Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

29 April 2010

Conservatives favoured? Yes, but. . .

Anywhere else this might portend disaster for the governing party, yet our first-past-the-post electoral system somehow makes this good news: Tories' lead solid as Ignatieff slips: poll. Good news for Stephen Harper, no? Well, not exactly. The public favours him to the tune of 31.9 percent, which is rather less than overwhelming. Stated otherwise, a substantial majority of 68.1 percent of Canadians dislikes Harper. Yet he stays in office.

Perhaps one day we will have the presence of mind to recognize that elections are about, not winning and losing, but just representation in parliament. May such groups as Fair Vote Canada hasten that day.

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Why is it . . .

. . . that someone studying theology is called a theologian while someone studying fish is not similarly labelled an ichthyologian?
ΙΧΘΥΣ

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28 April 2010

Noah’s ark found — again

It seems the biblical narrative underestimated the size of Noah’s fleet: Has Noah’s Ark Been Found on Turkish Mountaintop? With such a flotilla littering the slopes of Mount Ararat, it’s a wonder he wasn’t charged harbour fees.

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27 April 2010

Making adolescence obsolescent

Chuck Colson recently published two BreakPoint commentaries that have a bearing on secondary education: South Hadley Hellions: The Fruit of Sin and Savagery in South Hadley: Where Are the Adults? The event that prompted these commentaries was the tragic bullying and suicide of Phoebe Prince in a west Massachusetts community. I was struck by Colson’s words here:

American teenagers operate in what has been called a “parallel culture” that operates free of adult interference. American high schools have been described as places where “individuals of the same age group define each other’s world.” As we saw in South Hadley, instead of challenging these definitions, or even the kind of cruelty endured by kids like Phoebe Prince, teachers and administrators often adopt a hands-off approach. This is politically correct, to respect personal autonomy. Look what it leads to. Every once in a while, events like those in South Hadley or the school shootings a decade ago cause us to examine some aspect of this “parallel culture,” but the “parallel culture” remains.


Read more »

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20 April 2010

Ending oppression?

This morning’s Hamilton Spectator carries the happy news that another form of oppression is about to be lifted across the pond: EU: Vacations are a right, not a luxury. I last travelled overseas in 2006. Because I have reason to believe I can claim European citizenship (through Cyprus and/or the United Kingdom), perhaps it’s time to take action to end my four-year-long oppressed state — with the emancipating assistance of European taxpayers, of course.

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19 April 2010

Varosha

Varosha is the vast district of Famagusta, Cyprus, which extends south from the Venetian-era walls of the old city. Here most of my paternal relatives once lived until 1974. Since that time Varosha has been inside the UN buffer zone along the Green Line and is effectively a ghost city. A few years ago one of our students, Austin Miedema, was enroled in one of my classes where I talked about my extended family's experience in that troubled island. A musician, he was inspired to compose a song about Varosha, which he performed at Hamilton's Freeway Café at the weekend.

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Guilt and guilt feelings

No, they’re not the same thing. Nevertheless, a few years ago I was present at an academic conversation whose topic was apparently guilt, but as the discussion progressed it became obvious that the real topic was the feelings of guilt that often plague people for various reasons. It struck me then that empirical English usage may be in the process of eroding the meaning of guilt as a reality in human relations, giving it instead a subjective psychological connotation. Since then I have paid close attention to how people in common parlance have used the word, and I am coming to think that my suspicion may be correct.

For example, a google search turns up some interesting evidence. One website authoritatively tells us: “The dictionary defines the word ‘guilt’ as a ‘feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined’.” Testifying to Freud’s pervasive influence on our culture, other equally telling phrases turn up: “overcoming guilt”, “guilt trip”, “guilt complex”, “dealing with guilt,” and the like. Yet Merriam-Webster OnLine gives as its first definition of guilt the following: “the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; broadly: guilty conduct.” Guilt as a feeling turns up only in the second and third definitions.

Indeed in jurisprudence guilt has a very particular meaning, and it could hardly be otherwise. If someone is in fact guilty of violating the law, his or her feelings are beside the point. The guilt is real and must be dealt with accordingly. Yet if we continue to embrace a psychologically reduced view of guilt, where will that leave our legal systems? There is already a regrettable tendency, at least here in Canada, to assume that, where people feel offended or aggrieved, government — often in the form of federal and provincial human rights commissions — must step in to put matters aright. Where feelings are at stake and where guilt has been reduced to feelings, the presumption of innocence will tend to lose its status as well.

To be sure, not all justice is necessarily retributive justice. Yet if we lose a recognition of the reality of guilt, it is not clear that we can make sense of justice in any of its forms as rooted in something other than subjective emotions. This has further implications for our understanding of the gospel message. If guilt should be reduced to feelings, and if Jesus is said to have borne the penalty for our guilt, does that mean he died on the cross to remove our guilt complexes? Or did he pay the price for genuine sins committed against God and neighbour — for our doing what we ought not to have done and for not doing what we ought to have done? The only way to make sense of the good news in Jesus Christ is to challenge relentlessly the popular tendency to conflate real guilt with guilt feelings. No, they’re not the same thing.

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18 April 2010

Election upset imminent?

Fascinating developments are occurring in the current British election campaign, as the country's traditional third party, the Liberal Democrats, or Lib Dems, are making a strong showing in the public opinion polls: British election upended by TV debates.
A youthful looking Nick Clegg
A poll for The Sun newspaper taken Friday had the Tories at 33 per cent, the Lib Dems at 30 and Labour at 28. A Daily Mail poll had [Lib Dem leader Nick] Clegg's party in front at 32 per cent, with the Conservatives at 31 and Labour at 28.

The results suggest Britain may be headed for its first minority Parliament since February 1974, which lasted all of eight months before another election was called.

Both surveys also hint at a looming constitutional crisis. Because of the British first-past-the-post voting system, seat projections show Labour could keep a plurality in the House of Commons, while the Lib Dems may win the popular vote but still finish a distant third in the constituency count.

The Liberal Democrats — a left-leaning party that opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion, favours greenhouse-gas reductions and would hike taxes on mansions — have for years appealed for Britain to introduce a more proportional form of representation.

"The game changer really would be if a coalition allowed the Liberal Democrats to get the electoral reforms they want," said Steven Fielding, a professor [of] politics at the University of Nottingham.

Here in Canada we are accustomed to minority governments, which we have had continuously since 2004. But not Britain. Of course, electoral reform would certainly necessitate multiparty coalition governments, which I personally think would be a good thing — for both countries.

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16 April 2010

Property ownership and aboriginal reserves

Admittedly I have not devoted much time and energy over the years to Canada's sometimes contentious aboriginal issue, except to note that the ongoing land dispute down the road in Caledonia has been handled abysmally by all parties, especially the provincial and federal governments. The issue is contentious for the following reasons:
  1. Genuine injustice was done to our first nations at the time of European settlement of the western hemisphere;
  2. Successive governments have repeatedly broken promises to the natives, occupying land previously reserved for them;
  3. In the 19th and 20th centuries aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families and forced into residential schools where they were often abused;
  4. Native land was organized into reserves, which were generally not viable economic units;
  5. Aboriginal communities are locked into a pattern of poverty and despair;
  6. Aboriginal claims have yet to be definitively settled.
With such a history behind us, it is small wonder that this issue should continue to elude just resolution. However, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy has posted three relevant items: Discussing the Elephant in the Room: Indian Property Rights; Top Tory Touts On-Reserve Property Ownership; and an interview with Tom Flanagan. Flanagan and other like-minded people think that the key to ending aboriginal poverty is by permitting band members to own property outright without the restrictions placed on it by the Indian Act. Given that the initiative comes from the affected parties themselves and would be entirely voluntary, it might be worth a try.

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Worshipedia.org

This announcement appears on the “wall” of The Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future facebook group:

We are delighted to announce that, after many months of development, the Worshipedia.org site is now live! With thousands of resources and hundreds of contributors, plus new materials and updates coming frequently, we hope and pray it will be a resource that edifies and benefits many: ministers, worship leaders, educators, students – indeed, all worshipers. It’s a humble beginning, but the threshold of a dream. Please subscribe if you can! And please pray for us and share with many others! http://www.worshipedia.org

The website appears to call itself both worshipedia.org and worshipedia.com and can be accessed with either address.

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15 April 2010

April snippets

  • A commenter on the First Things: Evangel blog has alerted me to this passage from Justin Martyr on the resurrection from the dead:
    For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians. . .

  • Last week Chuck Colson published two BreakPoint commentaries that have a bearing on secondary education: South Hadley Hellions: The Fruit of Sin and Savagery in South Hadley: Where Are the Adults? The event that prompted these commentaries was the tragic bullying and suicide of Phoebe Prince in a west Massachusetts community. I was struck by Colson's words here:
    American teenagers operate in what has been called a “parallel culture” that operates free of adult interference. American high schools have been described as places where “individuals of the same age group define each other’s world.” As we saw in South Hadley, instead of challenging these definitions, or even the kind of cruelty endured by kids like Phoebe Prince, teachers and administrators often adopt a hands-off approach. This is politically correct, to respect personal autonomy. Look what it leads to. Every once in a while, events like those in South Hadley or the school shootings a decade ago cause us to examine some aspect of this “parallel culture,” but the “parallel culture” remains.

    I myself wonder whether the problem is more deep-seated than even Colson lets on. Public secondary schools have existed for generations in North America, and they have indeed fostered a powerful adolescent subculture with its own (sometimes twisted) mores and social expectations. This subculture came into its own in the unprecedented prosperity of the postwar era and we are living with the consequences of this 65 years later. My response? Shut down the public high schools! I will come back to this topic, so stay tuned.

  • Speaking of education, some public school systems cannot quite resist the temptation to impose a worldview on their students, along with teaching them reading, writing and arithmetic. The Hamilton Spectator carries two articles that make this evident: Sex ed moves to Grade 3 and Sexual diversity policy on agenda. Yet it could hardly be otherwise. Someone's worldview will inevitably inform the educational process. There is no such thing as religiously neutral education. Which is why there are christian schools.

  • This is a tragic development for many Americans with an increasingly marginalized culinary taste: School's out: Last sardine cannery in U.S. shuts down. I guess they will just have to get by on imports from Portugal, Norway and Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick, Canada.

  • Several years ago genealogical research turned up the name of my 7th great-grandfather, Gotthard Witzell, who fought for Swedish King Karl XII against Peter the Great's Russia some three centuries ago. Born in Livonia, now northern Latvia, he moved to coastal Finland, where he married and started a line that included a number of my ancestors. This he did after Sweden lost his homeland to Russia. Now I have recently been contacted by a distant Finnish cousin, Anneli Santtila, who has discovered more about Witzell's roots, which may well have been in the region of Frankfurt, Germany: The Wittzells of Livonia: Frankfurt, Riga, Alavieska, Kalajoki. So I guess that makes me a Franco-Greek-Cypriot-Germano-Finno-Anglo-American-Canadian. Or perhaps I should just admit to being a mutt.

  • One more item. Teachers of Canadian government will find this website an invaluable resource: Canadian Politics Online, which is billed as "the first curriculum based e-textbook of its kind on Canadian government and politics." A bit of possibly misleading trivia from the site: "The origin of the word 'riding' comes from old British Parliamentary times when horses were used to transport politicians and officials around an electoral area." However, not everyone agrees: "A common misconception holds that the term arose from some association between the size of the district and the distance that can be covered on horseback in a certain amount of time." It seems there are still some glitches to be worked out.
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    14 April 2010

    The Mad Professor’s Song

    It’s that time of year again. The time for marking papers and preparing exams. Sometimes paper-marking inspires fits of anger and frustration. Other times it inspires poetry, one of which I post below, with apologies to Lewis Carroll.

    He thought he saw a hyperbolic
    Comment overreach:
    He looked again and found
    An eccentricity of speech.
    “Perhaps I’d better look,” said he,
    “For someone else to teach.”

    He thought he saw true talent
    In an essay on Descartes:
    He looked again and what he found
    Quite rent his hopeful heart.
    “I feel like quitting now,” he pined,
    Before I even start.”

    He thought he saw, but for a time,
    A brilliant simile:
    He looked again and saw instead
    A bad analogy.
    “If this be reasoning,” quoth he,
    “Then reason I shall flee.”

    He thought he saw an argument
    With solid evidence:
    He looked again: a mere assertion
    Struggled to make sense.
    “My brain is weary,” he complained,
    “At such a lame defence.”

    He thought he saw, while reading this,
    A clever turn of phrase:
    He looked again and, sad to say,
    Sheer doggerel met his gaze.
    “He’d best leave verse to other folk
    Who know poetic ways.”

    © David T. Koyzis, 2010

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    04 April 2010

    Christ is risen!

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