson have discovered John the Baptist's cave? Will it, like the James Ossuary, go on tour beginning with the ROM?

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New defence strategy in US

Think of all the air miles they'll rack up: "Bush shuffles 70,000 troops."

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Picky, picky, picky

Our Theresa appears to have an ear for the intricacies of different performances of the same work. I have two recordings of Leoš Janácek's Symfonietta (or Sinfonietta, as it is often rendered), one on vinyl performed by the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Rídí Karel Ancerl, and the second on CD by Bratislava's Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra with Ondrej Lenárd as conductor. I had been playing the former for Theresa in recent days. But then, unannounced, I switched to the latter. Almost immediately she protested that it was not the same thing. She wanted to hear "the other one." She seems to have a career ahead of her as a music critic.

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Bad move?

The Economist doesn't think much of Illinois Republicans' decision to pit Keyes against Obama: "The politics of tokenism."

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15 August 2004

A fabricated past?

Was Illinois Senate hopeful Barack Obama less than forthright about his own background and upbringing in his speech to the Democratic National Convention last month? Columnist Andy Martin makes precisely this accusation, arguing among other things that Obama has a muslim background:

Obama is a Muslim who has concealed his religion. I am a strong supporter of the Muslim community, and I believe Muslims have been scapegoated. Obama has a great opportunity to be forthright. Instead, he has treated his Muslim heritage as a dark secret. His grandfather was named 'Hussein.' That is an Arabic-Muslim, not African, name. Hussein was a devout Muslim and named his son, Barack Senior, 'Baraka.' Baraka is an Arabic word meaning 'blessed.' Baraka comes out of the Koran and Arabic, not Africa.

In his speech Obama claimed that Barack means "blessings" in Swahili. Not knowing Swahili, I am unable to assess the truth of this claim. My understanding, however, is that barack does mean blessings in Arabic, where the similarity to the Hebrew baruch is evident. Yet it is also true that Swahili has been considerably influenced by Arabic, much as, say, Urdu might be seen as a form of Hindi with a heavy overlay of Persian vocabulary. So Obama may indeed be telling the truth about his first name's origin.

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Reaching for excellence

My favourite Olympic sport? The synchronized pram-pushing competition.

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Weekly celebration of Lord's Supper

I've written in the past of my support for the weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper. (See also my "The Lord's Supper: How Often?" Reformed Worship, no. 15, March 1990, pp. 40-1.) Unfortunately, while Lutherans and Anglicans have gradually come on side of this over the decades, Reformed Christians have noticeably lagged behind, despite the expressed support of John Calvin himself. Thus I am always encouraged to learn of a congregation whose leadership has moved intentionally to recover this evidently more biblical practice. One of these is Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Columbia, Missouri, whose website explains:


We don’t leave the house of God without first sitting down at his table. Jesus is our gracious host, feeding us with the bread and wine. Our practice of weekly communion grows out of the practice of the ancient church. Throughout his life, Jesus showed himself as a friend of sinners by sharing food with them (Luke 7:34). On the night of the Last Supper, he took the bread and wine of the ancient Jewish Passover feast and gave it a new meaning. He offered the broken bread to his disciples as his body broken for them. He gave them the cup of wine, representing his blood, which would soon be poured out for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 14:22-24). The earliest Christians continued this practice of table fellowship by sharing a special meal together which we variously call the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:26).

Exactly right. We can only pray that other churches in the Reformed and Presbyterian family will follow the example of Christ Our King and celebrate communion on a weekly basis.

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14 August 2004

Spheres of justice, sphere sovereignty

The formidable Mr. James Brink, who undoubtedly has a brilliant future ahead of him, ably takes on James Skillen's critique of Michael Walzer. However, methinks he mistaketh Skillen for Plato and Walzer for Aristotle. . . and himself for Kierkegaard?

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And might it also be. . .

. . . that these makers of champaigne, Messieurs Coizy, Père et Fils, are distant cousins of ours?

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Could it be. . .

. . . that the interlocking rings symbolic of the Olympic Games are a good visual illustration of what Abraham Kuyper calls sphere sovereignty and his more recent heirs refer to as differentiated responsibility?



Rather than being hermetically sealed against each other, as one might find in certain libertarian models, the various societal spheres, including the multiplicity of communities in which we find ourselves embedded, overlap and are interrelated in many ways.

Here is the illustration I used in my book for sphere sovereignty:



Of course, all visual models have their limitations. The Olympic rings have the virtue of indicating the interrelatedness of the spheres. Mine does this less well perhaps, but it does, I believe, effectively show the direct relationship of each sphere to God himself, as well as indicating the nonhierarchical relationship amongst the spheres.

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12 August 2004

Going home again

Nine years after being chased out of Croatia, some of the half million ethnic Serbian refugees are returning to their homes in that country. As a price of membership in the European Union, Croatia is attempting to undo the ethnic cleansing that led to the expulsion of Serb minority:
The most recent reports indicate that approximately 137,000 Serbian refugees have returned to Croatia. From 12 percent of Croatia's population in 1995, Serbs now account for only 5 percent. That's not good enough yet for the European Union, which Croatia badly wants to join in 2007, when the next wave of enlargement is expected. Creating the conditions needed to enable displaced Croatian Serbs to return is among the most important requirements the EU has told the country it must meet to qualify for entry. At the end of 2003, then-Prime Minister Ivica Racan publicly encouraged Serb refugees to come back, announcing new job-creation schemes, and housing and financial assistance aimed at easing their return.

Still, most ethnic Serbs are not returning to their homes, and the territories of the former Yugoslavia are becoming more, rather than less, ethnically homogeneous. All the same, Croatia's action is an important first step in making itself into a territorial state, doing justice to all its citizens, rather than an ethnic state privileging an ethnic majority at the expense of minorities.

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An alternative bank: Grameen

Is it possible for a bank to thrive by lending to people without collateral? Professor Muhammad Yunus believed that it was. Now his Grameen Bank is paying off and, apparently, lifting multitudes out of poverty. Might this be a model from which Christians can learn and apply elsewhere? Might the proliferation of such banks help to ameliorate, if not altogether solve, the problem of global poverty? It would seem to be worth looking into.

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It's back again



After a month off, there is another issue out of Comment (vol. 22, no. 6), big bundles of which are being distributed along the information highway. Among the contents are the following: "Ten Good Things," by Gideon "Let's Do Lunch" Strauss; "Citizen Union: Labour Organizations in Civil Society," by Ed "Big Boss" Bosveld; "Life's Big Questions: Where Am I," by Shiao "Can't Think of Anything Funny to Put Here" Chong; "New Wine into Old Skins," by James "Future Lawyer" Brink; "Of Presidents and Public Faith," by Vincent "Abe" Bacote; and last, but I hope not least, "Subsidiarity and Federalism," by that obscure Canadian political scientist, about whom it might increasingly be said that he never had an unpublished thought.

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11 August 2004

The New Pantagruel

The summer issue of The New Pantagruel has come out. Among the articles included are the following: "The God Who is Where? from My Faith So Far: A Story of Conversion and Confusion," by Patton Dodd; "Christian College Professor Flunks Christian Worldview Tests," by Jack Heller; "Realism Against Reality," by Eric Miller; and "Christianity and Liberalism: Two Alternative Religious Approaches," by a certain obscure political scientist at a small Canadian university. The New Pantagruel recently received some attention in the pages of The New York Times.

At some point I may weigh in on the rather curious difficulty tNP's Fr. Jape has with the notion of discernment, preferably after he has explained himself at somewhat more length than he has done thus far.

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09 August 2004

A perennial favourite

My all-time favourite children's book has got to be The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton. I received a copy of this book from my grandmother when I was 7 years old, and I have loved it ever since.



The story itself is a simple one. In the middle of the 19th century a man builds a little house for his family on a hill covered with swaying fruit trees. Initially a farm house out in the country, she (yes, "she") sees the seasons change, the years pass and generations come and go. Gradually the city encroaches upon the Little House, which, because she cannot be bought or sold, survives to see streetcars, subways, elevated railways, automobiles and huge buildings crowding around her. Eventually a descendant of the original owner comes upon the Little House and recognizes her from her grandmother's old photographs. I'll leave the end of the story to the reader. It is not a terribly sophisticated plotline. The prose is simple and repetitive, suitable for a child in the early elementary grades.

However, the real attraction of the book is the author's illustrations, which won her the Caldecott Medal in 1943. Burton's pictures resemble the primitivist art of Grandma Moses or Grant Wood. Apparently working with water colour, Burton creates visual imagery that evokes a sense of placidity in the book's early illustrations. The landscape consists of a series of geographically implausible curved hills arranged in a sweeping zig-zag or "S" pattern extending upwards to create a sense of distance. These are neighbouring farms, each of which is virtually identical to, or mirror-image of, the Little House's farm. As the viewer's eye moves up the page, the curved farm pattern is repeated, each farm growing continually smaller until ending at the horizon, a long winding road separating them and peeking out from behind the hills at the edges.

The message is obvious: this peaceful agrarian world remains the same, its stability enveloping the lives of the small, barely distinguishable people living in and around the Little House. Seasons come and go, but the Little House stays just the same. Exactly the same activities, whether ploughing, grazing or harvesting, take place on every hill as far as the eye can see. Burton's illustrations even have something of a calligraphic quality to them. The trees lining the hills resemble exquisitely executed Japanese letters, all the same of course, but each line of which is lovingly drawn to communicate something profound to the reader.

Then the first straight line enters the picture: a paved road cutting through the curves and bringing the small houses of an encroaching suburban community, dotted with gas stations, telephone poles and, for the first time, horseless carriages. The curved pattern is broken, but it is not altogether abandoned. It simply takes on the flavour of urban life, with stores and streetcars assuming the place of farm houses and barns. By the end of the story it is mid-20th century, with huge skyscrapers dwarfing the Little House, aeroplanes buzzing overhead, and 1940s traffic clogging the streets. Yet the curved, repetitive pattern is maintained.

This is a book to savour over the course of a lifetime. Although it was obviously written with small children in mind, there is a sense in which one does not outgrow The Little House. One simply progresses from having it read to oneself to reading it to one's own children.

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Hell freezes over

Who would have thought, back in 1948, that the party that created apartheid would one day join the African National Congress: "The party of apartheid is dead." What next? "Al-Qaeda petitions Vatican for forgiveness"? "Ankara restores Aghia Sophia to Ecumenical Patriarch"? "Parti québécois changes tune: supports federalism"?

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08 August 2004

Keyes vs Obama

It's official: Alan Keyes (no relation to a certain stank-eyed former parliamentarian from Hamilton) has entered the race for Illinois's US Senate seat against Barack Obama. This will certainly be one race worth following.

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Koranic scholarship

One of Nicholas Kristoff's more fascinating New York Times columns was reprinted in The Hamilton Spectator yesterday: "Martyrs, Virgins and Grapes." Much as scholars in recent centuries have been active in exploring the literary and philological side of the extant biblical manuscripts, thereby furtherng our understanding of the Bible, they are now doing the same with the Koran, the holy book of Islam. Among other things they are discovering that there are Syriac/Aramaic origins to some of the more obscure words previously thought to be Arabic. For example, it seems that martyrs to the muslim cause cannot after all hope for 72 virgins to await their arrival; instead they can look forward to a bunch of white grapes! The rest of us can look forward to the publication of the English translation of Die syro-aramäische Lesart des Koran, authored by the pseudonymous Christoph Luxenberg. Will Luxenberg's findings revolutionize Islam, as the author of this review obviously hopes? It's hard to say. The use of the pseudonym would seem evidence of an expected backlash.

On the other hand, some scholars of the Bible, especially those hostile to revealed religion, have long thought -- even hoped -- that their efforts would eventually destroy the faith of the faithful, showing the principal written vessel of divine revelation to be nothing of the sort, and merely a cultural artefact. Yet the Nag Hammadi library, the Dead Sea scrolls and even Dan Brown's ill-researched Da Vinci Code, have done nothing of the sort. Some traditional interpretations might have to be altered, but I wouldn't expect a massive abandonment of Islam any time soon.

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Another anniversary and changing my major

As I've written before, this is a summer of anniversaries. Thirty years ago today Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency of the United States, the first and only holder of that office to do so. This was, of course, the result of the Watergate scandal, which paralyzed Nixon's presidency and led to impeachment proceedings in the Congress. This climactic event occurred in the middle of the Cyprus crisis, which was having such an impact on our family.

A few weeks later I returned to university, dropped my music major and picked up a political science major instead.

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06 August 2004

Francis Crick's glamorous rival

Francis Crick, best known, along with James Watson, for the co-discovery of the structure of DNA, is dead at age 88. Both men are justly celebrated for this groundbreaking achievement, which effectively created the field of molecular biology and revolutionized modern medicine.

However, in recent decades Crick had turned his attention to the scientific exploration of human consciousness. His "findings" are set forth in Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul. What is Crick's hypothesis? Just this:

“YOU”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. It does not come easily to most people to believe that I am the detailed behavior of a set of nerve cells, however many there may be and however intricate their interactions. . . . As Lewis Carroll's Alice might have phrased it: "You're nothing but a pack of neurons." [emphasis mine]

Sorry, Dr. Crick. Someone else got there first, namely Greta Garbo's cinematic character Ninotchka, in response to Melvyn Douglas' amorous overtures: “Why must you bring in the wrong values? Love is a romantic designation for a most ordinary biological -- or, shall we say, chemical? -- process. A lot of nonsense is written about it.” The differences between Crick and Garbo are twofold: First, Garbo knew she was playing for laughs while Crick was deadly serious. Second, Garbo never managed to win the Nobel Prize.

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Two Crises, Two Failures

Here is the latest Capital Commentary from the Centre for Public Justice, dated 9 August 2004:

In the spring of 1999, flush with "victory" in the war with Serbia, President Clinton announced the Clinton Doctrine: never again would a people suffer from ethnic cleansing if the U.S. could do something about it. From now on, no national leader could hide behind sovereignty while slaughtering innocent people. The U.S. would intervene forcefully, if it could do so without sustaining heavy casualties, to end such wanton loss of human life. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan quickly added his support.

In the 2000 presidential election campaign, candidate Bush argued that the U.S. should not be the world's policeman by intervening in places that did not directly affect the vital interests of the U.S. We would return, he indicated, to great power politics--concentrating on our interests in China, Russia, Europe, and the greater Middle East. In effect, the Clinton Doctrine and its moralism would be replaced by more conservative-realist principals.

Ironically, as the Bush administration's reasons for invading Iraq last year have melted away one by one, it has been reduced essentially to justifying its action by adopting the basic rationale of the discarded Clinton Doctrine. Since the administration has found no weapons of mass destruction and no credible link to Al Qaeda--the primary reasons for going to war--it has focused almost exclusively on a humanitarian justification. As the argument goes, we have freed the Iraqi people from a sadistic dictator who murdered thousands of his own people.

Apparently, the Clinton Doctrine of humanitarian intervention is now not only acceptable but a central focus of the post 9/11 foreign policy of the Bush administration. The administration has seemingly adopted full-blown neo-Wilsonian moralism. But, just as quickly as the administration has recast its foreign policy moorings, its humanitarian credentials, like its earlier conservative-realist ones, have crashed ignominiously--this time in the sands and heat of western Sudan rather than in the sands and heat of Iraq.

A humanitarian crisis of monumental proportions is well under way in the Darfur region of Sudan. Arab militias, the Janjaweed, have been mercilessly attacking and exterminating as many of the black residents of Darfur as they can--all with the help and connivance of the government in Khartoum. Not only are scores of people dying from the militia attacks, they also are dying from hunger, thirst, and disease. Refugees, sweltering in triple-digit heat, are cramped into unsanitary camps, many just waiting, and some hoping, to die. The militias have destroyed wells, farms, and whole villages in their quest to purge black people from the Darfur region.

The U.N. says that more than two million people are in need of food aid and our own Agency for International Development estimated last month that 300,000 to one million people could die. Sadly, as long as this crisis persists, these numbers will only grow. The specter of American and European inaction in the Rwanda massacres of a decade ago haunts the Darfur tragedy.

Early in July, Secretary of State Powell and Annan toured the refugee camps in Darfur and in "condemning" the situation called on the Khartoum government to protect the people there. The British offered to send 5,000 troops (which the Sudanese government refused) and the U.S. has sent some food aid. At the end of July the U.N. Security Council passed a weak resolution, demanding that Khartoum act to protect the people of Darfur. But there has been little sense of urgency in the West to relieve this desperate situation, something that could be done rather easily if we had the political will to do so. But there is no leadership from Washington; the administration has no policy.

--Steven E. Meyer, National Defense University

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Education in Cyprus

Posted on the Cyprus News online website is an article titled, "Constructing Higher Education in Cyprus: the State, society and conflicting 'knowledge traditions'," originally published in the European Journal of Education back in 1997 and written by a certain Cypriot-American whose surname seems vaguely familiar. The three knowledge traditions the author isolates as having an influence on post-secondary education in the island are classical hellenic philology/humanism, English essentialism and North American pragmatism. Their impact has been further complicated by the ongoing conflict between those seeing education furthering cultural goals and those viewing it as ancillary to the economic marketplace. It is, I suppose, a sort of worldview analysis of the ways education functions in the context of a small nation at the fringes of Europe.

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05 August 2004

Pontic music again

In the course of introducing more of my vinyl collection to Theresa yesterday, I was delighted to discover that one of my records contains 5 examples of Pontic Greek music. The album is titled, Greek Island and Mountain Songs (long out of print, I assume, since a Google search brings nothing up), and it is performed by The Greek Royal Festival Company under the direction of Dora Stratou, and published by Olympic Records. When I first acquired this collection some two or three decades ago, I did not understand the significance of Greek music originating in the Pontos, where Greeks have not lived since 1923. It is quite distinctive and unlike other varieties of Greek music.

Pontic Greeks still live in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, but their numbers are diminishing through emigration.

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Beatrix Potter

Theresa quite likes Beatrix Potter's stories these days. In her personal library she has a good-sized volume containing several of these, the most famous of which is, of course, "The Tale of Peter Rabit." Right now her favourites are "The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle" and "The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin."



Old Mr. Brown and Squirrel Nutkin


I wrote last year about the weak plotlines in Miss Potter's stories, but I think I'm changing my mind about these. After a while they grow on you. Perhaps I have been influenced by the bright-eyed face of a certain five-year-old who loves to have her daddy read them to her.

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04 August 2004

Gibraltar: an anniversary

The people of Gibraltar are celebrating 300 years of British rule over a territory connected to the Spanish mainland -- much to the irritation of Spain itself, which claims ownership. The United States maintains official neutrality in the longrunning dispute between the two NATO allies, but leans towards the British position for foreign and defence policy reasons.

How does one justly resolve such an issue? The original British seizure of Gibraltar in 1704 can hardly be defended, but three centuries have now passed and the territory's residents strongly oppose any change in its status. Despite its contiguity with the Iberian peninsula, there is much to be said for the argument that Gibraltar is legally British territory, just as the Falkland Islands are.

On the other hand, if Gibraltar is considered a British colony in Spain, then perhaps there is something to be said for handing it back to its rightful owner, which has never given up its claim or recognized British sovereignty. After all, the age of colonialism is past. This is the approach Britain took towards Hong Kong in 1997. Yet if Britain gives up control of Gibraltar, then there is little reason for Spain not to relinquish its hold on Ceuta and Melilla, two cities on the Moroccan coast which it has held for 500 years. However, Spain is unlikely to budge on this issue.

It is difficult to know how to go about justly settling such a territorial conflict, since Britain's expressed willingness to negotiate will likely be perceived by Gibraltar's residents as abandonment by their preferred rulers. The similarity to the unionist stance in Northern Ireland is evident here, the principal difference being that Gibraltar does not have a substantial ethnic Spanish minority comparable to Ulster's Catholics.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer on marriage and abortion

Marriage involves the acknowledgement of the right of life that is to come into being, a right which is not subject to the disposal of the married couple. Unless this right is acknowledged as a matter of principle, marriage ceases to be marriage and becomes a mere liaison. Acknowledgement of this right means making way for the free creative power of God which can cause new life to proceed from this marriage according to His will. Destruction of the embryo in the mother's womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, pp. 175-6.

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Did you know. . .

I wonder how many people are aware that Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, daughter of Tsar Alexander III and sister of Nicholas II, Russia's last Tsar, died as late as 1960 in relative poverty in an apartment over a barbershop in Toronto.

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03 August 2004

The US election: party conventions

Some people have asked me whether I watched coverage of the Democratic Convention last week. The short answer is, no, I did not. Why not? After all, as an academic political scientist with American birth and upbringing, one would think it would interest me. But there are two reasons why I did not tune in. First, our television has not been working properly for several months now. Yes, we can still play videos and DVDs, but we can't receive any outside signals. To be honest, we've not really missed it.

Second, even if our television were functional, I probably still would not have watched it. When I was growing up in the 1960s and early '70s, party conventions still had work to do in choosing presidential and vice-presidential candidates. I recall the notorious 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, which saw turmoil within the hall and violence outside. At the outset it was by no means known who the party's presidential candidate would be. President Lyndon B. Johnson had bowed out of the race in March, although he certainly had the constitutional right to stand again for the office. However, his conduct of the Vietnam War, which was increasingly dividing the American public, left him with little credibility. Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey was nominated at the end, but Eugene McCarthy put forth a credible effort to win the spot. Robert F. Kennedy would have been a powerful contender, had he not been assassinated in June.

As a result of the turmoil at the '68 convention, the Democratic Party instituted a series of reforms intended to break the hold of local party bosses on the candidate selection process and to make it more open and democratic. The Republican Party followed suit. Ironically, one of the effects of these reforms was to drain the convention of any genuine decision-making power, which now belonged to the voters voting in primary elections. Conventions are now little more than expensive pep rallies intended to build enthusiasm and momentum for the presidential candidate, whose identity is already determined. Well, I'm sorry but I've got better things to do.

On the other hand, having heard about Barack Obama's speech at last week's convention, I thought it worthwhile to check it out on the convention website. Obama is an Illinois state senator who is running to represent his state in the US Senate. Very impressive. Could he be the first African-American (and I do mean African, as in Kenyan) president? It is by no means beyond the realm of possibility.

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A fifth British nation?

Thus far Tony Blair has not undertaken to devolve political authority to a Cornish assembly, as he has done for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Why not? After reading this he might deem it wise to do so: "The Cornish: A Neglected Nation?"

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02 August 2004

Jerusalem: the Armenian presence

Those who have visited the old city of Jerusalem are aware that it is divided into four quarters: the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter and the Jewish Quarter; all surrounded by the 16th-century walls built by the Ottoman Turks. The Armenian Quarter is in the southwest quadrant, as coloured blue in the map below:


White Fathers


Unlike the other three quarters, which bristle with commercial activity and aggressive vendors openly pursuing potential customers, the Armenian Quarter is very quiet indeed, consisting mostly of ecclesiastical, monastic and educational institutions attached to the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Entering the city via the Zion Gate, one turns left and then follows the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Road as it curves right and heads north towards David Street and the Christian Quarter. Posted on the ancient stone walls along the street, one sees more than one copy of the following map, showing the locations associated with the Armenian Genocide, whose memory is nurtured here.


cilicia.com


When we were there in 1995, Nancy and I dined at an Armenian restaurant on the east side of the road and slightly below ground level. That was the one locus of commercial activity we detected.

The Armenians also have a share in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the better attested sites associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Although it is shared by the Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian, Syrian, Coptic and Ethiopian churches, it would be inaccurate to call it an ecumenical endeavour, as the ecclesiastical bodies have long quarrelled over their respective custodial rights.

Finally, during our visit to nearby Bethlehem our attempt to see the grotto in the Church of the Nativity was prevented by a group of Armenian priests who were chanting the liturgy in the spot reputed to be the birthplace of Jesus. We thought we would be able to wait them out and see the grotto. However, they kept on chanting, outlasting our patience. We left to see other things. We never did see the grotto, except from the outside.

The Armenian Apostolic Church dissented from the decision of the Council of Chalcedon of 451 with respect to the person of Christ. Along with the Copts and Ethiopians, they are often called monophysites by Catholics, Orthodox and heirs of the Reformation.

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Government and marriage

I usually respect the Centre for Cultural Renewal and the work it does in carefully analyzing court decisions and public policy issues in light of a Judeo-Christian ethical framework. However, I have difficulty comprehending why the Centre would take comfort in a National Post editorial last month on the same-sex marriage issue, which it claims supports its own position. If marriage is a distinctive community, irreducible to a mere private contract and intrinsically bound up with the procreative possibility of sexual intercourse -- as affirmed in Judaism, Christianity and virtually every one of the world's civilizations -- then a call to "Get Ottawa out of the marriage business" would seem an unwarranted concession to the liberal tendency to flatten out every human community to a voluntary association. To be sure, government legitimately protects private contracts, properly understood. But in its ongoing task of doing public justice, it must also protect the genuine diversity of human social formations, including those which cannot be understood in contractual terms. The Centre and the Post would seemingly have government abandon a crucial part of this task. The call to "get government out of" such and such an activity appeals to a certain libertarian mindset, often in conservative guise, but it is not a recipe for the doing of justice.

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Churches targeted

Al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq have turned their efforts to intimidating the 800,000-member Christian minority in that country: "Iraq blames Zarqawi for church bombings." Fortunately Iraqi Muslims are denouncing these acts of "barbarity."

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01 August 2004

East of Toronto

We rarely travel east of Toronto, but I myself have been there twice now in the past month. First for the wedding of a recently graduated student of mine. And now, just yesterday, Nancy and Theresa and I attended the wedding of a former student of Nancy's at a huge Pentecostal church in Oshawa. We stayed at Port Hope. Among other things we ate at a restaurant whose menu offered Greek salad, uitsmijter and nasi goreng. Must be owned by another Byzantine-rite Calvinist.

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