Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

31 October 2011

End of month notes

  • It's almost certainly past time for this: Commonwealth agrees first-born girls can be queen. Two observations: First, eliminating gender discrimination is the easy part; ending birth-order discrimination would be more complicated. Then again we are talking about hereditary monarchy, no? Second, the United Kingdom can change the succession to the Crown more easily than Canada. In the UK an act of parliament is sufficient; here we would need a constitutional amendment requiring unanimous provincial approval. It seems unlikely that a single province would stand in the way, but stranger things have happened in our history.

  • We Canadians are not as wedded to our national symbols as are Americans to theirs, so changing them is not unthinkable: Should a polar bear replace the beaver as Canada’s national emblem?

  • Some months ago a friend, knowing my American birth, made me feel sheepish for not knowing that the oak tree is the United States' national tree. However, I subsequently discovered that the choice of a national tree was made only in 2004, long after I left the country. It seems my memory isn't as bad as I had feared. Um, now what were we talking about again?

  • The global protests are becoming more specific:



  • How many deadlines have passed for the indefatigable Harold Camping's doomsday predictions? Apparently a week ago last friday was the last straw, even for Camping: Family Radio Founder Harold Camping Repents, Apologizes for False Teachings. Last I heard, Family Radio was still airing on shortwave, but for how long?

  • Andrew Coyne is dead-on here: If our leaders were corrupt, would we know it?
    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.

  • This is from my Genevan Psalter blog, but it is worth posting here as well. The Psalm Project will be performing at Redeemer University College during its North American tour in January.



    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?

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    23 October 2011

    Soprano recital

    I may be prejudiced, but I think this is worth sharing with the world:

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    19 October 2011

    October snippets

  • Jason Hood has posted something on The Death of Christianity in the Middle East, for which the United States and its allies may bear some culpability. The statistics are sobering:
    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.

  • Many of us baby boomers grew to maturity in the suburbs that sprang up around the major North American metropolitan areas in the wake of the Second World War. Is it possible, however, that the settlement patterns characteristic of these communities are unsustainable over the long term? Robert Johnson and Kevin Lincoln have given us A Complete Guide To The Ponzi Scheme That Is Suburban America. An excerpt: "The suburbs do not create wealth, they destroy it. The American style of building our places is simply not productive enough to continue." It's something to think about.

  • The protesters on Wall Street and elsewhere have also given us something to think about. In the meantime Henry Blodget gives us Four Charts That Explain What The Protesters Are Angry About...
    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.

  • Jean Bethke Elshtain is one of my favourite living political philosophers. We were privileged to host her at Redeemer University College back in 1998. Now we read that she is heading to Baylor University as Visiting Distinguished Professor of Religion and Public Life. Should the biblical proscription of coveting keep us from envying Baylor?

  • Canada may finally be getting its own counterpart to First Things in the form of Convivium, the brainchild of Peter Stockland and Fr. Raymond de Souza. The new journal was launched last evening in Ottawa. The National Post carries an inaptly-titled report: New magazine reunites church and state. Thus far there appears to be no online presence, but that will likely come in time.

  • Two decades ago we learned that a Class A minor league baseball team would be coming to Geneva, Illinois, a picturesque community on the Fox River not far from where I grew up. I had my own ideas concerning a name for the team, which they saw fit to christen the Kane County Cougars instead of my own preference: the Geneva Psalms.

    Later: Convivium is indeed online. Check here.

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    04 October 2011

    Liberalism . . . and liberalism

    Miroslav Volf, author of the new book, Public Faith, speaks about the need to save liberalism as a way of securing an open public square where all faiths can meet and work for the common good.



    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.

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