Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

31 December 2005

Singing the liturgy

From Zenit: "Gregorian chant has been unjustly abandoned and its place in the life of the Church should be recovered, says a Vatican aide." I wonder what Monsignor Grau would think of the Genevan Psalter?

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23 December 2005

Cyprus decision

One awaits the long-range implication of this for the continuing division of Cyprus: Turkey faces huge payout for homes in Cyprus. According to the Guardian Unlimited report, "Turkey will have to pay hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation to Greek Cypriots who lost their land and homes during the invasion of northern Cyprus in 1974, the European court of human rights ruled yesterday." The European Court of Human Rights is, incidentally, an institution of the Council of Europe, not the European Union.

What shall we make of this story: How the U.N. betrayed Cyprus? Is there really hard evidence "that Turkey launched its invasion of Cyprus only after [US Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger gave the OK"? Did he also threaten "to have the U.S. Sixth Fleet sink a naval armada sent by Greece to defend Cyprus after Turkey launched its invasion"?

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21 December 2005

The Council of Europe has spoken

One senses that this document, produced by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, is directed primarily at Islam: Resolution 1464 (2005): Women and religion in Europe. All the same, what is undoubtedly a well-intended effort to protect the rights of women in the member states of the Council of Europe risks making the state a dangerous arbiter of what can and cannot be believed by adherents of virtually every historic faith tradition, including Christianity and Judaism. The Assembly shows its hand in the second paragraph, which asserts that the influence of religion on women is "seldom benign." In response, the Moscow Patriarchate has published its own statement, affirming much of the document while questioning its more dangerous implications. (From Orthodoxy Today)

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18 December 2005

The Annunciation


Theresa Koyzis, 2005

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17 December 2005

Pro-life is not enough

As promised, I am posting a slightly altered version of my column for the 21 November issue of Christian Courier:

For just over three decades now – for as long as I have been aware of the abortion issue – I have considered myself pro-life. The premature birth of our daughter 7 years ago reinforced this conviction, due to our experience of her pains and joys when she should still have been in the womb. Nevertheless, I have opposed the argument that one should vote only for the obviously pro-life candidate at election time. Why?

To be sure, I do not accept the reasoning of those who, following the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, claim to adhere to a “seamless garment” approach linking together abortion, capital punishment, warfare and poverty as pro-life issues. Good people can disagree on the best way to address poverty, on whether to wage war in contingent circumstances, and on whether the death penalty is proper retribution for those who have taken innocent life. However, the abortion issue is qualitatively different. Here disagreement revolves around, not how best to protect the unborn child, but whether to do so at all. For this reason those attempting to tie such different issues together sow confusion.

At the same time, there are professed pro-lifers who are so preoccupied with this single issue that they are in danger of overlooking the intrinsic worth of political order itself as a gift of God's grace. Some would seemingly risk bringing down this order if it would serve to prevent one more abortion. Yet John Calvin writes of civil government that “Its function among men is no less than that of bread, water, sun, and air; indeed, its place of honour is far more excellent.” Even when government tolerates specific injustices, it nevertheless plays a crucial larger role in the maintenance and flourishing of human social life. Although it would take too much space to recall every possible way it does this, it is worth pointing out six basic tasks: (1) to uphold the public legal framework within which a variety of human activities take place; (2) to defend life, liberty and property; (3) to protect the diversity of human communities; (4) to care for the commons, that is, the shared patrimony of the body politic; (5) to temper the harsh edges of the economic marketplace; and (6) to assume some responsibility for the economically disadvantaged.

The fact that a given government fails to, say, defend the lives of all the unborn or to protect marriage as a distinctive institution cannot by itself vindicate the single-issue voter, especially if the chosen issue is detached from a recognition of the larger task of government to do public justice. The 17th-century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes was arguably pro-life in the sense that he believed the chief task of the sovereign to be the protection of his subjects’ lives. Yet he also believed that the most effective government to this end was one ruled by a single will unconstrained by law. In short, Hobbes may have got that one issue right, but his overall understanding of government and its role was severely defective.

Fortunately, the vast majority of pro-lifers understand this and respect the institutions of government as the good gift of God. But when some ask their supporters, as one website does, to sign a pledge that they will vote only for pro-life candidates, they effectively ask them to overlook the importance of a variety of issues that may impact the well-being of the constitution as a whole. They ask them to overlook corruption, greed, incompetence and bad domestic and foreign policies, any of which might adversely affect the general functionality of the political system. This is far from adequate as a coherent political agenda.

Of course, we have every reason to call ourselves pro-life and to defend the unborn to the best of our abilities. But we shouldn’t use this label as an excuse to avoid the necessary but difficult job of thinking and working communally through the larger task of the state to do public justice. Nor should we allow it to shortcircuit the needed effort to discern the spirits behind the ideological visions that people bring to the public square.

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Limbo to be abolished?

This story is likely to puzzle protestants: Roman Catholic Church Considers Abolishing Limbo Theory. It raises at least two crucial questions: How can one infallible pope abolish a doctrine seemingly affirmed by a previous infallible pope? And what is the source of authority for judging the veracity of such a doctrine or the lack thereof?

By the way, it was Pius X, not Pius V, who reigned from 1903 to 1914.

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16 December 2005

The perils of the internet: another viewpoint

Controversy notwithstanding, perhaps there's something to be said in its favour: A Vote of Confidence in Wikipedia. But I still don't like to see my students quoting it in their written work.

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Lessons and carols

This sunday, 18 December, at 7 o'clock pm, there will be a Festival of Lessons and Carols at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, at the corner of Locke and Charlton Streets in Hamilton. Come one and all. Here is something I wrote two years ago about this annual event.

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Candidates' debate: en français

The four party leaders went head to head last evening in the first verbal contest of the election campaign: First debate produces few fireworks. Tonight they go at it again, but in English.

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15 December 2005

The Iraq election

Pray for its success, and for peace, order and good government in that troubled country.

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The election campaign: reform promised

On the campaign trail, Conservative leader Stephen Harper has promised a number of constitutional reforms, including an elected Senate and fixed election dates. What about proportional representation?

In a highly unusual move, a former representative of the Queen, Ed Schreyer, plans to run for the New Democratic Party in Manitoba. That will raise more than a few eyebrows, I should think. Perhaps even at Buckingham Palace.

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14 December 2005

Social conservatism

The most recent Comment carries an article by Paul Tuns, Social conservatism's Canadian barriers. The responses to Tuns by John Kamphof and Stephen Vander Klippe raise the larger issue of the proper relationship between a normative understanding of politics in God's world and the so-called "hot moral issues" of the day. Unfortunately, as I have argued elsewhere, there is a pronounced tendency towards moralism amongst North Americans, and perhaps especially among Christians. What is the antidote? I will address this soon by posting here a recent Christian Courier column of mine, titled, "Pro-life is not enough."

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Today's health news

Fibre's benefits questioned in fight against colon cancer. So much for our daily dose of porridge. Back to steak and eggs for breakfast.

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13 December 2005

Deutero-Isaiah?

For at least two of the sundays in Advent, the three-year lectionary prescribes Old Testament readings from Isaiah, chapters 40 and following. In our church the past two sundays, the bulletin printed the following preface: "A reading from the second book of Isaiah," which the reader was expected to say aloud before reciting the passage itself. This struck me as odd. To be sure, many if not most biblical scholars believe that chapters 40 through 66 (or possibly only through 55) were written by someone, usually called Deutero-Isaiah, living centuries after the 8th-century prophet himself. Yet the church has always understood the book to be a canonical unity, and indeed there are a number of elements, such as the uniquely Isaian reference to God as the Holy One of Israel, tying together its chapters. The last two sundays' bulletins struck me as the product of a misguided effort to imbue a fallible and highly contestable scholarly theory concerning authorship with something approaching canonical status itself.

This past sunday, however, the reader (who is the husband of a Redeemer colleague) chose to ignore the word second and simply said, "A reading from the book of Isaiah." Good for him.

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12 December 2005

Post-abortion trauma

This news is hardly surprising: 'Anguish of abortion is worse than miscarriage'.

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The election campaign: childcare policy

The Prime Minister's Office is in damage control mode today after Scott Reid's ill-considered criticism of the opposition: Tory plan is 'beer and popcorn' money.

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11 December 2005

The perils of the internet, continued

The prankster who authored the false biography of John Siegenthaler has been unmasked. In the meantime, Wikipedia has come off looking very bad indeed. Some months ago someone went so far as to post a biography of me on Wikipedia, but it was subsequently deleted by a Wikipedia administrator who judged that the subject of said biography was a "nonnotable." That's fine with me.

As for that ancient question, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, here is a possible candidate: Wikipedia Watch.

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Last interview

Glenn Friesen has posted on his website an English translation of Herman Dooyeweerd's last interview, conducted by lawyer Pieter Boeles in 1975, the very year I first learned of Dooyeweerd's philosophy.

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10 December 2005

Zionism with a bolshevik twist

Iran's outspoken President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made yet another less than fully helpful foreign policy initiative by urging that Israel be relocated to Europe. One safely predicts that, after careful deliberation, the Israeli government will decline his generous offer.

While we're on the subject, few people are likely aware of the other Jewish homeland. It's called the Jewish Autonomous Republic of Birobidjan, established by the Soviet Union in the far east of Siberia along its sometimes tense Amur River border with China. A veritable promised land, if there was one.

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08 December 2005

The end of an era

For those of us who grew up in the Chicago area, the name Marshall Field & Co. has more than a familiar ring. It calls to mind the big clock at the State Street store in the Loop; the elaborate, animated Christmas displays in the windows along that same street; a meal at the foot of the giant Christmas tree in the Walnut Room; and waiting in a ridiculously long line to sit on Santa Claus's lap. I have especially fond memories of my mother's best childhood friend driving us into the Loop in her Volkswagen Beetle around 1960 and our lunching in the Walnut Room. But this is Fields' last Christmas. Next year all Fields stores will become Macy's, a result of the company's purchase by Federated Department Stores. Another link with the past – my own past – will be gone.

Photo: Bill and Jill Haueisen

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07 December 2005

It's official. . .

Beethoven died of lead poisoning.

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The courts and the constitution

Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin spoke at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, last week, arguing for an expansive view of the judiciary's role in a democracy. Thanks to Dan Postma for calling attention to this article in the National Post: Put rights before Constitution. Rather than respond directly, I will post a column I wrote for Christian Courier, dated 19 January 2004. It is a little out of date, but the basic argument is not:

The vast majority of the world’s states have written constitutions specifying the arrangement of government institutions, the relationship between the levels of government in a federal system, the rights of citizens, and the amending procedures. Unlike ordinary legislation, which requires only a simple majority in a parliamentary assembly, a constitution is usually protected by the requirement of a qualified or raised majority.

For example, a proposed amendment to the US Constitution must secure the approval of a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress and three-quarters of the state legislatures. Here in Canada an amendment to our Constitution Acts generally requires the agreement of both chambers of Parliament and seven provinces containing at least 50 percent of the country’s population. But some issues, for example the status of the monarchy, require provincial unanimity. Not surprisingly, the US Constitution has been amended only a handful of times, while Canada’s two post-patriation attempts at amendment have failed.

Why should it be so difficult to amend a constitution? Why not allow an ordinary parliamentary majority? Because a constitution is assumed to represent a broad consensus among the citizenry in favour of a particular form of government and the political values that support it. To change a constitution thus requires a similar consensus in its favour. If such a consensus is not forthcoming, then the constitution remains as is.

This very consensual nature of a constitution indicates why the role of the courts in its interpretation is potentially troublesome. Since 1803 the United States Supreme Court has claimed the authority to rule on the constitutionality of federal and state legislation. In 1982 our own Supreme Court acquired similar powers under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There is in itself nothing wrong in this, as long as the courts understand their own role as functioning within this consensus.

However, in recent decades the courts have effectively changed their countries’ constitutions in ways that have departed from the consensus. Perhaps the most infamous example of this was the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. Here the US Supreme Court invalidated the carefully constructed abortion laws of the several states on the basis of a supposed right of privacy nowhere found in the text of the Constitution itself and for which there was no consensus in the public at large. This single decision, so controversial at the time, unleashed three decades of political discord yet to be settled in a satisfactory manner.

Although the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1988 abortion decision, Morgentaler v. the Queen, took care to leave room for parliamentary action, later decisions have increasingly followed the American pattern. The Ontario Appeals Court's controversial Halpern ruling (2003), as well as the US Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas decision, can hardly be said to reflect an obvious popular consensus in the two countries. Had formal amendments been proposed to legalize same-sex marriage or to prohibit anti-sodomy laws, it is highly unlikely they would have overcome the qualified majority requirements.

The courts are thus undertaking, on highly questionable legal and constitutional grounds, to change their countries’ constitutions in ways that depart significantly from the consensus of the citizens and that undercut the formal amendment process. While the latter requires a qualified majority, the courts are effectively amending the constitution by doing an end run around the consensus. The problem is not so much that the courts are usurping democracy, as some would have it, as that they lack a proper understanding of what a constitution is, namely, something rooted in the consensual traditions and mores of a political community.

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06 December 2005

Moscow municipal elections

Vladimir Putin's Kremlin is the victor in elections for Moscow's City Duma: United Russia Gets 28 Out of 35 Seats.

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Political architecture

From about age 6 until age 14 I had plans to become an architect, which I abandoned after discovering a lack of interest in some of the ancillary skills, such as drafting. Nevertheless, I still have an interest in the subject of architecture and city planning. I am especially interested in the design of government buildings, including the interior layout of parliamentary chambers. At some point I may write something more coherent on this topic. Here I will content myself with four pieces of trivia.

  1. Both Canada and the United Kingdom have parliamentary chambers in which government and opposition members face each other across an open floor. This tends to reinforce the adversarial character of proceedings. Many, if not most, other countries have parliaments whose deputies are seated in semicircular fashion around the speaker. This is true of the French National Assembly, the German Bundestag and the United States House of Representatives and Senate. Australia and its component states have parliaments which combine these two patterns. Government and opposition MPs face each other through most of the chamber, but the seats form a "U" at the far end from the speaker.

  2. It seems that many Commonwealth countries have upper chambers whose interiors are coloured red, following the example of the House of Lords, the original Red Chamber. This includes the Canadian and Australian Senates, the Legislative Councils of five of the Australian states, as well as the Rajya Sabha in the Indian Parliament in New Delhi. (Canadian provinces abolished their own legislative councils long ago and now have unicameral legislatures. In Australia only Queensland's parliament is unicameral.) Senate reform is a semi-popular noncontact sport in this country, but thus far no one has managed to win at it, except for the senators themselves, who are appointed (not elected) to their positions until death or age 75, whichever comes first, and can put in as much or as little work as they please.

  3. When the British House of Commons was destroyed by German bombs during the Blitz in 1941, some thought was given to rebuilding it along continental European lines, i.e., in semicircular shape. Prime Minister Winston Churchill opposed this, arguing that "We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us." His wishes carried the day and the Commons chamber was rebuilt along the lines of its predecessor.

  4. After our own parliament building burned in 1916, a number of designs were considered for its replacement. During my visit to Ottawa last February, I was privileged to visit the old Justice Building, courtesy of my good friend Eric Hogeterp. As we entered, I was astonished to see on the wall an artist's rendering of one such proposed design. Its style was neoclassical, complete with a domed capitol, making it resemble nothing other than the American federal government buildings in Washington. Needless to say, this design was not adopted, and the current Centre Block was rebuilt in neogothic style.

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05 December 2005

The perils of the internet

Here is a timely warning against relying too heavily on Wikipedia as a source for information: Truth can be at risk in the world of the Web.

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'Red-state' Poland rankles 'blue-state' Europeans

Something of North America's culture wars is making its way to the old world, as indicated in this report from Brussels: Conservative Poland Roils European Union. It seems that Polish deputies to the European Parliament set up an anti-abortion display which deeply offended the otherwise assiduously tolerant members from elsewhere in the EU. Parliamentary guards quickly dismantled the display in a conspicuous manifestation of this tolerance.

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04 December 2005

Princeton seminary professor applauds war and peace report

The following item was posted on CRC (Christian Reformed Church) Voices:
Princeton Theological Seminary professor Max L. Stackhouse had fine words for the recently released CRC synodical report on war and peace. In an email to his Christian Social Ethics class, Dr. Stackhouse called the report “absolutely the best statement of the Reformed tradition's treatment of these issues in view of the contemporary debates over Iraq, etc., that I have seen.” The professor encouraged students to save the report “for future reference when and if you are called upon to preach or teach on these matters.”

The members of the committee include two persons I know personally, Dr. James W. Skillen and Dr. Elaine Botha. I've not yet read the report, but I look forward to doing so.

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03 December 2005

Schaeffer and Muggeridge

During their lifetimes Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990) and Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) tended to appeal to somewhat different constituencies within the larger christian community. Yet few are aware that the British journalist and convert to Christianity once met and conversed with the popular American apologist and author some four decades ago. This unexpectedly awkward meeting was arranged by David Virtue (whose surname sounds pseudonymous) and recounted here: The Collision of Two Minds.

Later: Coincidentally, David Warren eulogizes Muggeridge's son John, who has died at age 72 and was responsible for his father's conversion.

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Is Hargrove confused?

From The London Free Press: "A Liberal minority government with the balance of power held by the New Democratic party would be the best outcome in the federal election, Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove said yesterday." Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't NDP leader Jack Layton just indicate that he could no longer support the current minority Liberal government? Isn't that why the government fell? What does Hargrove think will have changed after the election?

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02 December 2005

'Trudeaumania' it ain't

Michael Ignatieff's candidacy for Etobicoke-Lakeshore continues to stumble along in its early days: Talk of Harvard return was a joke, Ignatieff says. Oh, the trials of would-be philosopher-kings.

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Bird flu

Is the current scare over a possible global flu pandemic an example of media hype? Chuck Colson (or at least his ghost writers) thinks so: Of Ganders and Geese: The Perils of Scientific Group-Think.

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01 December 2005

To fight or not to fight

After months of trying, a Fr. Neuhaus wannabe has finally got the real thing to pay him some attention. It must be a terribly satisfying feeling. As for Fr. Neuhaus, it seems that he, like some of the rest of us, will decide for himself which battles are worth fighting and which are not.

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Why is it. . .

. . . that on a balance sheet credit and debit mean the opposite, whereas in your wallet a credit card and a debit card both lead to less money in your bank account?

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At last . . .



. . . the Peter Turkstra Library at Redeemer University College is now open and available for use.

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Defeat in the Commons

It's all happened before: Anger over budget brings PCs to brink of defeat in Commons, and TORIES FALL, 139 to 133.

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