31 December 2003
I wrote something three days ago that I realized later sounded anti-intellectual, and I am writing this in part to correct a misimpression left by that earlier post.
To begin with, there are certain kinds of reductionisms that only the highly educated are prone to fall into. For example, there is a crude Marxism that reduces the complexity of human social relations to a simplistic conflict model pitting oppressors against oppressed. Or a Freudian approach that traces all motivations to psycho-sexual dynamics. The average farmer or handyman is unlikely to buy into these -- unless, that is, he is deliberately subjected to "consciousness raising" by the Marxist, Freudian, &c. In this respect, the nonintellectual may be more attuned to the genuine complexity of human experience in a way that the ideologue, who is forced by her theory to suppress this experience, is not.
That said, education can and does open up vistas to the person pursuing it. This is not the sort of education that quickly narrows the focus, thus seeing the student concentrating so heavily on a single pursuit, e.g., engineering or quantum physics, that she loses the larger picture. It is an education that attempts to give students a sense of who they are and where they are situated within the flow of their civilization. Such an education aims truly to educate and not merely to train in some technical skill. Students who are broadly educated should be conversant in the works of the great philosophers, the literary giants, the great composers, the seminal scientists, the important theologians and so forth. They should have a sense of how the various academic disciplines interconnect and how similar issues are raised within a number of them. And, as Gideon Strauss would put it, they should learn to ask big questions.
My first semester as a university undergrad I took introductory courses in both psychology and philosophy. I remember the excitement I felt at noticing the relationships between the two fields. The readings in each course raised issues that were taken up in the other, albeit in a slightly different way. Thirty years later I can no longer recall why this was such a revelation to me. At the time I did not know I was heading towards an academic career. But in retrospect I think I was coming to understand the coherence of God's world and that this very coherence pointed to him as the principle of unity.
In the US in particular there are scores of christian liberal arts colleges and universities. The adjective christian is not just an add-on to the liberal arts. In fact, I am inclined to think that studying the liberal arts inevitably tends to point students beyond themselves and their studies to the principle of unity behind the disciplines. This is why I am so committed to what we are doing at Redeemer University College. Redeemer is an unique institution here in Canada for a variety of reasons. But when all is said and done, I venture to say that we are more likely than the provincial universities to produce the sorts of renaissance men and women that Mr. Greydanus writes about.
30 December 2003
Speaking of the monarchy, here is a way that students might go about remembering what the Queen's representative in Canada is supposed to be doing. It's set to the first part of the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan's "I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major-General" from The Pirates of Penzance.
I am the very model of a modern Gov'nor General
Presiding over all the work of politicians federal,
Yet all I do on Parl'ment Hill
Is grant Royal Assent to bills;
For this I'm getting paid to be a modern Gov'nor General.
Read this article from The Public Interest in fall 2002: "Our Secularist Democratic Party," by Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio, in which the authors note that the division between traditionally religious Americans and their more secularist compatriots is increasingly following the line between the Republican and Democratic Parties. Then read this brief opinion piece by Stanley Carlson-Thies of the Center for Public Justice: "Religion and Politics Beyond the Party Lines." The author agrees with Bolce and De Maio, but argues that there's more to this than meets the eye. Both American parties present dangers for the believing Christian.
If Democrats come to believe that religion is irrelevant or dangerous for public policy, then the party is likely to forget that religion for most other Americans and for our civil society itself is not optional. Yet how will the Democratic politician who is convinced that faith should be private make just decisions about religion in public life -- about the faith-based initiative, faith in public schools, or dealing with international movements that are driven by religion?
The Republican danger is the opposite: mistaking the party line for true religious insight. As committed believers of many faiths line up with the Republican Party, the temptation is great to think that the right religious view is whatever the party thinks is right. Then, instead of religion transcending and correcting the party's flaws, it becomes a mere prop for the party.
These trends put committed religious believers in a bind. Because we take our faith seriously, we insist that it must shape our political views and our political action. But the mechanisms for much political action are dominated by two parties that each, in its own way, seeks to domesticate religion, either by ignoring it or by capturing it. So the challenge is clear to all of us, as voters, officials, or party activists: at the same time that we work to make a real political impact, we must ensure that our politics are shaped by our faith, and not the other way around.
29 December 2003
I wonder whether the owners of those two houses on Aberdeen are members of the Monarchist League of Canada? The Monarchist League was founded in 1970 in response to the perception that the federal government was moving to sever, or at least downplay, our ties to the Crown. I myself have no great difficulty with constitutional monarchy, despite my American birth and upbringing. However, here is a defence of monarchy from the Monarchist League's website with which I am in considerable disagreement:
Canadians are justly proud of their health care system. It owes its origin to the welfare state that came out of British Fabianism and the sense of community fostered by the Monarchy, according to which society is perceived as a kind of extended family rather than just a corporate or social battlefield as in republican philosophy.
Are these really the only two alternatives: the extended family or the battlefield? A solid understanding of differentiated responsibility will not allow one so easily to assimilate the state into either of these. The state is a community of citizens and government called to do justice to all legitimate interests within its territorial jurisdiction. The fact that it is headed by an hereditary monarch cannot in any way change this jural character of the state.
Hereditary monarchy is a vestige of a less differentiated society in which political authority had not yet been clearly distinguished from parental authority. An appreciation for a country's history would argue against outright abolition of the monarchy where it still exists, particularly if it continues to play a vital role in upholding the constitution. But this hardly makes such a state an extended family. If a defence of the monarchy is to be mounted, it must be done for distinctly political reasons. Familial metaphors, where taken too literally, threaten to suppress these.
In this respect, a constitutional monarchy must be understood, not as opposed to a republic, but as a monarchical republic, where all the institutions of the state, including the monarchy, seek public justice.
According to this report in the Greek daily Kathimerini, Ankara is committed to ending the nearly three-decade-old Cyprus dispute. In the meantime, Turkish Cypriots are having difficulty forming a coalition government from the political parties in the deadlocked parliament. Fresh elections might become necessary in the new year.
This is mostly for the benefit of my own students, as well as for my TA, who will need to put books on library reserve. The course outlines for my second semester courses are now on line. These include Introduction to Political Ideologies, Canadian Government and Politics, and Modern Political Theory. As I did in Ancient and Mediaeval Political Theory last fall, for Modern Political Theory I have linked to primary sources on line. In principle the student might get along with printed out copies from the web, thus bypassing both bookstore and library.
28 December 2003
On the northeast corner of Aberdeen and Locke Streets downtown Hamilton there is a house that constantly flies the old Canadian red ensign, which was replaced in 1965 by our current flag. This morning while driving west on Aberdeen, we noticed two houses flying the red ensign over the front door. It seems that street is fast becoming a hotbed of United Empire Loyalist sentiment.
Writing about famed science fiction author Isaac Asimov, Richard Greydanus questions whether he can truly be called a renaissance man:
I believe the last person to be called a true Renaissance man was Isaac Asimov, and though I greatly admire that man, I would protest that title being given to him. Asimov had a distinctly scientific and sterile approach to life, a looking in from the outside, as it were. He mastered many of the disciplines — the various fields of science, psychology, sociology, history, Biblical commentary, and the study of the classics — and was religiously devoted to his materialistic and atheistic perspective, but for all his literary achievements his grand vision of things that are and that are to come missed the core of what people might call the human condition.
A broadly cultured person is often labelled a renaissance man or woman. But Mr. Greydanus suggests, correctly I believe, that, no matter how many disciplines one has mastered or at least dabbled in, possessing a worldview that reduces the complexity of God's creation to a single facet will cause one to miss the true richness of human life. If so, then we are more likely to find renaissance men and women, not in the corridors of the secular academy, where competing reductionisms vie for the loyalty of would-be scholars, but on the farms, and in the small businesses, labour unions and church pews, where ordinary people glory in the diversity of a divinely-created cosmos.
Under the Christmas tree today I noticed two of Theresa's dolls side by side. One is a Greek doll dressed in a colourful folk costume of her native land. This is a Christmas gift from her parents. The other is a Turkish doll brought back this past summer from Constantinople by her "Tante Elaine," a colleague of mine. The two dolls were ignoring each other. But they were both smiling. And they weren't fighting. Could this be the recipe for an international modus vivendi in the eastern Mediterranean?
27 December 2003
This must surely be one of the more compelling accounts of a religious conversion: "Coincidence & Conversion." Author Alicia Chesser tells of her pilgrimage from charismatic Christianity to Roman Catholicism, making the latter sound very attractive indeed.
Yesterday my wife and I went on our annual (or is it bi-annual?) excursion to a movie theatre, where we saw the new Steve Martin comedy, Cheaper by the Dozen. Although it is ostensibly a remake of the 1950 version, starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy, the two films have little to do with each other plotwise except that both are about families with 12 children.
Like every other Steve Martin movie, this one is full to the brim with physical humour. Although it is hardly destined to become a classic, we liked the movie. To begin with, it is unusual nowadays for families with large numbers of children to be portrayed in a sympathetic light. The culture of Hollywood and the larger entertainment industry is generally pro-choice on the abortion issue. Yet here is a family of 14 being looked down upon by the affluent single-child family across the street, and the latter, especially the snooty mother, are made to look the heavies.
Second, the plot revolves around the career ambitions of the parents getting in the way of a healthy family life. The lesson appears to be that responsibilities to their children require parents to make sacrifices. Imagine that! In this respect, the movie probably has more in common with The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956) than with its earlier namesake.
In short, this is a bit more than harmless cinematic fun and is worth seeing.
25 December 2003
24 December 2003
Given that pro-choicers are ridding themselves of their own progeny, I suppose it would make sense that pro-lifers would eventually carry the day. However, many people probably haven't yet connected the dots. This is from "The Coming Demographic Victory" on the Population Research Institute's website:
[I]n the mid-nineties, the polls showed that Americans were more or less evenly divided on the abortion question. But if we were right, the poll numbers would inexorably shift in a pro-life direction as time passed. Demography is destiny, after all. If the pro-lifers were having three times as many children as the pro-aborts, then the ranks of the pro-lifers would swell while the ranks of the pro-aborts thinned. The pro-abortion movement would have signed its own death warrant. Pro-lifers, on the other hand, would be busy signing birth certificates. After a generation, the country would be overwhelmingly pro-life.
The mind is drawn toward pleasant prospects, but is there any hard evidence of such a demographic shift? I am happy to report that there is. A new Gallup poll of teenagers, reported on November 24, 2003 by WorldNetDaily.com, found that 72 percent of those queried believe abortion is morally wrong.
It would be interesting to find out whether a similar trend is occurring here in Canada. My guess is that it is but that its effects will take longer to see.
This sort of thing certainly does not speak well for the church polity of Anglicanism: "Church 'terminated' in same-sex battle." Unfortunately there seem to be few if any checks on rogue bishops abusing their authority to subvert every other authority. They are quite happy to defy the rest of the Anglican communion, but they will not shrink at quashing those defying them. Something's definitely amiss.
22 December 2003
Last evening our family attended a beautiful service of nine lessons and carols at the Church of St. John the Evangelist. Our Theresa sang with the junior choir. The service itself is of quite recent vintage, as indicated on the website of King's College, Cambridge:
Our Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was first held on Christmas Eve 1918. It was planned by Eric Milner-White, who at the age of thirty-four had just been appointed Dean of King's, after experience as an army chaplain which had convinced him that the Church of England needed more imaginative worship. A revision of the Order of Service was made in 1919, involving rearrangement of the lessons, and from that date the service has always begun with the hymn 'Once in royal David's city'.
The service was first broadcast in 1928 and, with the exception of 1930, has been broadcast annually, even during the Second World War, when the ancient glass (and also all heat) had been removed from the Chapel and the name of King's could not be broadcast for security reasons. Sometime in the early 1930's the BBC began broadcasting the service on overseas programmes. It is estimated that there are millions of listeners worldwide, including those to Radio Four in the United Kingdom. In recent years it has become the practice to broadcast a digital recording on Christmas Day on Radio Three, and since 1963 a shorter service has been filmed periodically for television.
The service has been adapted worldwide in a variety of traditions. In recent decades I have attended lessons and carols services at Presbyterian, Episcopal and Christian Reformed churches, and my wife reports the same service from her Methodist upbringing. As it is a magnificent retelling of the redemptive-historical narrative of scripture, it is not surprising that it would be picked up by so many traditions in the west.
21 December 2003
Lest we think the west is still the centre of world Christianity, the following paragraph by the Rev. Dr. Don Faris is a reminder that things are not what they once were:
There are huge changes happening in worldwide Christianity. The mainline liberal dominated denominations of North America and Europe are in dramatic decline. There are now more Muslims worshipping each week in Britain, Germany and France than there are Christians! Meanwhile, the Biblically faithful, spiritually alive churches in Africa, the Pacific and Asia are growing dramatically. There are now more Anglicans in Nigeria than there are in Britain, Canada and the USA combined! There are far more practicing Christians in South Korea than in Canada! There may be more than 70 million Christians in China! Many of their leaders are serving long jail terms because they will not renounce their faith!
This was fairly predictable: "Thousands Protest in Paris Against Muslim Veil Ban." In contrast to those viewing the issue as one of religious freedom, Amir Taheri believes that too much is being made of it, that few muslim girls in France actually wear the headscarf, and that those who do so are coerced by islamist gangs.
In the meantime, westerners tend to forget that there is a predominantly muslim country that also bans headscarves in public: Turkey, where overtly religious symbols have been banned since Mustafa Kemal founded the modern Turkish Republic on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1923.
20 December 2003
19 December 2003
At the beginning of the month I called attention to an article on setting up shariya law courts here in Canada to judge disputes among Muslims. I suggested that this might be carrying multiculturalism too far. However, Iain Benson, of the Centre for Cultural Renewal, approves of this development and suggests that it already has its parallels within the christian and jewish communities. He makes a persuasive argument.
By the way, Benson's comments are part of the Centre's new CentreBlog, which is a new arrival on the blogging scene.
Here is the revised design for the new Freedom Tower to occupy the lower Manhattan site of the former World Trade Center. With a height of 541 metres (1,776 feet) it will evidently be the world's tallest building. My question: who in their right mind would rent office space there?
18 December 2003
Ten years ago my sister, who is a professional musician, spent some weeks in France studying gregorian chant with the monks at Solesme. During her stay, 14 July arrived. This date, of course, marks Bastille Day, when in 1789 the revolutionaries stormed the famous prison in Paris. Since this is a national holiday in France, my sister assumed that the townspeople of Solesme would be celebrating, much as Americans celebrate their country's independence on 4 July. In fact, the town was quiet that day. Somewhat naively, she asked some of the townspeople why they made so little of this event, and she was greeted with shock and incredulity.
Solesme, it seems, is a very Catholic town, and it would not have occurred to its devout residents to observe such an occasion, given that it commemorates an event central to the heretical faith of the "godless republicans." This was my sister's first introduction to the two-century-old cleavage in the French political culture between the revolutionary republican and the traditionalist Catholic communities. In the post-war era, sad to say, the latter's presence has diminished considerably, but there are still pockets of dissent from the secularism that now holds official status in the French Republic. Solesme is evidently one of these.
It cannot be easy for such communities to exist, given that their voice in the public square is so conspicuously unwelcome and that their very allegiance to what Augustine termed the Civitas Dei makes their loyalty as citizens suspect.
In recent days I have been engaging in a three-way discussion with Gideon Strauss and Brian Dijkema over the best way for Christians to approach the predominant liberalism in our North American societies. What I would concede to both is that, although I am a nonliberal, I much prefer to live under Canada's relatively benign version of liberalism than under France's more obviously oppressive variety.
It is difficult to imagine something similar to the Christian Labour Association of Canada or my own employer, Redeemer University College, functioning as openly christian organizations in France. Even France's shortlived christian democratic party had to hide behind the name, Mouvement républicain populaire. Thank God we live where we do.
Here is Jacques Chirac defending his country's established religion of secularism:
Secularism is one of the Republic's great achievements. It plays a crucial role in social harmony and national cohesion. We must not allow it to be weakened.
Germany is dealing with this issue too, as noted in this report from Deutsche Welle. Here is DW's definition of secularism:
Secularism in France dates back to 1789 and the French Revolution, and has served as a basic principle of the nation's progressive thought since 1905 when church and state officially separated. The Republic works on the basis of recognizing individuals rather than groups, and the idea of schools and colleges as religion-free zones is in keeping with the basic French notion of citizenship.
That secularism might itself be a religion, with its own spirit-filled view of life and of the world, has escaped the French, many of whom are deeply devoted to their 214-year-old deity.
But now, remarkably, the Americans have entered the fray. Here are the words of John Hanford, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the US State Department:
President Chirac is concerned to maintain France's principle of secularism and he wants that, as I think he said, not to be negotiable. Our hope is religious freedom would be a nonnegotiable as well. . . .
One Muslim leader said this is a secularism that excludes too much. We are very concerned that that not be the case. So we are going to watch this carefully and (it is) certainly an important concern. . . .
A fundamental principle of religious freedom that we work for in many countries of the world, including on this very issue of headscarves, is that all persons should be able to practice their religion and their beliefs peacefully without government interference as long as they are doing so without provocation and intimidation of others in the society.
Hanford is right. However, given the chilly relations between Washington and Paris, one fears these words will go unheeded.
17 December 2003
It is difficult to imagine a more convoluted defence of the sort of blatantly ideological policy announced today by Chirac banning all overtly religious symbols in public buildings and even allowing employers to regulate them in the workplace. This amounts to abrogating freedom in the interest of defending it. Here is some of Chirac's reasoning, as recounted in a report in the Guardian:
Islamic head scarves, Jewish yarmulkes or outsized Christian crosses "have no place" in public schools, Chirac said, and called on parliament, where his conservative government has a majority, to pass a law banning them ahead of the school year that starts in September 2004. . . .
Chirac paid homage to the immigrants who helped "forge our country, make it stronger and more prosperous." But he also said he will not tolerate any religious challenge to France's core values - encapsulated in the phrase carved above the front doors of schools and town halls across the country: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity." Chirac said secularism, France's cherished separation of religion and state, remains a cornerstone of French values, providing neutral ground for different religions to coexist in harmony.
He rejected the Anglo-Saxon model of integration - admired by some French Muslims - where ethnic communities guard their customs and separateness. "I refuse to let France take that path. It would sacrifice its heritage. It would compromise its future. It would lose its soul," Chirac said.
In reading this one is reminded of Vàclav Havel's description of the modern ideology, in which slavery passes for liberty and arbitrary power for legal authority. One is also reminded why Groen and Kuyper so opposed the spirit of the French Revolution.
Here is Jennifer Roback Morse on "Love and... Marriage and the meaning of sex":
We can construct, deconstruct and reconstruct our sexuality any way we want: it is our privilege as thinking creatures. However, human sexuality has a specific nature, regardless of what we believe or say about it. We are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome, if we work with our biology rather than against it. We will be happier if we face reality on its own terms.
The law of marriage is not the only social structure that creates the context for socially acceptable sexual behavior. But the law does play a key part. This is why it is utterly reasonable for the law of marriage to take into account the natural purposes of human sexuality. And it is utterly unreasonable for the law to treat all sexual unions as though they were equivalent.
The following report may or may not have been carried by the Canadian press:
Ottawa - Today the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 5 to 4 that the monarchy is unconstitutional insofar as it conflicts with the equality rights in section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Because the position of head of state is hereditary, passing from the current occupant of the throne to the eldest son, the high court ruled that monarchy violates constitutional guarantees against age and gender discrimination. The Court has given the federal government six months to change the country's form of government; otherwise it will consider Canada to have become a republic by default.
Far-fetched? Perhaps. But not by much.
Today President Jacques Chirac is expected to express support for a proposed law banning "conspicuous" religious symbols in the public schools, including scarves, yarmulkes and large crosses, as recommended by a commission headed by Bernard Stasi. As Stasi rather bizarrely puts it: "Secularism is the separation of church and state, but it is also the respect of differences."
16 December 2003
There is a mood of uncertainty in Cyprus in the wake of sunday's indecisive elections in the TRNC. The government of Prime Minister Dervis Eroglu has submitted its resignation to the President, Rauf Denktash, and negotiations will begin to form a new government among the parties in the deadlocked parliament. In the meantime, Turks.US reports that Turkey and Turkish Cyprus are preparing to propose a solution to the Cyprus problem next week. This is according to Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. Moreover, despite the stalemate in the TRNC, Prof. Michalis Michael of La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, is optimistic that the time is ripe for a solution as Cyprus nears the 30th anniversary of its division.
Here is an excellent analysis of the recent Russian elections from The Economist. Note especially the pie charts showing successive election results from 1993, 1995, 1999 and 2003. These show (1) the continuing instability of the party system; (2) the relative decline of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation from its high water mark in 1995; (3) the difficulties reformist parties have had in making a permanent place for themselves in the Russian political landscape; and (4) the expansion of pro-Kremlin parties, particularly in the most recent election, after which they now thoroughly dominate the business of the State Duma.
For some odd reason, Vladimir Zhirinovsy's misnamed quasi-fascist Liberal Democratic Party is shown as pro-Kremlin, which is far from the case. But even without the LDP the State Duma now effectively belongs to President Vladimir Putin.
15 December 2003
Incredibly, it seems that a 57 percent majority of French citizens believe that muslim young women should not be allowed to wear headscarves in schools and other public buildings. To its credit, the Catholic Church disagrees. Behold with wonder the tolerance of militant secularism.
I stand corrected. Brian Dijkema has alerted me to the fact that the difference between the two sets of parties in yesterday's TRNC election is only 2 percent and is thus within the margin of error of virtually any electoral system. He is right. I have found two sources with some (though by no means greatly detailed) information concerning the electoral system of the breakaway state. From the first:
The parliamentary electoral system is based on proportional representation and entails a 5% threshold. Generally speaking a party that secures 40% of the vote may have a reasonable expectation of governing either alone or as the major partner in a coalition. At least, historically this has been the case.
And from the second:
The electoral system applied in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is similar to the one in Luxemburg and Belgium. It depends on the “barrage” system, as the Party should obtain 5% of the total votes in order to have the right to join the parliament.
Mr. Dijkema has properly reminded us that no electoral system, however sound, will yield a satisfactory result when the electorate really is evenly divided. The 2000 presidential election in the US is proof of that. On the other hand, one does wonder whether the results might have been significantly altered without the participation of the illegal settlers from the Anatolian mainland, who disproportionately tend to favour the status quo.
Once again a country's electoral system, this time in the TRNC, has distorted the representation of the citizens:
Turkish opposition parties in breakaway northern Cyprus who favor reunification of the divided Mediterannean island have won the popular vote in Sunday's general elections, but failed to get the majority of seats in the legislature.
Election returns in the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus show the opposition has won about 48 percent of the vote. The two main parties supporting Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash won 46 percent. However, the formula for seating members of the legislature will apparently result in an even split, with each side holding 25 seats.
14 December 2003
After a hard-fought election in the so-called Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, preliminary results indicate a dead heat between the pro- and anti-unification parties, with each side gaining 25 seats in the 50-seat parliament. This does not bode well for unifying the island ahead of its entry into the EU next May. Nevertheless, given the difficulty of forming a government without a clear majority, there remains a window of opportunity for the future: "Turkey's Anatolian news agency quoted Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Dervis Eroglu as saying new elections might have to be called in three months if no stable government could be formed." That would be cutting it close, to say the least.
13 December 2003
Jim Skillen's brief commentary has moved me to think further about the vast evangelical protestant subculture in the United States numbering in the scores of millions. I was raised in the heart of this subculture in Wheaton, Illinois, which over the decades has accumulated a large number of professedly evangelical organizations, mostly of the parachurch variety. At the pinnacle stands Wheaton College, founded in the middle of the 19th century by abolitionists with Wesleyan, Presbyterian and Congregational connections. Few churches in my hometown have escaped the influence of the College, including, not only various baptistic and independent churches, but even those congregations affiliated with what are conventionally seen as mainline churches, such as Presbyterian (USA), Episcopal and United Methodist.
One of the singular strengths of evangelicalism is its emphasis on heart religion rooted in a personal conversion to faith in Jesus Christ. Although different evangelicals put slightly different slants on this conversion experience, it is usually seen as a once-for-all acceptance of the shed blood of Jesus' Christ for the remission of one's own sins. In my teen years our family attended a congregation where this understanding of conversion was the accepted one. I recall my own efforts at about age 12 to articulate for myself such a conversion story so that it would be intelligible to the other members of this congregation. I was never altogether successful, as I recall, as my cradle upbringing in a confessionally Reformed denomination gave me a rather different experience of the life in Christ. Indeed I cannot recall a time when I was not conscious of belonging to Christ. As for awareness of my own sins and of the need for conversion, I eventually came to see these as something on-going, rather than once for all.
The primary weakness of evangelicalism, as Skillen intimates, is its lack of a sufficient ecclesiology, or doctrine of the church. This includes the church as the Body of Christ and as a particular institution with its own task within this body. Due to this lack there is a contradictory tendency both to deprecate the church as church and to ascribe a kind of ultimacy to the national community, however this be defined. The institutional church, far from being seen as divinely ordained to preach the word, administer the sacraments and uphold discipline, is reduced to a kind of voluntary association composed of individuals coming together of their own free wills. Their membership is conditioned upon their free acceptance of salvation effected through personal conversion. It is by no means coincidental that this voluntaristic notion of church should resonate so strongly in a political culture so heavily influenced by the liberalism of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson.
The place of Jonathan Edwards in American evangelicalism is especially strong. Edwards' version of Puritanism lies very largely at the basis of this subculture's self-understanding. I was intrigued by George McKenna's review of George Marsden's Jonathan Edwards: A Life appearing in the October issue of First Things. The following paragraphs caught my attention:
The question of how to define a “church” was a long-running issue in Massachusetts. The Church of England defined it territorially: everyone in the nation was a church member except for those officially excommunicated. The Puritans, however, insisted on a “gathered” church: only those who were “visible saints” could be admitted. In the early years of the Puritan settlement in America, that meant people who were not only orthodox in belief and free from scandal but able to affirm that they had undergone a “conversion experience.” This was not very difficult for the first generation of Puritans, whose religious zeal had been tested by persecution in England. But what of their children, those born in America? Many could not testify to such a soul-wrenching experience, so they were barred from church membership. But plummeting church enrollments eventually forced a compromise, known as the “Halfway Covenant”: the unconverted sons and daughters of church members were allowed to have their children baptized, but they could not be admitted to the Lord’s Supper until they could testify to a conversion experience. By the end of the seventeenth century the Halfway Covenant had became standard throughout most of Massachusetts. Then Solomon Stoddard, Edwards’ famous grandfather, who preceded him as pastor of the Northampton congregation, took the final step of admitting to full church membership everyone who was orthodox in faith and free from open scandal, in effect reconstituting a “national” church in the region.
Edwards incurred the wrath of his congregation by attempting to recover the first-generation Puritan definition of church membership as rooted in a demonstrable conversion experience. Somewhat ironically, American evangelicals have retained both Edwards' conversionist definition of the gathered church and Stoddard's territorial notion of covenant. Although the typical evangelical congregation limits actual church membership to those demonstrating a genuine heart conversion, it tacitly expands God's covenant to include all those born within the territory bounded by the political or national community. There is thus a tendency to identify God's eternal purposes with the destiny of the American people, who are deemed, at least in principle, to be in a covenant relationship with him. Perhaps more than any other people on earth -- except possibly the various Orthodox nationalities -- Americans easily fall prey to a kind of God and country piety identifying the corpus Christi with their own nation. That this requires a somewhat dubious biblical hermeneutic seems largely to have escaped their attention.
I can hardly avoid saying something about Canada here, since this country has been my home for eighteen years. Admittedly, I do not know the Canadian evangelical scene as well as I do its American counterpart. I do have connections with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, whose new president I have known for more than two decades. My sense of the matter is that Canadian evangelicals are far less prone to attach salvific significance to the destiny of their particular political community. There are undoubtedly a number of reasons for this relative lack of a nationalistic emphasis, including the fact that for so many decades Canada was part of the multinational British Empire. But I venture to say that it also has more than a little to do with the absence in our past of a substantial community of Christians viewing themselves as a righteous remnant setting up a "city on the hill" in a new continent.
For our student newspaper, The Crown, I wrote an article on the top ten political leaders of all time. I do not in any way claim the list to be definitive. Had I written it a day or two later and been in a different mood, I might have come up with a somewhat different set of names.
12 December 2003
Here is a remarkably hard-hitting Capital Commentary piece by James W. Skillen, President of the Center for Public Justice:
An American Covenant With God?
Jonathan Edwards, America's greatest theologian, was born 300 years ago. New books on Edwards and the history of American Christianity are receiving the attention they deserve. U.S. News and World Report (12/8/03), among other magazines and media, has taken notice, particularly by calling attention to the growing impact of Evangelicals -- Edwards' heirs -- on American society and politics today. Yet it is a long way from Edwards to contemporary America.
New England Puritans of the 17th and 18th centuries saw "their whole society as standing in covenant with God," as Mark Noll explains in America's God. The Puritans, however, never resolved the question of how, on biblical grounds, a politically organized community should be related to God when all of its citizens are no longer members of the church. For at the outset, New England covenantalism conditioned citizenship on church membership.
The answer that most Evangelicals adopted between 1776 and the Civil War is the one that shapes much of American politics to this day.
The first part of the answer -- for eternal purposes -- is to emphasize personal conversion and heartfelt piety. Individuals "getting right with God" is more important than the maturation of the church as the visible community of God's people. The First and Second Great Awakenings, on through the Billy Graham crusades and the development of seeker-friendly megacomplexes today, testify to the intensity of the evangelical quest to save souls for eternal life. Yet this emphasis tends to diminish, if not ignore altogether, the meaning of the church as the community of the new covenant in Christ, serving its Lord in all spheres of society, including the political community.
One reason why Evangelicals have taken this approach comes to light in the second part of their answer to the unresolved Puritan dilemma. Evangelicals, leading the way for many Americans, have transferred the seal of "God's covenant people" to the American nation as a whole. Or to say it another way, Evangelicals retained the Puritan idea of the "city on a hill" -- God's new Israel -- as the designation of America rather than of the church. Yet, if most Americans are not Christians and stand in need of conversion, how can the nation -- the political community -- be God's chosen people?
The truth is that "saved souls" cannot function in a vacuum on earth, and the nation has been adopted as the primary public community through which heavenly oriented American souls find their connection to God's work in real history. Evangelicals continue to organize private means and agencies to save souls for eternity. Yet none of these addresses the need for public community. The covenanted nation does that.
One who has had an evangelical conversion experience regularly recalls that moment as the occasion when God broke in to change one's heart, to seal assurance of eternal life. In a similar way, the heirs of Edwards look back to the Puritan disembarkment in new England and to the Revolutionary War -- now merged together in mythic memory -- as the moment when God broke into history to make a new covenant with...with America and any who would become Americans or join America's cause.
For many if not most Evangelicals, America's covenant with God also now includes the obligation to protect the state of Israel at all costs, in fulfillment of prophecies to God's first covenant people. National politics becomes the means to ends known only by fathoming the hidden purposes of God. Meanwhile, the cause of public justice, domestically and internationally, and the health of the church, as a worldwide community of faith at work, both languish in America.
The Evangelical answer to the unresolved Puritan dilemma is, I fear, radically in error, owing more to the gnostic tradition than to biblical Christianity.
--James W. Skillen, President
As this is one of the more significant pieces for an understanding of what might be called the evangelical subculture in the United States, I will have more to say about it at some point.
Some six weeks after an initial abortive attempt, Brian M. K. Dijkema has finally presented us with a thoughtful piece of art criticism. Not only that, but he has revised the description of his site: "The liberal arts, politics, international relations and the seven mechanical arts - including weaving, blacksmithing, war, navigation, agriculture, hunting, medicine, and the ars theatrica."
Um, Mr. Dijkema, we have a horse needing to be shod. . . .
11 December 2003
The European Union is keeping an eye on sunday's elections in Turkish North Cyprus to see whether the breakaway republic might be moving closer to unity with the south and hence towards membership in the EU.
Some years ago one of my colleagues got me interested in the writings of the late Lesslie Newbigin, longtime missionary-bishop in India, whose return to his native England moved him to reflect on the secularizing trends in his own country during his lengthy absence. Among the topics on which Newbigin has written is included liberation theology, a type of professedly contextual theology claiming to be based on the ostensibly clearer understanding of the world found in oppressed peoples everywhere. Liberation theologians argue that Christianity teaches what they call a preferential option for the poor, namely, that where rich and poor are in conflict scripture sides with the latter. Although a number of Christian thinkers have perceptively written on this topic, I find Newbigin especially good:
In many writings of liberation theology it is made clear that the analysis of the human situation in terms of the model of oppression is prior to the appeal to Scripture. It is accepted as axiomatic that the clue to understanding the human situation is found in this model: everywhere there are oppressors and there are oppressed. Justice requires that we stand by the oppressed. Therefore the testimony of Scripture is to be evaluated on this basis. What serves the cause of the oppressed is the real kernel of Scripture. Scripture functions only within this more fundamental scheme. In this case one has to ask about the grounds for this belief. A student of human affairs would normally conclude that while oppression and injustice are undoubtedly an important part of the human scene, most people are in an ambivalent position, oppressors in some situations and oppressed in others; that it is not obvious from a survey of world history that God favors the oppressed; and that many other elements in human experience could be candidates for the position of controlling model (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p.150).
But there's more. It is not simply that liberation theology privileges another story over the biblical narrative; it fundamentally misunderstands the cross of Jesus Christ.
Before the cross of Jesus there are no innocent parties. His cross is not for some and against others. It is the place where all are guilty and all are forgiven. The cross cannot be converted into the banner for a fight of some against others (p. 151).
Should we then eschew efforts to alleviate or end actual oppression where we find it? No. In fact, these are demanded by the gospel. But the gospel's own narrative takes precedence. It is this story that we, as redeemed sinners, are called to indwell. Salvation in Jesus Christ knows no class boundaries.
Yes, folks, it's true. By accepting a certain advertisement that has been appearing at the top of this blog, Google is encouraging students to cheat and is thereby contributing to the debasement of university education. Shame on google.
Later: I've contacted Google and Google informs me that the problem may be with Blog*Spot, which has an account with AdSense, which may in turn be responsible for the problem ad. It seems my complaint is being taken seriously. If something comes of it and the matter is settled satisfactorily, I will remove this particular post.
10 December 2003
Dr. Glenn Friesen of Calgary, Alberta, has posted a new website devoted to Christian nondualism. I had not heard Dooyeweerd's philosophy connected with the term mysticism before, but Friesen manages to do this here. I'll have to explore his site in more depth once marking is done.
There are only four days left until the crucial parliamentary elections in North Cyprus that could make or break any effort to reunify the island ahead of its entry into the EU next May. If Turkish Cypriot opposition parties succeed in unseating longtime leader Rauf Denktash, it could also create a window of opportunity for Turkey, which has sought entry into the EU for years. See James Morrison's "Embassy Row" column in The Washington Times.
09 December 2003
Here is an article in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on "The rise and fall of the Christian Democrats" in Switzerland. A party that began as primarily a Roman Catholic party in the 19th century is having trouble maintaining a place for itself in the 21st century.
08 December 2003
During a long and distinguished political career, the Rt. Hon. Joe Clark has racked up an impressive series of political setbacks that would be difficult to equal. This includes suffering an historic defeat in the House of Commons for his shortlived minority government, losing the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative Party, the failed Charlottetown Accord, and even an unsuccessful effort to resolve the Cyprus stalemate as UN special envoy. Now he is adding to this list by refusing to sit as a member of the new Conservative Party of Canada. Does the Order of Canada have a consolation prize?
Has the Conservative Party of Canada just become, in the words of Peter McKay, "Paul Martin's worst nightmare"? Don't count on it. At least not yet. After the Progressive-Conservative merger in 1942 it was another fifteen years before it came to power under John Diefenbaker. In light of this precedent, we could see a Conservative government in Ottawa shortly before my scheduled retirement.
07 December 2003
According to this report in The Toronto Star, Russian President Vladimir Putin has received his coveted majority in the State Duma, the lower chamber of the parliament. Putin's party, United Russia, looks set to take a dominant position in the body. To everyone's surprise, Genady Zyuganov's Communists came in third place, while the quasi-fascist Liberal Democratic Party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky was in second place. Voter turnout rates were hovering below American levels at 47.6 percent.
As heirs of the Calvinist Reformation under John Knox, the Scots have been singing metrical psalms since the 16th century, and most notably since the publication of the Scottish Psalter of 1650. But these psalms were rendered in the standard English of the day. In the 20th century a prose translation of the Psalms was made in the Scots tongue, famously used in the poetry of Robert Burns. Here is the well-known 23rd Psalm translated into Scots:
The sheep-keepin o' the LORD's kind an' canny, wi' a braw howff at lang last: David keeps his sheep; the LORD keeps David.
Ane heigh-lilt o' David's.
THE LORD is my herd, nae want sal fa' me:
2 He louts me till lie amang green howes; he airts me atowre by the lown watirs:
3 He waukens my wa'-gaen saul; he weises me roun, for his ain name's sake, intil right roddins.
4 Na! tho' I gang thro' the deadmirk-dail; e'en thar, sal I dread nae skaithin: for yersel are nar-by me; yer stok an' yer stay haud me baith fu' cheerie.
5 My buird ye hae hansell'd in face o' my faes; ye hae drookit my head wi' oyle; my bicker is fu' an' skailin.
6 E'en sae, sal gude-guidin an' gude-gree gang wi' me, ilk day o' my livin; an' evir mair syne, i' the LORD'S ain howff, at lang last, sal I mak bydan.
06 December 2003
05 December 2003
Well, this is good news. Along with raising awareness of the implications of a christian worldview, Chuck Colson's Wilberforce Forum is now encouraging psalm-singing among Christians. Here is Wilberforce fellow T. M. Moore on "Whatever Happened to Singing? Music: Not a Spectator Sport." Writes Moore:
Especially let me encourage you to take up the discipline of singing the Lord’s own words back to Him (Ps. 119:54). It was probably a psalm (maybe 67) that gave Paul and Silas such comfort and strength in that dungeon in Philippi. The singing of psalms was the first step in winning Augustine’s heart for the Lord. Psalm-singing has been the practice of Christians from every tradition for nearly 2,000 years. Columbus sang psalms before he could read. Celtic Christians were taught to sing psalms while they carried out their daily chores. The first book published on the American continent was not the Bible, but the Massachusetts Bay Psalter. By failing to take up this discipline in our generation we are in danger of throwing away one of the great traditions of our faith.
Singing psalms deepens us theologically, gives guidance to our prayers, and creates a space where the Lord is pleased to come and dwell, right in the midst of our praises (Ps. 22:3). Singing psalms puts us in the company of that great unseen host who have gone before us to glory and surround us as faithful witnesses to the Lord. Singing psalms gives us a common language with believers everywhere, and ensures that our praises to God will be precisely those He most longs to hear (since He wrote them).
Learning to sing the psalms can be a most healthy addition to your spiritual disciplines. . . . Sing to Lord as an act of faith and obedience. Sing with all your mind, heart, and strength as an expression of your love for God. Make singing to the Lord more a part of your life, in particular, singing His psalms, and you will find your own faith strengthened and renewed on a daily and continuing basis.
To further whet his readers' appetite for psalm-singing, Moore includes his own long-metre versification of Psalm 92, whose first two lines appear to be borrowed more or less verbatim from the 1912 Psalter. More of his metrical psalms are promised in future columns.
Given Colson's following among evangelicals, one hopes that, with his organization's continued support, a revival of psalm-singing might come about in this community. With further encouragement, some could even be brought to explore and appropriate the riches of the Genevan tradition of psalm-singing.
This is from Eddie Thomas:
How To Tell That Your Students Aren't Reading: When you give them a selection from Augustine, in which he claims that Adam, before the Fall, could extend and retract his member at will, and none of them crack a joke about it.
I'll have to remember that for my Ancient and Mediaeval Political Theory class next time around.
Here is Don Martin's eulogy for the soon to be late, great federal Progressive Conservative Party, dead at the young age of 61, but soon to take on a new life with the Alliance: "The PCs' latest resurrection." My question: will the provincial PC parties now assume the new/old simplified name adopted by their federal counterpart(s)?
04 December 2003
Those in the Bush administration wishing to make a success of a democratic Iraq might do well to read the following article in The New Republic by Robert Lane Greene: "Muddling Through." He cites the example of Russia, where parliamentary elections take place in three days. Writes Greene:
As both Iraq and the former Soviet Union make clear, the legacy of totalitarianism is utterly debilitating. Not only are there no opportunities for political initiative--such as voting, referenda, political protest--in totalitarian societies; there is no room for individual initiative of any kind. (This is the key difference between a totalitarian society and a merely authoritarian society, like Franco's Spain or Suharto's Indonesia.) Free choice turns out to be a habit, not an inborn human trait. The result is that citizens of formerly totalitarian countries must first learn how to make personal decisions; only then can they even begin to contemplate political decisions. The process can be agonizingly slow. . . .
The lesson is that even under ideal circumstances (Spain, Portugal), it takes five to ten years to democratize a country fully. Russia (twelve years to get to "partly free") is an example of how long it can take when circumstances are less than ideal. Bush administration radicals intent on setting off a domino chain of democracy in the least democratic region of the world--the Middle East--should take careful note.
03 December 2003
For some time now I have had as background to my computer screen the following photograph:
It was taken by my friend Jonathan Warner, an economics instructor at Dordt College, during his residence some years ago in north Cyprus. I love this scene, because it was taken not too far from where my father was born in the Karpass Peninsula in the Pentadaktylos range. Up until April of this year it was virtually inaccessible from the southern part of the island, where the legally-recognized government holds jurisdiction. There is an ineffable beauty in the forested mountains, the unspoilt meadow of golden wildflowers, and the ancient stone shelter in the distance at the foot of the hilltop village. As I have spent much of the day convalescing in bed, my mind has inevitably wandered to a place I would love to visit one day. Devout Jews say, "Next year in Jerusalem." I say, "Next year in north Cyprus."
Today I received a post about an interesting organization, the Centre for Research on Mothering at York University, Toronto. It calls itself "the first feminist international organization devoted specifically to the topic of mothering-motherhood." Perceiving that feminists were insufficiently concerned with something that is a central feature of most women's lives, its founders sought to rectify what they perceived to be an imbalance in the larger feminist movement. Although much of the rhetoric of the CRM is couched in the quasi-marxist terminology of inclusion and marginalization, one cannot but infer that this shift in emphasis is an implicit concession to the reality of marriage and family as part of what might be called the deep structure of human social life. Although the followers of the ideologies cannot generally bring themselves to acknowledge that our world belongs to God and not to us, the reality of this belonging often asserts itself in small, unexpected ways.
Now if they could only bring themselves to acknowledge the humanity of the unborn. For this we must look to Feminists for Life.
After two and a half weeks of illness making its way through our household, I have finally succumbed. There is a stage in the virus when one is sleepless, and that's what I am experiencing now. This explains my entries late last night and very early this morning. I have slept not a wink and am feeling a bit feverish. Needless to say, I will not attempt to teach today.
All the same, I am relieved that my daughter is feeling much better as of yesterday. A few days ago she was pale, listless and looking rather gaunt, which is scary for parents to watch. Given her premature birth, Theresa never really had any baby fat to begin with, which makes her current weight that of a large three-year-old rather than that of a five-year-old. Hence our relief to see her begin to eat again.
I am hoping that at some point today I will feel sleepy, because I didn't sleep at all last night. I especially request the patience of my students who might be reading this, as it will inevitably delay my getting to the marking of their papers as quickly as I had intended.
Our family had hoped to attend a choral evensong service marking the first sunday in Advent at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, downtown Hamilton, but illness prevented our doing so. Gregory Daly made it to such a service this past sunday, and I was intrigued by his observation concerning its place in the liturgical life of the church. He may just have pinpointed a principal difference between protestant and Catholic approaches to worship:
It being the first Sunday of Advent, I went to the [Anglican] Cathedral here for Choral Evensong last night; a friend of mine sings in the choir there. I'd never been in the cathedral before - it's impressively dark and labyrinthine - and I found it odd to go there for a ceremony that has no equivalent, at least in my experience, within Catholicism.
The ceremony was quite beautiful, though self-consciously so. It was an awe-inspiring piece of pageantry, but I couldn't help but wonder what exactly it was for. It didn't seem to have any sacramental purpose in any way. Maybe it didn't. Perhaps I'm so saturated with Catholicism that I can't get my head around the idea of a Christian religious ceremony that is purely concerned with praising God, rather than built around him being present with us.
02 December 2003
Our mini-conference last week reminded me that my favourite Catholic theologian/philosopher has to be David L. Schindler, whose Heart of the World, Center of the Church is an exhilarating read from start to finish. Here (pp. 215, 217) he sounds very nearly Kuyperian:
[O]ur call to sanctity is not realized until we help to draw out and display the glory of God in every last fiber of created being, by exhibiting in each instance thereof its appropriate (analogous) form of love. . . .
[N]o act of intelligence, however carefully packaged into whatever method of inquiry, can ever remain simply neutral with respect to God. God is somehow "implicated" in every act of knowledge, from the side at once of the subject (the act of knowing) and of the object (what is known by nature).
No nature/grace dualism here. One day we ought to have him speak at Redeemer.
What? Could this be true: "Canada prepares to enforce Islamic law: Judges will give legal sanction to disputes between Muslims"? Surely this isn't what multiculturalism was supposed to mean?
I must admit to responding with a fair measure of bemusement to the items on the Blogger homepage concerning what to do if one's mom finds out about one's blog. A couple of things come to mind: First, do they having nothing to say about one's father discovering one's blog? This is gender discrimination in the worst sense. Second, the fact that Blogger needs to raise the issue at all would seem to indicate that the average blogger may have somewhat fewer grey hairs, shall we say, than yours truly.
Here is an insightful commentary by Stephen Monsma of Pepperdine University concerning the negative European assessment of the US President: "A European View of President Bush." Monsma argues that Europeans are generally correct to fault him for his unilateral foreign policies but are wrong to fault him for acknowledging his dependence on God.
01 December 2003
I don't know whether Peter Leithart has read my 1990 essay, "Eet Smakelijk", in which I expand Max Weber's thesis into the field of national cuisine. But in his entry for today (he appears not to archive his entries) he has the following to say, recounting a recent discussion with friends:
One of the points of the discussion was whether or not high quality food, attention to artistry in making food, is a product of Christian culture. When I cited France to illustrate that good food can coexist with paganism, it was suggested in response that French cuisine is an after-effect of Christian civilization, some kind of leftover of a once-Christian nation. But that doesn't work: After all, America, England, and Scotland have been as profoundly Christian as France, and their food is hardly the model for the rest of the world. The cuisine divide in European nations seems to be between Protestant and Catholic countries, Protestant countries notable for the blandness of their food and Catholic countries noted for the richness and variety of their foods. I suspect that there is some connection here with Eucharistic doctrine, or the lack of it. Catholic peoples know from long training in the Mass that there is more to food than food, that food is not just biological fuel, while Protestants are trained by their Eucharistic doctrine and practice to regard food as something of a necessary evil. Catholics adorn the Mass, and also adorn the food on their home tables; Protestants do not adorn the Eucharist, and end up with haggis, kidney pie, and peas, lots of peas. Catholics spice up foods, while Protestant nations (especially in the UK) are noted for frugally using every last organ and giblet, even (especially?) the inedible bits.
Of course, he conspicuously omits reference to the Orthodox, which were a major focus of my essay.
Time to wash down that boerenkool with another glass of retsina!
Some days ago I wrote of the tendency of the media to neglect the achievements of evangelical Christians in the academy. As if to prove me wrong, Stuart Silverstein and Andy Olsen have published an article in The Los Angeles Times: "Evangelical Colleges Make Marks in a Secular World: Enrollment rates and public acceptance are up as scholarship moves toward the mainstream." Reformed scholars and institutions are understood to be part of this phenomenon.
One of the sessions last thursday that I missed was a discussion of the 1998 papal encyclical, Fides et Ratio, a defence of which was undertaken by Prof. Echeverria, to which my colleague Jacob Ellens responded. Here are some representative passages:
Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2). . . .
9. The First Vatican Council teaches, then, that the truth attained by philosophy and the truth of Revelation are neither identical nor mutually exclusive: “There exists a twofold order of knowledge, distinct not only as regards their source, but also as regards their object. With regard to the source, because we know in one by natural reason, in the other by divine faith. With regard to the object, because besides those things which natural reason can attain, there are proposed for our belief mysteries hidden in God which, unless they are divinely revealed, cannot be known”. Based upon God's testimony and enjoying the supernatural assistance of grace, faith is of an order other than philosophical knowledge which depends upon sense perception and experience and which advances by the light of the intellect alone. Philosophy and the sciences function within the order of natural reason; while faith, enlightened and guided by the Spirit, recognizes in the message of salvation the “fullness of grace and truth” (cf. Jn 1:14) which God has willed to reveal in history and definitively through his Son, Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Jn 5:9; Jn 5:31-32).
What is distinctive in the biblical text is the conviction that there is a profound and indissoluble unity between the knowledge of reason and the knowledge of faith. The world and all that happens within it, including history and the fate of peoples, are realities to be observed, analysed and assessed with all the resources of reason, but without faith ever being foreign to the process. Faith intervenes not to abolish reason's autonomy nor to reduce its scope for action, but solely to bring the human being to understand that in these events it is the God of Israel who acts. Thus the world and the events of history cannot be understood in depth without professing faith in the God who is at work in them. Faith sharpens the inner eye, opening the mind to discover in the flux of events the workings of Providence. Here the words of the Book of Proverbs are pertinent: “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps” (16:9). This is to say that with the light of reason human beings can know which path to take, but they can follow that path to its end, quickly and unhindered, only if with a rightly tuned spirit they search for it within the horizon of faith. Therefore, reason and faith cannot be separated without diminishing the capacity of men and women to know themselves, the world and God in an appropriate way.
Is Fides et Ratio dualistic? Judge for yourself.
Although I know best the tradition of Greek folk music, I have long had an affinity for Romanian folk music as well. The Romanians live north of the Danube River and speak a Romance language derived from Latin. Given the linguistic origins of their language, Romanians see themselves as descendants of Roman settlers in the province of Dacia in the first centuries of the christian era. Throughout the Ottoman centuries the Danubian principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia were ruled by nonhereditary Greek princes from Constantinople, known as Phanariotes, who governed as vassals of the Sultan. In the 19th century Romanians in those provinces largely succeeded in freeing themselves from Ottoman rule, while their ethnic compatriots in Transylvania continued to live under Habsburg rule until 1919. After the Great War a greatly enlarged Romania emerged, including territory annexed from Austria-Hungary and Russia. Although Romanians are proud of their linguistic connections with France, Spain and Italy, they are primarily Orthodox Christian by religion, with a minority belonging to a Byzantine-rite church in communion with Rome.
The country's folk music is sufficiently distinctive that it cannot simply be grouped with that of its neighbours. Most notable are the uses of the panflute and a stringed instrument called the cimbalom. Like other Balkan music, it sometimes employs irregular time signatures, such as 5/4 or 5/8 time, but unlike, say, Spanish or Greek music, it generally avoids the phrygian mode and tends to gravitate towards a composite lydian/mixolydian mode. This makes it sound less characteristically middle eastern in flavour. (See here for a description of the musical modes.)
A number of serious composers have drawn on the Romanian folk tradition in their own music, most notably Béla Bartók (1881-1945), Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967), and George Enescu (1881-1955). Bartók and Kodály were Hungarian musicologists and composers who travelled throughout pre-Great War Hungary collecting the folk melodies of the peasants on gramophone records shortly after the beginning of the 20th century. Bartók's own compositions showed the influence of the central and east European folk traditions, although he never directly quoted actual folk tunes. His Romanian Folk Dances are simply written in the style of this music. By contrast, Enescu liberally quoted Romanian folk songs in his two Romanian Rhapsodies, the first of which is probably the better known.
Here is an example of a Romanian folk song: The Hora Martisorului. In the tradition of Bartók and Kodály, I myself have composed a piece in the Romanian folk idiom, which I have called Bucharest ( © 2000 by David T. Koyzis).
Today two countries consider Romanian their official language: Romania itself and the former Soviet republic of Moldova.
30 November 2003
After the 11 September terrorist attacks two years ago, pundits everywhere attempted to isolate the "roots of terror." Invariably their analyses focussed on economic causes, often to the exclusion of other plausible factors. The argument generally ran along these lines: Material privation, lack of sufficient employment prospects, an inadequate economic infrastructure, and a dearth of educational opportunities have turned people towards violence -- and usually against the biggest kid on the block, namely, the United States. The assumption is that the way to end terrorism is for the US to change its foreign policies in some fashion to address these concerns.
While there may be something to this interpretation, it fails to take seriously the expressed motives of al Qaeda spokesmen themselves, which are unapologetically religious and confessional in nature. To this extent, much of the popular media and academia alike have fallen prey to the Marxian reduction of religion to economics. My friend Paul Marshall is one of the few to take the terrorists at their word, as expressed in the following article: "Misunderstanding al Qaeda: What you weren't told about their targets in Saudi Arabia." Concludes Marshall:
Al Qaeda and its allies aim to kill or subdue all "infidels," Muslim or non-Muslim, who stand in the way of their goal of restoring a worldwide caliphate governed, Taliban-style, by the strictest, narrowest interpretation of Islamic law. Until this fact is finally assimilated, we will continue to have a military that fights superbly against an enemy whose strategic aims we refuse to understand.
Today marks the first sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new church year in the western ecclesiastical caldendar. (The eastern churches begin their calendar on 1 September, which is, of course, closer to the Jewish Rosh Hashanah.) Most churches mark Advent in some fashion, even if they do not follow the church year in its entirety. It is traditionally a season for fasting and reflection in the run up to the Feast of the Nativity on 25 December. It is a season of expectation with a double meaning. Liturgically we anticipate the initial arrival of the Christ child on Christmas Day. But in a larger sense we anticipate the second coming of Christ at the end of history.
Some of my favourite hymns are Advent hymns, which often carry both meanings within their stanzas. Even at other times of the year I find myself spontaneously humming or singing Advent hymns, probably more than those for the other seasons. Although this may not seem liturgically correct, there is undoubtedly something right about it, given that the time between the two comings of Christ is an extended Advent season in which our lives are lived in a spirit of constant expectation of the fulfilment of God's kingdom for which we yearn.
It is always a struggle for North American Christians to hold on to the spirit of Advent and to keep it from being overwhelmed by the pre-Christmas shopping season.
Here is one of my favourite Advent hymns, "Saviour of the Nations, Come," which is attributed to St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 397), and translated into German by Martin Luther in 1523 and into English by William Reynolds in 1851. My own arrangement of Johann Walther's haunting tune can be found here (© 2002 David T. Koyzis).
Saviour of the nations, come;
Virgin’s Son, here make thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.
Not by human flesh and blood;
By the Spirit of our God
Was the Word of God made flesh,
Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.
Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
Still to be in heaven enthroned.
From the Father forth he came
And returneth to the same,
Captive leading death and hell
High the song of triumph swell!
Thou, the Father’s only Son,
Hast o'er sin the victory won.
Boundless shall thy kingdom be;
When shall we its glories see?
Brightly doth thy manger shine,
Glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin o'ercloud this light;
Ever be our faith thus bright.
Praise to God the Father sing,
Praise to God the Son, our King,
Praise to God the Spirit be
Ever and eternally.
29 November 2003
One of the remarkable features of the current controversy in North America over marriage is that the burden of proof is being placed, not on those who would revise the longstanding definition of this institution, but on those who would maintain it. This runs counter to the way such matters are usually handled in other contexts and has left so-called traditionalists scrambling to come up with adequate reasons for defining marriage as an exclusive sexual union between one man and one woman. Here is a recent contribution to this effort by Sam Schulman: "Gay marriage -- and marriage." Schulman argues that marriage is an institution primarily for the protection and empowerment of women, who will inevitably be hurt by its deconstruction. The debate continues.
28 November 2003
It seems that Canada was in fact preparing to join the US-led invasion of Iraq as late as the beginning of February, until Chrétien pulled the plug at the last possible moment, apparently in response to a public opinion poll. This, according to a report in The National Post. If true, it's a good example of how not to make foreign policy.
The following prayer request was forwarded by someone in Redeemer University College's front office: This afternoon Judge Nordheimer of the Ontario Supreme Court is considering the request of the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools to issue an injunction that would prevent the Liberal government from passing Bill 2 that eliminates the Equity in Education Tax Credit. This should be a matter of prayer for all Christians concerned with justice in the province of Ontario.
This is from the friday edition of The Hamilton Specator, in the arts section (Go 15): "Jesus Christ movie star: Movies often disputed when filmmakers depict Jesus as more human than divine":
Other than the made-for-TV Jesus in 1999, The Gospel of John is the first major film since Dogma to focus on Jesus. That's no surprise to Nancy Calvert-Koyzis, who teaches a course on film and the Bible at McMaster University. She said The Last Temptation of Christ "left filmmakers with a fearfulness about Jesus films. . . ."
The safest approach for filmmakers has been to make Jesus as a mystical presence, whose appearance is generally heralded by a celestial choir (think Ben-Hur) and whose face is never shown.
If Jesus was shown, it was often as Calvert-Koyzis describes it, "the Hamlet Jesus with blue eyes and blond hair," best depicted by Jeffrey Hunter in King of Kings in 1961.
Unfortunately this article appears not to be on the Spec's website, and even if it were, it couldn't be accessed without a subscription.
I've not yet seen The Gospel of John, although I would like to. I would also like to see Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ, if only to see what all the controversy is about.
26 November 2003
This is a reminder that tomorrow Redeemer University College will be holding a mini-conference on nature and grace in Catholic thought, sponsored by the Dooyeweerd Centre and the office of the Vice President (Academic). Dr. Ed Echeverria, of Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, will be the featured speaker on Thomas Aquinas and Pope John Paul II's 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio. It will run from 4 pm to 9 pm.
25 November 2003
From the President's speech at Whitehall last week, speaking as an American: "We're sometimes faulted for a naive faith that liberty can change the world. If that's an error it began with reading too much John Locke and Adam Smith." So he admits it. That's progress of sorts, I guess.
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