Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

29 April 2005

Political riddle of the day

What does one call a political system in which there have been only three changes in government in one-hundred years (1917, 1935 and 1971), a defeated party has never returned to power, and voter turnout in the most recent election stood at 44.5 percent?

It's called an albertocracy.

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28 April 2005

Orthodox-Catholic relations under the new pope

In an interview with Kommersant, which styles itself "new Russia's first independent newspaper," Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow expresses continued wariness over Catholic intentions towards his country but is willing to give Pope Benedict XVI the benefit of the doubt. He furthermore sees the possibility of a common witness between the two communions with respect to preventing the erosion of christian values within an increasingly secular society.

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Reese: 'Love it or leave it'

In response to those "cafeteria" Catholics who dislike their new leader, syndicated columnist Charley Reese, in somewhat blunt fashion, argues that religion should not try to pander to the secular spirit of our age. It should defend the timeless truths. Writes Reese:

Many Americans — Protestants as well as Catholics — suffer from what I call the Spoiled Brat Syndrome. Seeing themselves as the center of the universe, they think the world and everything in it, including whatever church they attend, should conform to their wishes.

That is a childish attitude. There is no need for the church to "catch up with the 21st century," as one person put it. Christianity is not a 21st-century religion. If you are a Christian, your choice is to obey the teachings of Jesus and his apostles. You don't get to vote on them or pick some and reject others.

On the other hand, there are some Christians who, based on a belief in sola scriptura — or, better yet, prima scriptura — , genuinely believe that Rome's understanding of the truth is not without defect. Those of us falling into this category are, well, protestants, for whom the central issue is one of authority and not mere personal preference.

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Genocide celebrated in TRNC?

I hope this report is merely the product of an overheated imagination: "Northern Cyprus 'marked' Armenian Genocide with festive salute."

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27 April 2005

Parliament in turmoil

Can a deal between Prime Minister Paul Martin and New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton successfully prop up Martin's Liberal minority government in Ottawa? Or will the Conservatives succeed in defeating the government on a nonconfidence motion — possibly as early as next wednesday? Stay tuned.

For those who persist in believing that the current parliament is dysfunctional, what we are seeing is nothing less than responsible government in action. Under a minority government, for a change, the government of the day must persuade the other parties of the merits of its agenda rather than rely on party discipline to get its way. To which I say: let's have more minority governments. Or better yet, coalition governments, which are likely to be more enduring.

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Remembering the Armenian Genocide

This week marks the 90th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, the first such mass extermination of the 20th century. Upwards of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians died in the Genocide, for which Turkey steadfastly refuses to accept responsibility. Those with further interest in the subject might wish to read my review of Atom Egoyan's Ararat, an overly complex cinematic treatment of this atrocity.

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25 April 2005

Christian democracy in America, revisited

In an earlier post I wondered whether the publication of Lew Daly's "Compassion Capital" might represent the mainstreaming of the neocalvinist and neothomist movements in North America. If so, it will likely be a mixed blessing at best, as any account of a religious perspective native to another continent and culture is certain to be riddled with half truths at best and outright errors at worst. For example, any exploration of neocalvinism by the uninitiated will inevitably bring up the apparent apartheid connection in South Africa. Similarly, mention of neothomism, with its principle of subsidiarity, raises in some minds the spectre of European corporatism and even fascism. Never mind that Afrikaner neocalvinists — some of whom I know personally — were in the forefront of efforts to dismantle apartheid and incurred the displeasure of the nationalist régime. Never mind, as well, that such neothomists as Jacques Maritain and Yves René Simon, authored a manifesto in 1934 warning their compatriots of the dangers of fascism in France. It is simpler to draw caricatures, which makes for easier classification of the unfamiliar.

This said, Daly has an interesting take on a fundamental difference between European christian democracy and the Bush administration's faith-based initiative. The latter is not, after all, an assault on poverty, as Bush has claimed, because social expenditures to combat poverty have not been and do not look set to be increased in the US federal budget. As Daly sees it, here is where christian democracy takes a different approach:

The fundamental mechanism of Christian democracy is the social transfer of income, seeking to “moderate the outcome of the logic of the imperfect market by transferring considerable sums of money to families and other social institutions in need,” as [Kees] van Kersbergen states. Full employment policy is not ideal, because it reaches too far in adjusting social structures. Where markets fail, social transfers rehabilitate families and communities to the material level proper to their needs and dignity. Where social services are necessary for emergencies or temporary needs, the “subsidiary function,” approximating as much as possible a family approach, is the standard. “Privately governed, publicly financed welfare arrangements are the ideal.”

Sphere sovereignty and subsidiarity require independent service providers, and neutral funding of even the most religious. But they do not operate in a social vacuum, and the principal goal is not the provision of services by religious groups, as with the faith-based initiative. To the contrary, what makes subsidiarity in social services something other than charity is the comprehensive system of social transfers that backs it up, guaranteeing a living family wage in good times and bad. Christian democracy repudiates charity in favor of the public transfer of resources. That is what the “social question” was about in 1891, and the comparative results are striking. For example, in the ten-year period after 1984, the United States had less “pre-government” or “market” poverty than Germany, and only slightly more than the Netherlands. Yet “post-government” poverty in the United States—poverty after taxes and transfers—was much higher. Over ten years, the percentage reduction in overall poverty in the United States—pre-to-post-government—was only around 20 percent, while in the Netherlands it was over 90 percent and in Germany nearly 70 percent. The reason for this success is obvious: both countries devote significantly more of their national product to social spending, or, as one recent study puts it, “social transfers matter.” Whether public commitments strengthen or weaken traditional community is a question of benefit types and the structure of services—who provides them—not their finances. Without public finances, justice is not possible.

Christian democracy, in those countries where it has been implemented, is thus based on a systematic collaboration between public and private sectors to combat poverty. This collaboration combines the increased social transfers of social democracy with considerable autonomy for confessionally-based organizations, such that "the public responsibility is to authorize and finance social programs, whereas private responsibility governs the delivery of services or benefits." The American faith-based initiative borrows from christian democracy only the emphasis on private delivery and not the increased social spending.

I myself, while favouring the faith-based initiative, early concluded that Bush's claim that confessionally-explicit organizations are somehow uniquely equipped to combat poverty represented a case of severe overselling. The version of "compassionate conservatism" championed by Marvin Olasky is particularly wont to speak the language of "win[ning] the war on poverty." By contrast, the Center for Public Justice has had a more modest aim, namely, to end discrimination against faith-based organizations in the disbursement of government social welfare funds. Period. It has quite deliberately refrained from making exaggerated claims concerning the efficacy of such organizations. Thus to identify the Center's neocalvinist approach with Olasky's less careful approach is not entirely warranted, even if some of the emphases may coincide.

But what of increasing public social expenditures? From my own reading of the Center's literature and position papers, this does not appear to be a notable emphasis, apart from its new Guidelines for Government and Citizenship urging that financial assistance be "generous and effective, not stingy and second-rate." In this respect, its Canadian counterpart, Citizens for Public Justice, may have a bit of an edge, if Daly's analysis is correct. This, of course, raises the question of what the proper level of social expenditures ought to be in a developed welfare state. Clearly there is no obvious answer to this, which may explain why the Center has not seen fit to incorporate a particular ideal level into its Guidelines. Whatever level is implemented will find some citizens claiming that expenditures are too low and others believing them to be too high.

What further complicates the issue is the fact that social justice organizations, while laudably taking up the cause of the economically disadvantaged, typically urge increased social expenditures no matter what level they happen to be at. If such expenditures constitute 25 percent, 35 percent or even 55 percent of a government's total budget, the social justice advocates will predictably call for even more, apparently without sensing the need to admit the possibility of a realistic upper limit. Last year, in my Comment article, "Neocalvinism and social justice," I wrote the following:

A government with a genuine desire to seek social justice must pursue a variety of strategies, while recognizing that its ability to act directly is limited. To begin with, in those countries characterized by the most egregious maldistribution of productive property, some form of basic redistribution, such as land reform, will have to be considered. However, in most Western countries possessing a substantial middle class, the strategy of choice would likely be different and would entail at least two components. One of these would indeed be to maintain and perhaps even to strengthen the social safety net that is part of the commons, that is, the shared legacy belonging to all citizens of the political community. At what level should this be maintained? The answer cannot be determined a priori but must be subject to the deliberative process that is part and parcel of ordinary politics.

I would still affirm this last statement. At the same time, it might be wise to bring in policy analysts with experience in this field to try to ascertain the proper balance between the generous provision of public services and the maintenance of economic incentives for the private sector. Though they certainly should not be in a position to impose a "solution" directly, their input might nevertheless serve the deliberative process within an elected parliamentary body.

Is the Bush administration availing itself of such expertise? Is it earnestly encouraging Congress to discuss the proper level of social expenditures in the federal budget with a possible view to increasing them if deemed appropriate? Daly believes it is not, although the White House itself suggests otherwise. All the same, Daly persuasively argues that christian democracy, whether in its neocalvinist or neothomist variant, has resources from which the current president could stand to learn. Despite the inaccuracies and half truths in Daly's article, I can enthusiastically agree with this assessment.

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22 April 2005

The Pope's divisions

Of all the assessments I have thus far read on the legacy of John Paul II, this one by Joseph Bottum in The Weekly Standard is by far the most intriguing: "John Paul the Great." Many observers recognize the role played by the Pope in the collapse of communism a decade after he came to the papal throne. But there may be more to this than most of us are aware. Here is a small sample from Bottum's article:

"How many divisions has the pope?" Stalin famously sneered. As it happens, with John Paul II, we have an answer. At the end of 1980, worried by the Polish government's inability to control the independent labor union Solidarity, the Russians prepared an invasion "to save socialist Poland." Fifteen divisions--twelve Soviet, two Czech, and one East German--were to cross the border in an initial attack, with nine more Soviet divisions following the next day. On December 7, [National Security Advisor Zbigniew] Brzezinski called from the White House to tell John Paul II what American satellite photos showed about troop movements along the Polish border, and on December 16 the pope wrote Leonid Brezhnev a stern letter, invoking against the Soviets the guarantees of sovereignty that the Soviets themselves had inserted in the Helsinki Final Act (as a way, they thought, of ensuring the Communists' permanent domination of Eastern Europe). Already caught in the Afghanistan debacle and fearing an even greater loss of international prestige and good will, Brezhnev ordered the troops home. Twenty-four divisions, and John Paul II faced them down.

Those doubting that the man born Karol Józef Wojtyla was used mightily of God during his long life will have their doubts shaken by Bottum's article.

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Martin to Canadians: "re-elect me'

Last evening the Prime Minister delivered a rare address to the nation -- or perhaps I should say to central Canada, since westerners, who won't be voting for him anyway, were still at work. The message? "I commit to you tonight that I will call a general election within 30 days of the publication of the [Gomery] commission’s final report and recommendations." Given that the report is not due out until December, the old cliché about closing the barn door after the horses have left would seem to have some relevance here.

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21 April 2005

The Pope and Ukraine

Did John Paul II's 2001 visit to Ukraine serve to pave the way for last December's Orange Revolution much as his 1979 visit to Poland laid the foundations for the Solidarity trade union movement? So argues Myroslav Marynovych in "A Pope for All Catholics."

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Bush to speak at Calvin

Calvin College has announced that George W. Bush will be speaking at its annual commencement exercises on 21 May. Rumour has it that Nicholas Wolterstorff was bumped to make room for the President and will be speaking next year instead.

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20 April 2005

Christian democracy in America

Writing in the new issue of Boston Review, Lew Daly describes the roots of President Bush's faith-based initiative in the European christian democratic experience: "Compassion Capital." Remarkably, Daly pays close attention to the influence of Reformed and Catholic social teachings, as manifested in the principles of sphere sovereignty and subsidiarity respectively. Mention is made in this context of some familiar names: James Skillen, Stanley Carlson-Thies, Bernard Zylstra, Abraham Kuyper and many others. I will undoubtedly come back to this article once paper-marking and final exams are out of the way. At this point I will simply ask whether its publication might indicate that neocalvinism and neothomism are finally coming into the mainstream of North American cultural consciousness.

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19 April 2005

A high-handed move

What does one call a political system in which the government of the day, already plagued by scandal, uses its power to postpone a vote of confidence in parliament by stripping the opposition parties of those days allocated to them by constitutional convention? Democracy is not the first word to come to mind.

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'Habemus papam'


Catholic News


Ratzinger it is. The Bavarian-born cardinal becomes the 265th pope as Benedict XVI.

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Ratzinger on relativism

Cardinal Ratzinger, one of the possible contenders for the papacy, was John Paul II's right-hand man as prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In this position he became something of a lightning rod for dissidents within the church and critics without. Zenit reports on Ratzinger's homily delivered at mass yesterday, in which he warned of the dangers of relativism.

Writing in The Washington Post, E. J. Dionne, Jr. (who, judging from his surname, must surely have French Canadian roots) argues that, for the African, Latin American and Asian cardinals, "the battle over relativism is far less important than the poverty that afflicts so many of their flock." Although I don't doubt that poverty throughout the two-thirds world definitely needs to be addressed, Dionne's observation strikes me as deeply patronizing. Surely the cardinals are intelligent men, fully capable of understanding the connection between truth and life, between theory and praxis. In fact, it is often precisely nonwesterners who see most clearly how the secular ideological commitment to the expansive self has led to the current western cultural malaise and exacerbated social and economic ills elsewhere.

Later: Here is the full text of Ratzinger's homily.

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Genealogy and DNA analysis

My wife Nancy has recently hit the jackpot with respect to her ongoing genealogical research. Although family lore indicated that she is 4th great-granddaughter to Benedict Calvert of Mount Airy, Maryland, a prominent American colonial whose father was Charles Calvert, the 5th Lord Baltimore, up until recently there was no proof of this. Now there is, as her father underwent a DNA analysis which came up identical to a known descendant of Benedict's via his illegitimate son, William, who is buried in rural Pennsylvania.

Now it remains for Nancy to demonstrate a rumoured descent from King George I, whose illegitimate daughter may or may not have been Benedict's mother. (Benedict was raised apart from his parents.) My first thought is that a member of the royal family might be persuaded to undergo a similar DNA analysis, which could point to a blood relationship with my father-in-law. However, there is some question whether the current Queen and her brood are actually blood descendants of the Hanoverian line.

A few years ago British writer A. N. Wilson, perhaps best known for an unflattering biography of C. S. Lewis, published a book titled, The Victorians, in which he argued, based on medical evidence, that Queen Victoria's father may not after all have been Edward, Duke of Kent, but Sir John Conroy, with whom her mother may have had an affair. I recall my high school biology teacher, during a lecture on genetics, pointing us to this possibility already 35 years ago. If so, then the rightful King of England (and of Canada) might well be Prince Ernst August of Hanover and the rightful Queen Princess Caroline of Monaco!

          
Sources: New Brunswick Community College, BBC, PBS

Edward, Duke of Kent     Queen Victoria     Sir John Conroy


However, upon comparing portraits of the two possible paternal candidates, my own admittedly subjective judgement is that Victoria more closely resembles the somewhat dowdy Duke of Kent than she does the dashing Conroy.

Now just how does one go about getting the Queen to submit a tissue sample?

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18 April 2005

Voice from the past

Have you ever listened to someone born 160 years ago? Hear for yourself a 101-year-old former Confederate soldier recounting how he heard of Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

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A Byzantine pope?

Could the election of an Eastern-rite pope be a catalyst for unity between Rome and the Orthodox churches? Joseph P. Duggan argues that it could indeed. It's an intriguing idea and perhaps there's something to it. All the same, from what I know of the Orthodox and their attitudes towards their "uniate" brethren, I tend to think they would regard such a choice as a slap in the face -- as something to accentuate the east-west divide rather than to bridge the chasm separating them.

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'Blue' environmentalism?

Chuck Colson extols the virtues of "blue" environmentalism, a phrase coined by theologian Michael Novak to counterbalance what he sees as the distortions of "green" and "red" (i.e., socialist) approaches. Greens deprecate humanity, attributing no more value to human beings than to a field of flowers, while reds deny human freedom, especially in the economic realm. In fact, argues Colson, the considerable environmental progress of the past decades has come about primarily through human economic enterprise:

When the modern environmental movement really got going, achievements were even more impressive. Clean air legislation sharply brought down six types of air pollution. And today when hybrid cars—running on gasoline and electricity—are becoming more and more common on American highways, the free market is again showing its ability to clean up the environment.

To which I say, yes but. . . Yes, the market definitely has a role to play. Yet in so far as the physical environment constitutes a global commons, the state -- indeed many states acting in co-ordinated fashion -- must necessarily play a key role in its protection. Colson himself admits the positive role of legislation.

Moreover, rather than focussing simply on private property, there needs to be an emphasis on the legitimacy of the multiple forms of property ownership -- or, perhaps more properly, stewardship -- characterizing a pluriform society. The subjects of such ownership are as diverse as the various responsible agents themselves, ranging from individuals to families, business enterprises, museums, churches and political communities.

So, rather than playing up either state or market, as if they were somehow antithetical alternatives, we need to recognize the differentiated responsibility of multiple authoritative agents in protecting the physical environment. Rather than red, green or blue, I might be tempted, had it not already been appropriated by another movement, to use a rainbow metaphor.

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Consumerism, continued

Our resident Latin-rite Calvinist (soon off to Japan) continues his insightful series on the influence of consumerism in contemporary society with two entries: In Defense of Friendship: Relationships and the Consumer Experience - Part I and Differentiating Companions and Friends in a Postmodern Age.

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17 April 2005

North Cyprus election

Today voters in the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus elect a successor to Rauf Denktash in the presidency.

Later: Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat has won with 55.6 percent of the vote. Talat is pro-European and favours reunification of the island. Perhaps the time is right for one more attempt at resolving the Cyprus issue.

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16 April 2005

First-person stories, revisited

The latest edition of The Crown has republished the inspirational testimonials of Jennifer Klassen and Rob Joustra while adding another by Sam Martin.

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From our Rome correspondent

In the runup to the papal conclave, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus writes from Rome.

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Human dignity and the law

Here is Douglas Farrow, co-editor with Daniel Cere of Divorcing Marriage, writing on contemporary subjectivist notions of human dignity and the dangerous judicial efforts to embody these in the legal framework:

If human dignity is at bottom a matter of how I feel about myself, then I myself become both the measure and the measurer of human dignity. This is incompatible with the very concept of the rule of law, which requires a starting point in something that is the same for all. Allied to so alien a principle, the law can only become a vehicle of confusion and oppression rather than of clarity and liberation (pp. 102-3).

Allied with this subjectivist notion of dignity is that of compassion, which, far from facilitating the doing of justice, is more likely to lead to its miscarriage.

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15 April 2005

A half century of the Golden Arches


Associated Press


McDonald's turns 50 today. The above photograph looks very like the McDonald's "hamburger stand" (it wasn't really a restaurant) which stood on the south side of Roosevelt Road in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, in the early 1960s. I cannot now claim to be a huge fan of fast food, but this photo does bring back the memories. In fact, I think I can see my little sister spilling her milkshake into the radio speaker in the back of that Oldsmobile 98.

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The Pope as philosopher

Zenit carries an interview with the Mexican philosopher, Rodrigo Guerra López, concerning the Philosophic Legacy of Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II. Guerra López describes the Pope's developed philosophical position as one of "realistic phenomenology" and "personalism." He further appears to confirm John Paul's debt to Kant's categorical imperative and even to Marx's theory of labour, a dependence which might be seen to vindicate Robert Kraynak's critique of the Pontiff.

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Ecclesiastical 'politics'

If Patriarch Alexy of Moscow has been a principal obstacle to reunion between the Roman and Orthodox churches, he would also seem to be an impediment to democratic reforms in the region, if Zeyno Baran and Emmet Tuohy are to be believed. According to the authors, although Samuel Huntington argues for a civilizational boundary separating the west from the Orthodox world, it would be more correct to note that the Russian Orthodox Church is increasingly isolating itself from the west and the rest of Orthodoxy alike by stubbornly resisting democracy.

In the meantime, in Rome, where the papal conclave is scheduled to meet on monday, more than a hundred cardinals are quickly trying to get to know each other so as to be able intelligently to choose a new pope from their number. The press is trumpeting Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the frontrunner, but John Paul II's official guardian of church doctrine also has his opponents. Is the outcome of the conclave something about which Reformed Christians should be praying? Definitely.

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13 April 2005

West and East together?

Paul Weyrich, himself an Eastern-Rite Catholic, writes that John Paul II was preoccupied with securing reunion between Rome and the Orthodox churches, even at the cost of relinquishing papal jurisdiction over these newly reconciled ecclesial communities. Alas, the Pope's overtures in this direction were largely met with deaf ears. Will his successor give this issue a similar prominence? If he is a Latin American or African, or even an Italian, probably not.

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A petition worth signing

I am not usually one to sign petitions too readily, but this one appears to be worthy of support. It requests that the government of the Republic of Turkey permit the reopening of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Theological School of Halki, which Ankara forcibly closed in 1971. Given that this was once the chief institution for the training of Orthodox clergy in that country, its closure could be seen as part of a continuing official effort to diminish further the Greek and Christian presence in Constantinople and to force the Patriarchate into exile. If Turkey wants badly enough to become a member of the European Union, it might have an incentive to honour this petition.

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12 April 2005

Papal monickers

Not only do we not yet know who will be the next pope; we also do not know which name he will choose to assume. Here is a list of possibilities: John XXIV, Alexander XIX, Gregory XVII, Benedict XVI, Clement XV, Innocent XIV, Leo XIV, Pius XIII, Stephen XI, Boniface X, Urban IX, Paul VII, Adrian VII, Nicholas VI, Celestine VI, Martin VI, Sixtus VI, Honorius V, Sergius V, Anastasius V, Lucius IV, Julius IV, Callistus IV, Victor IV, Sylvester IV, Damasus III, John Paul III, Pelagius II, Peter II or David I.

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On liberalism, again

Some time ago I discovered a webpage containing a bibliography of articles relevant to Christianity and liberalism, including links to the articles themselves. Although it is titled, The Catholic Church & The Liberal Tradition - Contributions to the Debate, there is much of value to followers of Jesus Christ in other traditions as well. Incidentally, there is also a link to my own Christianity and Liberalism: Two Alternative Religious Approaches, published last year in the New Pantagruel. It seems that of writing on liberalism there is no end.

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Consumerism and the choice-enhancement state

Our resident Latin-rite Calvinist has posted three intriguing pieces in a row, two of which address the impact of consumerism in our society, including the christian churches. Drawing on my colleague, Craig Bartholomew, who has written on the subject in a book called Christ and Consumerism, Mr. Joustra makes the following observations:

Consumerism is more than shopping, and more than economic habits. Some authors have placed consumerism as an ideological subset of individualism; that is our lifestyles of consumption focus themselves on our ego, in which our possessions serve as worshipers. However, the relationship in the current age has been reversed. No longer do possessions serve the individual, but, as one author notes, "consumption has now become the dominant faith and individualism, together with other subordinate commitments, serves it. Consumption is collectivist-individualist, nationalist-internationalist, the healer, the entertainer, the lover, the spiritual, the feeder and the consolation. It is the chief rival to God in our culture."

Although I do not treat consumerism per se in my Political Visions and Illusions, I wonder whether its political manifestation might not correspond to what I have called the choice-enhancement state, that is, the fifth and latest stage in the development of liberalism. There is an undergirding assumption in our culture that it is good for individuals to have an expanding array of choices set before them, much like a buffet table with a variety of edible delicacies to tempt the palate. Politically this assumption translates into two possibilities: (1) government should free up the economic marketplace to allow individuals to pursue their own rational self-interest; or (2) government should intervene to expand the number of choices available to individuals and to compensate for the inevitable negative side-effects of those choices. In any event, it is taken as axiomatic that governments should not pursue policies supportive of some choices over others, lest it become an oppressive legislator of the good life. That choice might entail obligations or responsibilities does not enter the picture. Over the long term this is a recipe, not for freedom, but ultimately for tyranny.

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11 April 2005

Archbishop Iakovos (1911-2005)

One more ecclesiastical leader has been recalled to his reward: Archbishop Iakovos, who served as head of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Americas between 1959 and 1996. It is thought that he was deposed by the Ecumenical Patriarch for favouring the consolidation of the various overlapping ethnic jurisdictions in the United States into a single Orthodox body. Perhaps he took too seriously his church's seemingly neglected condemnation of phyletism at an 1872 Synod at Constantinople.


Associated Press

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Possible reconciliation overstated?

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has expressed the belief that the rift between Rome and the Anglican communion could be healed, building on efforts in this direction begun by Pope John Paul II. One might take this as little more than nice words said on the death of a much loved pontiff, particularly since the two churches appear to this observer to have grown further apart in recent years.

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A Tory minority government in June?

In the wake of last week's Adscam revelations, the latest EKOS poll indicates that Stephen Harper could become prime minister in a minority Conservative government after a June poll. Remarkably the Tories could take a majority of seats in the all-important province of Ontario. Interesting days are ahead.

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The European statelets

There is something oddly appropriate in the governments of the two smallest states in Europe receiving condolences from the head of a state with no territory of its own.


Sovereign Order of Malta

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10 April 2005

'We have a winner'

According to my email inbox, I won 27 British lotteries in the past week. The laws of average are suddenly weighted in my favour. But never mind that. I'll collect my winnings right after I help that deposed African ruler transfer his money to a Canadian bank.

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Spong versus the church

The Focus section of this weekend's edition of The Hamilton Spectator contains an article by, of all people, John Shelby Spong, retired bishop of the Episcopal Church's Diocese of Newark. I am unable to find this article posted elsewhere, but the following excerpt sums up Spong's utterly predictable assessment of John Paul II's papacy:

I believe that history will, therefore, record this pontiff as a contributor to the death of Christianity, since he allowed it to sink more and more into the pious irrelevance that characterizes it today.

Ah yes. We've all heard this tune before: the church will die unless it catches up to where Spong believes it should be. But let's look at his own Newark diocese, where Spong's equally liberal successor has just resigned:

The next bishop will face several difficult issues, including a financial crunch at many congregations. An estimated one-third of all parishes are "struggling mightily to keep the doors open," [Bishop John P.] Croneberger said in a statement last year. He strongly suggested some may have to close.

By contrast, Christianity -- of a most traditional flavour -- is growing at an astonishing rate around the world, including subsaharan Africa, South Korea and China, as recounted by Philip Jenkins and David Aikman, among others. Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism are both benefitting from this growth. The lesson? According to Lutheran theologian Robert Benne,

"the progressive and revisionist wing of Christianity is disappearing," Benne said. "Where they predominate, denominations lose members."

This definitely includes the Diocese of Newark. It seems Spong and his ilk are part of the problem, not the solution.

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09 April 2005

Getting closer to the top

Testimony at the Gomery Inquiry is continuing to make waves, as Alain Renaud's allegations point us to the Prime Minister's Office itself. Could we see an election call sometime in the late spring or early summer? Stay tuned.

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A new issue of the Center for Public Justice's Public Justice Report has been posted. Here are its contents: "The Grandest Story of All," a review of two books, one of which was penned by two of my Redeemer colleagues; "What Role Among the Nations?" an excerpt from James W. Skillen's recent book, With or Against the World?; "Political Party Twilight in Australia," written by my Aussie friend and colleague Bruce Wearne; "Same-Sex 'Marriage' Again," by the editor; Stanley Carlson-Thies on "Faith and Action in the Faith-Based Initiative," and finally, "Social Security and the Big Picture." The Center has also posted the first eight instalments of its Guidelines on Government and Citizenship. These should give us something to chew on for the next little while.

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Today's nuptials

Amidst all the fuss surrounding the end of the semester at Redeemer, I seem to have neglected to send a card to a certain couple on their wedding day. As for those who think it remarkable that the happy couple should "acknowledge [their] manifold sins and wickedness" in the course of the ceremony, they should know that this expression is part of the general confession of sin which is an integral part of the Anglican liturgy.

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08 April 2005

The legacy of John Paul II

In the autumn of 1978, when I had just begun graduate studies in Toronto, a pope died after only 33 days on the throne. Breaking their travel budgets for the second time in slightly more than a month, the College of Cardinals assembled once again in Rome and did something unprecedented: they elected a Pole as pope. He was Karol Józef Wojtyla, archbishop of Krakow. At the time he was still a fairly young 58 years of age -- a vigorous athletic type who enjoyed skiing in the Tatras Mountains of southern Poland. He was an intellectual and a playwright, schooled in phenomenology and possessing a philosophical sophistication warranting comparisons with his great predecessor, Leo XIII, whose encyclicals had long been recognized as a groundbreaking body of Catholic social teachings.

Born in 1920, Wojtyla, along with his countrymen, experienced the turmoil of the 20th century, including the sheer destructiveness of the ideologies which had defaced its spiritual landscape. Poland itself had only recently been restored to independence for the first time since 1795. The year of Wojtyla's birth also saw a war between Poland and a newly bolshevik Russia over the former's ill-determined eastern boundary. At the age of 19 Wojtyla's homeland was once more partitioned between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, with the Second World War quickly ensuing. At war's end Poland found itself under the brutal thumb of Marxist-Leninist ideology, and a largely Catholic people was forced to accept rule by an officially atheistic régime.

Wojtyla became a priest in 1946, and from this point he advanced steadily within the ranks of the church's hierarchy, becoming archbishop of Krakow in 1963 and a cardinal in 1967. After Pope Paul VI's death in August of 1978, a Polish pope was definitely not on the horizon, and an Italian, Albino Luciani, the Patriarch of Venice, was selected for the position as John Paul I. Yet scarcely more than a month later, the landscape had changed and Wojtyla was on the pontifical throne, much to everyone's surprise.

The world of that time was in many respects a different place from the world of today. The cold war was still going on. An ageing Leonid Brezhnev was the leader of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet sphere of influence in eastern Europe was still intact. Did Brezhnev tremble at the thought of a Pole on the papal throne? He might well have done so, because history will likely judge that John Paul II played a decisive role in the collapse of global communism. Indeed, he knew first-hand the destructiveness of the secular ideologies, which put him in a good position to recognize them when he saw them, as well as to combat them, employing the unique spiritual weapons of his office.

In 1979 John Paul visited his homeland of Poland. His message to his compatriots, "Be not afraid," electrified his audience, emboldening them to follow Lech Walesa's leadership in establishing the independent trade union, Solidarity. Walesa himself has said that, prior to the Pope's visit, he had difficulty finding 10 people to join the movement, but afterwards he had 10 million on side. The people had lost their fear of the régime, and we now know that it was only a matter of time before the entire fabric of communism unravelled. Indeed this will probably be judged to be his chief legacy to the world.



Other elements of his legacy would almost certainly include:

(1) A body of official writings working out the teachings of the Church in a variety of fields, but especially the larger culture and society. Like Pope Leo, John Paul was a "teaching pope." Among his better known encyclical letters are Centesimus Annus (1991), Veritatis Splendor (1993), Evangelium Vitae (1995), Ut Unum Sint (1995), and Fides et Ratio (1998).

(2) A fidelity to revealed truth as he had come to understand it. Many people criticized John Paul for holding the line on the male priesthood, priestly celibacy, abortion and sexual ethics. Others criticized him for averring that the fulness of truth lies in the Catholic Church and that other churches do not possess this same fulness. However, such criticisms often amounted to the complaint that he was too consistently Catholic and refused to treat the body of the Church's teachings as if it were the negotiable programme of a political party.

(3) A concern for the unity of the church and a desire to better relations with other religions. The Pope's critics tended to forget that he dearly desired a reunion of the churches and had a special burden for reaching out to the Orthodox. During his visit to Greece in 2001, he apologized for the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 -- despite the fact that his predecessor on the papal throne, Innocent III, had already condemned the Crusade and excommunicated the crusaders shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, John Paul's ardent desire to visit Moscow never came to fruition, due to the Patriarch of Moscow's persistent opposition. One must also mention in this context the Pope's efforts to improve Christian-Jewish relations, including efforts to make amends for past antisemitism within the Church.

(4) A number of prominent converts to Catholicism, whose decisions were considerably facilitated by the person of John Paul himself. One thinks in this regard of Sheldon Vanauken, Thomas Howard, Richard John Neuhaus, Bishop Graham Leonard, Peter Kreeft, Dale Vree, Malcolm Muggeridge, Scott Hahn, and many, many more who are less well known.

(5) More than a million miles travelled around the globe. John Paul was a pilgrim pope, bringing the message of the gospel and drawing huge crowds wherever he went. Three years ago he was in Canada for World Youth Day, and two of my students were privileged to see him. Indeed, I wish I had had the opportunity, not only to meet him, but to spend time talking with him.

John Paul II will certainly be a tough act to follow. In a way, it's too bad another Pole couldn't succeed him. We've grown used to the connection between Poland and the papacy, and it somehow seems appropriate for that to continue in some fashion. Of course the College of Cardinals could return to the practice of electing Italians. On the other hand, a precedent has been set, and there are a number of prospective candidates from, e.g., Africa, South America and elsewhere, who might well fill the papal shoes.

As a non-Catholic I am quite comfortable aknowledging that Pope John Paul was a great man -- indeed one of the greatest of his era. I pray that his ecumenical vision will catch on and that all Christians will one day find themselves united in the service of Jesus Christ and his kingdom. This is something for which he prayed and for which the rest of us should be praying as well. May he rest in peace and may God bless his successor.

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07 April 2005

Publication ban lifted

Justice John Gomery has partially lifted the publication ban on Jean Brault's testimony before the inquiry into the sponsorship scandal. It is now clear that Brault has implicated high-level officials within the governing Liberal Party, including relatives of the former prime minister. Then again, some of us knew this already, thanks to a certain American blogger, who has become something of a media sensation north of the border. Now that the cat's out of the bag, Captain Ed's fifteen minutes of fame may be about up.

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A 'Confucian Union'?

Might we see the development of an east Asian counterpart to the European Union and NAFTA? So predicts the American futurist Lawrence Taub. All the same, one wonders how the increasing christianization of China, as recounted by David Aikman and others, might affect such a possibility.

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06 April 2005

Two more passings

Besides the Pope, two more prominent personages have died: Prince Rainier III, ruling prince of Monaco and the former "Mr. Grace Kelly"; and Canadian-born Chicago novellist, Saul Bellow.

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Analysis forthcoming

Coming friday: The legacy of John Paul II.

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God and the constitution: a debate

If you haven't already come across this exchange in the last month, it is certainly worth reading now. Brooke Allen, in "Our Godless Constitution," argues that the American founders were at most deists who aspired to leave revealed religion out of the new nation's political life and documents. Writes Allen:

If we define a Christian as a person who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ, then it is safe to say that some of the key Founding Fathers were not Christians at all. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine were deists--that is, they believed in one Supreme Being but rejected revelation and all the supernatural elements of the Christian Church; the word of the Creator, they believed, could best be read in Nature. John Adams was a professed liberal Unitarian, but he, too, in his private correspondence seems more deist than Christian.

To this Christopher Levenick and Michael Novak respond in "Religion and the Founders." Tellingly, Levenick and Novak do not dispute the substance of Allen's argument. They do refute a number of smaller points where she has neglected, e.g., to note in the founding documents such vague references as "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," "Supreme Judge of the world," "divine Providence" and the like. Of course, this hardly proves that the American founders were orthodox confessional Christians, and Levenick and Novak do not assert that they were. Rather, their twofold argument is, first, that Allen, like all "leftists," is out of touch with the American people; and, second, that she is wrong to distinguish between Enlightenment principles and historic Christianity because the American people do not do so. The authors write:

Indeed, the Founders saw the cultivation of religious sentiment as the ultimate safeguard of American liberty. They knew that liberty could only prosper among moral citizens, whose practice of self-government in their private lives was a necessary prerequisite for its exercise in public. They believed that even if it were possible for certain individuals to behave morally without believing in God, on the whole an entire citizenry could not long keep its moral bearings without the guidance of religious faith.

Far from asserting that the founders were Christians, Levenick and Novak's argument seems to amount to this: As good men of the Enlightenment, the founders recognized the usefulness of revealed religion in the preservation of liberty. In short, the truth of Christianity was beside the point. The authors should not be disappointed if this utilitarian argument fails to satisfy either the convinced secularist or the orthodox Christian.

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05 April 2005

Legal question

A blogger in the US has defied the publication ban imposed on Jean Brault's explosive testimony before the Gomery Commission inquiry. A question thus arises: could I, and other Canadians, get into legal trouble if we were to link to this blog from our own sites?

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The faith of a child, II

Like all children, our Theresa regularly reports her dreams upon waking. Some are frightening and some are fantastic. One recent dream had her losing me in the public library and being unable to find me. Another dream she even reported to have a title, "The Lost Red-Nosed Reindeer."

On sunday morning Theresa woke up and recounted a dream that moved me deeply. We had been experiencing a late winter (or early spring) storm since the previous day. Quite a bit of snow piled up, and we even had thunder on one or two occasions. Perhaps Theresa had gone to bed the previous evening with this on her mind. In any event she dreamt that God was talking to her. He told her that if she would sing it would calm the storm. So she opened her lips and began singing, "Alleluia." And immediately the storm was indeed calm. To say that I was touched by this would be to understate my feelings. It was one of those irreplaceable moments that rather reminded me of a similar faith-affirming incident in my own young life.

I hope she remembers this dream as she grows older, along with the remarkable circumstances surrounding her own birth.

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04 April 2005

Another upcoming event

Dr Scott Hahn, biblical scholar, former Presbyterian minister and convert to Catholicism, will be giving a lecture on friday, 8 April, at Redeemer University College in room 111 from 11 am to 12 noon on the subject of "Worship in the Word: Towards a Liturgical Hermeneutic." Among other things, Hahn is doing his best to disseminate a redemptive-historical approach to Scripture in Catholic circles and he has the distinction of having more websites to his name than a certain obscure political science professor in southern Ontario.

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Interview posted

Keith Plummer's interview with me last month is now available for listening at the website of Pensees: Faith Seeking Understanding.

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A Septuagint Psalter

Although the Septuagint (LXX) began as a translation into Greek of the Hebrew Scriptures for use by hellenistic Jews of the disapora in the last centuries before Christ, it fell out of use within Judaism soon after the start of the christian era. As such, it now survives as the version of choice for the Orthodox Churches alone. Translations into other languages of the Old Testament are based on the LXX rather than on the Hebrew Masoretic Text.

For several years I have had in my personal library a handsomely-bound volume titled simply The Septuagint Psalms, translated by Baron José de Vinck and Fr. Leonidas Contos. Unlike the King James and Revised Standard Versions, this version dispenses with archaic pronominal forms such as thou, thine, &c. Unlike the NRSV and TNIV, it makes no concession to gender-inclusive language, e.g., in Psalms 1 and 8. The language is smooth, if not exactly elegant. However, there are several notable flaws, one of which is virtually inexcusable in such a collection.

First, there are no verse divisions within the chapters, making it difficult to locate specific passages. Second, and far more seriously, the Psalms are misnumbered. As indicated here, throughout most of the Psalter, Hebrew and LXX numberings differ by one, such that Psalm 95 in the former is numbered 94 in the latter. However, this is not consistently the case, which the editors appear not to have taken into account. By the end of the collection they erroneously suppose there to be 151 Psalms in the Hebrew, neglecting to notice that after Psalm 147 LXX and Hebrew numbers are once again identical. If any churches ordered this volume for congregational or choral use, they would have received a rude surprise upon arrival. A third flaw lies in lack of consistency in translation, at least in some places. It is well known that the LXX departs from the Hebrew in avoiding the use of the metaphor rock for God.* This is faithfully reflected by de Vinck and Contos in Psalm 94/95, but not, for some reason, in Psalm 17/18, where they appear to have followed the Hebrew.

Incidentally, a new Orthodox-sponsored English translation of the Septuagint is in the works, and it was due to come out sometime this year. When it appears, it will enable the publication of the first complete English translation of the Bible for Orthodox Christians. It remains to be seen whether this will bring some degree of liturgical uniformity to the various ethnic jurisdictions making up the Orthodox Church in North America.

* There is no general agreement as to why this is so. When I mentioned this to my father, who was raised Greek Orthodox, he said, without missing a beat, that this was because the pagan idols were made of stone; thus rock metaphors were avoided for the one true God. Whether or not scholarly opinion would agree, this explanation would appear to enjoy some currency among Greek Orthodox Christians.

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03 April 2005

History recalculated?

A potentially earth-shaking story is in the making: "Jesus Christ was born in 1152 AD, claim Russian experts." Perhaps this means that I really am only 28 years old.

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A new on-line encyclopaedia

I have added to my sidebar a link to OrthodoxWiki, an on-line "do it yourself" encyclopaedia devoted to Orthodox Christianity, whose English-language version was started last November. Among the existing articles of interest include those on Holy Scripture (although individual books are not yet treated separately), Byzantine chant, the Lindisfarne Gospels (treated because they predate the schism of 1054 between eastern and western churches), and the Psalter (which emphasizes its liturgical use within the Orthodox churches).

In the meantime there is a similar free encyclopaedia for Reformed Christianity called Tulipedia, which, judging from the paucity of entries of personal interest, has not yet attracted much attention from possible contributors.

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02 April 2005



Pope John Paul II
1920-2005

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Kraynak on American civil religion

Robert Kraynak is one of the more intriguing political philosophers in the Roman Catholic tradition. Four years ago he published Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World. In its pages Kraynak advances a paradoxical thesis: liberal democracy cannot stand on the shaky foundation of contemporary scepticism and relativism; it needs to be anchored in the biblically Christian conviction that human beings are created in God’s image. However, Christianity itself, rightly understood in its historical context, is illiberal and undemocratic. Thus any claim that the Christian faith is inevitably supportive of democratic régimes must be seen for what it is: a peculiarly modern innovation with little support from the two-millennia-old Christian tradition. Kraynak is particularly critical of the role Immanuel Kant's thought has played in the contemporary and near universal acceptance of democracy within christian and especially Catholic circles.

Now the Vatican news service Zenit carries a three-part interview with Kraynak, in which he argues, somewhat surprisingly, for the positive role played by civil religion in America in making room for a vital christian witness as opposed to the more secularizing character of European societies and polities. Writes Kraynak:

Cardinal [Joseph] Ratzinger looks at most European nations -- he could have mentioned Canada as well -- and he sees the worst possible combination of historical residues of Christian establishment and utter indifference to Christian faith; a post-Christian world that would not even allow a reference to the Christian heritage of Europe in the Constitution of the European Union.

By comparison, the American situation looks relatively healthy: higher rates of church attendance and professions of faith -- although secular forces in the U.S. judiciary, universities and the media are trying to create a secular America just like Europe and Canada. And one cannot forget that the Catholic Church and Protestant denominations in America have been rocked by scandals and divisive battles that have damaged the faith.

Even if we grant the relative superiority of the American condition today -- which I am prepared to do -- the question Cardinal Ratzinger leaves unanswered is whether Europe could be saved by adopting some features of the American model, such as disestablishment and pluralism, without possessing other vital elements -- namely, a civil religion of God-given natural rights and a belief in Christian orthodoxy.

I think that a nondenominational civil religion is feasible for Europeans to adopt as a basis for human rights. Even the French could come to see that their historic commitment to "the rights of man" is better grounded in the belief that humans are made in the image of God rather than in the skeptical reason of the French Enlightenment.

But the quest for religious orthodoxy -- for ultimate religious truth -- seems to be dying or dead in Europe today: Europe looks like a dying civilization in which the highest and noblest aims of man have been forgotten or rejected as dangerous. This may be an overstatement, but there is something different about the European and American attitudes to religious truth.

By the way, the latest issue of the Acton Institute's Journal of Markets & Morality carries an exchange between Kraynak and Derek S. Jeffreys on the Kantian influence on modern christian thought. Jeffreys' article, The Influence of Kant on Christian Theology: A Debate About Human Dignity and Christian Personalism, elicited a response from Kraynak, another response from Jeffreys and a final rejoinder from Kraynak.

Kraynak teaches political science at Colgate University.

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01 April 2005

EOKA celebrated in Cyprus

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the guerrilla war launched by the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA) against British rule and in favour of union with Greece, or enosis -- an event which, incidentally, began some 24 hours after my own birth. Today's Cyprus Mail carries the story: "Cyprus celebrates start of EOKA struggle." What the article fails to mention is that this conflict unnecessarily polarized the island in the cause of ethnic nationalism and unleashed a process that led eventually to the island's current division. By all means, break out the champagne.

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Terri Schiavo, 1963-2005

A sad end to a difficult case. But the controversy continues.

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Breaking news

NASA has discovered water on Mars.

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