30 November 2004

Greatest Canadian

Is Tommy Douglas the Greatest Canadian? So says the CBC.

Runners-up include:

2. Terry Fox
3. Pierre Trudeau
4. Sir Frederick Banting
5. David Suzuki
6. Lester Pearson
7. Don Cherry
8. Sir John A. Macdonald
9. Alexander Graham Bell
10. Wayne Gretzky

29 November 2004

Religious freedom threatened in Toronto

Is religious freedom a human right? Not according to Patricia Hayes, a supposed rights expert with the Toronto School Board. Read Iain T. Benson's "Opposing Religion to Human Rights." It seems tyranny is fully capable of coming dressed in the language of rights.
Live from Kyiv

Discoshaman reports on the ground from Ukraine.
Refugees in Canada?

Since President Bush won re-election, Canada has had an illegal alien problem:

The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada Has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration. The re-election of President Bush is prompting the exodus among Left leaning citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray and agree with Bill O' Reilly. Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal rights activists and Unitarians crossing their fields at night.

What? No political scientists? Read more of this story.
Russia's demographic suicide

Here is a very sad article indeed for those who love Russia and the Russians, not to mention God's image-bearers in general: "Abortion in Russia: No Big Deal." Tragically, abortions outnumber live births in that country by nearly two to one. More than a year ago LifeNews reported that the Russian abortion rate was finally declining. One hopes the trend has continued since then, but it may not be enough to prevent the demographic suicide of Russia over the long term. One senses that, with such a cavalier attitude towards abortion in the population at large, any nascent pro-life movement would have to place educational efforts aimed at changing this attitude very far ahead of any attempt at legislating protection of the unborn, which is almost certainly not forthcoming in the short term. Perhaps such organizations as Zhizn ("life") and the Orthodox Church itself will come to play a significant role in this endeavour.

28 November 2004

First sunday in Advent

St John Fisher
and St Richard of Chichester

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Divided Ukraine

The former Soviet republic of Ukraine has its own "red-state/blue-state" phenomenon, as can be seen in the map below indicating the geographic support for the two presidential candidates, Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Yushchenko.

BBC News

Despite the presence of two Viktors, there can, of course, be only one victor. Each has his base of support in one of the two historic regions of the country. Yanukovych is favoured in the largely Russian-speaking east, which is the industrial heartland providing much of Ukraine's wealth. Its primary religious allegiance is to the Orthodox Church. Yushchenko's support base is in the mostly Ukrainian-speaking west, with its historic ties to Poland and Austria. The largest ecclesial body is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, an eastern-rite church in communion with Rome.

Although there were widespread allegations of vote fraud, the breakdown for last sunday's second ballot, viz., 49.46% for Yanukovych and 46.61% for Yushchenko, is not an unreasonable result. Even if a new election is held and there are no irregularities, each side might still be unwilling to accept the loss of its own candidate. Perhaps it is time to devolve political authority to Ukraine's 24 oblasti (administrative districts). Crimea already enjoys considerable autonomy and has its own parliament. Americans in the "blue states" can comfort themselves that they live in a federal system each of whose 50 states is largely self-governing. In a country as sharply divided as Ukraine, instituting a federal system may be the only way to save the country. Moreover, rather than a single president, a Swiss-style executive council with a rotating chairmanship might offer the best alternative.

Yet what is perhaps most needed in Ukraine is a tradition of the rule of law, coupled with the willingness to tolerate and, if need be, to become a loyal opposition. Failing this, secession or civil war becomes more likely.

27 November 2004

Valamo monasteries

Here is an event I would love to have been present to hear: The Valaam Choral Ensemble singing at St. Patrick's Basilica in Ottawa last evening. Few westerners are likely aware that there are two monasteries claiming the heritage of the original Valaam monastery. Because eastern Karelia, where the monastery is located, was disputed between Finland and the Soviet Union in the early 20th century, the monastery itself passed between the respective ecclesiastical jurisdictions of the Orthodox Churches of Russia and Finland. Consequently there is now a Valaam monastery on the island of Valaam in Lake Ladoga (Laatokka in Finnish), and a New Valamo monastery over the border in Finland. Both are likely worth visiting.

St. Innocent/Firebird Videos

Valaam Monastery, Russia
Parallel post-Soviet crises

Not only is Ukraine's presidential election in dispute; the breakaway republic of Abkhazia is undergoing similar controversy over its own contested election results two months ago. In both cases Russia is supporting its favoured candidate, possibly with fraudulent means. Abkhazia is de jure part of the Republic of Georgia, but it is de facto independent under Russian sponsorship. Most of its citizens hold Russian passports. Thus far Georgia has been unable to reassert its authority over the region.

Incidentally Abkhazia is home to those yoghurt-eating centenarians who used to appear on television advertisements in the 1970s. I wonder whether they are still collecting their pensions?
Body, Soul, and Stem Cells

The latest Capital Commentary from the Center for Public Justice, dated 29 November, is written by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, who is always worth reading:

In a September op-ed piece (New York Times, 9/10/04), Yale professor Paul Bloom rightly argued that ideas have consequences. Thus, one's view of human nature will certainly affect one's judgment on issues such as stem-cell research, abortion, and the role of religion in public life.

Bloom, a developmental psychologist, believes that the view of human nature propagated by Descartes--involving a radical mind-body dualism--is mistaken and does not adequately help to explain the way children actually develop. I agree with him and would add that the Cartesian dualism coupled with a sacred-secular value dualism has distorted the worldview of all too many people, including Christians.

The 1940s gospel song, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through," may help those struggling in difficult circumstances to maintain hope fostered by the biblical promise that God will, in the end, "wipe every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 21:4). But to the extent that the song suggests humans are just angels driving around in automobiles--whose spirits will eventually shed their inferior material carriages forever--it is both bad creation theology and a misunderstanding of the biblical hope for fulfillment.

The book of Genesis presents God declaring that everything in and about creation is good--"very good"--and the creation remains good despite the parasitic intrusion of evil. Furthermore, the blessed outcome promised in the Bible is not a disembodied heavenly existence, but "a new heaven and a new earth." It is not for nothing that Christians have for centuries confessed their faith (through the Apostles' Creed) not in the immortality of the soul, but in "the resurrection of the body."

What should matter to those who make this confession is how to fulfill their earthly callings so that the riches of creation can unfold in ways that reflect God's purposes and standards for every sphere of life--economic, artistic, familial, political, and all others. Moreover, Christians should do this in ways that anticipate the new heaven and new earth, where justice and righteousness will fully prevail.

This does not guarantee easy answers to questions about embryonic vs. adult stem-cell research or about the many concerns surrounding abortion. But it does mean that you cannot and should not try to exclude faith-based dialogue from the public square, because different views of human life, including the "naturalism" of most scientists, are all faith-based world views.

Consequently, when Bloom asserts that "the qualities of mental life that we associate with souls are purely corporeal [and] emerge from biochemical processes of the brain" he is making a statement that is no less faith-based than the theological assertion that God "sustains all things by his powerful word" (Heb. 1:3). If the latter is correct, then nothing is "purely" corporeal, not even the dirt under our feet.

So I agree with Bloom's judgment that minds develop in dependence on bodily structures and functions, but I disagree with his biological reductionism. And Bloom should have second thoughts about it too, because if all thought is merely the inevitable consequence of the thinker's biological processes and learning history, then the very enterprise of science is rendered meaningless. A consistent naturalism also renders all moral prescriptions (such as, "Work for the welfare of humankind") meaningless, since such statements would also be the outcome of biological and other processes that are widely variable and sometimes even random in origin. The fact that most naturalists are not moral relativists does not rescue them from intellectual inconsistency; it simply means that as people, they are better than their theories. Let's hope they stay that way.

--Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Professor of Psychology and Philosophy Eastern University

26 November 2004

Democrats doing themselves in?

This is already an old article, but it is worth looking at for Americans interested in the respective prospects for their two major parties: "The Empty Cradle Will Rock: How abortion is costing the Democrats voters--literally." The subtitle pretty much gives away the thesis of the author, Larry L. Eastland. Others have picked up on the phenomenon Eastland has identified, but he brings out some fairly precise numbers. The author's conclusion?

Abortion has caused missing Democrats--and missing liberals. For advocates so fundamentally committed to changing the face of conservative America, liberals have been remarkably blind to the fact that every day the abortions they advocate dramatically decrease their power to do so. Imagine the number of followers that their abortion policies eliminate who, over the next several decades, would have emerged as the new liberal thinkers, voters, adherents, fund-raisers and workers for their cause.

If Eastland is correct, then the Republicans look set to run the United States for the foreseeable future, unless the Democrats change their attitudes. Perhaps they might turn to Democrats for Life for help in reversing their fortunes.
Prince playing hooky?

Remember Audrey Hepburn's character in Roman Holiday (1953), who runs away from being a princess for one day to enjoy the sights of Rome? Could Prince Harry have been doing something similar in Argentina?
Ukrainian crisis

Fifteen years after the opening of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism in the old eastern Europe, is Ukraine experiencing its own velvet revolution? One hopes that the current crisis over sunday's presidential runoff election will not degenerate into civil war. Ukraine is a divided country, with the east largely russified and lacking a strong sense of distinctively Ukrainian identity, but with the west more evidently Ukrainian and leaning towards Europe. More worrisome are the international ramifications, which pit Russia's Vladimir "Stalin Lite" Putin against the European Union and the US. Could Ukraine eventually split down the middle with the east casting its lot with Russia and the west with, well, the West? Stranger things have happened.

Later: It may be happening already: Deputies in Ukraine's east suggest autonomy.
Where is the Holy Grail?

Yet another theory as to the whereabouts of the legendary elusive chalice has run aground. My own theory? It's at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus waiting for Robert Sarmast to discover it.

25 November 2004

American Thanksgiving

Reading Gideon Strauss reminded me that today is Thanksgiving Day south of the border. I have not celebrated this since 1986, the year before I came to Hamilton to teach at Redeemer. But I do have fond childhood memories of this holiday, which I rather think Americans make more of than do Canadians their own early-October Thanksgiving. Unfortunately it falls entirely too close to Christmas, which casts a long backwards shadow over the previous several weeks. In truth, I rather prefer the early October timing, but I do appreciate the four-day weekend concept which Americans have. In any event, happy Thanksgiving Day to our neighbours.
Healing between eastern and western churches?

In his last years, the Pope is doing his best to heal the longstanding breach between Rome and Constantinople by returning to the Ecumenical Patriarch the remains of St John Chrysostom and St Gregory Nazianzen, which had been stolen during the Fourth Crusade in 1204: "Pope to bury schism with saints' bones." However, this article from Scotland on Sunday ends on an obvious wrong note. Istanbul was never "the capital of secular Turkey." Ankara has always been the centre of government in the Turkish Republic.
Order bestowed on ancestor?

Family lore on the paternal side has it that my great-grandfather, George Koyzis, who is variously reported to have lived between 110 and 118 years, was created a member of the Order of St Michael and St George. If he lived as long as he is reputed to have lived, then he may have been around 50 years old when Cyprus came under British control in 1878. The Order was created in 1818 to mark the cession of the Ionian Islands to the United Kingdom. After these were ceded to Greece in 1864, eligibility for the honour was expanded to include prominent colonials elsewhere within the Empire and later Commonwealth.

The Royal Collection
© 2004, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The Badge of the Order of St. Michael and St. George

I would love to know whether there is an archive containing a master list of all the recipients of the Order. Perhaps it is possible to write to someone -- in London presumably -- and request such information. This would enable me to prove or disprove the rumour. The fact that only 1,750 persons can hold the Order at the lowest level at any one time leads me to doubt its veracity. I have difficulty believing that my great-grandfather would have been significant enough to make it into such a small company of notables.
Alexander the not so great

Is Oliver Stone's new film, Alexander, worth seeing? We've not seen it ourselves, but it's causing enough of a stir to prompt lawsuits from Greek lawyers angry over the director's portrayal of the Macedonian conqueror as a bisexual. It is also being panned by the critics. Will the producers' recoup the $150 million invested in the film? Seems doubtful.

23 November 2004

A bit o' the bubbly

It had been nearly five years since we last drank champaign -- to toast the arrival of the millennium. But this evening we thought it appropriate to open a bottle in celebration of the publication of Nancy's book. Life is good. God is good. And I'm now married to an author.
Canada's kings

Senator Serge Joyal has made it his life's work to place portraits of all of Canada's monarchs in the buildings on Parliament Hill, including the early French kings. Sen. Joyal has generously used his own money to do this.

François I, Canada's first king?

Given that our first "British" monarch became Canada's only in 1763, one wonders whether our more recent monarchs have been misnumbered. Should Elizabeth II of England be Elizabeth I of Canada, much as James VI of Scotland became James I of England? On the other hand, since Newfoundland is now part of Canada and since it was settled by the British beginning in the 16th century, perhaps the numbering is correct -- at least for some parts of the country outside Ontario and Québec.
An epiphany

Since May I have been on sabbatical, although I have taught one course this semester. Over this time I have been reading and rereading books and articles on the subject of authority, an interest I have pursued since my graduate student days at Notre Dame. One of the subjects of my dissertation, Yves R. Simon, wrote extensively on authority in at least three books: Nature and Functions of Authority, Philosophy of Democratic Government and A General Theory of Authority. During my last year at Notre Dame, I taught four freshman seminars in which I had my poor beleaguered first-year students reading everything from Simon and Hannah Arendt to Stanley Milgram and even Robert Bolt's celebrated play, A Man for All Seasons.

Throughout much of the past half year I have not had much direction. Authority is a huge topic, and one could easily write volumes on it. Even Simon's General Theory is rather less than that, as it treats primarily authority's functions and not other related elements. (In fairness to Simon, this book was published posthumously; thus the title was likely chosen by the publisher and not by Simon himself, who would probably have given it a more modest one.) In my upper-level courses, where I have my students researching a 10- to 15-page term paper, I spend much of the semester telling them to narrow down their topic and bring a sharper focus to it. I've spent most of my sabbatical telling myself the same thing, but without much to show for this effort.

Until recently.

About two weeks ago I went back to the provisional master plan, containing a list of chapters and descriptions of what will appear in each. I began to look at the various theories of authority as propounded by the likes of Arendt, Carl J. Friedrich, Max Weber, Richard Sennett, Lawrence Kohlberg, Milgram, Rousseau, and so forth. It occurred to me that virtually all of these confuse authority with something else, mostly by reducing authority to one facet of the whole. At this point a way of categorizing these theories suggested itself, and I began to write as more of this came into focus.

Then on sunday evening I was sitting at table with Theresa over dinner. (Nancy was out of town this past weekend at the annual SBL/AAR meeting in San Antonio.) In the middle of our meal I had something of an epiphany. Suddenly everything I had been working on over the past six months crystallized into a central thesis, along with a subtitle: "Authority and the human person." I think I've made a rather significant discovery, but I am as yet reluctant to share the contents of this until I have received some feedback from colleagues. (I will be presenting the results of my research at a colloquium next semester here at Redeemer.)

I might add at this point that, because I was feeling so lost in all this, I had asked for prayers from two colleagues near the end of last month. One of these is a rather remarkable prayer warrior who has the uncanny ability -- spiritual gift, really -- to know in advance exactly what people need to be prayed for. (This probably has a name, but I don't know what it is. I have reason to think I was temporarily given this unnamed gift on only one occasion -- when I was in her presence.) The three of us brought my need before God together in my office. I strongly believe that it is more than coincidence that things began to come together for me shortly thereafter.

If I have been writing less in this blog in recent days, you now know why. I still have a lot to read and reflect on. I do not think it will take me seven years to write this book, as it did my last -- and first. But there is still much to do before it's done.

20 November 2004

Kudos to tNP

Congratulations are due to Caleb Stegall and company for receiving another mention in the print media: "Local conservative's Web site catching on nationally."
Europe and America . . . yes, again

The European Parliament has finally approved the new, revamped European Commission -- minus the controversial Rocco Buttiglione, who had the temerity to admit that he actually believes his church's ethical teachings. His treatment at the hands of the EP undoubtedly inspired him to write the following opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal: "Of God and Men," in which he contrasts religious America with secular Europe. Chuck Colson picked up on this in one of his own Breakpoint commentaries a few days ago: "Reconsidering Secularism." David Klinghoffer, though himself a Jew, supports Bush the Christian for reasons given here: "What We Bush Voters Share: In God We Trust." Writes Klinghoffer:

Where, then, does the difference lie between those who look forward to the next four years and those who dread them? It has to do with a philosophical question: not of what is right or wrong, but why certain things are right or wrong.

There are two possibilities. Either we know what's right because God or his earthly agents inform us through objective revelation or tradition — or, we know because that's just what the better-informed human beings appear to have decided, through a subjective process of moral democracy. President Bush is the country's most prominent believer in objective morality.

I wish it were all as simple as this. As a believing Christian who is convinced that one's faith must have public significance, I would seem to fall into the demographic that re-elected Bush. I dislike the fact that so many Europeans -- and Canadians -- are keen, not only to discard their own spiritual heritage, but to try to forget that it even played a role in their histories. I am unequivocally pro-life. I believe that one tampers with long established human institutions at considerable peril. So that makes me a Bushie, right?

Not exactly. Unfortunately, I fear that many Christians, as well as observant Jews, are so caught up in the current culture war polarization that they risk falling prey to three errors by failing to recognize: (1) that, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has aptly put it, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart; (2) that both sides are caught up in the idolatries of the day even as one more easily speaks the language of conventional religiosity than the other; and (3) that politics in the real world inevitably necessitates a willingness, not to seize power, but, along with our opponents, to share it for the sake of accomplishing admittedly partial goods. My own book addresses the second point in particular, although the other two certainly play a role in my argument.

I could wish that the "red state" people, with whom I otherwise identify, would be as wary of the older forms of liberalism and nationalism as they are of the more decadent late forms of liberalism and socialism. I could wish that they would see through grandiose rhetoric attributing redemptive qualities to the spread of freedom and perhaps adopt a more modest, Burkean appreciation for peace, order and good government where it is actually found. I could wish that they would recognize that their own country is but one country among many, all of whose governments are called to do public justice as they best understand it within their own territories. I could wish for more, but perhaps it's best to stop for now.
A right to health care?

Being the father of a special needs child, I can easily sympathize with the parents who fought this case through the courts: "Top court: B.C. doesn't have to fund autism treatment." While I have not followed the case all that closely, I am nevertheless inclined to think that the Supreme Court made the correct decision, as painful as it might be for those involved: "Canada's highest court ruled Friday that it's up to the British Columbia government to decide whether to pay for costly early treatment for children with autism." Clearly some sort of relief must be found for those who can hardly afford the needed $60,000 a year. However, it would have set a dangerous precedent if a court were to order the expenditure of public funds raised through taxation -- a responsibility properly belonging to a representative parliamentary body. It is one thing for a court to decide that the citizen has a right to be free from arbitrary detention; it is quite another for it to rule that she has a right to receive a service irrespective of her fellow citizens' willingness and ability to pay for it.

19 November 2004

Postmodern mediaevalism?

What will international politics look like in the future? Jonathan Edelstein and Gideon Strauss offer their opinions on the subject. Edelstein believes that the current accepted legal definition of sovereign statehood, enshrined in the Montevideo Convention of 1934, is gradually being supplanted by a plethora of international actors which will effectively resurrect much of the untidiness of the western middle ages. Gideon confesses that he is still attached to a world defined by Montevideo, or perhaps the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, with its clear boundaries and institutional symmetry.

Which is more likely to do public justice? My own view is that, in a world boasting "tens of thousands of international actors rather than hundreds", conflicts are far more likely to arise without a clear avenue of appeal for peaceful resolution. Although I have never been an aficionado of the modern concept of sovereignty, it is nevertheless true that its principal architects, Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes, saw it as a way of ending the sorts of civil wars that had plagued France and England in the late middle ages and early modern era. If it is unclear who is the final political authority within a given territory, the possibilities of actual bloodshed would seem to increase.

Yet, as Edelstein points out, there have always been exceptions to the Montevideo/Westphalian international order, even during modernity's heyday. For example, the Order of Malta possesses sovereign status in international law, despite possessing no territory of its own for just over two centuries. Moreover, my own sense of the matter is that holding citizenship in more than one country is far more common today than it was a few decades ago. Perhaps I am simply more aware of this phenomenon because I myself am now a citizen of two countries, with the right to claim two and possibly three additional citizenships. In principle, given that the ordinary person's loyalties are already manifold in a complex, differentiated society, it should be possible to maintain multiple political allegiances as well, particularly when the states at issue enjoy friendly relations.

If the international realm is in fact becoming less tidy and if the classic modern definition of sovereignty is becoming less relevant to global realities, then we would do well to seek international conventions and institutions capable of bringing some order to all of this. In the meantime, I am encouraging my better students to continue their studies in political science with a focus on international relations. For three decades now I have found the neocalvinist school, associated with the likes of Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, exceedingly fruitful for understanding the place of politics in God's world. Unfortunately there is among followers of this school a real dearth of reflection on the international realm. To some extent James W. Skillen has sought to rectify this lack in his own works. But much more remains to be done.
Cyprus in the news again

Could Turkey be admitted to the European Union without extending diplomatic recognition to EU member Cyprus? Bizarre as it sounds, this is what Ankara hopes. In the meantime, could "Atlantis" be nothing more than 100,000-year-old submarine volcanoes? So says a German physicist.

18 November 2004

Really? Even more than Doctor Seuss?

Theresa to her mother, who had just received the first copy of Paul, Monotheism and the People of God from the publisher yesterday: "Mommy, you're my favourite author!"

17 November 2004

Bush's second-term foreign policy team

Ever since the establishment of the National Security Advisor as the chief foreign policy official within the White House, there has been something of an on-going turf war between this person and the Secretary of State, the American counterpart to a foreign minister. This has marked more than one administration. Most famously perhaps, Richard Nixon's NSA, Henry Kissinger, clearly overshadowed Secretary of State William Rogers and eventually replaced him in that office. Now Bush's Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has resigned and will be replaced by the NSA, Condoleezza Rice, pending confirmation in the Senate. What does this indicate for the direction of Bush's controversial foreign policy? According to the Toronto Star, more of the same. This will likely disappoint allies who saw Powell as a voice of reason within an administration otherwise known for its unilateralism. In the meantime this certainly does not help the US to win friends and influence people.

15 November 2004

New book out

This looks like a book worth having: Paul, Monotheism and the People of God. Find a place for it on your shelf. Right next to Political Visions and Illusions.

14 November 2004

Famous quotation

Who is the author of this famous quotation: "A new idea is like a child. It's easier to conceive than to deliver"? Whoever it is doesn't spell his name the way some think it's spelt.
Sarmast's 'discovery'

Robert Sarmast's announcement came today in Limassol, Cyprus: "We have definitely found the Acropolis of Atlantis." However, Cyprus' chief government archaeologist remains sceptical. So when will someone actually go down and take a look?
Judicial overreach, yet again

OTTAWA, 2011 - The Supreme Court of Canada today ruled unanimously that all legal definitions of everything are unconstitutional. Because they discriminate against whoever and whatever does not conform to them, such definitions violate the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Parliament has been given 60 days to rewrite all laws to conform to this decision.

Unthinkable? Would that it were so.
Kuyper at the movies

Our Theresa has recently taken a liking to the Disney film, Mary Poppins, which was released when I was nine years old. This was the first of two cinematic vehicles for the luminous Julie Andrews, whose phenomenal singing voice also graced The Sound of Music a year later. Today, as Theresa was watching Mary Poppins once again, it occurred to me that both films share something else besides a female lead. Each is about a father who is deeply confused about the basics of what Abraham Kuyper called, rather inelegantly, sphere sovereignty. In the first George Banks runs his home as if it were a financial institution. In the second Captain von Trapp rules his family as if it were the crew of a ship. I suppose the films touched such a chord with so many of us because we knew intuitively that a family is a family and children are children. Any effort to treat children as bank employees or naval ensigns is an obvious abuse of legitimate parental authority. In both films Julie Andrews manages to set straight these confused men. I wonder whether she's ever read any Kuyper?

13 November 2004

Cyprus and Atlantis: drumroll please

After months of exploration, American researcher Robert Sarmast is preparing to announce tomorrow the discovery of "evidence of man-made structures submerged in the sea between Cyprus and Syria." If so, then it could confirm that my ancestors were indeed Atlanteans.
Evangelicals, secularists and self-criticism

In the wake of the recent US election, the pundits are predictably calling attention to the large turnout of evangelical protestants which helped to put George W. Bush back in the White House. Needless to say, they are not pleased. Some indeed are likening such "fundamentalists" to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Nonsense, says Paul Marshall in "Fundamentalists & Other Fun People."

In claiming that monotheism and reliance on revelation are necessarily terroristic, these secular pundits condemn Christians, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarians, Sabeans, and Bahais, to name a few, along with George Washington, James Madison, and a host of other Founding Fathers, as inherently violent. Notice, however, that the condemnation extends also to the revealed monotheistic religion of Islam--and no one objects. Yet when Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham said that violence is inherent in Islam, they were pilloried by respectable opinion. These days, religious intolerance and theological illiteracy are far more conspicuous in the pages of the New York Times than among most southern fundamentalists.

There is also hypocrisy and self-contradiction. [Thomas] Friedman seems blissfully unaware that, even as he condemns others for holding out their particular faith as supreme, he is asserting the supremacy of his own passionately held view. His secularist critique attempts the miraculous combination of denouncing others' faith while attacking those who denounce others' faith. Do not try this trick at home. It should be attempted only by seasoned professionals who lack any capacity for self-criticism or even self-awareness.

Indeed, as Timothy Sherratt argues in the latest Capital Commentary from the Center for Public Justice, there is reason for self-criticism on both sides of the partisan divide:

As for confronting their own limitations, Democrats may need little urging. For despite unprecedented unity, strong organization, and an able candidate, the party suffered a clear defeat in the popular vote. Will Democrats be willing to ask the hard questions, however? Will they ask how the party reconciles responsible environmental stewardship with reckless individualism on marriage and life issues? Will they question why liberalism should be the foe rather than the friend of faith-based social services or of parents' primary responsibility for their children's education?

Self-reflection is also long overdue among evangelical Christians who now enjoy unprecedented influence in Republican ranks. Despite their strong defense of a biblical view of marriage, many are unreconstructed individualists who equate stewardship of the environment with liberal elitism and believe that unilateralism in foreign policy is justified because America is God's chosen nation. It is a Christian axiom that all communities, institutions, and persons are broken, reflecting the sinfulness of humanity. But communities, institutions and persons can, by the grace of God, experience transformation. The conditions for such transformation are humility, repentance and forgiveness. In the end, political humiliation rather than political triumph may make for easier transit through this particular needle's eye.

12 November 2004

Requiescat in pace

Yasser Arafat
distinguished winner
of the
Nobel Peace Prize
Kangaroo care

Six years ago last week our Theresa was born 14 weeks premature. Her original due date was 10 February 1999, but she was actually born on 3 November of the previous year. I will not repeat the story told here, which some of my readers have undoubtedly already seen. But during the three and a half weeks that Theresa was at the level-3 neonatal intensive care unit at McMaster University Medical Centre, we were encouraged by the nurses to practise something called "kangaroo care," which involved skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby or father and baby a few hours a day. This supplemented Theresa's lengthy stay in the incubator. Now, however, a new report has been released indicating that premature infants might actually flourish with kangaroo care altogether replacing the incubator. Time will tell whether this technique becomes widespread.
Northern lights

I have seen the aurora borealis only once in my life. In 1978 I had just started a master's programme at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. At the beginning of the year the entire community would go on a retreat to a monastery north of Toronto, near King City. One evening, while there, we were treated to a magnificent display of the northern lights. As we were far enough away from the city, there was no light pollution to obscure it. The date was 28 September. When we awoke the following morning, we discovered that Pope John Paul I, né Albino Luciani, had died overnight after only 33 days on the papal throne. An odd coincidence, to be sure.
Legends with basis in reality?

Do Indonesians' stories of the Ebu Gogo reflect a collective memory of a time when Homo floresiensis walked the island of Flores?
Morse on marriage

Running against the current, Jennifer Roback Morse believes that the definition of marriage ought to be tightened, not loosened. A widened definition, coupled with Trudeau's dictum that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, has more easily facilitated fraud. In fact, marriage was dealt a blow already some four decades ago:

Our modern innovation of "no-fault" divorce is really unilateral divorce. If one person wants a divorce, the marriage ends, regardless of the other person's wishes. We have no idea how many reluctantly divorced people are walking around our society, but no doubt there are a quite a few. People who want to keep working on the marriage — people who want to keep the vows they made — these are the people who are penalized by the current system. Tell me again how this makes us all freer and happier?

Perhaps it's time to repeal the current "no fault" divorce régime and to reinstate the legal supports undergirding marital vows.

11 November 2004

New issues published

Here is a somewhat belated announcement concerning two excellent web-based periodicals. New issues of Comment and The New Pantagruel have come out and are gracing virtual newsstands throughout cyberspace. Not to toot my own horn, but I would be happy if everyone would read my own article in the former, "Modernity and differentiation," which is in some respects a continuation of my article in the September issue, "Westernization or clash of civilizations?" Happy reading.

10 November 2004

The development of liberalism

Joe Carter, the Texas überblogger, has quite adequately recounted the five stages in the development of liberalism as described in my book. The stages are, once again:
1. The Hobbesian commonwealth
2. The night watchman state
3. The regulatory state
4. The equal opportunity state
5. The choice-enhancement state

Each stage beyond the second sees a progressive expansion in the reach of the state, as sovereign individuals, desiring to pursue their own ends, continually alter the terms of the social contract when these ends demand it. At the second stage, the parties to the contract wish to keep government as small as possible, but as the combined effects of their self-seeking lead to inevitable abuses, government is called on to rectify these. Because liberalism recasts political community as a voluntary association, there is no fundamental reason to oppose the state's expansion as long as the citizens wish it. Thus at its third stage, liberals come to expect government to curb the large corporate concerns. At its fourth stage, they call on government further to secure equal opportunity. And finally, in its fifth stage, corresponding to the last four decades, liberals call on government to cushion the impact of a wide variety of personal choices whose consequences would otherwise be destructive.

Is this our future?

But is this really the final stage? I didn't mention it in my book, but I do follow liberalism's logic even further in the classroom. So what lies beyond the fifth stage? I don't know for certain, of course, but I strongly suspect that it's the first stage again. In other words, the development of liberalism may prove to be circular. How so? At the risk of oversimplification, let's examine the most famous sentence in the United States Supreme Court's notorious decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992):

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

This is heady stuff, to be sure. Just imagine. Defining my own concept of the universe, or of existence itself. I didn't know I got to do that. Now imagine everyone doing the same thing. It seems to me that little word chaos was coined some time ago to describe the likely result. Thomas Hobbes had his own expression for it: Bellum omnium contra omnes. "War of all against all." For which, of course, he prescribed the Leviathan, an omnicompetent ruler knowing no legal or ethical bounds, only practical ones. Is this where we are heading? Are we destined to repeat the whole process again? Stay tuned.
Subversion or restoration?

Byron Borger waxes enthusiastic over Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat's new book, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, just out from InterVarsity Press. In the course of his review, Borger alludes to Walsh's Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in a Dangerous Time. Having worked with IVP, I know that an author's preferred title is not necessarily the one that makes it to the cover. Yet I imagine that the subverting part did indeed come from Walsh. While I sense in him a certain affinity for the word subversive, I wonder whether this is the happiest term to use to describe the role of Jesus Christ's followers in God's world. According to dictionary.com subvert has the following meanings:
1. To destroy completely; ruin.
2. To undermine the character, morals, or allegiance of; corrupt.
3. To overthrow completely.

Given these overwhelmingly negative meanings, would it not be better to use more obviously biblical metaphors which see the gospel as yeast (Luke 13:20-21) or mustard seed (Luke 13:18-19)? As salt (Matthew 5:13) or light (Matthew 5:14-16)? To be sure, God stands in judgement on arrogant evildoers and his followers might be seen to be undermining their pretensions. Yet the good news of redemption in Jesus Christ is not a corrupting or decaying influence. It is one of restoring creation to its original goodness -- something altogether masked in the term subversion.

09 November 2004

Election post mortem

In the wake of last week's presidential election in the US, many analysts will be trying to gauge its significance for understanding the state of political life in that country. After the indecisive 2000 election a number of observers noted the peculiar distribution of red (Republican) and blue (Democratic) states.

US News & World Report

A similar distribution can be seen in last tuesday's election:


Remarkably, this replicates a pattern seen over a century ago after the Democratic Party nominated William Jennings Bryan to oppose William McKinley in 1896. The difference, of course, is that party loyalties were reversed, with Republicans holding the northeast, Great Lakes and west coast, and Democrats holding the south and remainder of the west. The issues then were largely economic.

Today it seems that the frontline in the so-called "culture wars," famously described a dozen years ago by James Davison Hunter, has come to run along the partisan boundary between Democrats and Republicans, something which was certainly not the case as recently as 50 years ago, when evangelical protestants were evenly divided between the two parties and Catholics were firmly tied to the Democrats.

Following Walter Russell Mead, James Pinkerton sees Bush's second victory as a "Revolt of the Jacksonians," that is, of the spiritual followers of Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the US. He might just as easily have mentioned Bryan himself, an evangelical Christian whose last days were spent testifying for the prosecution in the infamous Scopes "Monkey" Trial in 1925.

At the very least, it seems that the Democrats have allowed themselves to move too far out of the American mainstream, particularly with respect to their now monolithic pro-choice position. At a time when support for the current abortion licence is noticeably diminishing, especially among the young, the party's stance is difficult to understand. By contrast, Bush clearly appealed to those voters believing that the unborn deserve legal protection and that a stable definition of marriage ought not to be tampered with. Not only did evangelical protestants go for Bush, but even Catholics favoured Bush over Kerry, despite the latter's membership in the Catholic Church.

There is something of an irony in the respective positions of the Democratic and Republican Parties. More than three decades ago the former adopted a number of reforms intended to democratize more thoroughly the candidate selection process. This would presumably put the party in closer touch with its own grassroots and disempower the old party bosses, such as the late Chicago major Richard J. Daley. Yet, once adopted, these reforms effectively enabled a small dedicated cadre of activists to gain control of the party machinery. These pulled the party increasingly away from the American mainstream and pushed conservative protestants and Catholics into the Republican Party, which had adopted similar internal democratizing reforms. That the Democratic Party has taken an overt secularizing turn has been chronicled most notably by Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio.

I wouldn't wish to overstate the differences between the two parties, both of which represent the larger legacy of liberalism, though drawing on different strands. Using my own categories, the Republicans tend to reflect the influence of the 2nd and 3rd stages of liberalism, viz., the night watchman state and the regulatory state, while the Democrats embody liberalism in its 4th and 5th stages, viz., the equal opportunity state and the choice-enhancement state. Republicans have figured out a way to synthesize traditional christian belief with this classical liberal ideology. Witness Bush's speeches ascribing near redemptive qualities to the spread of freedom. Yet the Democrats have bought into a more obviously secular mindset for which belief in a transcendent God is increasingly foreign. How long this can last is difficult to say. The self-interested desire to win power, if nothing else, may force an internal reassessment within the Democratic Party.

That the Republicans' synthesis might be an unstable one is something which has not yet occurred to its supporters, especially among evangelicals and Catholics. However, for the near future the "Grand Old Party" has the advantage over its opponent.

Postscript: Here is the "Purple America" electoral map from the website of Robert J. Vanderbei of Princeton:

It better indicates the proportionate strength of popular support for Bush and Kerry on a county-by-county basis than the blue/red electoral maps shown above. Support for Bush in the heartland is, after all, by no means unanimous. Nor is Kerry wholly preferred in the metropolis. Thanks to Paul Bowman for tracking this down for us.

07 November 2004

An anniversary

AMGMedia Works

Ten years ago today I took the oath of allegiance to the Queen, her heirs and successors and became a citizen of Canada. Since then I have voted in three federal elections, three provincial elections, two municipal elections and one internal party leadership vote. But I still do not own a tuque and haven't really missed hockey all that much. However, like all my fellow citizens, I have come to look down my nose at American beer. (Tasting the stuff has helped considerably.) Long live the True North.

06 November 2004

In memoriam

Princess Alice, Dowager Duchess of Gloucester, has died just two months shy of her 103rd birthday. I was privileged to see her in person in the summer of 1975 during my European travels. I had hoped to visit St. Paul's Cathedral, but it was in use when I arrived. After the service inside had ended, Princess Alice emerged from the building and descended the front steps, flanked on each side by a line of Girl Guides. It was my first brush with royalty. Decades later Nancy, Theresa and I saw the Queen, whose motorcade was passing Dundurn Castle during her Jubilee visit to Hamilton two years ago. Nearly enough to make a sentimental monarchist out of an American-born subject.

05 November 2004

The US, Macedonia and the Greeks

Two days after winning re-election to the US presidency, George W. Bush has managed, on his own initiative, to stir up a heretofore quiet, if still controversial, issue in the Balkans: "Greece says Macedonia can't join NATO, EU before name flap resolution." Let's hope he doesn't turn his attentions to Québec.
And now to Saskatchewan. . .

. . . where "A judge ruled Friday that existing marriage laws discriminate against same-sex couples." They also discriminate against would-be threesomes and foursomes. And polygynists and polyandrists. And two friends sharing a nonsexual relationship. And the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Your point is?
Prince flirting with Orthodoxy?

Thanks to the pseudonymous Fr. Jape for calling my attention to this admittedly somewhat old news: "Is HRH the Prince of Wales considering entering the Orthodox Church?" Aside from the obvious constitutional implications of such a move, one wonders whether the Orthodox Church might have difficulties with a prospective convert publicly keeping a mistress. Would he have to follow his great-uncle's example by marrying and quitting the line of succession to the throne?

04 November 2004

Hannah Arendt and the JDL?

Did political philosopher Hannah Arendt, known to be a very much qualified supporter of Zionism, contribute financially to the terrorist Jewish Defence League on two occasions? No, says biographer Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, correcting an egregious error in her 1982 book, Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World.

03 November 2004

Kerry wins

Condolences are due to our American neighbours on their loss.

Bush wins

Condolences are due to our American neighbours on their loss.

02 November 2004

Flores man: what if?

The discovery of the remains of several one-metre-tall human beings in the Indonesian island of Flores has prompted this editorializing from The Guardian:

[Charles] Darwin and [Alfred Russel] Wallace would be delighted to see their theories illustrated in a manner showing that humans are not immune to natural selection. This is bad news for creationists who insist on the literal truth of the Bible. The existence of Florence shows the fact of species diversity, and the difficulty of separating human from ape on the evolutionary scale.

Henry Gee similarly opines in his analysis for Nature:

If it turns out that the diversity of human beings was always high, remained high until very recently and might not be entirely extinguished, we are entitled to question the security of some of our deepest beliefs. Will the real image of God please stand up?

David Wilkinson, a theologian at England's University of Durham, is unshaken by this momentous discovery:

Being made in the image of God is about being given the gift of intimate relationship with God, and a certain kind of responsibility in the natural world. That human beings are special in terms of relationship allowed early astronomers such as Huygens to speculate about other worlds without having nightmares about his Christian faith. The fact that God may have created many other species in the Universe does not diminish the relationship he has given to human beings.

Further, as many historians have pointed out, the Christian worldview encouraged the growth of empirical science - the Universe had to be observed to see what God had done. The diversity and unpredictability of the cosmos or natural world was therefore a reflection of a God who gives the Universe the potential for extravagance. Finally, the gift of responsibility brought with it the need for care and compassion to others, the animal kingdom and the environment. So as a Christian, in common with many other religious believers, I don't see LB1 [Flores man] as a threat to religion.

I am fascinated with what more we might find out about the diversity of the natural world. And if Homo floresiensis still exists then they need to be treated with respect and care whether the anthropologists class them as human or not. I still see the special status of humanity in the gift of relationship with God, a relationship affirmed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Let's begin with The Guardian. As far as I know, no one -- not even the christian "fundamentalist" -- argues that human beings are "immune to natural selection." The evidence for it is all around us. Although the genetic variations within humanity are exceedingly small, one can hardly deny that at the very least skin colour appears to be correlated with climate. A person with more epidermal pigmentation is obviously better suited to equatorial Africa or the Amazon basin than someone with lighter skin prone to burn easily. Darwin's theory accounts for this quite nicely.

Furthermore, given that the early books of the Old Testament tell of such mysterious beings as the nephilim, which have heretofore been seen as mythological by mainstream scholarship, I imagine that the inventive believer in biblical literalism could draw a connection between these giants and the apparently extinct non-Homo sapiens species of humans beings. Moreover, the fact that so many peoples have tales of quasi-human beings, such as elves, fairies and the like, could be taken as evidence of a collective memory of a time when other homidid species walked the earth, alongside man.

As for Wilkinson, I believe he is correct in his understanding of the imago Dei. It is not rationality or some such, as the old scholastic theologians would have argued. To be created in God's image means to be created with the capacity to commune with God and to respond to his call. Of course, the following statement settles little: "And if Homo floresiensis still exists then they need to be treated with respect and care whether the anthropologists class them as human or not." True. But we do not treat human beings and animals exactly alike. Which is why it matters very much how we would classify a living example of Flores man. We care for our cattle and presumably treat them with the respect befitting cattle. Yet we eat hamburgers and steaks and we wear leather shoes. We do not treat our fellow human beings this way.

My own sense of the matter is that, if examples of Flores man are found alive, and if they worship something or someone believed divine -- or even deny the existence of the divine -- then they are fellow human beings. If they have no capacity to comprehend a transcendent being on which they are utterly dependent and to respond to his call, then they are not, after all, human. Yet even if existing examples of Flores man were to prove not to be human, they should be treated with the respect due the higher primates at the very least. And, as Wilkinson affirms, they would have to be recognized as one more piece of evidence of the sheer diversity God has built into his cosmos.
Niet zo goed

This can only exacerbate tensions between "aboriginal" Netherlanders and immigrants from the islamic world: "Dutch director Theo van Gogh murdered in Amsterdam."
US vote

Is Michael Moore trying to sabotage today's presidential election?

01 November 2004

All Saints Day

All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

- William W. Howe

Marriage, family and poverty

Not quite two weeks ago, in the course of recounting the various approaches to voting taken by a number of American Christians, I mentioned Sojourners' Jim Wallis, to whom I fear I was not entirely fair at the time. Here is Wallis again on the connection between marriage and family on the one hand and poverty on the other:

Over the past decade, this "family values" question has become very difficult, and polarized by both the Religious Right and the cultural Left. To move forward, we must simply refuse the false choices being offered by both sides. The Left has misdiagnosed the roots of our present social crisis, mostly leaving out the critical dimension of family breakdown as a fundamental component of problems like poverty and violence. These issues are not just important to the Religious Right, or simply bourgeois concerns. We do need to rebuild strong and healthy two-parent family systems. We desperately need more families with moms and dads and kids, strong male and female role models in both "nuclear" and extended family systems. It's not a matter of whether that should be "the norm"; it simply is the norm in this society and every other one. The question, rather, is how that family norm can be a healthy one.

Exactly right. Nevertheless, I do wonder whether Wallis is exhibiting a certain naïveté in assuming it possible to strengthen marriage and family while bypassing efforts to secure a legal definition of the same -- and indeed calling the latter a "mean-spirited crusade."

In this respect Mary Ann Glendon, of Harvard University Law School, is more clear-seeing in drawing a connection between the social experimentation of the last half century and the ability of families to function as support networks for individuals threatened by poverty:

With widespread acceptance of the notion that behavior in the highly personal areas of sex and marriage is of no concern to anyone other than the "consenting adults" involved, it has been easy to overlook what should have been obvious from the beginning: individual actions in the aggregate exert a profound influence on what kind of society we are bringing into being. Eventually, when large numbers of individuals act primarily with regard to self-fulfillment, the entire culture is transformed. The evidence is now overwhelming that affluent Western nations have been engaged in a massive social experiment — an experiment that brought new opportunities and liberties to adults but has put children and other dependents at considerable risk.

Disarray in one sustaining cultural institution weakens others. The spread of family breakdown has been accompanied by disturbances in schools, neighborhoods, churches, local governments, and workplace associations — all of the structures that have traditionally depended on families for their support and that in turn have served as important resources for families in times of stress. The law, too, has changed rapidly, becoming a testing ground for various ways of reimagining family relations and an arena for struggles among competing ideas about individual liberty, equality between men and women, human sexuality, marriage, and family life. . . .

What makes the dependency-welfare crisis so confounding is that all of society’s sources of support and security are implicated. Families, still the central pillar of our caregiving system, are losing much of their capacity to care for their own dependent members, just when government is becoming less capable of fulfilling the roles it once took over from families. It seems that the ambition of welfare states to free individuals from much of their dependence on families, and to relieve families of some of their most burdensome responsibilities, may have succeeded just well enough to put dependents at heightened risk now that welfare states are faltering.

Pierre Trudeau's famous statement of 35 years ago that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation is at very best a half truth. A government that professes a benign indifference to the choices made by individuals relative to sexual and familial matters can do so only by pretending that there are no public consequences to these choices. As part of its divine mandate to do public justice, governments are obligated to protect the communities that form the fabric of human life in all its rich diversity, ranging from marriage and family to schools, churches, labour unions, businesses, farmers' co-operatives, professional associations and many, many more. Taken as a whole, these communities have come to be known, somewhat inadequately, as civil society, the affirmation of which is key to any strategy aiming at the alleviation of poverty. Quite simply, and most basically, there is no substitute for marriage and family, the erosion of which inevitably threatens the success of such strategies.


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