Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

31 July 2005

Warren on Ferguson

Columnist David Warren, a recent convert to Catholicism, has taken note of Bob Ferguson's recent CBC commentary:

But that post-modern mind is itself anti-Christian, to say nothing of anti-Catholic. It believes what it believes (nothing, consistently) in defiance of Christian, and all other religious traditions.

Is it a danger to the faithful? You bet. And not only because it offers anodynes, to lure them away from their intellectual, moral, and spiritual commitments.

I felt this danger, last week, in a radio commentary the CBC commissioned from a retired engineering professor -- a certain Bob Ferguson -- who said that the Canadian government should "overcome the inertia" of the Catholic Church by imposing such things as "gay marriage" and "woman's ordination" upon it by law. His reasoning was tortuous, and he displayed no knowledge whatever of church history, but I'm sure his "modest proposal" would be embraced by all aboard that Gananoque showboat.

The glibness with which the totalitarian solution is proposed marks it as post-modern. The result would be two "Catholic churches", as there now are in Communist China. One, faithful to Our Lord, and flourishing underground despite police raids and murderous persecution. The other, an "official" church for show, emptying of membership but obedient to the State's every whim.

St. Anthony of Egypt, the founder of Christian monasticism: "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us'."

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30 July 2005

The CCO's groundbreaking campus ministry

In this week's Comment, Gideon Strauss writes of Building Institutions - The Coalition for Christian Outreach, which he dubs "the greatest campus ministry on planet Earth." With the goal of "transforming college students to transform the world," the CCO has had a presence in the western Pennsylvania region for more than three decades. Of course, any mention of this organization inevitably brings up the name of the late great Pete Steen, an itinerant neocalvinist evangelist who had a rather large impact on numerous students throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. The most visible manifestation of the CCO is the annual Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh every February, which I was privileged to attend in 1994. Would that there were counterparts to the CCO and Jubilee throughout North America.

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Exciting find

Theresa will be thrilled at this news: the discovery of six dinosaur eggs dating back an extraordinary 190 million years.


Robert Reisz, University of Toronto

An embryonic Massospondylus

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Tenth planet discovered

Three-quarters of a century after the discovery of Pluto, Cal Tech astronomers have discovered a tenth planet orbiting the sun. It has been given the wonderfully euphonious provisional name of 2003UB313, but will undoubtedly be dubbed something more in keeping with the names of its neighbours. Might such a name be found here?

By the way, can we assume that this new planet is not simply a redesignation of Sedna or Quaoar?

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29 July 2005

Fr. Oakes on evolution

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn's recent New York Times op-ed piece has stirred up some controversy. Here is a two-part interview with Fr. Edward T. Oakes on the Roman Catholic Church's attitude towards biological evolution. Among other things, Fr. Oakes argues that his church has no difficulty with evolution as such, but it does object to those who draw atheistic implications from it as well as to those who would import it into human relations, as was done by the 19th-century social darwinists.

Tellingly, Fr. Oakes does not think much of the intelligent design movement, with which many evangelical protestants have cast their lot, primarily because he sees it improperly conflating finality and design, confusing primary and secondary causality, and reversing the relationship between art and nature. Food for thought.

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28 July 2005

And now for the bad news . . .

. . . at least for those having faith in herbal remedies: 'Echinacea no good for colds'. I guess it's back to chicken soup for all of us next winter.

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Are 'the Troubles' finally over?

Here's good news indeed, and long overdue: IRA says ceasing all armed activity in N.Ireland.

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A new 'city on the hill'?

While we're on the subject of Christianity's relationship to the larger culture, here is one group which is taking action in a decidedly unconventional manner, as reported here: Christian Exodus urges evangelicals to start anew in South Carolina. Then again it has been done before, hasn't it?

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Maxim Institute

I recently learned of this New Zealand-based organization from a colleague who returned from the Antipodes. The Maxim Institute was established in 2001 and has begun to have an impact on that country's political life. This is how it describes itself:

A research and public policy organisation committed to promoting the principles that underpin a Civil Society. It analyses, publishes and comments on important social and cultural issues to inform and inspire the public and decision-makers. Maxim Institute provides New Zealanders with the resources and motivation to be better informed, more active participants in the democratic process.

The Maxim Institute maintains specialized research centres with the following objectives:

  • For the married, intergenerational family to be supported and promoted in policy and culture.
  • For parents to have the authority to select their child's school and for schools to have the authority to select curriculum and use their finances in the way they see fit.
  • For policy and culture to reflect a clear understanding of the relationship between freedom and responsibility.
  • For the next generation of leaders to be informed and inspired by a coherent understanding of Civil Society.


  • This organization appears to merit some attention from those of us in the northern hemisphere. As I myself will be in that part of the world next year, perhaps I should take a slight detour to Auckland and see what the Maxim Institute is all about.

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    Strike averted

    Canada is saved: Workers reach tentative agreement with LCBO.

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    27 July 2005

    Dinosaurs

    Despite our best efforts to interest our Theresa in the arts and humanities, her predilections are increasingly gravitating towards the natural sciences. (She was obsessed with Barbies for a grand total of two days. Then back to the sciences.) Although she has a bit of a fear of insects, she is nevertheless fascinated by them, especially their life cycles, from egg to larva to pupa to adult. But her greatest love right now is dinosaurs. We initially discovered this three Christmases ago during a trip to the Royal Ontario Museum. When we visited the dinosaur exhibits, she took delight at what we were seeing, even at age four.

    Earlier this month, during a trip out of town, I picked up for Theresa an inexpensive package of 21 small coloured plastic dinosaurs, including stegosaurus, diplodocus, parasaurolophus, dimetrodon and tyrannosaurus rex, among others. They were a big hit. She has now learnt all their names and is interested in finding out everything she can about the different types of dinosaurs that once lived aeons ago. Accordingly, we've been reading books on the subject.



    Stegosaurus


    Not surprisingly perhaps, all of them presuppose the validity of macroevolution, assuming that the various dinosaur species developed out of earlier forms and that their descendants may be found among contemporary reptiles and perhaps even among birds and mammals. I will admit that I've gone back and forth on the issue. In my youth I tended to think that macroevolution probably did occur. I suppose I would have adhered to something like theistic evolution, even if I found some of its implications problematic.

    In more recent years, however, I've become more doubtful about this, since I find it difficult to envision a mechanism which would allow millions of years of accumulated small mutations to enable inert tissue to see or feel or taste. Of what possible use to a creature is 95 percent of an eye aeons away from actually experiencing sight? Would not natural selection have eliminated this redundant appendage somewhere along the way? Nevertheless, I also admit that I am far from an expert in any of this, so I do have to plead a measure of agnosticism on the issue. What I do not doubt, however, is that God created the heavens and the earth and everything therein.

    This is where I run into problems with all the dinosaur books we've looked at thus far. None of them take seriously God's creative intention in bringing dinosaurs into being. To be honest, I'm not altogether certain how the believing Christian should deal with the dinosaurs. It appears that God created a whole series of creatures which once populated the earth and then allowed them to die off some 65 million years ago. Can we celebrate God's creation in these creatures whom we now know only by their remains? Can we affirm that God once pronounced them good and then decided that their time on earth was over? This is undoubtedly something Nancy and I will need to explore further, given Theresa's interests. Book or website suggestions would be welcome.

    By the way, am I the only nonpaleontologist who thought that the sequel to Jurassic Park ought to have been called Cretaceous Park? And is a female of the species tyrannosaurus rex a tyrannosaura regina? Just a couple of questions from a novice.

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    26 July 2005

    Official language wanted?

    Does it make sense for a nascent federation to have 20 or more official languages? Perhaps the European Union should simplify matters by discarding all of these and adopting Latin as its official means of communication. Or, to bridge something of Samuel Huntington's civilizational fault lines, adopt three languages: Latin, Greek and Old Church Slavonic.

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    Religious freedom and secularism

    Two recent Zenit interviews are worth taking a look at. "On Religious Freedom in the World" carries an interview with Attilio Tamburrini, director of the Italian section of Aid to the Church in Need. In addition to surveying the state of religious freedom in India, the islamic world and China, he speaks of the role of aggressive secularism against increasingly beleaguered christian minorities in the west, e.g., France. Lest one conclude that these are isolated examples in a world where religious freedom is largely protected, Tamburrini notes that "the only country that has an organization which is concerned with religious freedom at the institutional level is the United States." Would that Canada might manifest a similar concern.

    The second article is a two-part interview with theologian Tracey Rowland on "Benedict XVI, Vatican II and Modernity." Of particular interest is her explanation of two tendencies within Roman Catholic thought, viz., the so-called Catholic Whigs and the Augustinian Thomists, with their contrasting views of modernity. Pope Benedict would appear to fall into the latter category, from Rowland's perspective. Rowland teaches at the same institution as my favourite Catholic theologian, David L. Schindler, who speaks well of my friend Alvin Plantinga and whose weighty writings tend to be more comprehensible to neocalvinists than to many of his fellow Catholics.

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    25 July 2005

    Worse than terrorism

    Canada survived last year's hockey strike, but this could very well bring down the country.

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    Comment redesigned

    The WRF's newly redesigned Comment has come out with two new articles this week: "Yes, but . . .", by Richard Greydanus, and "Into the Fray," by Brian Dijkema. The subject matter? A lively web-based debate between a certain pseudonymous cleric and that obscure south-central Upper Canadian professor of politics. Perhaps those two should take their act on the road. The Great J/K (Jape/Koyzis) Debate. The P & P (Priest and Prof) Test Match. Or something along these lines.

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    24 July 2005

    Ulster and Cyprus

    Writing for the Belfast Telegraph, Alf McCreary notes the parallels between two divided islands in Europe.

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    23 July 2005

    A defective working theology

    In recent weeks I have been following the tragic events in Connecticut within the Episcopal Church, where the parish and pastor of a personal friend have been on the receiving end of what can only be described as episcopal tyranny. Philip Turner gives us some insight as to what is behind the disorder within the principal North American manifestation of Anglicanism in An Unworkable Theology. Despite formal adherence to orthodox creeds, liturgies, &c., the Episcopal Church's working theology amounts to a different gospel. This "unofficial doctrine of radical inclusion" demands only that the church welcome without qualification and certainly without demand for repentance and amendment of life. According to Turner:

    In a theology dominated by radical inclusion, terms such as “faith,” “justification,” “repentance,” and “holiness of life” seem to belong to an antique vocabulary that must be outgrown or reinterpreted. So also does the notion that the Church is a community elected by God for the particular purpose of bearing witness to the saving event of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

    It is this witness that defines the great tradition of the Church, but a theology of radical inclusion must trim such robust belief. To be true to itself it can find room for only one sort of witness: inclusion of the previously excluded. God has already included everybody, and now we ought to do the same. Salvation cannot be the issue. The theology of radical inclusion, as preached and practiced within the Episcopal Church, must define the central issue as moral rather than religious, since exclusion is in the end a moral issue even for God.

    We must say this clearly: The Episcopal Church’s current working theology depends upon the obliteration of God’s difficult, redemptive love in the name of a new revelation.

    Of course the irony of the situation in Connecticut is that those most vociferously preaching this new gospel of radical inclusion will not shrink at excluding those who do not, even to the extent of banning a recalcitrant priest and seizing a parish's property. This would appear to vindicate the truth of Neuhaus' Law, as articulated by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus: "Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed." It seems there are limits to indiscriminate niceness after all, and those believing the words of John 14:6 definitely place themselves outside of these.

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    The new pope's legacy?

    If God used Pope John Paul II to help bring down communism, might he use Pope Benedict XVI to end the hegemony of decadent secularism in Europe? Archbishop Paul Cordes thinks it possible.

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    22 July 2005

    A Supreme Challenge for John Roberts

    Today's Capital Commentary is authored by Dr. Stanley Carlson-Thies, director of social policy studies at the Center for Public Justice, and it is worth posting in full in light of the recent discussions on this blog over the public witness of believers in the gospel.

    John Roberts, President Bush's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, faces a major task if he is confirmed: helping to craft a coherent doctrine on the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whose decision to step down created the vacancy, had many strengths, but her pragmatic approach contributed to the confusion about church-state issues. The question is: What's a better approach?

    In a recent New York Times Magazine article (July 3), Noah Feldman of New York University School of Law proposed a "Church-State Solution." His analysis is thought-provoking. But his solution misses the mark. For Feldman, the core problem is how to preserve the unity of our religiously diverse nation. "Values evangelicals," he says, urge the government to adopt religiously based standards for the whole nation. Their opponents, the "legal secularists," claim that religion is divisive and must be confined to private life, leaving government entirely secular.

    Both groups are wrong, Feldman rightly claims. The consensus presumed by values evangelicals doesn't exist, and if the government makes the standards of one religious group obligatory, we will have conflict, not unity. Yet the legal secularists are also wrong. Expelling religion doesn't make the public square equally hospitable to all; rather, it excludes citizens whose convictions shape their whole lives.

    But Feldman's own solution is also a dead end. Here's his proposal: stop excluding religious argument and symbolism from public life and also stop government funding of religious organizations. That is, in order to end the unjust exclusion of religion from public debates, we must abandon the Court's genuine progress towards equal treatment, which undergirds the faith-based initiative.

    Feldman is half right. In our democracy, all citizens are free to make public arguments, so religious views can't fairly be excluded. If secularists don't like the arguments, they should counter them, and if the public doesn't find religious reasons convincing, then arguments based on those reasons will fail. Secularists should stop trying to stack the deck by banning religion from public debate. So far so good.

    Unfortunately, Feldman flirts with authorizing officials to promote a civil religion. He's courageous to oppose the ACLU and others who seek to strip away all religious symbols, as if the Constitution requires the government to pretend that our society and history are religion-free. Still, while the government should accommodate the faiths of the citizens, it must be careful not to create an official religion--not to avoid divisiveness but because Caesar is not Lord.

    The other half of Feldman's proposal is simply wrong. He says that government funding of religious social-service providers creates conflict, not common values, and so it must stop. But creating common values isn't the government's task. On the other hand, it surely is the job of government to deal fairly with organizations of every conviction and not to presume that faith-based services are somehow less legitimate than their secular counterparts.

    There is a solution to the church-state confusion, just not Feldman's. The government should honor the convictions of all citizens, discriminating neither for nor against religion when funding social services and neither for nor against religious arguments and the religious symbols and activities that constitute so much of our history and our lives together. But government officials can't be the nation's clergy. That is not merely divisive but idolatrous.

    We don't know how a Justice Roberts would rule on these important matters. We must hope that he will fight unjust restrictions on religious speech, symbols, and also institutions, while keeping limits on the government's tendency to put itself in the place of God.

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    Cyprus stalemate

    Another anniversary passes 31 years after what Turkey euphemistically calls its peace operation in Cyprus. In the meantime relative freedom of movement between the two sides of the divided island has changed the political landscape. Yet the political stalemate continues for now.

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    Wilfully ignoring reality

    The legal definition of walking has now been extended to cover those confined to wheelchairs. Bill C-38 is now the law of the land.

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    21 July 2005

    Feser on liberal tribalism

    Given the topic of my last two posts, it would seem appropriate to call attention to this trenchant review by Edward Feser of Amy Gutmann's Identity in Democracy. Some years ago I wrote a review of Gutmann and Dennis Thompson's book, Democracy and Disagreement, so I know something of the flavour of Gutmann's argument. She is a proponent of what I have labelled the choice-enhancement state, the fifth, and thus far final, stage in the historic development of liberalism. In Feser's words, here is the dilemma posed by this brand of liberalism:

    Liberals are, accordingly, criticized both for promoting too much freedom and for allowing too little. In particular, they are accused of attempting to impose, in the name of equal freedom for all ways of life in modern democratic societies, a radical egalitarianism that effectively allows no one to disapprove of anyone else’s way of life. But since almost any way of thinking and acting with any substantial content involves disagreement with some other ways of thinking and acting, this requires that the only point of view that can be allowed to flourish in a polity informed by the liberal-egalitarian ethos is the liberal-egalitarian ethos itself. Modern liberalism thus seems to its critics to be an incoherent mess, and to entail in practice the negation of liberty and equality as those terms are understood by everyone but liberals themselves.

    Sound familiar? We just read something of this incoherence in Ferguson's CBC commentary. Gutmann tries to find a way out of this mess, but Feser judges that she has failed miserably. In fact, she flirts with the same sorts of measures Ferguson advocates. Feser's conclusion is to the point:

    So should we conclude that the Catholic Church, say, ought to be forced to ordain women and that Catholic schools should be forced to teach children that there are alternative paths to salvation, regardless of what 2,000 years of popes have taught?

    If we fear we know already how a frank and consistent liberal would have to respond, that is because liberals seem to have become exactly what they claim most to despise: a narrow-minded tribe of bigots, merely one “identity group” alongside others eager to impose their own idiosyncratic and highly contestable scruples on everyone else. Why the rest of us ought to regard such liberal tribalism as any better than the other kinds is a question to which Gutmann gives no answer.

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    Response to CBC commentary

    In response to Bob Ferguson's radio commentary I sent the following to the CBC yesterday:

    The Roman emperors were supremely tolerant of the various religions practised within their realm, as long as their adherents added the emperor himself to their pantheon of gods. While polytheists could easily comply, this imperial command met its match in the two monotheistic faiths of Judaism and its close relative Christianity. Believers in one God could not acknowledge the claimed divinity of their political ruler and maintain fidelity to the precepts of their own faith. As a consequence, the emperors unleashed wave after wave of persecution, hoping in vain to extinguish a religion which would eventually conquer Rome itself.

    Something of this same Roman spirit is alive and well in the draconian proposal of Bob Ferguson to regulate religious practice in Canada. How shall we ensure that the boundary between church and state remain intact? How shall we "help the general cause of religious freedom"? Incredibly, by prohibiting Jews, Christians, Muslims and others from believing what their respective religions actually teach. Ferguson apparently welcomes the prospect of a country known for harbouring persecuted religious minorities from its earliest days turning on them and subjecting them to the very treatment their forebears fled elsewhere. And all in the name of "human rights"!

    One is reminded of Václav Havel's description of his native Czechoslovakia under communist rule, where slavery passed for liberty, censorship for free expression, bureaucracy for democracy, and arbitrary power for legal author­ity. Let us hope and pray that this will not one day describe Canada.

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    20 July 2005

    Rousseau comes to Canada

    This guest commentary is positively alarming, especially as its author owes his podium to Canada's national broadcaster. Ferguson would effectively unleash persecution on all whose faith would not allow them to conform to his outrageous proposal. A sample:

    I envisage a congress meeting to hammer out a code that would form the basis of legislation to regulate the practice of religion. . . . I won't try to propose what might be in the new code except for a few obvious things: A key item would have to be a ban on claims of exclusivity. It should be unethical for any RRP [registered religious practitioner] to claim that theirs was the one true religion and believers in anything else or nothing were doomed to fire and brimstone. One might also expect prohibition of ritual circumcisions, bans on preaching hate or violence, the regulation of faith healers, protocols for missionary work, etc.

    Now what is the point of proposing this? I do it because I am worried that the separation between church and state is under threat.

    I seem to recall a similar proposal in book 4, chapter 8 of Rousseau's Social Contract. It's called civil religion. Just how such totalitarian intrusiveness is to ensure the separation of church and state the author does not bother to tell us.

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    The contest for the court

    Bush picks federal appeals court judge for high court. Now the battle moves to the Senate.

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    19 July 2005

    Witherspoon Fellowship Lecture

    I would love to be in Washington tomorrow morning to hear this lecture by Allan Carlson: Europe and the Christian Democracy Movement: A Once and Future Hope? I hope a transcript will be posted at the Witherspoon Fellowship website.

    In the meantime here is an admittedly partisan exploration of the complex relationship between British Conservatism and continental European Christian Democracy by Mr. David Willetts, Member of Parliament for Havant. I may comment on it at some point, because it has some relevance for Canada, in that what Willetts sees as a strength of British conservatism appears to have been a weakness in its Canadian counterpart.

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    Hope for reorienting US union?

    AFL-CIO Getting Religion. Is it time for the CLAC to send a delegation south of the border? Or does the 50-year-old union simply want a blessing on what it's already doing?

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    18 July 2005

    Fr. Jape, one last time

    Perhaps it is worth pursuing a little further my conversation with the pseudonymous Fr. Jape (which, rumour has it, is actually pronounced "yappy"), although my past experience with such dialogues is that they eventually reach an impasse in which the parties begin to retrace old ground, as I suspect is happening now after reading Fr. Jape's post of 1 July, "Who's the Boss."

    Short of that, however, there is a bit more to be said on the subject of liberalism and the public witness of the christian community. Fr. Jape's last post on the subject is illuminating for more than one reason, and he makes a number of observations to which thoughtful response is due.

    First, "Fr. Jape":

    I believe on a number of specific points I have already indicated what I would prefer, and Prof. Koyzis and others are welcome to peruse my past writings.

    Fair enough, but when referring to his own past comments on an issue, he would do well to provide specific links. Continuing:

    In the realm of generalized and abstract theorizing, otherwise known as daydreaming, I would offer as a model the decentralized city-states of the Middle Ages. But, of course, it does no good, nor does it make any sense, to suggest that now. It is possible to gesture weakly in that direction by advocating certain policy positions — the reforms suggested by Allan Carlson come to mind — and these I heartily support.

    Indeed, there is a long tradition within political philosophy favouring decentralization, on which I published an article some years ago: "Reclaiming the Polis: The Anticosmopolitan Vision and the Quest for Genuine Political Community." Given that I have long been fascinated by this vision, as propounded by Aristotle, Rousseau, Hannah Arendt, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and many others, I can easily resonate with those championing local communities in which face-to-face intimacy encourages the sort of civic friendship (to use Aristotle's famous phrase) necessary to the doing of justice. So far so good. However, lest this be seen as wholly opposed to the modern centralized state, one should point to the related notions of federalism and subsidiarity capable of harmonizing unity and diversity. An exploration of these might keep "Fr. Jape" from despairing so quickly after offering his decentralized model. And then this:

    But in the main, I do not think there is any real hope for "reform" of the late-liberal state. I think the best answer is to resist disorder personally, and if one is truly successful at this, it will spill over into one's family and one's immediate community. Hunker down and wait for the big crash per MacIntyre and Eliot. See what's salvageable from the rubble.

    Ah, now we're getting somewhere. "Fr. Jape" is not just rejecting the spiritual direction of liberal ideology; he appears to be abandoning the state and politics altogether, an oddly anabaptist move for even an invented tridentine cleric to make. By contast, I question the propriety of speaking of the "liberal state," as if a destructive ideology is capable of so tainting one of the key authoritative institutions in society as to render it irremediable. This sounds vaguely reminiscent of the Marxian tendency to disparage concrete societal structures by prefixing them with bourgeois, as in the bourgeois state, bourgeois marriage, &c. This sort of thing is no more persuasive jumping from the jesuitical jaws of "Fr. Jape" than it is meandering from the mouths of Marx and his minions.

    One of the things I came to appreciate about the neocalvinist vision when I first came into contact with it three decades ago is its strong view of creation as a normative order which continues to shine even amidst the disordering impact of human sin. Abraham Kuyper referred to this as common grace. Not too long thereafter I learned that Roman Catholicism embraces something comparable under the rubric of natural law. This emphasis on the goodness of creation is considerably weaker in many subtraditions within Christianity, which is why, in my estimation, Roman Catholicism and Reformed Christianity nearly uniquely have the resources to enable us to articulate something approximating an holistic worldview consistent with the faith — one which is capable of addressing the diversity of human life as lived in all its fulness. Despite the impact of the idolatrous ideologies in their various manifestations, one cannot speak in an unqualified way of the "liberal" state, the "socialist" state, or what have you.

    Now, of course, "Fr. Jape" could be correct in his estimation of the spiritual condition of the larger culture in which we find ourselves. Perhaps we are in a situation similar to that of Jeremiah during the last days of the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet, even if our civilization does collapse and we find ourselves to have survived into the new era, we will still be faced with the task of restoring just governance within whatever conditions emerge out of the cataclysm. Reflection on the normative task of government will always be needed, and Christians are well equipped — better equipped than most people, I would argue — to engage in this task.

    The question thus remains: is it the normative task of the state to encourage religious uniformity among its citizens or even to favour one confession over another? Although Fr. Jape's compelling anticosmopolitan vision does not appear immediately relevant to this issue, there is good reason to assume that it would oppose a centralizing state arrogating to itself such powers. Indeed, most Christians I know would quite sensibly shrink from permitting a government to reach beyond its normative field of competence to set an official religious confession for its citizens. Yet this does not stop "Fr. Jape," who appears not to fear such a measure being used unjustly against himself, from arguing the opposite, and seemingly contrary to his own church's magisterium.

    It is at this point that I draw attention to a revealing Freudian (or perhaps "Japian") slip. In his comment left on my blog "Fr. Jape" writes:

    "Regarding DH: that unfortunate document, is, thankfully, being consigned to a quiet death through the rather Cromwellian interpretation given it by the Holy See and the Holy Father."

    The apparent implication is that his church has erred, since Dignitatis Humanae is rather obviously located right on the Vatican's website and is an approved document of the Second Vatican Council.

    However, when this remark reaches his own blog, he draws back, evidently alarmed at the implications of what he has just written for his claimed obedience to his church's teachings. Here is his revised version:

    "With regard to Dignitatis Humanae, that document contains some unfortunate language which, in the hands of the hermeneutically uninitiated, dangerously suggests a rapprochement between the Church and the modern liberal state. Fortunately, this aspect of DH is being permitted a quiet death by the rather Cromwellian interpretation of that document given by the Holy See and the Holy Father, much to the chagrin of those liberalizing elements of the Church.

    Now the emphasis is no longer on an "unfortunate document," but on "unfortunate language" subject to misinterpretation by the "hermeneutically uninitiated." Hmm. I'll leave others to draw their own conclusions as to Fr. Jape's real convictions. Assuming, of course, that it makes sense to ascribe real convictions to a fabricated priest.

    It seems evident, however, that for him the alternatives boil down to two alone: (1) the confessional state, which professes and encourages true belief in its own citizens, or, failing this, (2) a general withdrawal of Christians from the larger society to maintain small-scale, local communities in which God is explicitly honoured. The rather large middle ground, wherein we might — short of the Final Consummation — come to a modus vivendi with our unbelieving (or perhaps other-believing) fellow citizens through political means, is spurned as necessitating a hopeless compromise with liberalism. Ordinary politics in a multiconfessional polity would apparently become impossible in the Japian vision. Yet Thomas Aquinas understands that not all evil — even, I might add, the evil of idolatrous individualism — is capable of being repressed by political authority and its laws. Both neocalvinism and neothomism understand that among the proper tasks of the state is not that of executing the last judgement, a task belonging to God alone. In the meantime, as Augustine puts it, the two cities inevitably live intermingled in the institutions of the larger society.

    So, yes, we must indeed live and work with our liberal, socialist &c., fellow citizens when and where we are able, despite their regrettable tendency to flatten the genuine pluriformity within human society. We shall have to live with laws which only imperfectly, if at all, protect the unborn, marriage and family; care for the commons; nurture political community and the plethora of other, nonstate communities; and undertake to address poverty, homelessness and other social ills. In the meantime we shall continue doggedly to push for something better within the public square, which we would be ill advised to abandon simply because it is deemed to be tainted by a liberalism which, in gnostic fashion, has been improperly ontologized.

    Ultimately the central flaw in Fr. Jape's position can be summarized as follows: Without thinking through the normative jural task of the state in a differentiated society (why should the state, of all institutions, be responsible for setting the confessional direction of its citizens' lives? we still don't know), any effort to articulate and identify the character of an ideological distortion of this task, whether under the rubric of liberalism or something else, will be singularly unpersuasive. After all, injustice can be understood only against the backdrop of justice. One does not begin with sin; one must begin with the created structures which sin has perverted. Otherwise liberalism becomes little more than an empty cuss word, as it has evidently become on the lips of "Fr. Jape."

    This will likely be my last post in this conversation. "Fr. Jape" is welcome to the last word, if he likes. (In fact, I cannot imagine him declining it when offered!) I will leave others to continue the dialogue, if they are so inclined.

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    17 July 2005

    Bringing religion to the left

    Could Michael Lerner be described as Judaism's answer to Jim Wallis?

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    16 July 2005

    Pennings on the WRF

    The latest Comment article in the Building Institutions series is by Ray Pennings. The subject? The Work Research Foundation itself, a unique Canadian think tank dedicated to renewing work and public life out of a biblically christian worldview. Here is something of the WRF's vision:

    While the nutrient ideas we were proposing aren't really that revolutionary, neither do they neatly fit into conventional right-wing/left-wing political boxes. The ideas that inspire us include the notion that belief systems and character are not merely private, but that these forces significantly influence leadership and institutional life, and therefore need to be talked about publicly. They include the notion that institutions other than government matter, and deserve their own space to operate - without government interference. They include the notion that there are standards in addition to human rights that should govern our mutual relationships, so that not every bad cultural outcome is a problem for a Human Rights Commission to solve or for the Canadian Charterof Rights and Freedoms to govern. We believe that work is a good thing, that workers are not economic commodities, and that while economic markets must be celebrated, a market society is taking a good idea too far. We believe that wisdom, beauty, and truth are real and not simply in the eye of the beholder.

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    15 July 2005

    Bishops' letter

    This report initially confused me: Six Orthodox Bishops Repudiate Actions of Connecticut Bishop. I half expected to see something translated from Greek or Russian. But no. These are small-o orthodox bishops in the Episcopal Church, which is imploding before our eyes.

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    New template

    Unfortunately I somehow managed to truncate my old template, which I could find nowhere in the selection page for new templates. So I am having to use a new template for now, minus my old sidebar and comments. At some point I'll put these back again, but I may need some assistance. In the meantime, offers of help will be gratefully received. Contact me at dkoyzis[at]redeemer[dot]on[dot]ca. Thanks.

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    The Connecticut Six again

    More on the inhibition of the Rev. Mark Hansen: Episcopal bishop suspends one of six embattled priests. This episode does not speak well for an episcopal polity in which there are no effective checks on rogue bishops. At least the Roman Catholic Church has the Pope to keep its bishops in line. By contrast, the Anglican communion appears to enshrine the potential for heresy and sectarianism right in its polity by placing no real constraints on the actions of its bishops. Watch for proposals for reform to come forward from one or more Anglican provinces, or perhaps even from Canterbury itself.

    So what will happen once the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are permanently detached from the worldwide Anglican communion? Both will split down the middle, with the more confessionally orthodox forming another province in communion with Canterbury. The liberal remnant of the original churches will then have no reason to exist. They will have abandoned any pretence to institutional catholicity and they will certainly have no confessional distinctives worth maintaining. In Canada the ACC will petition to join the United Church of Canada. In the US ECUSA will merge with the United Methodist Church or, if the latter is judged too conservative, the United Church of Christ. Those, at any rate, are my predictions.

    Incidentally, here is a blog devoted to the Connecticut Six.

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    Top ten philosophers

    Last year the CBC sponsored a competition to name the greatest Canadian. This year, casting its net a bit more widely and deeply, the BBC has determined the ten greatest philosophers of all time. They are, in order: Karl Marx, David Hume, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Friedrich Nietzsche, Plato, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Aquinas, Socrates, Aristotle and Karl Popper. If I were determining the list, it would look something like this: Aristotle, Kant, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Plato/Socrates, Hobbes, Nietzsche, Marx, Locke and Hegel.

    Admittedly, this is off the top of my head, and I might change all this an hour from now. Dooyeweerd is not on my list, because, although I do regard him as a great philosopher, he has not been influential on a large scale. I put Kant higher up on the list, because, in my ongoing research on authority, I am seeing his ghost virtually everywhere. It would be difficult to underestimate his influence on particularly social and political thought. Marx is a second-rate philosopher, as is Locke, so I've put them both further down the list. Locke I have included mostly because of his huge influence on the American founding. Marx's influence is seen in the communist movement of the 20th century, but also in postmodern philosophies, where Nietzsche's mark is discernible as well. Hobbes is brilliant and could plausibly be called the first really modern philosopher. I am reluctant to list Socrates separately from Plato, because our received portrait of Socrates comes from Plato. (Aristophanes has his own portrait, of course, but his is not a flattering one.) I have placed Aristotle at the top. I judge his influence to have outweighed that of his mentor Plato, but here I may be displaying the influence of my Catholic graduate education. As for Augustine, were I not a Christian I might not have included him. Yet his significance is considerable for the development of western Christianity and the civilization that would produce many of these philosophers.

    What would your list look like?

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    14 July 2005

    Democracy and political culture in Iraq

    In the absence of supportive traditions, what are the odds of democracy taking hold in Iraq? Very low, argues the Cato Institute's Patrick Basham, formerly of Canada's Fraser Institute. Basham has published two popular-level articles, A Democratic Iraq? Don't Hold Your Breath, and No Quick Democracy in Iraq. A lengthier and more scholarly essay by Basham is titled, Can Iraq Be Democratic? Writes Basham:

    The building blocks of a modern democratic political culture are not institutional in nature. The building blocks are not elections, parties, and legislatures. Rather, the building blocks of democracy are found amidst supportive cultural values. In short, the long-term survival of democratic institutions requires a particular political culture.

    A democratic political culture demands the non-violent transfer of power, extends legal protection and equality of opportunity to women, tolerates religious, ethnic, racial, and social minorities, and recognizes the importance of fundamental political liberties such as freedom of speech and popular participation in decision-making.

    Larry Diamond, an expert on democratization, bluntly states that "Iraq lacks virtually every possible precondition for democracy." Absent tangible support for liberal political norms and values, and without the foundation of a pluralistic civil society, it is next to impossible for democracy to take root. That reality was borne out over the past generation in numerous countries where authoritarian regimes were displaced by newly democratic regimes but democratization failed due to shallow foundations.

    What implication does this have for US policy in that country? President Bush has repeatedly stated that the goal of his administration is to establish in Iraq a democratic constitution. If Basham is correct in his analysis, this aim will have to be severely scaled back. Writing for the Independent Institute, Ivan Eland paints a gloomy picture of American prospects in Iraq: The Way Out of Iraq: Decentralizing the Iraqi Government. According to Eland,

    The Bush administration had the naive belief that the United States could pop the autocratic top off a fractious country the size of California, be greeted as a liberator, subdue the country easily, and convert a nation with no prior experience with democracy into a U.S.–style liberal federated republic. The administration is now mired in an open-ended counterinsurgency in an unfriendly country and has little chance of achieving its grandiose goal. Given this bungling, no perfect solution exists. Almost any policy option has drawbacks. But those alternatives with the best chance of success would involve withdrawing U.S. forces rapidly, accepting Iraq’s fractious nature, and allowing Iraqis to have genuine self-determination that would probably result in some sort of decentralized government.

    Among the likely alternatives are confederation, partition, or a combination of the two. Internally, the various regions of Iraq will likely be governed in different ways, much as the component states of the European Union have different forms of government. Yet what if Iraq breaks up completely and its remnants prove unable to fend off the designs of their neighbours? Or what if a new Saddam-like tyrant seizes power?

    Not everyone is so pessimistic about a democratic Iraq. Writing for the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, Eric Davis, a Middle East specialist and consultant to peace-building projects in Iraq, argues that Iraqis do have democratic precedents on which to draw, including a nascent civil society centred around the labour unions and other grassroots cultural and social organizations. In Historical Memory and the Building of Democracy in Iraq, Davis appeals for an effort to restore the collective memory of such precedents, which was very nearly effaced by decades of Ba'athist propaganda. This is somewhat reminiscent of Solzhenitsyn's quest to anchor a nascent Russian democracy in the precedent provided by the 19th-century zemstvos. All the same, as I have observed in a previous post, good intentions do not necessarily translate into constitutional governance, especially if precedents for it are so few and far between as to require deliberate excavation or even reinvention.

    Political culture is not a straight jacket. Nevertheless, any policy — domestic or foreign — that fails to account for its central role in a country's constitution runs the risk of overestimating the possibility of wholesale institutional reform. More to the point, there is good reason to question a military policy whose success is so heavily dependent on a people overcoming the constraints of its own past to become something it has never been before.

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    Anglican troubles south of the border

    Dr. William G. Witt writes from personal experience of the current turmoil in the Episcopal Church: Sometimes I hate it when I'm right. So much for ECUSA's theology of boundless inclusivity, which definitely has exceptions. Something is obviously amiss when a bishop abuses his authoritative office to subvert every other authority. By the way, the author of this piece is a good friend of mine from our graduate school years at Notre Dame.

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    13 July 2005

    European Union notes

    As the European Union prepares to get ready to commence to begin to start negotiating the possibility of Turkey's membership, Ankara's signing of a protocol to extend its customs union to Cyprus has been delayed. The Turkish government insists that its signature will not imply recognition of the Cyprus Republic. Will Turkey ever become a full member of the EU? My prediction is that, even if negotiations go ahead, they will conclude short of full membership.

    The new issue of Federations Magazine carries an article by Uwe Leonardy, "A new constitution for Europe — getting closer to federalism?" He argues that the new European constitution's affirmation of the principle of subsidiarity lacks an adequate legal basis and appears to be more rhetorical than substantive.

    But of course, since the article was published, the constitution's future is in doubt. Leonardy believes that the EU may need to be creative in considering new ideas for its future:

    The creation of a fully federal "United States of Europe" by a core group of countries, and the use of this new state as a nucleus of a less supranational European Union, could be one of those brand new ideas. It could also be an alternative, if the Constitutional Treaty fails to stand the test of the referenda.

    Exactly what I and others have been saying all along. Asymmetrical federalism is the wave of the future. Such a Europe will make room for Turkey at the multilateral periphery and not at the fully federal centre.

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    11 July 2005

    Mystery tune

    Some years ago I heard this tune, which I have reason to think may be a Scottish or Irish folk song. Perhaps one day Google will post a tune-finder. In the meantime does anyone recognize it? Can anyone tell me the title? I can't say I've lost sleep over it, but I would love to know what it is.

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    Schönborn on evolution

    Has Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, really altered his church's stance on darwinian evolution? Or is he simply reiterating what all Christians have always confessed, viz., that God's world is not subject to "an unguided, unplanned process," "blind fate or chance"? Could even The New York Times have believed Christians thought otherwise?

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    EU hopes revived?

    Luxembourg approves EU constitution. Does it really matter anymore?

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    09 July 2005

    And now for something completely different. . .

    Remember communism? It collapsed shortly after I began teaching, thus forcing me to revise my lecture notes even before the ink had dried. It turns out that the Communist Party is still around south of the border and it's toned down its goal from world conquest to, well, survival. A few days ago the party, boasting a grand total of 3,000 members, met in Chicago. Why so few supporters?

    Mr [Sam] Webb, a former factory worker from Maine who has worked full time for the party since 1976, concedes that "people don't naturally gravitate towards" the party because they associate Communism with the former Soviet Union.

    What a shame. People can be so unfair, can't they?

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    08 July 2005

    More from Comment

    Comment's commitment to produce a new article every week continues apace with two recent entries.

    The first is by the remarkable Mr. Rob Joustra, a recent political science and history graduate from Redeemer, who just happens to have an interest in music. (Fancy that!) In Building Institutions: Paste magazine, Joustra tells of an intriguing periodical spearheaded by young Christians with a vision for transcending the limitations of CCM and the élitism of so-called high culture. The end result is a quality publication "for people who still enjoy discovering new music, prize substance and songcraft over fads and manufactured attitude, and appreciate quality music in whatever genre it might inhabit."

    The second article is by an obscure professor of politics living somewhere in south-central Upper Canada. Building Institutions: political parties attempts to grapple with the following questions: "What role should Christians play in the building and strengthening of political parties? Should we shun them? Should we attempt to gain control of or, more modestly, to try to influence, one or more of them? Should we found our own distinctively Christian political party as an alternative?" The author proposes six strategies for renewing and strengthening our political parties.

    Happy reading.

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    PJR: Skillen and Carlson-Thies on Lew Daly

    Remember Lew Daly's Compassion Capital, published earlier this year in the Boston Review? I wrote on it here and here. Now James W. Skillen has written something on this article for the Public Justice Report: Searching for the Center's Public Philosophy. Worth reading.

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    Hmmm... I missed some kind words

    It is always nice to stumble across a positive review of something one has written. I didn't see this until now, but thanks to Macht for this endorsement.

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    07 July 2005

    Not again?

    New York, 9/11

    Madrid, 3/11

    London, 7/7


    CBC

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    06 July 2005

    The 'Canadian' bacon syndrome

    Why is it that I've come across this in Pennsylvania and Maryland but not here in Canada?

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    PJR: Skillen on Wallis et al.

    The third quarter issue of the Center for Public Justice's Public Justice Report is now online. Among the articles of interest is a review by James W. Skillen of three notable books: Michael Schluter and John Ashcroft, eds., Jubilee Manifesto: A Framework, Agenda and Strategy for Christian Social Reform (Leicester, U.K.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005); Ronald J. Sider and Diane Knippers, eds., Toward an Evangelical Public Policy (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005); Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005). Each of these books in its own way urges members of the body of Christ to engage the public policy process as Christians. Given that Wallis' book has been a best-seller and has gained considerable media exposure, I will quote from Skillen's review of God's Politics:

    Wallis’ use of the biblical prophets in God’s Politics raises yet another question. Wallis, whose prophetic counter-culturalism might suggest that he belongs in the Hauerwas camp, frequently sounds more like a civil-religionist of the left. That is to say, his use of the prophets, in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., echoes themes from the Social Gospel movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The religious movement that Wallis hopes is now arising is one that will transform America in the here and now. At one point Wallis quotes from one of Micah’s end-times visions (4:1-4), which speaks about the Lord judging and arbitrating among the nations with the consequence that "they shall beat their swords into plowshare, and their spears into pruning hooks; . . . neither shall they learn war any more." In Wallis’ estimation, the United States does not seem to be directing its foreign policy in tune with Micah, but it should be doing so. More than that, Micah’s promise is that all people, under the Lord’s rule, will be able to "sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees." So the conclusion Wallis draws for American policy is that "military solutions are insufficient to bring peace and security," and only when all people on earth "have some share in global security" will they be able to beat their swords into plowshares. The wisdom of Micah, writes Wallis, "is both prophetic and practical for a time like this." Wallis has no hesitation about deriving public policy ideas from eschatological prophesies and does so as easily as the pro-Israel lobby of Evangelicals draws its policy ideas from other prophetic passages. Does either side do justice, however, to the prophets or to the formation of sound public policy?

    Wallis does a similar thing with quotations from Isaiah and Amos. Prophetic anticipations of the coming day of the Lord, when there will no longer be hunger and all of God’s people will enjoy the work of their hands, become, for Wallis, anticipations of the work that the religious community in America can accomplish. "We must ensure that all people who are able to work have jobs where they do not labor in vain, but have access to quality health care, decent housing, and a living income to support their families." How can that be done? And what role does government have in trying to make it happen? Wallis avoids the hard work that groups like the Jubilee Centre and some of the authors in Toward an Evangelical Public Policy are doing to try to develop policy proposals that can make a difference in a still fallen, selfish, and fractured world. Wallis’ language sounds utopian, in part because the biblical savior, judge, and lord whom the biblical prophets anticipated is the Messiah of God, not ourselves. In the passages referred to above, the prophets were speaking of what God would do in fulfilling his promises, not describing the outcome of human self-salvation.

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    05 July 2005

    Humanists under siege

    Pity the world's humanists and atheists, who are gathering this week in Paris "to forge a common platform against what they see as a growing threat from religions and religious politicians to secular states across the globe." It must be a lonely battle. We'll keep them in our prayers.

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