Thursday, August 28, 2008

Scared silly by science

P.J. O'Rourke on faith in God and faith in scientists:
Faith depends upon belief in things that cannot be proved, and I can prove that more people flunk physics than flunk Sunday School.

"But science can be proved," a scientist would say. "The whole point of science is experimental proof." Yet we non-scientists have to take that experimental proof on faith because we don't know what the scientists are talking about. This makes science a matter of faith in men while religion, of course, is a matter of faith in God, and if you've got to choose...

Personally, I don't think you do. Science and religion both assert the same thing: that the universe operates according to rules and that those rules can be discerned. Albeit this does make it easier to believe in God than, for instance, organic chemistry. Just the fact of rules implies a rule maker while just the fact of mixing nitro with glycerin and causing an explosion does not imply a Ph.D. ....

In one way, however, faith in science does come easier than faith in God - if fear is any gauge of how real we believe a thing is. To judge by human behavior, people are not trembling before the Almighty much. But many of those same people are scared silly by science. They are frightened by a climate stuck in the microwave of technological advances, frightened by genetic modifications that may - who knows? - cross cabbages with kings and produce a Prince Charles, and naturally they are frightened by the clouds of mushrooms being grown in the science cellars of Iran and North Korea.

One sympathizes with science's faithful. The apocalyptic power of God has existed forever, and He's been restrained about using it, despite provocation. The apocalyptic power of science has existed only since 1945, and the A-bomb has been tried twice already. .... [more]

Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for the reference.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

More than a dime's worth of difference

Christianity Today compares the platform positions of the two major parties on abortion, Africa, climate change, embryonic research, faith-based programs, global poverty, HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, Israel/Middle East, marriage and sexuality and religious liberty. The differences are significant, for instance on marriage:
Democrats: "We support the full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation, and support equal responsibility, benefits, and protections. We will enact a comprehensive bipartisan employment non-discrimination act. We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and all attempts to use this issue to divide us."

Republicans: "Because our children's future is best preserved within the traditional understanding of marriage, we call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage as a union of a man and a woman, so that judges cannot make other arrangements equivalent to it. In the absence of a national amendment, we support the right of the people of the various states to affirm traditional marriage through state initiatives.

"Republicans have been at the forefront of protecting traditional marriage laws, both in the states and in Congress. A Republican Congress enacted the Defense of Marriage Act, affirming the right of states not to recognize same-sex marriages licensed in other states. To safeguard that victory, a Republican House of Representatives passed legislation withdrawing jurisdiction over DOMA from the federal courts. We urge renewed use of that Article III power to prevent activist federal judges from imposing upon the rest of the nation the judicial activism in Massachusetts and California.

"We lament that judges ... are undermining traditional marriage laws from coast to coast."
The Democrats have comparatively little to say about religious liberty, but the Republicans have a rather lengthy section:
"Our Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion and forbids any religious test for public office, and it likewise prohibits the establishment of a state-sponsored creed. The balance between those two ideals has been distorted by judicial rulings which attempt to drive faith out of the public arena.

"We affirm every citizen's right to apply religious values to public policy and the right of faith-based organizations to participate fully in public programs without renouncing their beliefs, removing religious objects or symbols, or becoming subject to government-imposed hiring practices. We support the First Amendment right of freedom of association on the part of the Boy Scouts of America and other service organizations whose values are under assault, and we call upon the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to reverse its policy of blacklisting religious groups which decline to arrange adoptions by same-sex couples. Respectful of our nation's diversity in faith, we urge reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs in the private workplace. We deplore the increasing incidence of attacks against religious symbols, as well as incidents of anti-Semitism on college campuses.

"Republican leadership has made religious liberty a central element of U.S. foreign policy. Asserting religious freedom should be a priority in all America's international dealings. We salute the work of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and urge special training in religious liberty issues for all U.S. diplomatic personnel."

"All who are engaged in the healing arts - doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others - must be free to obey their conscience while performing their professional duties. This is especially true of the religious organizations which deliver a major portion of America's health care, a service rooted in the charity of faith communities.

"We ask all to join us in rejecting the forces of hatred and bigotry and in denouncing all who practice or promote racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic prejudice, or religious intolerance." [more]
Comparing the Platforms | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

"If people really believe something..."

Archbishop Chaput agrees with Rick Warren about the absurdity of attempting to separate faith from politics:
In the name of being good citizens, a lot of Catholics have bought into a very mistaken idea of the "separation of Church and state." American Catholics have always supported the principle of keeping religious and civil authority distinct.

Nobody wants a theocracy, and much of the media hand-wringing about the specter of "Christian fundamentalism" is really just a particularly offensive scare tactic. The Church doesn’t presume to run the state. We also don’t want the state interfering with our religious beliefs and practices - which, candidly, is a much bigger problem today.

Separating Church and state does not mean separating faith and political issues. Real pluralism requires a healthy conflict of ideas. In fact, the best way to kill a democracy is for people to remove their religious and moral convictions from their political decision-making. If people really believe something, they’ll always act on it as a matter of conscience. Otherwise they’re just lying to themselves. So the idea of forcing religion out of public policy debates is not only unwise, it’s anti-democratic.
First Things » Blog Archive » Nobody wants a theocracy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Too much combativeness?

I was extremely skeptical about the Obama/McCain appearnace at Saddleback, just as I remain skeptical about the "seeker-sensitive" approach taken by that church. But Warren did very well with the candidates, and, thinks Peter Wehner, he has a better appraoch to politics than many who have been identified as the "religious right":
...[B]ecause of the tone, grace, and sensibilities with which he approaches politics, Warren is replacing the "religious right" model with a new, better, and, I think, more Christ-based paradigm.

.... Warren’s effort to move evangelical Christians away from what he calls the "combativeness" of the religious right is welcome and long overdue. ....

At the same time, there is a tendency for the mainstream media to exaggerate how much the evangelical community is shifting in its attitudes on key political issues and its worldview. According to Warren, "A lot of people hear [about a broader agenda] and they think, 'Oh, evangelicals are giving up on believing that life begins at conception.' They’re not giving up on that at all. Not at all."

When asked about the assertion that the Democratic party is changing its abortion platform, Warren replies, "Window dressing. Too little, too late." And when asked about the opposite claim by the Rev. Jim Wallis, Warren is admirably honest and dismissive. "Jim Wallis is a spokesman for the Democratic party," according to Warren. "His book reads like the party platform."

.... After having attended a recent gathering at the Aspen Institute, for example, Warren commented that many secular liberals there thought "the answer to everything was a government program."

Warren begs to differ, and the remarkable work of Saddleback Church is the best evidence he can amass to prove his case. ....

A passionate commitment to issues has sometimes led Christians in the public square to demonize those with whom they disagree, which has badly harmed their witness. ....

Rick Warren, along with Tim Keller and some others, are helping evangelical Christians to again be associated with intellectual and moral seriousness and fidelity to their faith. That is very good for Christianity, and very good for America.
First Things » Blog Archive » Back to Saddleback

Sabbath Recorder September 2008

The September, 2008, Sabbath Recorder is available online here as a pdf.

This month's issue of The Sabbath Recorder reports on the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference sessions that took place at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin early in August.

There is also a fine article by SDB Historian, Nick Kersten, recounting the role of Seventh Day Baptists in the struggle for religious liberty - and particularly for the freedom to worship on the Sabbath.

The Sabbath Recorder is the magazine of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference and has been regularly published in some form since 1844.

Monday, August 25, 2008

"Nothing but murder"

Speaker Pelosi seems to have gotten the teaching of her tradition rather wrong. The Catholic bishops of northern Colorado:
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is a gifted public servant of strong convictions and many professional skills. Regrettably, knowledge of Catholic history and teaching does not seem to be one of them.

Interviewed on Meet the Press August 24, Speaker Pelosi was asked when human life begins. She said the following:
I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time.And what I know is over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. . . St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose.
Since Speaker Pelosi has, in her words, studied the issue "for a long time," she must know very well one of the premier works on the subject, Jesuit John Connery's Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective (Loyola, 1977). Here's how Connery concludes his study:
The Christian tradition from the earliest days reveals a firm antiabortion attitude . . . The condemnation of abortion did not depend on and was not limited in any way by theories regarding the time of fetal animation. Even during the many centuries when Church penal and penitential practice was based on the theory of delayed animation, the condemnation of abortion was never affected by it. Whatever one would want to hold about the time of animation, or when the fetus became a human being in the strict sense of the term, abortion from the time of conception was considered wrong, and the time of animation was never looked on as a moral dividing line between permissible and impermissible abortion.
Or to put it in the blunter words of the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
Destruction of the embryo in the mother's womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed on this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.
Ardent, practicing Catholics will quickly learn from the historical record that from apostolic times, the Christian tradition overwhelmingly held that abortion was grievously evil. In the absence of modern medical knowledge, some of the Early Fathers held that abortion was homicide; others that it was tantamount to homicide; and various scholars theorized about when and how the unborn child might be animated or "ensouled." But none diminished the unique evil of abortion as an attack on life itself, and the early Church closely associated abortion with infanticide. In short, from the beginning, the believing Christian community held that abortion was always, gravely wrong.
Townhall.com::Blog

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Above her pay grade

Via The Corner at NRO, Catholic Archbishop of Denver Chaput:
Faithful Catholics want to live their faith fully - and one of the principles of Catholic social teaching is that we can never deliberately kill innocent human life. Abortion always, deliberately kills an innocent unborn child. Nobody can honestly claim to be a faithful Catholic and then support a false "right" to abortion; it’s just an elegant way of evading the brutality of what abortion actually does.
Also quoted at NRO, Democratic Speaker of the House Pelosi:
I would say that as an ardent practicing Catholic this is an issue that I have studied for a long time, and what I know is over the centuries the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition. And St. Augustine said three months. We don’t know. The point is it that it shouldn’t have an impact on a woman’s right to chose.
"Ardent practicing Catholic"? And hasn't knowledge about the status of the fetus improved somewhat since the time of Augustine?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Why do they call it birth control?

Peggy Noonan on when human life begins:
As to the question when human life begins, the answer to which is above Mr. Obama's pay grade, let's go on a little tear. You know why they call it birth control? Because it's meant to stop a birth from happening nine months later. We know when life begins. Everyone who ever bought a pack of condoms knows when life begins.

To put it another way, with conception something begins. What do you think it is? A car? A 1948 Buick?
Declarations - WSJ.com

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Simple, strong, and focused on God"

Nathaniel Peters was curious about the way a Lutheran radio program would discuss Bernard of Clairvaux. The program inspired Peters to reflect on "Bernard the Hymn-Writer" and to comment on the purpose of hymns:
What struck me were the remarks of the host in the beginning of the program: "Some of the greatest preachers we’ve had have been our hymn-writers." He noted that the sermons preached through hymns are heard not only by one audience in one time, but by countless men and women throughout the ages. In this Bernard was no exception, authoring the hymns we know as "O Sacred Head Now Wounded," "O Jesus, King Most Wonderful," and the variously translated "Jesu, Dulcis Memoria."

All of these are rich, beautiful, and focused clearly on the adoration of Christ. Which is exactly what liturgical music should be–a supplement to the order of service that lifts our minds to God instead of sinking them back into ourselves. ....

Simple, strong, and focused on God: not an easy set of criteria for hymns, but a lofty one. Hopefully the writers of the next generation will look to figures like Bernard as models for their craft.
One of the translations of "Jesu, Dulcis Memoria":
Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts,
Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men,
From the best bliss that earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again.

Thy truth unchanged hath ever stood;
Thou savest those that on Thee call;
To them that seek Thee Thou art good,
To them that find Thee all in all.

We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still;
We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead,
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.

Our restless spirits yearn for Thee,
Wherever our changeful lot is cast;
Glad when Thy gracious smile we see,
Blessed when our faith can hold Thee fast.

O Jesus, ever with us stay,
Make all our moments calm and bright;
Chase the dark night of sin away,
Shed over the world Thy holy light.

In sheer gratitude to God

Ian Henderson, an Associate Professor of New Testament at McGill University in Montreal - an Anglican - in an article at FIRST THINGS titled "Law & Unlaw" addresses "legalism" and "antinomianism." What is the "Law" and what is the biblical attitude toward it? Some excerpts:
The distinction between moral law and ceremonial law is essentially un-biblical, based sadly in anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic polemics. Christians have so often been taught to distinguish between moral and ceremonial law(s), that this kind of moralizing reading becomes second nature to us. The distinction, however, is not made in the Bible itself. Often, we look for the moral or spiritual "principle" underlying a practical, "ceremonial" provision, for example, the principle of devoted rest beneath the practice of avoiding ordinary work on Sabbath. The Bible itself, however, does not detach principle from practice. Marriage law, in fact, dramatizes the unhelpfulness of separating the "moral" and the "ceremonial": marriage is both. Christian marriage norms are derived from Jesus’ unusually strict reception of biblical marriage law (Mark 10). By analogy, moreover, marriage law has important doctrinal implications (Eph. 5). Marriage law, and, indeed, most biblical law, is at the same time moral, ceremonial, doctrinal and civil. ....

In the Bible, by contrast, law usually refers to God-given Torah norms, interpreted or misinterpreted by human tradition, but deriving its unique authority from God rather than from the consent of the community. It is basic to biblical Christianity, vehemently renewed in the Protestant Reformation, that our standing before God does not derive from any obedience we may achieve to Torah-law. No one’s relationship with God depends on Torah observance. Ideally, Israel and the Church observe Torah in sheer gratitude to God. ....

Especially since the Holocaust, there has been a huge change among biblical scholars toward recognizing that Jesus remains forever a Jew. Jesus is a Jew not only in some accidental cultural-ethnic sense, but also programmatically and eschatologically. In Jesus "something greater than the Temple is here" (Matt. 12:6, Heb. 12:18-29), as Torah finds its heart in the Incarnate Word. Jesus of Nazareth was a Torah-observant Jew; he challenges other Jews with the extravagance of God’s grace, but he never repudiates Torah as such. Neither Jesus nor Paul understood the gospel to be a religious system in opposition to Torah-Judaism as a religious system. ....

Paul does say some shockingly critical things about Torah observance. Paul is concerned to make absolutely clear that even Torah, divinely-inspired religion at its very best, cannot give us a relationship with God. The only way to have a meaningful relationship with God is to place all our confidence in Jesus Christ. The enormity of the limits which Paul sets on the role of Torah can only be appreciated when we take with full seriousness that what he is talking about is not law in some vague sense, or the religious traditions of his ancestors extrapolating on Torah, still less “conventional morality,” but divinely-revealed Torah itself. When the New Testament speaks of Law it is almost never speaking of “Jewish Law” and almost always of God-given Torah.

It is God’s own Torah embedded in creation and given to Israel and to humanity by divine revelation and prophetic inspiration which for Paul loses its precedence compared with the wonders of a life entrusted to Christ (Phil. 3). Interesting things happen if, instead of translating the Hebrew Torah and the Greek nomos as law, we try the exercise of translating them as "divinely ordained religion." It is divinely-ordained religion at its very best which Paul subordinates infinitely to the gospel-power of God in Jesus Christ.

The point is therefore not that Torah-law no longer matters. The point is that even the most wonderful thing in the universe (that is, God’s Torah itself) finds its proper meaning only under Christ. Torah and the gospel are not opposites in the Bible, so that the one may be abolished by the other. Instead God speaks both Torah and gospel in every paragraph of Scripture. Torah is everywhere subordinate to the free gift of God proclaimed in the gospels, but a grateful and trusting heart always receives God’s Torah as the means of responding to grace. .... [read it all here]
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Law & Unlaw

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Liberties are the gift of God"

Matthew Franck responds to a column in which Jefferson is quoted criticizing the McCain/Obama appearance at Saddleback :
Kathleen Parker .... tells us that McCain's and Obama's appearances, and Warren's more pointedly religious questions, were "supremely wrong," even "un-American." This is because America is a "nation founded on the separation of church and state." And for authority...turns to Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia that "it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

This was Jefferson at his most epigrammatic—which is just when he was likely to say something half-baked. For while it is quite true that having a polytheist or an atheist in the neighborhood does me no material harm, it is also true that if all the neighbors believe in twenty gods, or if all the neighbors believe in no god at all, I am living in a very different country, and not in the United States. No, not even Jefferson's United States, for just a few pages after these lines, Jefferson wrote, "can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not be violated but with his wrath?"
Bench Memos on National Review Online

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Living with quietness of heart"

Ray Ortlund on the Sabbath:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. This is ancient wisdom. I know that some of us consider the Sabbath no longer valid in any sense, and I can see why. It is legislated old covenant culture (Exodus 20:8). But more deeply, it is embedded in the very creation (Genesis 2:2-3). And in the creation account the seventh day is the only one that doesn’t close out with "And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day." The Sabbath remains open. It’s not written on our calendars as much as we are built into its calendar. It’s part of the God-created rhythm for weekly human life.

If we did set apart as holy one day each week, we would add to every year, for the rest of our lives, over seven weeks of vacation. And not for goofing off, but for worship, for fellowship, for mercy, for an afternoon nap, for reading a theological book, for thinking about God and taking stock of our lives, for lingering around the dinner table and sharing good jokes and tender words and personal prayers.

I know the objections to the Sabbath. But I am answering this question: How can I live with quietness of heart in the madness of this world? If anyone has a more biblical (and more immediately usable and beneficial) place to begin answering that question, I’m open. But raising hermeneutical objections to the Sabbath principle doesn’t give me quietness of heart. .... [more]
Christ is deeper still: Quietness of heart #1

Is Mere Christianity too hard?

Reflecting on his experience with college students, Andrew Cuneo has found that many of them find C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity too difficult and its approach unpersuasive:
...[T]he amazing thing (to my mind) is that a book once considered - and vilified - as a work of popular apologetics has come to be seen as exceedingly intellectual. The young minds of today’s universities find the book too argumentative, too predicated upon logic, and so one must ask about the book as well as the Christian belief proposed: is it too hard?

For full disclosure, I will note that it is not only students at my former university, Hillsdale College, who prompted the question. Whether I tutored students from Calvin College, Wheaton College, Williams College, Boston College - choose what you like - the unexpected feedback was that as admirable as Mere Christianity is, it might be pitched too high for today’s audience. ....

A syllogistic proof, a tight argument, an extended discourse, for whatever reason, simply doesn’t seem to move most students. Alas, too often they fail to perceive the argument in the first place. Once they do, they often find argument as a species too immaterial or hopelessly abstract. On the other hand and to their credit, a contemporary student is much more likely to be moved by personal narrative or an emotional appeal: by passion (reasoned or not), enthusiasm, and sincerity of purpose. What this means for their assessment of Lewis’s apologetics is then clear: too hard, too logical. Books like Mere Christianity, for them, take some wading and books like The Abolition of Man and Miracles are about beyond the pale for all but senior-year students. Such is the feedback from my approximately ten years of teaching and tutoring. ....

There is something about the temperament of the soul of the young that makes our age distinct from Lewis’s. I am here reminded of Chesterton’s observation that a cultural loss of faith makes that culture fall back upon reason, and a loss of reason makes it fall back upon emotion; and emotion, as Lewis points out so well in Abolition, is extremely easy to manipulate when it is a prime determinant in decision-making. One has to be thankful, then, that so many of Lewis’s non-apologetic works employ emotional and imaginative power to sway a generation and culture that does still eagerly enjoy narrative, story, art, and advertisement. .... [more]
Is he right? I am curious about whether recent college students agree. I used certain Lewis essays with high school students in my political science classes and they seemed to find them accessible.

C. S. Lewis Blog: Is Mere Christianity Hard or Easy?

Responsibility

Tom Gilson, in a post titled "Ideas Have Consequences: Free Will vs. The Programmed Brain," discusses some interesting research about what happens when people come to believe - or wish to believe - that they are not responsible for their decisions. He begins with the results of "an experiment described in Scientific American":
[R]esearchers found that the amount a participant cheated correlated with the extent to which they rejected [the philosophical notion of] free will...
The correlation was positive: those who rejected free will tended to cheat more. The 22-page original research paper, written by Kathleen D. Vohs of the University of Minnesota and Jonathan W. Schooler of the University of British Columbia, opens with a provocative quote from Sartre:
We are always ready to take refuge in a belief in determinism if this freedom weighs upon us or if we need an excuse.
The paper goes on to note the increasing public attention being given to scientists who claim to have disproved the existence of free will. ....[more]
The research, Gilson points out, isn't about whether the idea of free will is true or not, but what the consequences of rejecting the belief may be. It does make sense. When we do things that we know are wrong, it can be very comforting to be able to believe that we can't help ourselves.

Gilson finishes by quoting the conclusion of the Scientific American article:
Many philosophers and scientists reject free will and, while there has been no systematic study of the matter, there’s currently little reason to think that the philosophers and scientists who reject free will are generally less morally upright than those who believe in it. But this raises yet another puzzling question about the belief in free will. People who explicitly deny free will often continue to hold themselves responsible for their actions and feel guilty for doing wrong. Have such people managed to accommodate the rest of their attitudes to their rejection of free will? Have they adjusted their notion of guilt and responsibility so that it really doesn’t depend on the existence of free will? Or is it that when they are in the thick of things, trying to decide what to do, trying to do the right thing, they just fall back into the belief that they do have free will after all?
Ideas Have Consequences: Free Will vs. The Programmed Brain | Thinking Christian

Monday, August 18, 2008

Faith in hard times


As my father walked to church one cold, winter Sabbath morning early in the 1930s in Milton, Wisconsin, he, along with the rest of the congregation found the Seventh Day Baptist church building burning. A chimney fire was apparently responsible. A few items, including the church records, were rescued, and some others, including a cracked church bell, were recovered, but the building was a total loss. It was the depths of the Great Depression but the members decided to build again - and to build with the best architecture, materials and craftsmanship they could manage. An experienced church architect was employed [one who had designed many Lutheran churches in the area] and plans were drawn. The conceptual drawing looked like this [click on the images to enlarge]:



Architect's rendering of the proposed building
Much of the work on the building was done by members. When this picture was taken, constuction was well underway:

The front of the sanctuary when completed:

This was the church building in which I worshipped while growing up - in fact, until well after I graduated from college. When I was young, the congregation still included many of those who had sacrificed in the most difficult economic times in order to create this place.

Although it has been modified in some ways since then, it remains a beautiful environment in which to worship.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The candidates on abortion

From Rick Warren's interviews with the Presidential candidates last night, a question that defines a very important difference between them:
Warren:...At what point does a baby get human rights in your view?
Obama: Well, I think that whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.
....
Warren: ...At what point is a baby entitled to human rights?
McCain: At the moment of conception. ....
At what point is the result of human conception a human being entitled to human rights, and most fundamentally the right to life, without which no other right can ever be exercised? Obama says he doesn't know - the question, he says, is beyond his competence - but, he went on to say, he doesn't believe that abortion should be legally restricted. If he is truly uncertain about something as important as the humanity of an unborn baby, shouldn't the doubt be resolved in favor of the preservation - not the destruction - of what he apparently believes could possibly be a human life.

More. 8/18, Ross Douthat:
...Warren, to his credit, didn't pose a metaphysical question, or a biological one. He asked a legal question: "At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?" Obama tried to dodge by saying that from a "theological perspective" or a "scientific perspective" the issue is "above his pay grade." But Warren asked a more narrow question, and one that any politician who votes on abortion laws should be able to answer. And of course, as a supporter of Roe and Casey, Obama does have an answer: He thinks that a baby acquires rights when it's born - well, perhaps depending on how and why it happens to be born - and lacks them at every juncture before birth. He just didn't want to come out and say it.
Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency, Satuday, August 16, 2008, Ross Douthat: Above His Pay Grade?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Now we see in a mirror darkly

I was once approached on a bus by an undoubtedly well-intentioned gentleman who wanted me to know that the end was near and that he hoped I had my spiritual life in order. I assured him that I was a Christian and then asked whether it wasn't more important to know that any one of us could die at any minute than to have our account of the end of history all worked out. He seemed nonplussed. It has always seemed more important to me that we think about the fact that each of us will die - and we don't know when - than to have worked out the exact meaning of Daniel and Revelation.

We are in between - in the "already but not yet." The war isn't over but it has already been won. It seems to me that Richard John Neuhaus has it in the correct perspective:
Eschatology refers to the last things, the final things, the ultimate destination of the story of God’s dealings with the world of his creation. In the Christian view, that destination, that eschaton, has already appeared within history in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. As the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright nicely puts it, the resurrection of the crucified Jesus is not a story about a happy ending but about a new beginning. In the resurrection and in the abiding presence of the resurrected Lord in his body, the Church, the absolute future breaks into present time. Because the principalities and powers rage against the new world order inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus, that future is discernible only by faith. In the words of St. Paul, "we walk by faith, not by sight."

Christians do not - or at least they should not - claim to understand the intricacies of God’s workings in time and through time. The details of the working out of the relationship between the immanent - the here and now - and the transcendent are not within our human competence. The Christian claim is that God - the Absolute, Being Itself, the Source and End of all that is - has invested himself in the human project. This happened in the Incarnation, when the Creator, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, became a creature in Jesus the son of Mary. God’s investment is irrevocable, and therefore the human project cannot fail.

Obviously, we’re into deep theological waters here. What Christians can say about the particulars of God’s purposes in history leaves us stuttering and tongue-tied. They can attend closely to what is revealed; they can try to read "the signs of the times;" they can study, discuss, debate, speculate, and then pray for the grace to act in the courage of their uncertainties. But at the end of the day, they say with Paul, "Now we see in a mirror darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." These are the words of Paul’s unsurpassable hymn of love, I Corinthians 13. We walk by faith in faith’s disposition toward the future, which is hope, relying on the cosmic triumph of the love revealed in Jesus Christ. Thus Paul’s conclusion: "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
FIRST THINGS: A Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life - "What Keeps Us Going"

Ad hominem

At Commentary, Peter Wehner provides sufficient reason to be skeptical about Jerome Corsi’s The Obama Nation and then argues:
Corsi’s approach to politics is both destructive and self-destructive. If Senator Obama loses, he should lose on the merits: his record in public life and his political philosophy. And while it’s legitimate to take into account Obama’s past associations with people like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright - especially for someone like Obama, about whom relatively little is known - it is wrong and reckless to throw out unsubstantiated charges and smears against Senator Obama.
It is also immoral and ultimately counterproductive, since the exposure of false accusations tends to immunize people against those that are true - see the post below.

Commentary » Blog Archive » The Obama Smears

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"What kind of America...?"

I am not ordinarily a "single issue" voter, but I come closest on abortion. Abortion is a human rights issue. I have voted for a "pro-choice" candidate for Congress when the other candidate was even worse on the issue. But when it comes to the Presidency, I will never vote for someone who countenances Roe v Wade precisely because Presidents nominate federal judges and Supreme Court Justices. NRO provides insight into one candidate's approach to the issue by excerpting David Freddoso on "Barack Obama & Abortion". No nonsense about "safe, legal and rare" here - he can't even bring himself to oppose "partial birth abortion" [i.e., infanticide]:
The tiny newborn baby made very little noise as he struggled to breathe. He lacked the strength to cry. He had been born four months premature.

"At that age," says nurse Jill Stanek, "their lungs haven’t matured."

Stanek is the nurse who found herself cradling this baby in her hands for all of his 45-minute lifetime. He was close to ten inches long and weighed perhaps half a pound. It’s just a guess - no one had weighed or measured him at birth. No happy family had been there to welcome him into the world. No one was trying to save his life now, putting him into an incubator, giving him oxygen or nourishment. He had just been left to die.

Stanek had seen it all happen. That family had wanted a baby, but when they learned that theirs would be born with Down syndrome, they wanted an abortion. For that, they went to Christ Hospital in the southwestern suburbs of Chicago, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

In "induced labor" or "prostaglandin" abortion - a common procedure at the hospital - the doctor administers drugs that dilate the mother’s cervix and induce contractions, forcing a small baby out of the mother’s uterus. Most of the time, the baby dies in utero, killed by the force of the violent contractions. But it does not always work. Such abortions sometimes result in a premature baby being born alive. Sometimes the survivors live for just a few minutes, but sometimes for several hours. No one tried to save or treat them - it is hard to save someone you just mauled trying to kill. But something had to be done with them for the minutes and hours during which they struggled for air.

Stanek says her friend had been told to take this baby and leave him in a soiled utility closet. She offered to take him instead. "I couldn’t let him die alone," she says.

Stanek was horrified by this experience. This was not an abortion - it was something worse. Could it be legal to take a living and breathing person of any size, already born and outside his mother’s womb, and just leave him to die, without any thought of treatment? ....

Her attempt to change a corrupt medical practice and bring hope to defenseless infants would put her on a collision course with a state senator named Barack Obama.

On March 30, 2001, Obama was the only senator to speak in opposition to a bill that would have banned the practice of leaving premature abortion survivors to die. The bill, SB 1095, was carefully limited, its language unambiguous. It applied only to premature babies, already born alive. It stated simply that under Illinois law, "the words ‘person,’ ‘human being,’ ‘child,’ and ‘individual’ include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development." ....

There was no legal conflict between this bill and the right to legal abortion, but Barack Obama was still uneasy with the idea. He and 11 other senators would vote "present" in a strategy worked out with Planned Parenthood lobbyists ("present" votes in the Illinois senate essentially count as "no" votes). The bill would pass the Senate easily with a bipartisan majority, only to die in a House committee. ....

Given Obama’s position on babies born alive, it should come as no surprise that he opposes and denounces all restrictions on every kind of abortion, including partial-birth abortions. He promised at a Planned Parenthood event in July 2007 that "the first thing" he will do as president - his top priority for the nation - is sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which would erase every federal and state restriction on abortion, no matter how modest. His top priority, again, is to re-legalize partial birth abortion under all circumstances, abolish all laws on informed consent and parental notification, and eliminate all state restrictions on taxpayer funding of abortions. .... [more]

David Freddoso on Barack Obama & Abortion on National Review Online

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Freedom and bondage

Collin Hansen at Christianity Today on Solzhenitsyn and Christian freedom:
.... Freedom is not truly possible apart from Christ, and for those who are in Christ, it's not the goal. The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:21 that the creation is in bondage to sin. Only God in Christ will set it free. He elaborates on freedom in Galatians 5:13. Christians must use their Calvary-bought freedom to serve one another in love. Likewise, the apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:16 that freedom is not license to sin but invitation to service.

When we understand freedom biblically, we more readily embrace God's resolve to work good even from bondage. God liberated Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag. "It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good," Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago. "Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. … That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: "Bless you, prison!" I … have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: "Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!"
Freedom Is Not Our Goal | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

When Caesar demands what is God's

For the past week I've been away from blogging so I made no comment on the death of one of the greatest men of the 20th Century, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He did much more than expose the horrors of Soviet Communism - although that would have been enough. He was a Christian, and everything he wrote was influenced by that fact. I remember being impressed, early on, by his observation that "the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts."

Robert P. Kraynak at FIRST THINGS on "Solzhenitsyn and the Battle for the Human Soul" writes about his view of the role of religion and of the state, particulary when the state exceeds its proper place:
...[W]e will always have Solzhenitsyn’s writings; and it may happen that future generations will read the Gulag Archipelago as the most gripping account of the horrors of the Soviet forced labor camps. His other great works, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, August 1914, Cancer Ward, and First Circle may also be read for their historical insights about Russian history and suffering under communism. But, if Solzhenitsyn is going to be truly valued by future generations, his life and art will have to be studied for the enduring lessons they teach about the moral and spiritual dimension of politics, which Solzhenitsyn always saw as a battleground for the dignity and perfection of the human soul. ....

It is striking to read the many references to the human soul in Solzhenitsyn’s writings. He says, “Beyond upholding rights, mankind must defend its soul, freeing it for reflection and feeling”; and “the greatness of a people is to be sought not in the blare of trumpets . . . but in the level of its inner development, in its breadth of soul . . . in healing its soul.” He also warned modern people that, because of their belief in progress, “we had forgotten the human soul”; and “the destruction of our souls over three-quarters of a century is the most terrifying thing of all.” In a powerful passage, he denounces communist totalitarianism for corrupting the soul: “Our present system is unique because, over and above its physical and economic constraints, it demands total surrender of our souls . . . to the conscious lie. To this putrefaction of the soul, this spiritual enslavement, human beings who wish to be human cannot consent. When Caesar, having exacted what is Caesar’s, demands still more insistently that we render to him what is God’s—that is a sacrifice we dare not make!”

If we listen carefully to these statements, they are based on the Gospel’s distinction between God’s realm and Caesar’s realm and the insistence that each realm has its proper role. Surprisingly, Solzhenitsyn uses the distinction of two realms in order to lower people’s expectations about the role of the state (Caesar’s realm) in people’s lives and to allow the higher, spiritual realm of God and the soul to flourish in conditions of political freedom. Under conditions of limited state power and responsible freedom, a vibrant Christian culture can develop—promoting faith, family, art, private property, and love of nature–without being destroyed by secular political ideologies. Thus, Solzhenitsyn opposes both totalitarianism and theocracy because they undermine responsible political freedom allied with a vibrant Christian culture. In The Mortal Danger, he clearly states: “I have been repeatedly charged with being an advocate of a theocratic state . . . this is a flagrant misrepresentation. . . . The day-to-day activity of governing in no sense belongs in the sphere of religion. What I do believe is that the state should not persecute religion and that religion should make an appropriate contribution to the spiritual life of the nation.” ....

FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Solzhenitsyn and the Battle for the Human Soul

To what purpose, exactly?

As the "debate" at Saddleback between Presidential candidates McCain and Obama approaches Time puts Rick Warren on the cover with a story entitled "The Global Ambition of Rick Warren". Is he "the U.S.'s most influential...churchman" or is Time just promoting its candidate for that role? An excerpt:
If Warren is not quite today's Graham, who presided as "America's pastor" back when the U.S. affected a kind of Protestant civil religion, he is unquestionably the U.S.'s most influential and highest-profile churchman. He is a natural leader, a pathological schmoozer, insatiably curious and often the smartest person in the room. Like Graham, he projects an authenticity that has helped him forge an exquisite set of political connections in the White House, on both sides of the legislative aisle and abroad. And he is both leading and riding the newest wave of change in the Evangelical community: an expansion beyond social conservatism to causes such as battling poverty, opposing torture and combating global warming. The movement has loosened the hold of religious-right leaders on ordinary Evangelicals and created an opportunity for Warren, who has lent his prominent voice to many of the new concerns.

A shift away from "sin issues" like abortion and gay marriage is reflected in Warren's approach to his coming sit-downs with the candidates. He says he is more interested in questions that he feels are "uniting," such as "poverty, HIV/AIDS, climate change and human rights," and still more in civics-class topics like the candidates' understanding of the role of the Constitution. There will be no "Christian religion test," Warren insists. "I want what's good for everybody, not just what's good for me. Who's the best for the nation right now?"

If Warren were content to be merely the most influential religious figure on the American political scene, that would be significant enough. He isn't. .... [more]
The Global Ambition of Rick Warren - TIME

Monday, August 11, 2008

Why are we whispering?

Andrew Klavan believes that conservatives have been intimidated into failing to tell the truth about our society:
At a recent writers conference in Southern California, one of my colleagues on a screenwriters panel told the crowd of about 50 people that she hoped Barack Obama would win the presidency. A number of people applauded. When it was my turn to speak, I politely said that I disagreed with her politics and moved on to other topics. There was no applause for me, but several writers approached me afterward. Each dropped his voice to a whisper and, looking around to make sure no one would overhear, said, "Thank you for saying that."

Which raises a question for all conservatives in the arts: Why are we whispering? ....

The left has somehow succeeded in convincing the rest of us that there is virtue in a culture of lies, that some truths should not be spoken and that if you speak them you are guilty of racism or sexism or some other kind of bigotry. Right-wingers may disagree philosophically with this sort of political correctness, but I think they may have incorporated some of its twisted values psychologically and walk in fear of seeming "offensive" or "insensitive."

Thus they sign on to a creative mind-set in which the depiction of reality is considered immoral and distortion becomes an act of political virtue. The threat of Islamo-fascism must never be shown without drawing some moral equivalence with the West (see: "The Kingdom" and "Iron Man"). It must never be suggested that men might be better at some tasks on average or that many women might prefer homemaking to business. Sexual promiscuity and illegitimacy are romantic or funny (à la "Juno") and not contributing factors to poverty, depression and suicide rates (à la life). And so on. ....

Conservative artists can't battle this state of affairs with silence or secrecy. They must create - with courage, openness and honesty. These are the tools of both conservatism and art. With them, we can take the culture back.
Andrew Klavan - Why Are We Whispering? - washingtonpost.com

Pauline Baynes, RIP

Brian Sibley appreciates the life and work of Pauline Baynes, who died on August 1:
After producing illustrations for various books of fairy tales, Pauline Baynes' career was established when, in 1949, J R R Tolkien's publishers showed the author of The Hobbit a portfolio of her artwork. Tolkien had written Farmer Giles of Ham, a fanciful novella with a faux-medieval setting, and being dissatisfied with the pictures that had been produced for the book was looking for a new illustrator.

Pauline produced a series of witty line illustrations that perfectly caught the essence of Tolkien's story to an extent that he declared them to be "more than illustrations, they are a collateral theme." He also delighted in reporting that friends had said that the pictures had reduced his text to "a commentary on the drawings"! ....

It was the beginning of a long friendship between author and illustrator with Pauline decorating Tolkien's subsequent books, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Smith of Wootton Major. ....

It was the collaboration with Tolkien that resulted in Pauline's subsequent association with the septet of children's novels by C S Lewis beginning with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and known, collectively, as The Chronicles of Narnia. ....

The illustrations for the Lewis books contributed significantly to their success and now are inseparable from the text, but she illustrated over a hundred other books....
Thanks to Will Vaus for the reference.

Brian Sibley: PAULINE BAYNES: QUEEN OF NARNIA AND MIDDLE-EARTH

The evanescence of now

Jared Wilson has an entry on "What Attracts the Unchurched" in which he quotes "Top Reasons for Church Attendance" from research by Thom Ranier:
  1. 90% - Pastor/Preaching
  2. 88% - Doctrines
  3. 49% - Friendliness of Members
  4. 42% - Other Issues
  5. 41% - Someone Church Witnessed to Me
  6. 38% - Family Member
  7. 37% - Sensed God’s Presence/Atmosphere of Church
  8. 25% - Relationship Other than Family Member
  9. 25% - Sunday School Class
  10. 25% - Children’s/Youth Ministry
  11. 12% - Other Groups/Ministries
  12. 11% - Worship Style/Music
  13. 7% - Location
Wilson also references a LifeWay Research study that said:
By a nearly 2-to-1 ratio over any other option, unchurched Americans prefer churches that look more like a medieval cathedral than what most think of as a more contemporary church building.
This would seem to contradict much conventional wisdom about the importance of worship style and much else.