27 December 2011
24 December 2011
In þe bigynnyng was þe word, and þe word was at God, and God was þe word.
Þis was in þe bigynnyng at God.
Alle þingis weren maad bi hym, and wiþouten hym was maad no þing, þat þing þat was maad.
In hym was lijf, and þe lijf was þe liyt of men; and þe liyt schyneþ in derknessis,
and derknessis comprehendiden not it.
21 December 2011
In the months after the end of the war, Ravel scored four of the movements for orchestra: the Prélude, Forlane, Menuet and Rigaudon, changing their order so as to conclude with a moderately fast movement. Although Ravel was a master orchestrator (his version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is more frequently performed than the Russian composer's original piano version), he chose not to score the Fugue and Toccata, possibly because the latter would have required a larger number of instruments than he had envisioned for the piece. The orchestral version thus has a somewhat different feel from the piano version. The complete orchestrated version can be heard below:
Many have wondered what the piece would have sounded like if Ravel had scored all six movements. Jack Jarrett has tried his hand at orchestrating the two missing movements below:
The results are intriguing, although I believe that Hungarian conductor Zoltán Kocsis has better captured the spirit of the piece and approximated Ravel's own orchestral timbre in the following performance of the spectacular Toccata:
Whether the following is Kocsis' arrangement of the Fugue I cannot say, but the Chicago Reed Quartet's performance seems very much along the lines of what Ravel would have done, that is, using a small wind group and giving the oboe a prominent place.
What I would love to hear is a performance of the full six movements of Le Tombeau de Couperin, in their original order and with Ravel's and Kocsis' orchestrations. That would be one thrilling concert.
07 December 2011
There have always been people like Dr. Ronald Fletcher, who writes: "Never accept authority; whether that of a jealous god, priest, prime minister, president, dictator, unless in your own seriously considered view, there are good grounds for it. . . . Rationalists in the modern world reject the authoritarian heritage of Moses and substitute a set of non-commandments, i.e., principles on which the individual must work out his own conduct when faced by particular problems." One wonders what authority issues (or doesn't issue?) the non-commandments which tell individuals how they must work out their problems, and one is reassured again that the enemies of authority do not allow authority to fade away. If not Moses, then Dr. Ronald Fletcher is in authority.
06 December 2011
. . . and then look at this map:
I won't pretend to isolate the causal connection, but it certainly appears that what Southern Baptists call coke, Lutherans and Methodists call pop and Catholics call soda. I offer this puzzling phenomenon to the graduate student in the social sciences casting about for a dissertation topic.
02 December 2011
It is long past time to repeal the internal party reforms of the early 1970s. It used to be said that any boy could become president. Even if we update the gender reference, we should not be happy with such a possibility. Do we really want just anyone to be the CEO of earth's remaining superpower? I sure don't. When I was a child, delegates to a party's convention actually chose its candidate for president. Party leaders in state, federal and local politics did their best to put forward a candidate they believed was qualified for the position and had a good chance to beat his opponent. Yes, there were smoke-filled rooms. Yes, there was wheeling and dealing. Yes, the occasional Warren G. Harding would somehow make it past the filtering process. Nevertheless, obvious incompetents were generally weeded out before they got too far.
That all changed four decades ago when Democrats and Republicans sought to more thoroughly democratize their candidate-selection process through a series of binding primary elections and state caucuses. Now by convention time everyone knows who the party's candidate will be. No genuine choices have to be made. If the voters have chosen a weak candidate, the party convention is nevertheless obligated to give him or her its backing. Not to do so would be perceived as undemocratic.
Philosopher Yves R. Simon observed that a democratic constitution needs nondemocratic elements if it is to survive and flourish. There is truth in the ancient Greek and Roman preference for the classical mixed constitution, combining the best elements of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy into a stable and enduring form of government. That the current crop of Republican candidates is being taken seriously as presidential contenders is a sign that things have got out of hand. It may be time to make the candidate-selection process within the parties a little less democratic for the sake of preserving the competitive character of electoral politics in the United States. It may be too late for 2012, but let's shoot for 2016.
Gary Moore, an immigrant from South Africa to Canada, finds that this country's reserve system bears more than a passing resemblance to his homeland's odious racial policies of the past: Apartheid laws rule Canada’s First Nations reserves.
Change was once in the air in Canada. In 1969 the then Indian-affairs minister Jean Chrétien issued a policy white paper which proposed repeal of the Indian Act, the winding-up of the Indian-affairs department and transfer of its functions to other government departments, equal treatment for aboriginals, interim funds for native economic development, rejection of land claims, and new measures to allow indigenous people to control and own the land. Chiefs and others objected. Mr. Chrétien’s proposals were dropped.
Mr. Chrétien’s 1969 white paper still rings true. It says that to be an indigenous person is to be someone apart in law and provision of government services and to lack power, and that special treatment has made aboriginals disadvantaged.
I am far from an expert in aboriginal affairs, but I do wonder whether our reserve system has not worsened life for our first peoples. Would they be better off under a different régime — one in which they enjoyed equality under the law with their nonaboriginal fellow citizens, and no longer suffered under special treatment? Such a change should obviously not be imposed on our first peoples without their consent, yet something just as obviously needs to be done to facilitate their taking responsibility for their own communities' welfare and to free them from their crippling dependency on Ottawa.
30 November 2011
And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
There is nothing especially earth-shaking in this; it is simply affirming that, as God's image-bearers, we shape the world around us and adapt it to a diversity of uses. In recent years a number of books have been published by Christians on precisely this topic. One of the best is Andy Crouch's Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling.
However, there is a persistent tendency amongst some to misidentify the Cultural Mandate as a command to redeem the larger culture from the distorting effects of sin. Chuck Colson's recent Breakpoint commentary is typical in this respect: Dual Commissions. Colson properly understands that the Cultural Mandate — or Commission — and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) are not antithetical but, properly conceived, are complementary. Nevertheless, his understanding of the former is not entirely spot-on:
If Christians do not seize the moment and act on the cultural commission, there soon won’t be any culture left to save. But when we do our duty, we can change the world. Look at Christians like William Wilberforce, who spent most of his life fighting — and winning — the war against slavery in Britain, and bringing about a great cultural renewal in that country.
I will not deny that there are battles to be fought over significant issues, but that's not really what the Cultural Mandate is about. As Crouch puts it, "Culture is, first of all, the name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it's given to us and make something else" (p. 23). We have a God-given propensity "to make something more than we were given." This is fairly basic stuff. We fashion "paintings (whether finger paintings or the Sistine Chapel), omelets, chairs, snow angels." Those who believe the cultural mandate was superseded by the Great Commission have only to look around: we human beings make culture willy nilly, and we always will, because God created us to do so. You don't have to be a culture warrior to recognize this reality of life.
Of course, one cannot escape the fact that our culture-making activities are affected by our sinful natures. This is the implication of Genesis 4:19-22. To be sure, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with fashioning culture. Yet neither can we escape the taint of sin in all our undertakings. Moreover, a distinction must be made between obedient culture-making and disobedient culture-making, which corresponds to St. Augustine's distinction between the City of God and the City of this World. Rightly-oriented culture-making obeys the norms God has given us for life in his world: social, economic, aesthetic, ethical, political and other norms.
A good portion of what Colson calls the "Cultural Commission" must rather be understood to be the last part of the "Great Commission": "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Evangelization requires that we proclaim, not only God's saving grace, but the norms by which he intends those who are in Christ to live. In no way do mere human beings redeem culture by engaging in creative activity. This is presumptuous. Only God in Christ redeems his fallen creation. We are at most agents of his kingdom, manifesting his saving grace in everything we do — including the shaping of culture.
28 November 2011
"The Lord be with you"
"And also with you."
This now reads:
"The Lord be with you."
"And with your spirit."
This brings the English liturgy into closer conformity, not only with the Latin of the Novus Ordo mass, but with its translation into other languages as well, for example, French and Spanish. This month's issue of First Things carries Anthony Esolen's fascinating discussion of the new English texts: Restoring the Words.
Many other church bodies followed the Roman example during the 1970s, adopting the texts of the ordinary of the mass for their own use in, for example, the Episcopal Church's 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the Anglican Church of Canada's Book of Alternative Services and the Lutheran Book of Worship. Our own congregation yesterday celebrated the Lord's Supper with the now familiar greeting: "The Lord be with you." To which we responded: "And also with you." This new disparity in our liturgies prompts me to wonder whether other denominations will eventually follow the Roman lead once again and bring their own liturgies into closer conformity with the new, more accurate, texts.
At this point I am reluctant to speculate on this question. Official ecumenism has fallen on hard times in recent decades, as various denominations have gone their own way on a variety of divisive issues, seemingly unconcerned with the impact on their sister churches, and sometimes even on their own communions. A more practical consideration is that composers have used the 1973 texts for their own mass settings, which are in use in countless congregations throughout the English-speaking world. Without a Vatican-style authority to impose a different translation on them, force of habit will likely incline them to stick with what they have. In the meantime, as of yesterday we are all just a little further apart, liturgically speaking.
22 November 2011
I’ve been a Republican all my adult life. I have worked on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, at Forbes magazine, at the Manhattan and American Enterprise Institutes, as a speechwriter in the George W. Bush administration. I believe in free markets, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and limited government. I voted for John McCain in 2008, and I have strongly criticized the major policy decisions of the Obama administration. But as I contemplate my party and my movement in 2011, I see things I simply cannot support.
America desperately needs a responsible and compassionate alternative to the Obama administration’s path of bigger government at higher cost. And yet: This past summer, the GOP nearly forced America to the verge of default just to score a point in a budget debate. In the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Republican politicians demand massive budget cuts and shrug off the concerns of the unemployed. In the face of evidence of dwindling upward mobility and long-stagnating middle-class wages, my party’s economic ideas sometimes seem to have shrunk to just one: more tax cuts for the very highest earners. When I entered Republican politics, during an earlier period of malaise, in the late seventies and early eighties, the movement got most of the big questions—crime, inflation, the Cold War—right. This time, the party is getting the big questions disastrously wrong.
Will the Republican Party listen to Frum, or will it sideline itself in next year's election and hand another presidential victory to the opposition? Stay tuned.
17 November 2011
16 November 2011
May noted that more than 80% of people vote in Scandinavian countries and some other European nations, but she said the lowest voter turnouts in the world occur in countries with first-past-the-post systems, such as Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, where governments can be elected with majorities despite having received less than 50% of the ballots cast in elections.
The Association for the Advancement of Democratic Rights has failed in a previous legal challenge of Quebec’s first-past-the-post system. Now it’s hoping an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada will be heard and could eventually overturn the previous court ruling, changing elections across the country.
I would be somewhat surprised if the Supreme Court decided to hear this case. Yes, I agree with May: our single-member-plurality electoral system wastes votes, unfairly handicaps smaller principled parties, produces artificial majorities, and depresses voter turnout. But I am most reluctant to see the courts take the matter out of the hands of Parliament, even if the latter is, in effect, stacked against what many of us are convinced is a long overdue reform. If a court imposes electoral reform, even in the interest of enhancing democracy, it will be difficult for Canadians to take ownership of it. Questions concerning its legitimacy will continue to haunt our political life thereafter. Let's not go that route, please.
15 November 2011
These differences between the CRC and the two earlier documents are significant in that they represent an historic shift which Michael Ignatieff has described as the Rights Revolution, Francis Fukuyama as the Great Disruption, and what I have elsewhere referred to as the dawn of the choice-enhancement state.
It is worth noting that, especially in the US, the CRC is controversial because it would seem to bring the state too deeply into the legitimate sphere of family intimacy. Such reservations have thus far successfully prevented the US from ratifying the Convention. Even among the signatories, several states, including the Vatican, have explicitly qualified their acceptance for various reasons. Indeed it is not altogether clear that recasting parental or societal obligations towards children as rights represents genuine progress in ensuring the latter's well-being, especially if we do not curtail the tendency to view all rights as policed by the courts.
In one sense, of course, no one can doubt that children have the right to be loved and cared for by their parents. Yet the primary agents for fulfilling this responsibility are the parents themselves, and not the “states parties” which have signed the document, though the latter certainly have an obligation towards both parents and their children under their general mandate to do public justice. It is worth noting that the word authority appears only three times in the text of the 1989 Convention and each time refers to legal or judicial authority. When used in the plural form, authorities always denotes political authorities. Noticeably absent from all three documents is a recognition of the primacy of parental authority in nurturing the child towards maturity.
I have just completed the first draft of a manuscript on the subject of authority, office and the image of God. In the course of researching and writing this, I have become convinced that we need to reconfigure the ongoing conversation surrounding authority so as to recognize that it resides in an office – or, better, offices – given us by the God who has created us in his image. Accordingly we would be better served, in speaking of parental obligations towards their children, to focus on the authoritative offices borne by each, namely, father, mother, son and daughter.
What will a shift to the language of authority gain for us? I believe it will enable us better to account for the full complexity of the relationship between parents and minor children – necessarily an ever-changing relationship as the children grow to maturity. It will also help us to distinguish between the legitimate authoritative offices of parents and government, recognizing that, while both presumably intend the child's best interest, the secondary authority of government is necessarily limited by the primary authority of parents. It is thus not a matter of opposing freedom, say, of parents to the authority of the state but of recognizing that different agents possess authoritative offices whose demands are different yet, properly understood, mutually supportive and equally worthy of respect.
10 November 2011
In each issue Fr. de Souza offers Small Talk, "an eclectic and ecumenical roundup of incidents, events and oddities that catch our editor's eye." Here's a sample:
What's the difference between Orthodox and Roman Catholics anyway? Not much, apparently. "The differences are slight," we are told by the Toronto Star. "They use the same liturgies, though Orthodox Christians don't consider the Pope a divine figure." So writes Murray Whyte. No one expects Whyte to know anything more about religion than anyone else at the Star, so it is sad but not surprising that he doesn't know that Catholics don't consider the Pope divine. But does he really consider a dispute about whether a man is or is not divine to be "slight"? Imagine if the Star had been covering the court of Constantine back in the fourth century. Breaking news from Nicaea: Arius and Athanasius quibble over slight differences.
The October 2011 preview issue is now out and subscriptions can be had here. Please subscribe today.
31 October 2011
In other countries executive power is subject to various checks and balances. Who or what prevents a prime minister of Canada from doing as he pleases? The governor general? But he is his appointee. The Senate? He appoints all the senators. The courts? He appoints every member of the Supreme Court, and all the federal court judges, too. The bureaucracy? He appoints the clerk of the privy council, every deputy minister, the heads of all the major Crown corporations, even the ambassadors. The police? He appoints the chief of the RCMP. And so on, hundreds and hundreds of posts, great and small, and nearly all without any independent oversight.
Reform is long overdue. I think modifying our first-past-the-post electoral system towards some form of proportional representation would be a step in the right direction, but it's not the only one.
I hope their efforts will lead to a recovery of psalm-singing in North American churches, but one thing puzzles me: why would anyone tour North America in January?
23 October 2011
19 October 2011
Here’s the big picture, from the Jersualem Post: “…at the time of Lebanese independence from France in 1946 the majority of Lebanese were Christians. Today less than 30% of Lebanese are Christians. In Turkey, the Christian population has dwindled from 2 million at the end of World War I to less than 100,000 today. In Syria, at the time of independence Christians made up nearly half of the population. Today 4% of Syrians are Christian. In Jordan half a century ago 18% of the population was Christian. Today 2% of Jordanians are Christian.”
Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in that troubled part of the world.
1. Unemployment is at the highest level since the Great Depression (with the exception of a brief blip in the early 1980s).
2. At the same time, corporate profits are at an all-time high, both in absolute dollars and as a share of the economy.
3. Wages as a percent of the economy are at an all-time low. In other words, corporate profits are at an all-time high, in part, because corporations are paying less of their revenue to employees than they ever have. . . .
4. Income and wealth inequality in the US economy is near an all-time high: The owners of the country's assets (capital) are winning, everyone else (labor) is losing.
Whose fault is this? That's where the disagreements come in.
Later: Convivium is indeed online. Check here.
04 October 2011
I am increasingly persuaded that the contemporary debate over liberalism has been hampered by the failure of most of the participants to distinguish between two different, albeit related, meanings of the word.
On the one hand, there are those who critique liberalism, noting that its individualism is incapable of doing justice to community or accounting for our responsibilities to each other in a variety of settings. On the other, those defending liberalism, even if their defence is as moderate as Volf's, tend to emphasize that it provides a framework within which diverse citizens can work out their differences for the sake of the common good. This is the approach taken by the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and many of the writers in First Things.
I would suggest that the two sides are talking past each other and are referring to different phenomena. The first group is critiquing what is essentially a spiritually-based ideology which tends to reduce all communities to mere voluntary associations, thereby levelling the distinctions among church, state, family, marriage, business enterprises, labour unions, &c. Under such an approach, it is virtually impossible to speak of intrinsic differences among these. That marriage has been increasingly reduced to a private contract between self-interested parties should not surprise us, given the predominance of liberal ideology in the English-speaking countries. This is the kind of liberalism I take on in chapter 2 of my Political Visions and Illusions, as well as here.
When the second group hears that some people, including Christians, are criticizing liberalism, they hear a critique of political institutions that facilitate deliberation as a means of resolving potentially intractable differences. Such people as David VanDrunen and my friend and colleague Janet Ajzenstat fall into this category. They think that the first group is dismissing representative democracy, democratic elections, parliamentary debate and constitutional limits and is pining for a restored monarchy or a socialist commonwealth. There may be a few critics seeking these goals, but, as far as I can tell, the majority of such critics, myself included, value highly what some call liberal democracy but which I prefer to call constitutional democracy.
To be sure, our contemporary democratic institutions do owe something to the ideology of liberalism, with its contractarian account of the origins of civil government, but the smooth functioning of a democratic constitution is not dependent on this account. In fact, as the late Sir Bernard Crick pointed out half a century ago, democracy itself, if liberated from constitutional constraints, can become antipolitical in the sense that it hinders the chief political task of peacefully conciliating diversity.
My proposal is that, before the debate over liberalism continues, the two sides clarify what they mean by liberalism so as to avoid the misunderstandings that have beset the conversation up to now.
13 September 2011
Five years ago I was invited by columnist Lorne Gunter to speak at the annual meeting of the Civitas Society in Ottawa. This was after he read an article I had written for the Cardus publication, Comment. Although the organization touts itself as “a strictly non-partisan ‘society where ideas meet’,” it soon became clear to me that this gathering of journalists, academics, prominent politicians and political aides was only too pleased to celebrate the recent victory of Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government at the polls. Tasting the first fruits of political power, Stephen Harper himself made an unscheduled appearance with his entourage on that first evening of the event.
The most revealing session of this meeting was an in-house talk by Frank Luntz, the American pollster and consultant – or spin-doctor, in current parlance – whose work for the Republican Party had contributed to two electoral victories for President George W. Bush. Somewhat to my surprise, Luntz told the gathering that, if Harper’s party were to listen to his advice, he could help them create a Conservative dynasty that would last for twenty years. At the time this seemed somewhat implausible. After all, the Liberals had ruled virtually unopposed for more than a decade and could still claim in some fashion to be Canada’s “natural governing party.” The newly elected Conservatives had only a minority in the House of Commons, and the Bloc québécois had a stranglehold on La Belle Province, apparently preventing any other party from achieving majority status.
I was reminded of Luntz’s promise after the Canadian people gave the Conservatives their coveted majority in May, demoted the Liberals to third place, virtually eliminated the Bloc as a political force, and elevated the New Democrats to official opposition. Now the notion of a lengthy Conservative dynasty does not seem nearly as far-fetched as it did in 2006. The NDP has just lost Jack Layton and is being led for the time being by a neophyte. Michael Ignatieff has become only the second federal Liberal leader, after Stéphane Dion, not to become prime minister. Finding a suitable replacement will not be easy for the deeply-divided party.
Even those otherwise sympathetic with the federal Conservatives’ policies should be uneasy with the current state of affairs. One senses that Harper and company have smelled blood and are going in for the kill. Yet a healthy democratic polity requires more than one robust political party. These parties must be fairly evenly matched to preserve the genuinely competitive character of elections. A ruling party must function under a realistic threat of being defeated in the next election; otherwise it will become complacent and take its popular mandate for granted. Where one party is repeatedly favoured to win, corruption and injustice are likely to creep into its activities.
If Stephen Harper wishes to leave behind a positive legacy for Canada, he should do what he can to support the New Democrats’ choice of an able leader who will keep the Conservatives on their toes and hold them to account for their policies. A weakened opposition unable to perform this vital task will tempt the government to pursue policies of short-term benefit to itself but detrimental to the public interest just because they can get away with it.
One of the things that brought down the Liberals in 2006 was public indignation over the Sponsorship Scandal, which saw their government disbursing funds by questionable means to advertising firms for unclear purposes. It did so during a period when its position in the House of Commons was virtually unassailable, facing as it did a divided opposition. During Luntz’s address to Civitas, he emphasized the “disgusting” waste of tax dollars by the Liberals – something intended to appeal to the participants’ sense of justice.
However, partisanship itself can be taken to unjust lengths. Partisans are more easily outraged by their opponents’ missteps than by their own. Reinhold Niebuhr once observed that those fancying themselves the “children of light” underestimate the power of self-interest in themselves even as they see it in their enemies. Yet if we understand clearly the teachings of Scripture, we must admit that everyone, and not just our opponents, has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). This recognition will keep us from embracing a narrow partisanship that ignores the good in our adversaries and the evil in ourselves.
08 September 2011
The American geography is an impressive one. The Greater Mississippi Basin together with the Intracoastal Waterway has more kilometers of navigable internal waterways than the rest of the world combined. The American Midwest is both overlaid by this waterway, and is the world’s largest contiguous piece of farmland. The U.S. Atlantic Coast possesses more major ports than the rest of the Western Hemisphere combined. Two vast oceans insulated the United States from Asian and European powers, deserts separate the United States from Mexico to the south, while lakes and forests separate the population centers in Canada from those in the United States. The United States has capital, food surpluses and physical insulation in excess of every other country in the world by an exceedingly large margin. So like the Turks, the Americans are not important because of who they are, but because of where they live.
On the other hand, all is not well economically in the "Land of the Free," and some Americans are queuing up at their northern border: Americans flee north to Canada for economic opportunity.
Canadian officials say the number of Americans applying for temporary work visas doubled between 2008 and 2010. Immigration lawyers in Toronto and the border city of Windsor, right across from job-starved Detroit, say they’re seeing a dramatic growth in clients seeking to come to Canada to work, or even as permanent residents. . . . Canada was one of the few to escape the 2008 financial meltdown relatively unscathed, a turn of events largely attributed to Ottawa’s long-standing refusal to deregulate the banking sector.
Canada is sometimes said to be cursed by its own geography, which tends to divide rather than unite Canadians. Yet we must be doing something right, even if we haven't the slightest chance of displacing America's global prominence.
31 August 2011
24 August 2011
09 August 2011
U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon enjoyed a long political career extending over nearly half a century, although many of the positions he took on specific issues were quite controversial, especially his early opposition to American involvement in Vietnam. Hatfield explicitly claimed to vote in accordance with his convictions whether or not his constituents always agreed. Nevertheless, Oregon voters continually re-elected him, twice as state Governor and five times as Senator, not because he followed their wishes, but because he acted on principle and in so doing earned their continued respect. Refusing to bow the knee to the god of popular sovereignty is not necessarily a recipe for political failure. On the contrary, many citizens prefer to vote for someone willing to stand on principle.
May Senator Hatfield rest in peace until the resurrection and may the LORD see fit to raise up principled statesmen and stateswomen in his place.
05 August 2011
An imposing figure in black robes and white clerical collar, Mr Hendrikse presides over the Sunday service at the Exodus Church in Gorinchem, central Holland. It is part of the mainstream Dutch Protestant Church, and the service is conventional enough, with hymns, readings from the Bible, and the Lord's Prayer. But the message from Mr Hendrikse's sermon seems bleak - "Make the most of life on earth, because it will probably be the only one you get". "Personally I have no talent for believing in life after death," Mr Hendrikse says. "No, for me our life, our task, is before death."
Nor does Klaas Hendrikse believe that God exists at all as a supernatural thing. "When it happens, it happens down to earth, between you and me, between people, that's where it can happen. God is not a being at all... it's a word for experience, or human experience."
Mr Hendrikse describes the Bible's account of Jesus's life as a mythological story about a man who may never have existed, even if it is a valuable source of wisdom about how to lead a good life.
Much as a vibrant Puritanism had turned to unitarianism within a century of the settlement of New England, so has Kuyper's Gereformeerd community been largely assimilated into the Dutch mainline Protestantse Kerk, which, though pockets of vitality definitely exist within it, is far from being a confessional church.
However, the story is not over, and signs were already present four years ago that secularism in the Netherlands may be running its course. This Weekly Standard article is cause for hope: Holland's Post-Secular Future. Whenever we are tempted to despair over the apparent progress of secularism, we need only recall that ultimately it cannot satisfy. As St. Augustine put it so well, our hearts are restless until they find rest in the One who alone can provide it.
28 July 2011
The crimes of which Anders Breivik stands accused don’t show how religion can inspire evil. Quite the contrary: They are proof positive that a Christ-less Christianity is a cultural construct that can’t bring the depth of relationship required to prevent the horrors that evil inspires. It doesn’t show how faith makes us evil – it shows only why we so badly need to be inspired by the social virtues propagated by its institutions.
25 July 2011
24 July 2011
22 July 2011
It just so happens that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which is weathering a storm of criticism around newspaper ethics, also owns the rights to the world's best-selling English Bible, the New International Version.
Could this lead to an explosion in sales of the NRSV or ESV?
19 July 2011
My great-grandmother, Lucy Jane Bentley Hyder, died several years before I was born, so I have no personal memories of her. However, I do have her family Bible, a hefty King James version printed in 1892 that has been passed down the generations and came into my possession not quite twenty years ago. I cannot say whether her family read from it regularly, but, like so many other bible owners, she recorded births and deaths in its pages – something giving it inestimable value to her descendants.
Lucy Jane and her husband Nelson were both born in 1875 and married in 1896. The first event she recorded was the birth of their eldest child, Mary E. Hyder, later that year. The most poignant record in her handwriting was the birth of twins Emmet and Emma in 1901, followed a day later by a record of their deaths. One suspects they were born — perhaps premature — at home before the days of hospital neonatal intensive care units. Apparently there was a page listing marriages as well, but at some point one of their sons seems to have torn it out to expunge evidence of an earlier matrimonial moment he preferred to forget.
Lucy Jane was a Virginian by birth, growing up and living in East Stone Gap, Virginia, until around 1914, when she and Nelson moved to a farm outside Adrian, Michigan. They were members of the local Friends Church, not because they were Quakers, but because it was nearest their home. A cousin assures me that Lucy Jane believed the world was flat until her dying day. My mother tells me she spoke with a distinctive southern accent, pronouncing the neuter third-person pronoun as hit, a holdover from Anglo-Saxon and Chaucer’s Middle English, with an obvious family resemblance to the Dutch het.
Though she had little formal education, Lucy Jane had the presence of mind to record two reminiscences of her own ancestry extending back to the end of the eighteenth century. One of these was dictated to my mother’s elder sister and is still found between the pages of the Bible in the book of Daniel. Armed with this information, I was easily able to find myriad connections with the so-called World Family Tree, containing the various European noble and royal figures from which virtually everyone we might chance to meet on the street is descended in some fashion. The results of my research I posted here nearly a decade ago: The Ancestry of Nelson Hyder and Lucy Jane Bentley Hyder, along with entries from the Bible itself.
There are no underscorings in the text of this Bible. Whether it was read in the course of daily family prayers I cannot say. I wish I had thought to ask her daughter, my grandmother, while she was still alive. Yet it was obviously an important part of the family’s life together, collecting over the years newspaper clippings, personal letters and pressed leaves. The binding is intact, although the front cover is loose and some of the cloth has clearly worn away near the spine. I hope that my own daughter will treasure this volume, as have more than a century of her ancestors.
Incidentally, during a recent visit with relatives, I rediscovered a family bible dating to 1841 belonging to the first settlers in a region of Michigan where my cousins were born and raised. I can no longer recall how it came into my possession some thirty years ago. But when I found it again and recognized what it was, I typed the original owners' names into the ubiquitous Google and quickly discovered that a descendant had posted their information on a popular genealogical website. I was able to contact her and return the volume to a family member who would value it more than I. This would not have been possible two or three decades ago.
My curiosity is piqued. In an age of mass printing and the easy availability of books, does anyone keep a family bible anymore? The people I know have scores of individually-owned bibles in their homes, but does any have the clear status of family bible? Responses are welcome.
18 July 2011
He was born in the Netherlands and emigrated to Canada in 1951 at the age of 17. Although he had only a high school education, by dint of hard work he learned cost accounting at night school. His employer sent him to Sarnia, where he met his future wife and coworker, Wynne. He originally had a dream to become a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, but God had other plans for him: proclaiming the gospel through Christian action.
He did this first in the Christian Labour Association of Canada, where he became executive secretary. He was instrumental in winning certification for the CLAC. After that he worked for social justice through the Committee for Justice and Liberty, which became the CJL Foundation and later formed the nucleus for Citizens for Public Justice.
This brief sketch cannot begin to do justice to Jerry's many ventures. Later in life his efforts for social justice expanded to include the environment, abortion, pluralism, independent schools, and child poverty. No doubt, I have forgotten many other things that he did.
Jerry had a way of speaking to everyone in Canadian society, from factory workers to politicians. And he was fearless in addressing the issues of the day. Above all, he had a knack for uniting people from many faiths and working with them for a common cause.
He was an inspiration and mentor to many younger people in Canada, who learned from him how a Christian should be engaged in politics. Jerry's thought had been shaped by the Dutch Christian religious leader and politician, Abraham Kuyper, who asserted that all of creation belongs to Christ. That means politics as well.
On abortion, for example, Jerry supported proposed federal legislation that many anti-abortion Christians opposed and was thus defeated. This loss was a great disappointment to him.
For Jerry, justice meant more than "Just Us," which was the title of his book. In the name of justice, we must not support only our own individual or community projects, but we must prepared to build bridges to those of other political views or religious faiths. We must be prepared to compromise, if necessary, in order to achieve our common political objectives. That, after all, is the nature of politics.
The nation of Canada indicated its respect for Jerry by awarding him the Order of Canada [our counterpart to knighthood] in May 2001.
His death is a great loss to all Canadians who are passionate for social justice. Many people from diverse walks of life and widely differing faiths have lost a great friend. I count myself among them. My wife and I have enjoyed his friendship and encouragement for many decades.
Jerry was a prophet for our time, and Canada has lost one of its greatest prophetic voices. Our condolences go out to Wynne and their daughters, Janice and Karen, as well as the grandchildren.
Farewell to a faithful prophet. A good and faithful servant of God, Jerry has received the commendation of the master (Mt. 25:21).
04 July 2011
Two centuries earlier, however, the American colonists believed that something like the Commonwealth of Nations already existed. This is what contributed to the outbreak of hostilities in 1775. Here is David Hackett Fischer:
These county oligarchies [in colonial Virginia] were not sovereign bodies. Above them sat the Assembly, Council and Royal Governor. The status of these institutions was in dispute until the American War of Independence. The Assembly was understood by Imperial officials as the colonial equivalent of a municipal council in England. They called it the House of Burgesses, a name which brought to mind the Burgesses of Bristol and other British towns. But Virginians had a different idea of their Assembly. In 1687, William Fitzhugh called it "our Parliament here," a representative body which knew no sovereign except the King himself (p. 407).
Tragically, this difference of opinion had to be settled on the battlefield, with Americans claiming full independence on this day 235 years ago.
30 June 2011
Queen Elizabeth II has visited New York City three times, which is the same number of trips she has made to Moose Jaw [Saskatchewan]. She has gone where her duty takes her. . . .
It is necessary that, on occasion, the Royals visit Hollywood and Fifth Avenue, but the occasions must be rare. The world of new money and fleeting celebrity is corrosive to the dignity and tradition that a monarchy sustains, and which sustains it in turn. The purpose of a Royal visit is not to chase after the people whom the world celebrates, but rather to bring the spotlight to those people and places which are not especially famous or powerful, but deserving all the same. Princes do not need wealth or fame, and it is unbecoming for them to lust after it.
Wise words indeed. I hope the future king and queen have read Walter Bagehot's The English Constitution and an early edition of Robert MacGregor Dawson's Government of Canada, which should definitely be part of their political education.
26 June 2011
Of the Prayers of the Church, of Singing, and of Canonical Hours
SINGING. Likewise moderation is to be exercised where singing is used in a meeting for worship. That song which they call the Gregorian Chant has many foolish things in it; hence it is rightly rejected by many of our churches. If there are churches which have a true and proper sermon but no singing, they ought not to be condemned. For all churches do not have the advantage of singing. And it is well known from testimonies of antiquity that the custom of singing is very old in the Eastern Churches whereas it was late when it was at length accepted in the West.
CANONICAL HOURS. Antiquity knew nothing of canonical hours, that is, prayers arranged for certain hours of the day, and sung or recited by the Papists, as can be proved from their breviaries and by many arguments. But they also have not a few absurdities, of which I say nothing else; accordingly they are rightly omitted by churches which substitute in their place things that are beneficial for the whole Church of God.
There are a number of things erroneously rejected by many of the Reformers, whose knowledge of antiquity was not always accurate, including the sursum corda in the Lord's Supper and the sign of the cross. In this case the authors of the Confession appear to have been unaware that chanting the Psalms in the course of daily prayer has ancient roots in the church, extending back into biblical times. See, for example, Psalm 119:164: "Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances." Also Daniel 6:10: "[Daniel] got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God. . . ." And Acts 10:9: "Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour." Following scripture, the Rule of St. Benedict prescribed (or, perhaps better, codified) seven daily prayer offices for use in the monasteries:
As the Prophet saith: "Seven times a day I have given praise to Thee" (Ps 118:164), this sacred sevenfold number will be fulfilled by us in this wise if we perform the duties of our service at the time of Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Complin; because it was of these day hours that he hath said: "Seven times a day I have given praise to Thee" (Ps 118:164). For the same Prophet saith of the night watches: "At midnight I arose to confess to Thee" (Ps 118:62). At these times, therefore, let us offer praise to our Creator "for the judgments of His justice;" namely, at Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Complin; and let us rise at night to praise Him (cf Ps 118:164, 62).
Although St. Benedict intended these daily prayer offices for monastic communities, it seems evident that they were much more widespread in the early church. The Muslim practice of praying five times daily, which many westerners regard as strange, obviously has roots in earlier Jewish and Christian usage.
The Reformers recovered so many ancient things lost to the mediaeval church, especially the doctrines of grace. Yet, given what we know now of the ancient church and its liturgical practices, it is difficult not to conclude that in some instances they were too quick to discard usages that ought to have been retained.
02 June 2011
“The Geneva Bible, first published in 1560, was a very great influence on political thought in England and America. It was the Bible of Shakespeare and Milton, the Bible one hears referred to sometimes as the ‘breeches’ Bible, because its Adam and Eve, unlike the Adam and Eve of the King James Bible, did not have the presence of mind to fashion their fig leaves into ‘aprons.’ The implication is that it was a crude or naive translation, but in fact it is largely identical with the King James Bible, which was published in 1611. . . . The great difference is that the copious interpretive notes that fill the margins of the Geneva Bible are gone from the King’s Authorized Version. . . . Printing of this Bible in England was forbidden, and it was gradually driven out of circulation in England and America by the King James Version, which basks in the legend that it is a masterpiece created by a committee, and enjoys the reputation of having been the great watershed of English-language literature” (The Death of Adam, p. 197).
30 May 2011
In the wake of the controversy over Love Wins, someone recently suggested to me that perhaps hell is not eternal after all and that those sent there might one day complete their sentences, much as a prisoner serves for a certain period and is then released. It’s an intriguing and hopeful thought, but it raises two difficulties, as I see it.
First, my understanding, following that of the historic church, is that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin for all those who are in Christ. Mere human beings could never pay the price for their own transgressions. To suggest that they could — by, in effect, serving time — would seem to imply that there is a second path to salvation other than through the only begotten Son of God. But, as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, “no mere creature can bear the weight of God’s eternal anger against sin” (Q&A, 14), and “Only those are saved who by true faith are grafted into Christ and accept all his blessings” (Q&A, 20).
Second, would not a non-eternal, temporary hell be tantamount to purgatory? Article XXII of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion definitively condemns belief in purgatory, but if one conceives of the possibility of completing one’s sentence in hell, then it seems to me that the distinction between purgatory and hell fades away.
27 May 2011
Having come across the Red Letter Christians blog of Tony Campolo and others, I am reminded again of why I am not a red-letter Christian. There are two basic reasons:
1. It effectively and improperly privileges a canon within the biblical canon, implicitly elevating Jesus’ words above the rest of inspired scripture.
2. As I age my eyes have difficulty reading red letters against a white page. I prefer to read the Bible without straining my vision.
I suppose this makes me a black-letter Christian. So be it. Case closed.
14 May 2011
The fading of the mainline protestant churches over the past two generations has not been limited to the United States. North of the border, in the True North Strong and Free, a similar phenomenon has occurred. Canada’s National Post carries this article in its weekend edition: The split in the United Church. One of my Redeemer University colleagues, Dr. Kevin Flatt, is quoted here, as is Michael Van Pelt, head of the Hamilton, Ontario, think tank, Cardus, for whose publication, Comment, I write on occasion.
The United Church of Canada was formed in 1925 with the union of the former Congregationalist, Presbyterian and Methodist churches into a single national body. (A third of the Presbyterian churches, including our family’s congregation, remained out of the union, retaining the name, Presbyterian Church in Canada.) Since its high water mark in the mid-1960s, the United Church has gone into a precipitous decline in membership and attendance. However, the title of the article is not quite accurate: there has been no “split” as such, only a haemorrhage of members away from the United Church.
Incidentally, while we’re on the subject of Flatt, I would strongly recommend his Comment article, Cross-Border Evangelicals: Americans and Canadians, an astute analysis of the differences between evangelicals on each side of the 49th parallel.
02 May 2011
The "I-can't-imagine" strategy is fundamentally Feuerbachian: it is a hermeneutic of projection which begins from what I can conceive and then projects "upwards," as it were, to a conception of God. While this "imagining" might have absorbed some biblical themes of love and mercy, this absorption seems selective. More importantly, the "I-can't-imagine" argument seems inattentive to how much my imagination is shaped and limited by all kinds of cultural factors and sensibilities--including how I "imagine" the nature of love, etc. The "I-can't-imagine" argument makes man the measure of God, or at least seems to let the limits and constraints of "my" imagination trump the authority of Scripture and interpretation. I take it that discipleship means submitting even my imagination to the discipline of Scripture. (Indeed, could anything be more countercultural right now than Jonathan Edwards' radical theocentrism, with all its attendant scandals for our modern sensibilities?)
24 April 2011
13 April 2011
First, Scripture itself is taken to be a wholly authoritative and trustworthy guide to faith and morals; it is authoritative and trustworthy, because it is a revelation from God, a matter of God speaking to us. . . . Secondly, an assumption of the enterprise is that the principal author of the Bible — the entire Bible — is God himself. . . . Thirdly . . . the fact that the principal author of the Bible is God himself means that one cannot always determine the meaning of a given passage by discovering what the human author had in mind.
HBC differs from TCBC in that the former “is fundamentally an enlightenment project; it is an effort to try to determine from the standpoint of reason alone what the Scriptural teachings are and whether they are true. Thus HBC eschews the authority and guidance of tradition, magisterium, creed, or any kind of ecclesial or ‘external’ epistemic authority.” HBC requires, among other things, that “faith commitments should play no role” and that a hermeneutic of suspicion should govern our reading of the text. We cannot simply affirm that the biblical text is true but must apply empirical scientific methods to discover, if possible, whether, e.g., the picture of Jesus painted in the gospels is historically accurate. This approach is obviously at variance with TCBC, which comes to Scripture believing it is indeed the Word of God and thus a reliable witness to Jesus Christ.
Plantinga is not wholly dismissive of HBC, which he admits has broadened our knowledge of the Bible and especially of the historical contexts in which it was written. However, HBC tends to view the Bible, not as a canonical whole, but as a collection of disparate texts with different human authors and thus conflicting emphases and teachings. Harmonizing these teachings is not the business of the biblical scholar, according to HBC, but to the theologian who is more evidently tethered to the church’s confession. What this means is that the practitioner of HBC “tends to deal especially with questions of composition and authorship, these being the questions most easily addressed by the methods employed.” Furthermore, he at least tacitly excludes the very question of most interest to believing Christians coming to the text, viz., what God is trying to tell us in his Word. There is thus some tension within the academy between the practitioners of biblical scholarship and theology, with the former often believing the latter to be naïvely precritical and thus unscientific.
I myself am neither a biblical scholar nor a theologian. Nevertheless, as a political scientist reading and pondering Plantinga’s essay, I cannot help but observe a similar cleavage within the discipline of political science, viz., that between the empirical political scientist and the political theorist or philosopher. Having taught political science at the undergraduate level for a quarter of a century, I can testify that students take an interest in it when they are either captivated by a vision of justice or scandalized by the reality of injustice. This was my own experience as a student, when I changed my major from music to political science after the Watergate scandal and the Turkish invasion of my father’s native island of Cyprus. Because virtually all my paternal relatives became refugees overnight, I sought desperately to understand why injustice seems to be such a persistent feature of human life. This is what animated my passion for politics.
However, the empirical political scientist would tell us that such concerns as the nature of justice should play no role in political science. Political philosophy, with its ongoing, millennia-old quest to discover the meanings of justice, statesmanship, good citizenship and civic friendship, is a subdiscipline of philosophy, or perhaps even of religion, and not of political science, which must necessarily limit itself to exploring those questions amenable to empirical methods. Political science can treat only political behaviour and must refrain from making normative statements about the good political order or the virtues conducive to it. Processing and analyzing voting statistics is political science. Exploring the relationship between electoral and party systems is political science. Debating the justice of proposed public policies or of a particular approach to the state is definitely not political science.
I have no intrinsic quarrel with either HBC or empirical political science, properly understood. There is much indeed to be said both for studying the Synoptic Problem and for analyzing how, e.g., different sociological groups voted in the 2008 presidential election. Nevertheless I strongly disagree with those who believe that these types of empirical academic pursuits by themselves constitute the disciplines of biblical scholarship and political science respectively. There is little to be said for the assumption that reason functions apart from basic worldview convictions. The belief that Scripture is not much more than a collection of literary texts with no overall meaning or message is itself borne of a conviction that it — or rather, they — are not essentially different from any other texts. The notion that we should bracket our faith commitments in studying the Bible is rooted in a (nonfalsifiable) belief that it is possible for human beings to reason apart from these commitments and to obtain some form of religiously neutral objectivity.
Something similar could be said of empirical political science as well. The claim of those following the behavioural methods is that they are simply observing the facts of political behaviour. Nevertheless they fail to recognize that this very term presupposes general agreement on what is political and what is not. This general agreement implicitly presupposes a normative order in which the distinction between political and nonpolitical makes sense. What is it that makes setting a country’s foreign policy political while a mother reading to her child before bed is nonpolitical? I would suggest that it has something to do with the jural aspect of the former. By its very nature, the state is called to balance legitimate interests within its jurisdictional sphere. It is, of course, all too common for states in the real world to get this balance wrong, sometimes spectacularly so, as in the Soviet Union and Germany between 1933 and 1945. Yet this entails, not an absence of justice as such, but its distortion or miscarriage. Justice, in short, is central to the very definition of politics, which behavioural political scientists cannot adequately grasp with their methods, however useful they might otherwise be.
In the same way, the canonical status of Scripture and its authority are precisely what give this ancient collection of writings scriptural status. The existence of a Society of Biblical Literature already in some fashion presupposes recognition of at least their historical unity, even if not all its members acknowledge the authority of the whole.
If the very things that draw students to biblical scholarship and to the study of politics are excluded from the two disciplines, then something is seriously amiss in the way both are conceptualized by their mainstream practitioners. If so, then our christian universities may be in the best position to bridge the cleavages between biblical studies and theology, on the one hand, and empirical political science and normative political theory, on the other.
Nevertheless, this will come about only if faculty in the relevant departments take the time to become aware of the historical forces – along with their spiritual roots – that have artificially driven apart the two sides of these disciplines. This requires recognition that the academic enterprise, normatively understood, is not only about specializing in a particular field or subfield, but also about seeing clearly – and with great delight – the interconnections among the disciplines and their respective modest places within the coherent whole that is God’s multifaceted creation.
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