Thursday, January 31, 2008


Maggie Gallagher writes about a new study finding that more Americans feel less free to speak their minds today than felt so constrained in the McCarthy era:
Between 1954 and 2005, the proportion of Americans who say "some people do not feel as free to say what they think as they used to" rose from 31 percent to 46 percent, Mr. Gibson reports. The proportion who agree that "all people feel as free to say what they think as they used to" dropped from 56 percent to 43 percent.

Americans were also asked: "What about you personally? Do you or don't you feel as free to speak your mind as you used to?"

Once again the data show Americans feel less freedom of expression now than they did in the famously conformist 1950s. The proportion of Americans reporting they feel less free to speak than they used to climbed from 13 percent in 1954 to 24 percent in 2005. ....

The mainstream Americans who perceive the most constraints on freedom of expression in the United States are Americans "sympathetic to religious fundamentalist and anti-abortion activists," Mr. Gibson tells me.

Thirty-nine percent of Americans say that if authorities decided to prohibit religious fundamentalists from holding "public rallies and demonstrations in your community to advance their cause," they would support a government ban.
Thank God for the First Amendment.
"More than one-half of these mainstream groups believe they cannot exercise full political freedom in the United States today," Mr. Gibson writes. "It is also noteworthy that the respondents least likely to perceive repression are those sympathetic toward gay rights activists and atheists." ....

...[O]ne of the great discoveries of political scientists since the 1950s is that a culture of freedom is maintained by elites as much as, or in some cases more than, the masses. It's not hard to persuade a majority of good folks to run the bad guy out of town - if they can all agree on exactly who the bad guy is.

But what happens when these same political elites decide that the views of a broad swath of Americans are no longer legitimate? You can see the cultural processes at play in the backlash against "political correctness," in the attempt to shut down debate on global warming and, of course, in the ongoing efforts to delegitimize support for marriage as the union of husband and wife by equating it to moral racism. [more]
Thanks to Gene Edward Veith for the reference.

The Bulletin - Philadelphia's Family Newspaper - Which Americans Feel Less Free? Not Who You Think

Hollow words

James M. Kushiner:
The primary challenge our nation faces is not economic, it is not educational, it is moral. And our pulpits ring with hollow words telling us how to feel better about ourselves.
Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Conservatism & Corruption

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Barack Obama on abortion

On the thirty-fifth anniversary of Roe v Wade, Barack Obama posted this on his campaign website:
Thirty-five years after the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, it's never been more important to protect a woman's right to choose. Last year, the Supreme Court decided by a vote of 5-4 to uphold the Federal Abortion Ban, and in doing so undermined an important principle of Roe v. Wade: that we must always protect women's health. With one more vacancy on the Supreme Court, we could be looking at a majority hostile to a women's fundamental right to choose for the first time since Roe v. Wade. The next president may be asked to nominate that Supreme Court justice. That is what is at stake in this election.

Throughout my career, I've been a consistent and strong supporter of reproductive justice, and have consistently had a 100% pro-choice rating with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

When South Dakota passed a law banning all abortions in a direct effort to have Roe overruled, I was the only candidate for President to raise money to help the citizens of South Dakota repeal that law. When anti-choice protesters blocked the opening of an Illinois Planned Parenthood clinic in a community where affordable health care is in short supply, I was the only candidate for President who spoke out against it. And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president. [emphasis added]
Thanks to Insight Scoop for the reference.

Barack Obama | Change We Can Believe In |

Atheism and violence

Edward T. Oakes, commenting on the recent spate of atheist tracts:
Books advocating atheism have recently been enjoying a modest boomlet. .... But their arguments are shopworn, stale hand-me-downs and threadbare heirlooms inherited from an era that was fading away even before the French Revolution had made the connection between atheism and violence clear to any fair observer. [much more]
From the enthronement of the Goddess of Reason in Notre Dame to the "opiate of the proletariat," atheism as the antidote to violence has been a notable failure. John Lennon's Imagine isn't exactly historically informed.

Osteen and the gospel

Trevin Wax on "Joel Osteen's Negative Message":
.... Osteen has legions of followers, but he has garnered a large group of critics too. Where is God in his message? What about sin? What about grace? What about Jesus?

Osteen answers his critics in the following way: I focus on the positive. Sin and punishment and all that isn’t my message. I want to help people and don’t want to beat them down all the time. ....

But does Osteen do this? I’m afraid not. I’ve listened to Joel Osteen’s messages. I believe he sincerely wants to help people who feel beaten down by life and who feel guilty for their failures and mistakes. The “positive” message he proclaims is this: Do better. Try harder. Believe you can succeed. In other words, you can change! Just do it! God will help you, of course, but you have to make it happen.

Though Osteen claims he has positive sermons, I believe he is proclaiming the most negative, unmerciful message possible! Like telling a clinically depressed person to “just snap out of it!,” Osteen is giving people burdened by sin, guilt and despair more reason to despair.

Do we really think that more willpower will solve our problems? What is this message but the Law on steroids? There is no gospel in Osteen’s message, regardless of his rare references to Jesus Christ. Osteen’s idea of “good news” is telling self-centered people to look for salvation in more narcissism! Osteen’s preaching is like giving sugar to a diabetic, telling people that the magic medicine will help them, when in fact, it is speeding up their death. ....
Joel Osteen’s Negative Message « Kingdom People

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"Every way of a man is right in his own eyes"

An interview with Peter Kreeft about relativism. The interviewer is John Mallon, and the entire interview can be found on his site.

Professor Kreeft, the day before his election Pope Benedict XVI warned the world about the “Dictatorship of Relativism.” What is he referring to and what are the dangers?

The danger is to think that relativism is an open minded and tolerant philosophy. In fact, it isn’t. Mussolini was a philosopher and he explicitly said that the origins of Fascism were in relativism. He said, from the fact that there are no eternal truths and no prophets qualified to announce these truths: that each person has the right to create his own truth and to enforce it with any energy that he can. He said that there is nothing more relativistic than Fascism.

The ancient Roman Empire was very relativistic and tolerant of all kinds of gods. It didn’t matter what you worshipped, but Jews and Christians were persecuted because they had the temerity to teach that their God was the true God. So the relativists cannot tolerate absolutism.

For some this might seem like a scholarly concept, but it is so fundamental as to be the very cultural air we breathe. How do you demonstrate that this is truly a matter of life and death, and the dictatorship is very real and not metaphorical, as we see in Political Correctness?

It’s hard to see at first. You just put two people into dialogue, a relativist and a religious person and eventually you will probably see the relativist’s true colors come out. It sometimes takes a while, because some people who think they are relativists are just skeptics or agnostics and are genuinely open-minded and are searching. But the real relativist is quite dogmatic and this is his religion and he simply cannot tolerate anything that he sees as intolerance. ....

In Mere Christianity, Lewis spends an awful lot of time driving home the meaning of objective versus subjective truth. How does that play into relativism?

Let’s say there are three kinds of relativism. There’s relativism about religion, there’s relativism about morality and there’s relativism about all truth. Relativism about all truth is like the new age movement, you create your own reality, your god, the universe is whatever you think it is. If seriously believed, that is insanity—the inability to distinguish fantasy from reality.

Relativism about religion is less radical than that; it’s a belief that nobody can find objective truth in religion so religion is just a mechanism of comfort—what works for you: I like rice, you like yogurt, I like steak, you like chicken—let’s just be tolerant. That’s not a total relativism, that’s just a relativism about God because a person who holds that view is skeptical about anybody’s ability to know God.

And then there is relativism about morality which is much more serious, I think, than relativism about religion, because God left everybody, no matter what their religious views, with quite a bit of moral knowledge. Conscience is pretty much the same thing whether you are religious or not, and if you are religious no matter what religion you are. There is not a great deal of difference between Christian morality, Jewish morality, Hindu morality, Muslim morality, Buddhist morality; although there’s a great difference in the religions. So to deny the verdict of conscience, that some things are really, truly, objectively good, and that other things are truly objectively evil is to deny a very deep part of yourself.

Budziszewski said, memorably, in the title of one of his books, “There are certain things you can’t not know.”

What about people who reduce the mind, the soul, conscience, whatever, are just a construct or the result of certain chemicals in your brain according to the evolutionary process?

Well, I hope people don’t act on that knowledge, because if they do, they’re not going to take their conscience very seriously at all. So there’s no reason why they shouldn’t do whatever they please. Why bow down to an evolutionary genetic accident?

They wouldn’t bow down to it, they would just say that’s all it is.

Yet, in their living, almost everybody does admit to claims of conscience.

Everybody bows down to something?

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who believed it was morally good to be a deliberate hypocrite, and not obey your own conscience. Everybody has something about conscience that they respect, even if their theory is that it’s nothing.

Even in the midst of denying them?

Yep. ....
Thanks to Insight Scoop for the reference.

The Dictatorship of Relativism: A conversation with Professor Peter Kreeft

Friday, January 25, 2008

Baptists, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore

The "Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant" is about to happen in Atlanta (Jan. 30-Feb. 1). Is it conceivable that anything co-chaired by Jimmy Carter could unify Baptists? Why are there any politicians there at all? From Christianity Today:
As they gather to focus on issues like caring for the poor and promoting peace, the big brother in the Baptist family, the Southern Baptist Convention, is not an official participant. Top leaders of the nation's largest Protestant denomination were not involved in the planning, but Carter has told Southern Baptist president Frank Page that "everybody's invited."

Last year, Page blasted what he called the group's "smoke screen left-wing liberal agenda," even as he appreciated efforts to help "a hurting world." In a recent interview, Page said he still has concerns, but promised Carter he would pray for the meeting, which he expects some Southern Baptists to attend.

"He has assured me that it will be a positive meeting and not be a conservative-bashing meeting," Page said of Carter. "I do pray that it will be a very positive, Christ-honoring meeting."

Organizers insist the event, which has more than 30 participating organizations, will be nonpartisan, even as Carter, former President Bill Clinton, and former Vice President Al Gore are among the headliners. ....

Indeed, some Republicans will share the stage with Carter and Clinton, including Senators Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who will focus on the theme of "welcoming the stranger."

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who pastored Southern Baptist churches in Arkansas before he entered politics, initially agreed to speak at the event but later withdrew.
Is it excessively cynical to wonder why the Republicans, Grassley and Graham, are the only two speakers featured on the webpage?

Baptists Push Unity and a Fresh Face | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What's your pro-life IQ?

Our friends at Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America have developed a 20-question test to see how much you know about Roe v Wade and abortion myths. You can take the test here:
In spite of its impact, true understanding of Roe and what it accomplished remains relatively vague in the public consciousness. ....

We have created the Roe IQ Test to measure the current awareness of Roe and its effects, as well as to provide detailed information about the ruling. It only takes a few minutes to complete the test. Your answers and results will remain 100% confidential. [the test]
I missed two questions. I overestimated the number of abortions and chose the wrong Associate Justice.

Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: What's your pro-life IQ?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tolkien speaks

Insight Scoop calls attention to Bettnet's posting of a 1971 BBC interview with J.R.R. Tolkien:

.... In addition to the actual interview, it’s also a chance for some fans to hear his voice for the first time.

I’d heard his voice before. When I was a kid, I received for Christmas a record (an actual vinyl disc!) of Tolkien reading excerpts from his works, including the Lay of Beren and Luthien and A Elbereth Githoniel. It was fascinating to hear how to properly pronounce all those names and Elvish words. It was from Caedmon, I recall. ....
Mr. Bettinelli could be referring to any one of three albums produced by Caedmon: Poems and Songs of Middle Earth [Caedmon TC 1231], which also includes Donald Swann and William Elvin performing settings of some of Tolkien's songs, J.R.R. Tolkien reads and sings his The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring [Caedmon TC 1477], J.R.R. Tolkien reads and sings his The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers and The Return of the King [Caedmon TC 1478]. Happily, the Tolkien readings from the Hobbit and LOTR have been made available on CD, along with some additional material read by Christopher Tolkien, in The J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection.

It isn't Tolkien himself, but it would be wonderful if someone would produce on CD Nicol Williamson's version of The Hobbit - one of the best audio versions. Williamson was an incredible dramatic reader - each character is distinct - with subtle music and sound effects reinforcing the performance. It was originally a four-record album from Argo, issued in 1974.

I have all of these record albums still, but no longer have a turntable. I was extraordinarily happy to find the Tolkien readings from LOTR on CD. - Musings of Domenico Bettinelli

"Shallow puddles of self"

Paul Gregory Alms was a pallbearer at his grandfather's funeral. The experience caused him not only to reflect on his grandfather's life and the significance of being a pallbearer on that occasion, but also on the importance of tradition. From "On Being a Pallbearer":
Many customs and traditions in many areas of life are disappearing from among us. Liturgy in the church, national “rites” such as the Pledge of Allegiance or taking off one’s hat at the National Anthem, and countless other shared activities are being lost. There is some advantage to the rejection of a “we’ve always done it that way” mentality. But there is also a danger. More is lost than simple habits. We become more and more isolated, more alone when we mark times and feelings such as birth and marriage and war and patriotism and death in idiosyncratic ways. It becomes “just us” and our decision. Any other greater meaning is gone. When we do things that have always been done, even when it seems antiquated or strange (such as pall bearing), we are affirming that we are not free agents who have landed on the planet in the last twenty years. We have fathers and mothers, grandfathers, great grandmothers, ancestors, who worked and gave birth and believed and raised children, and we are the beneficiaries of that struggle. We have a past to which we are connected through ritual and the shared experience those rituals bring.

A custom such as pallbearing is like a great tidal wave that rolls through the centuries. Each generation joins in it and is carried by it. In so doing the individual is connected to those who have gone before him or her by swimming in the same waters, being propelled by the same currents. This connectedness to the past through rituals and actions is a part of who we are as men and women who are born from other men and women who were born from other men and women, and so on. We are not the first to face death. We have ancestors. Mankind has always sought, at crucial times, to forge some connection with these forbears through doing the same thing they did. It is a part of a communal memory. We remember ancestors by acting like they did when we are born or die or are married.

The rush to be “individuals,” to express ourselves or have our own identities, has in the past century engulfed and destroyed many traditions such as pallbearing. Flamboyant displays of personal preference have turned weddings and funerals into extreme manifestations of self. We dare not do a “traditional funeral,” for we are told that such was not who the deceased “really was.” The soon to be married go to great lengths to design a wedding that is “their own” unlike any other. Ironically, in the hurry to be ourselves, we lose more than we gain. We shake off our connection to the great wave of the past and are diminished not enlarged. In stepping out of the stream of history, we isolate ourselves and become shallow puddles of self rather than members of a great deluge of lineage and relations.
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » On Being a Pallbearer

February 2008 Sabbath Recorder

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

This issue is primarily concerned with churches which have recently joined the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference.

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Millions are missing

On the thirty-fifth anniversary of Roe v Wade, Ryan Anderson at First Things notes an article in the Los Angeles Times, "Antiabortion cause stirs new generation."
The statistics:
Today’s students and young adults have grown up in a time when abortion was widely accessible and acceptable, and a striking number are determined to end that era.

Pew Research Center polls dating back a decade show that 18- to 29-year-olds are consistently more likely than the general adult population to favor strict limits on abortion. A Pew survey over the summer found 22% of young adults support a total ban on abortion, compared with 15% of their parents’ generation.

Looking specifically at teens, a Gallup survey in 2003 found that 72% called abortion morally wrong, and 32% believed it should be illegal in all circumstances. Among adults surveyed that year, only 17% backed a total ban.
The reasons:
“I feel like we’re all survivors of abortion,” Claire said.

She has five sisters and a brother; most of her classmates, she said, come from much smaller families. The way Claire sees it, they’re missing out on much joy — and she blames abortion.

“I look at my friends,” she said, “and I wonder, ‘Where are your siblings?’”

This sense that millions of their peers are missing motivates many young activists.

They are also the first generations to grow up seeing images from inside the womb displayed like prized family photos — tacked to the fridge, posted on the Web, pasted into scrapbooks. ....

“Abortion feels more personal for us,” said Kristan Hawkins, who supervises 400 college clubs through the group Students for Life of America. [more]

First Things: Roe at 35, Part IV

"He isn't safe, but he's good."

Devin Brown explains what was wrong with the film version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and what should be done in Prince Caspian. For instance:
...[P]lease include the awe. Before the children's encounter with Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Lewis has Susan, who is always a bit too concerned with her own well-being, ask Mr. Beaver whether Aslan is safe. "'Course he isn't safe," the Beaver replies. "But he's good." Later in Lewis's narrative we get the famous line, "People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time."

Adamson's Aslan, while commendable, was not quite as good as Lewis's and was nowhere near as terrible.

It is not that in the first film Aslan was cuddly—when he roared, he really roared. But overall he was always a bit too safe. His terrible side, which we saw only briefly, needed to be present all the time. Narnia expert Paul Ford has pointed out the occurrence of "simultaneous awe and delight" which Lewis conveys in the Chronicles, a unique experience Ford labels as "numinous." While there was sufficient delight associated with Aslan in the first movie, he failed to generate the same level of awe found in the novel, and for book lovers, this was a significant loss.

In Prince Caspian, when the children finally meet Aslan, the narrator tells us that they feel "as glad as anyone can who feels afraid, and as afraid as anyone can who feels glad." This kind of awe, this profound mixture of feelings, will be a high standard for the next film to aim for.
Brown is the author of Inside Narnia and, recently, Inside Prince Caspian. Discerning Reader commented:
As an author and writer, this book revealed to me all kinds of good opportunities to look to Lewis for examples or for illustrations. As a reader it revealed to me just how much I missed in reading the book. As a Christian it revealed the depth of spiritual insight Lewis managed to relay even in what seem to be such simple stories.
My Caspian Wish List | Christianity Today Movies

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mental illness

It was as a high school teacher that I became particularly aware of the tendency to explain every kind non-productive behavior as mental illness. Mental illness definitely exists, but the boundary between it and eccentricity and the wide range of personal difference is vague and the tendency to medicalize everything diminishes individuality, dignity and responsibility.

spiked provides a review by Helene Guldberg of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness, by Christopher Lane. From the review:
‘In my mother’s generation, shy people were seen as introverted and perhaps a bit awkward, but never mentally ill.’

So writes the Chicago-based research professor, Christopher Lane, in his fascinating new book Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness. ‘Adults admired their bashfulness, associated it with bookishness, reserve, and a yen for solitude. But shyness isn’t just shyness any more. It is a disease. It has a variety of over-wrought names, including “social anxiety” and “avoidant personality disorder”, afflictions said to trouble millions’, Lane continues.

Lane has taken shyness as a test case to show how society is being overdiagnosed and overmedicated. He has charted - in intricate detail - the route by which the psychiatric profession came to give credence to the labelling of everyday emotions as ‘disorders’, a situation that has resulted in more and more people being deemed to be mentally ill.

Some claim that up to 50 per cent of the population will suffer from mental illness some time in their lives. ....

The sad consequence of this state of affairs is that the range of ‘healthy behaviour’ is being increasingly narrowed. ‘Our quirks and eccentricities - the normal emotional range of adolescence and adulthood – have become problems we fear and expect drugs to fix’, Lane writes. ‘We are no longer citizens justifiably concerned about our world, who sometimes need to be alone. Our affiliations are chronic anxiety, personality or mood disorders; our solitude is a marker for mild psychosis; our dissent, a symptom of Oppositional Defiant Disorder; our worries, chemical imbalance that drugs must cure.’

Above all, those who really do need help – who suffer from real emotional or behavioural disorders – are increasingly losing out. .... [more]
An instance I encountered as a teacher was ODD, "Oppositional Defiance Disorder," which meant that the kid wouldn't do what he was told. Such a disability may, I suppose, exist, but in my personal experience the diagnosis was applied to normal adolescent obstreperousness, and needed to be treated as a disciplinary problem. The use of ODD in those instances protected the student from the consequences of his actions - in fact enabling the behavior.

Another failing with the approach was described by C.S. Lewis in "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment." If we are not responsible for ourselves, but merely victims of mental illness ....
If crime is only a disease which needs cure, not sin which deserves punishment, it cannot be pardoned. How can you pardon a man for having a gumboil or a club foot? .... This means that you start being ‘kind’ to people before you have considered their rights, and then force upon them supposed kindnesses which no on but you will recognize as kindnesses and which the recipient will feel as abominable cruelties. ....
Or which, alternatively, he might come to think an entitlement, or an excuse.

Sin and sinning, accepting responsibility, repenting, forgiving, turning away, growing up, are all affected by our approach to these issues.

Humanity, thou art sick | spiked

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Scientology glossary

"If children are to become readers...they must first love stories"

The Telegraph [UK] has a very wise article about the best way to get children to read:
Of course we must and should study literature in our schools, but first we have to imbue our children with a love of stories.

And to do that, parents and teachers have to have a passion for stories themselves: they have to pass it on. The children have to know that you mean it, you feel it, you love it. And a teacher needs to find the space - correction, the Government needs to give them the space in the curriculum - so that she or he can read stories to the children for at least half an hour a day. [....]

We get ourselves all hot and bothered about the teaching of reading, about synthetic phonics and the like, and we forget that none of it is much use unless children want to read in the first place. The motivation must come first, horse before cart. We all know that unless a child is motivated to learn, then there will be apathy or resistance in the learning process. They are much more likely to want to deal with the difficulties of learning to read if they know it is these words that give them access to all these wonderful stories. If we really want our children to become readers for life, we would do well to remember that horses are much more fun than carts anyway. [more]
The Telegraph also offers some reading lists with a lot of great titles:

  • Part 1: Early years

  • Part 2: Middle years

  • Part 3: Early teens
  • Children's books: 'If children are to become readers for life, they must first love stories' - Telegraph

    Friday, January 18, 2008

    Why wait for the Kingdom?

    Controversy surrounding some of Mike Huckabee's recent comments has caused a revived interest in some quarters with that peculiar corner of Calvinism known as Christian Reconstructionism.

    I have seen no evidence that Huckabee is a Reconstructionist, but some critical commentators have made the connection. One of them, Professor Bainbridge reminds me of a useful 1990 article by Richard John Neuhaus, "Why Wait for the Kingdom? The Theonomist Temptation." If you have ever wondered what Christian Reconstructionism is, this is a good place to start.

    Update: Huckabee has made it quite clear that his comments do not indicate a desire to re-write the Constitution. He was simply speaking to the issues of marriage and abortion ["....I think we need to codify in our Constitution that which has been acceptable and accepted view of what life and what marriage means. ...."], not proposing the "reconstruction" of the United States using Scripture as the template.

    FIRST THINGS: A Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life

    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    "Every abortion ends a human life"

    Stan Guthrie at Christianity Today:
    Just days before the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we have a new report from the Guttmacher Institute that says the U.S. abortion rate has fallen to its lowest level since 1974. Despite fairly widespread access to the new abortion drug RU-486, the rate now stands at 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women age 15-44 in 2005, down from a high of 29.3 per thousand in 1981. The number of abortions is also down, from 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.2 million in 2005 (the last year for which data are available). ....

    ... I believe that cultural attitudes also are changing, thanks to the persistent efforts (such as the spread of ultrasound machines) of pro-lifers to keep before the American people the undeniable fact that every abortion ends a human life. And these efforts must be working, if even pro-choicer Hillary Clinton concedes that abortion is a "tragic choice."

    Perhaps not coincidentally, the Guttmacher study comes on the heels of news that the birth rate is unexpectedly booming in the United States. [more]
    Abortion Rate Tumbles | Liveblog | Christianity Today

    The fifth gospel

    An article about those, especially, apparently, Japanese, who have come to the faith through the influence of Bach's music. Uwe Siemon-Netto writes:
    [....] Leipzig’s late “superintendent” (regional bishop) Rev. Johannes Richter used to wonder even back in the days when this city was part of Communist East Germany: “What is it about his work that evidently bridges all cultural divides and has such a massive missionary impact for Christianity in faraway parts of the world?”

    For years, Richter observed with growing fascination how in his Gothic sanctuary, Japanese musicologist Keisuke Maruyama studied the influence of the weekday pericopes (prescribed readings) in the early 18th-century Lutheran lectionary cycle on Bach’s cantatas. When he had finished, he told the clergyman: “It is not enough to read Christian texts. I want to be a Christian myself. Please baptize me.”

    But this scholar’s conversion could have been attributed to the impact of pericopes’ biblical texts on Maruyama. Why, though, would a fugue have such evangelistic powers as it did on the Japanese organist in Minnesota? Why would even listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which contain no lyrics, arouse someone’s interest in Christianity? This happened when Masashi Yasuda, a former agnostic, heard a CD with Canadian pianist Glenn Gould’s rendering of this complex Clavier-Übung, or keyboard study. Still, Yasuda’s spiritual journey began precisely with these variations. He is now a Jesuit priest teaching systematic theology at Sophia University in Tokyo. [....]

    “The reason why Bach’s most abstract works guide some Asian people to Christ is because his music reflects the perfect beauty of created order to which the Japanese mind is particularly receptive,” suggested Charles Ford, a mathematics professor at the University of St. Louis. “Bach has the same effect on me, a Western scientist,” added Ford, who is also one of America’s foremost experts on the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the martyred Lutheran theologian hanged by the Nazis.

    Henry Gerike, organist and choirmaster at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, a Lutheran school of theology, agrees with Ford: “The fugue is the best way God has given us to enjoy his creation. But of course Bach’s most significant message to us is the Gospel.” Gerike echoes Swedish archbishop Nathan Söderblom (1866-1931), who famously called Bach’s cantatas “the fifth Gospel.” .... [more]
    Thanks to Gene Edward Veith for the reference.

    Cyberbrethren: A Lutheran Blog: Where Bach was jailed, Asians pay homage

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    God and the Constitution

    When Christians argue for some political proposal in the public square, we have the right to make the argument in whatever terms we wish, but that doesn't mean it is prudent or wise to make the argument in specifically religious terms. It is far better to make an honest case that has a chance to be persuasive to voters who have different or no religious convictions. Such arguments are abundantly available with respect to the issues referred to here.

    Ted Olsen at Christianity Today comments on this statement by Huckabee yesterday:
    I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.
    .... A provocative statement, certainly. But what does "amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards" mean? Does it mean that the Constitution does not measure up to God's standards? Is the Constitution anti-God? Would the addition of a human life amendment and a federal marriage amendment make it measure up to God's standards? And is Huckabee suggesting that those who oppose these amendments, say, because of their views on federalism, are trying "to change God's standards"?

    I can see how support for a human life amendment and a federal marriage amendment can win votes among some politically conservative evangelicals. But honestly, I'm thinking that this quote probably cost Huckabee more evangelical votes than it won him. The strongest supporters of those amendments have made the case on pragmatic grounds, not theological ones. James Dobson, for example, doesn't say the federal marriage amendment is necessary to bring the Constitution in line with God's standards. He says it's necessary to keep marriage from being redefined legally and culturally.
    Update: John Mark Reynolds on Huckabee, the Constitution, and Baptist principles:
    [....] Any idea that requires a belief in Christian doctrine or specific Christian revelation cannot be imposed or should not imposed by force on non-believers.

    Mike Huckabee appears to have said that the Constitution should match the Word of God. If by the Word of God, Huckabee means the Bible (it is possible he did not), then he is wrong to say the Constitution should conform to it.

    A Constitution may agree with Sacred Scripture, but it should not impose that specific revelation on the commonwealth. This takes matters of personal faith and the Church into the public square where they do not belong. These issues may be knowledge of a sort, the doctrine of the trinity is true, but it is not knowledge based on argument to which non-Christians have access.

    Huckabee should press for the Constitution to conform to the law of Nature and of Nature’s God, but he should not press for the Constitution to enshrine any law that requires acceptance of any religious claim more specific than that.

    I hope and assume that I have misunderstood Huckabee’s position or he has disagreed with one of the most glorious accomplishments of American Baptist tradition. ....
    Is the Constitution unbiblical? | Liveblog | Christianity Today, Is Huckabee Confused About the Proper Role of Christianity and Politics? | The Scriptorium Daily: Middlebrow

    Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    The Shack

    Tim Challies reviews The Shack, comparing what it seems to teach with Scripture. After a long and apparently thorough consideration of the book, he concludes:
    Eugene Peterson says this book is as good and as important as The Pilgrim’s Progress. Well, it really is not. It is neither as good nor as original a story and it lacks the theological precision of Bunyan’s work. But really, this is a bit of a facile comparison. The Pilgrim’s Progress, after all, is allegory—a story that has a second distinct meaning that is partially hidden behind its literal meaning. The Shack is not meant to be allegory. Nor can The Shack quite be equated with a story like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where C.S. Lewis simply asked (and answered) this kind of question: “What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?” The Shack is in a different category than these more notable Christian works. It seeks to represent the members of the Trinity as they are (or as they could be) and to suggest through them what they might teach were they to appear to us in a similar situation. There is a sense of attempted or perceived reality in this story that is missing in the others. This story is meant to teach theology that Young really believes to be true. The story is a wrapper for the theology. In theory this is well and good; in practice the book is only as good as its theology. And in this case, the theology just is not good enough.

    Because of the sheer volume of error and because of the importance of the doctrines reinvented by the author, I would encourage Christians, and especially young Christians, to decline this invitation to meet with God in The Shack. It is not worth reading for the story and certainly not worth reading for the theology. [the full review]
    Challies is a careful reviewer. I haven't read the book and based on this I'm not inclined to. I would be interested in other reactions to either the book or the review.

    The Shack by William Young : A Discerning Reader Review

    Sunday, January 13, 2008

    "By the saving grace...."

    I put all my confidence in Him, my sole protection
    Is the saving grace that’s over me.
    Today RightWingBob posts on "Saving Grace," one of Dylan's best gospel songs. He quotes and comments on the meaning and significance of the entire lyric, which, by Dylan's standards, is very straightforward. RightWingBob:
    The “saving grace” praised in the song is not within the singer; it is over the singer: “the saving grace that’s over me.” Over and above. It is not a song of self-congratulation and triumphalism, but one of humble gratitude to and confidence in Someone else.
    From YouTube [via RightWingBob], a 1980 performance in Toronto:

    The wicked know no peace and you just can’t fake it,
    There’s only one road and it leads to Calvary.
    It gets discouraging at times, but I know I’ll make it
    By the saving grace that’s over me.

    RightWingBob is a great site - and not just for material about Dylan. » Grace

    Friday, January 11, 2008

    Are all sins really equal?

    "Are all sins really equal in God's sight?" asks Michael Patton, and argues convincingly that they are not.
    ...It is very common within popular evangelicalism to answer this question in the affirmative. This was one of the main assumptions in a book that I just recommended last week. Most find this theological concept very appealing and accept it, I am afraid to say, without doing much homework.

    I think this tendency to assume that all sins are equal in the sight of God comes by means of three influences.
    1. A reaction by Protestants against the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal sins (sins that kill justifying grace) and venial sin (sins of a lesser nature that do not kill justifying grace).
    2. A tendency within our evangelistic church culture to express common ground with unbelievers—i.e. if all sins are equal in God’s sight then your sin is not worse than any other. This way we are not coming across as judgmental or condescending.
    3. Some biblical passages that have been interpreted in such a way (discussed below).
    However, I don’t believe that all sin is equal in God’s sight. I also believe that telling people that it is does great damage to the character of God and the seriousness of certain sins. There are many reasons for this, but let me start with a reductio ad absurdum and them move to a biblical argument.

    I often ask people who say that all sin is equal in the sight of God if they live according to their theology. Think about this. If all sin is really equal in the sight of God, and one really believes this, then God’s consternation and anger will be equal for whatever sin we commit. Equally important is the fact that our relational disposition before God should suffer from the conviction of the Holy Spirit for all sins equally. Most Christians understand what it means to have a conscience weighed down by unrepentant sin. But this weighing down normally only comes from those sins that we perceive to be more severe. However, if it is true that all sin is equal in the sight of God and one actually lived according to that theology, they should be just as troubled spiritually and just as repentant before God when they break the speed limit as when they commit adultery. After all, breaking the speed limit, even by 1mph, is breaking the law and breaking the law is sin (Rom 13). ....
    He concludes:
    ...All people are sinners (Rom. 3:23). All people are sinners from birth. But not all sin is equal.

    I think that it is safe to say that while not all people sin to the same degree, we all share in an equally depraved nature. In other words, no one is less of a sinner because of an innate righteousness about which they can boast. All people have equal potential for depravity because we are all sons of Adam and share in the same depravity, even if we don’t, due to God’s grace, act out our sinfulness to the same degree. ....[read the rest]
    Thanks to Stand to Reason for the reference.

    Reclaiming the Mind Ministries » Are All Sins Really Equal in God’s Sight?

    Madeleine L'Engle and Luci Shaw

    Luci Shaw has written a wonderful appreciation of her friend Madeleine L'Engle. She describes the growth of a genuine and fruitful friendship, which seems to fit Lewis's description of "friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest."

    At one point she describes a doctrinal disagreement.
    There was not always agreement. Madeleine was uncomfortable with the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. For her, the idea that Jesus had to be punished by his Father for human beings to be forgiven signified what she called a "forensic" understanding of theology. "How could a loving God ever kill his Beloved Son?" she would ask. In the continuum of God's Love and Righteousness she came down squarely on the Love end of things. She also prayed that eventually "every knee will bow" to God, not just in submission but in adoration, that "no-one will finally be excluded from the party." She hoped that "no human being's rebellion could outlive the love of God," brought to this hope by her reading of George MacDonald's theology. We discussed this endlessly, for my part referencing C. S. Lewis' depiction of MacDonald in The Great Divorce. I guess I came to think: "Well, if universalism is a heresy, it's one I wish were true!"
    Their interests, in creative writing and art, in travel, and most of all, their common faith, led to the kind of friendship that easily endures disagreement, and, perhaps, even thrives on it.

    Madeleine L'Engle - Books & Culture


    Over at Standfast I explain part of my reason for preferring Thompson rather than Huckabee, or anyone else.

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Narnian Chronology

    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will be available in Blu-ray this summer about the time Prince Caspian is released in the theaters. Voyage of the Dawn Treader will soon be filming in New Zealand. Narnia fans, among whom I definitely count myself, will have much to enjoy over the next few years and, if the films do well, the possibility that all seven will eventually appear becomes increasingly likely.

    New editions of the books, editions for younger readers, encyclopedias of Narnian lore, critical appraisals, and serious appreciations of the stories constantly appear at Amazon and in the stores. There have always been people who appreciate the books, which have never been out of print since their first publications. Enthusiasts, young and old, have also placed a great deal of information online.

    At The Chronicles of Narnia Website I found the table below which aligns many Narnian and English events in chronological order. It clarifies the order of things both in Narnia and in relationship to earthly events. I have copied the table with corrections to a very few obvious typing errors. The original, by Jonathan Gregory, can be found here. [Update: I have discovered, very tardily, that this chronology was first done by C.S. Lewis himself. Wikipedia has an entry about it here.]


    Narnian Years
    Earth years
    - - 1888 Digory Kirke born.
    - - 1889 Polly Plummer born.
    1 Creation of Narnia. The Beasts made able to talk. Digory plants the Tree of Protection. The White Witch Jadis enters Narnia but flies into the far North. Frank I becomes King of Narnia. 1900 Polly and Digory carried into Narnia by magic Rings.
    180 Prince Col, younger son of K. Frank V of Narnia leads certain followers into Archenland (not then inhabited) and becomes first King of that country. - -
    204 Certain outlaws from Archenland flee across the Southern desert and set up the new kingdom of Calormen. 1927 Peter Pevensie born.
    - - 1928 Susan Pevensie born.
    - - 1930 Edmund Pevensie born.
    300 The empire of Calormen spreads mightily. Calormenes colonize the land of Telmar to the West of Narnia. 1932 Lucy Pevensie born.
    - - 1933 Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole born.
    302 The Calormenes in Telmar behave very wickedly and Aslan turns them into dumb beasts. The country lies waste. King Gale of Narnia delivers the Lone Islands from a dragon and is made Emperor by their grateful inhabitants. - -
    407 Olvin of Archenland kills the Giant Pire.
    - -
    460 Pirates from our world take possession of Telmar. - -
    570 About this time lived Moonwood the Hare. - -
    898 The White Witch Jadis returns into Narnia out of the far North. - -
    900 The long winter begins. - -
    1000 The Pevensies arrive in Narnia. The treachery of Edmund. The sacrifice of Aslan. The White Witch defeated and the Long Winter ended. Peter becomes High King of Narnia. 1940 The Pevensies, staying with Digory (now Professor) Kirke, reach Narnia through the Magic Wardrobe.
    1014 King Peter carries out a successful raid on the Northern Giants. Queen Susan and King Edmund visit the Court of Calormen. King Lune of Archenland discovers his long-lost son Prince Cor and defeats a treacherous attack by Prince Rabadash of Calormen. - -
    1015 The Pevensies hunt the White Stag and vanish out of Narnia. - -
    1050 Ram the Great succeeds Cor as King of Archenland. - -
    1502 About this time lived Queen Swanwhite of Narnia. - -
    1998 The Telmarines invade and conquer Narnia. Caspian I becomes King of Narnia. - -
    2290 Prince Caspian, son of Caspian IX, born. Caspian IX murdered by his brother Miraz who usurps the throne. - -
    2303 Prince Caspian escapes from his uncle Miraz. Civil War in Narnia. By the aid of Aslan and of the Pevensies, whom Caspian summons with Queen Susan's Magic Horn, Miraz is defeated and killed. Caspian becomes King Caspian X of Narnia. 1941 The Pevensies again caught into Narnia by the blast of the Magic Horn.
    2304 Caspian X defeats the Northern Giants. - -
    2306-7 Caspian X's great voyage to the end of the World. 1942 Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace reach Narnia again and take part in Caspian's voyage.
    2310 Caspian X marries Ramandu's daughter. - -
    2325 Prince Rilian born. - -
    2345 The Queen killed by a Serpent. Rilian disappears. - -
    2356 Eustace and Jill appear in Narnia and rescue Prince Rilian. Death of Caspian X 1942 Eustace and Jill, from Experiment House, are carried away into Narnia.
    2534 Outbreak of outlaws in Lantern Waste. Towers built to guard that region. - -
    2555 Rebellion of Shift the Ape. King Tirian rescued by Eustace and Jill. Narnia in the hands of the Calormenes. The last battle. End of the World. 1949 Serious accident on British Railways.

    The Chronicles of Narnia Website: Outline of Narnian History ... So Far as It is Known


    A very interesting review of what would appear to be, at long last, a serious [can a comedy be serious?] film about a teenager, an unwanted pregnancy, and abortion.
    The movie Juno, released in theaters across the United States last month, is willing to confront the hard facts of teen pregnancy. And although the producers aren’t trying to don the armor of culture warriors, they don’t flinch about showing the reality of abortion, adoption, and broken families either. The result is moving but hardly sentimental—it’s a rough-and-tumble film, with plenty of high school awkwardness, candid humor, adolescent pain, and adult strength. [more]
    Thanks to Mark Olson for the reference.

    Commenting on Juno, Bella and several other recent films, Insight Scoop notes a change in attitude toward abortion:
    A young friend (24 years old) recently pointed out how different, in his experience, are the attitudes of Baby Boomers and GenXers/GenYers toward pregnancy and childbirth. The former tend (again, speaking generally) to have a pragmatic, even utilitarian, approach to conception and children, as though they are just one small part of a life that is usually quite focused on work, career, and social status. The latter tend to see conception and birth in a more integrated way, as a vital part of a way of life, as opposed to being an interruption or side project to be endured as best one can. This does, I think, have a ring of truth to it. It is one thing to support and even demand legalized abortion when you yourself were born in a time when such a thing was unheard of; it's quite another to consider...that you could have been just another nameless statistic.
    FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » “Dad . . . I’m Pregnant”, Insight Scoop: Is Hollywood pregnant with pro-life themes?

    Evangelism online

    Christianity Today lists some websites recommended by Luis Palau. Several were unfamiliar to me and they all contain good material:
    Need Him
    Answers common questions about faith for people in every walk of life. Those who want to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ, or who are interested in learning more, can connect with someone online or through a 24-hour call-in service.

    Jesus Central
    Credible, powerful, and educational. This impressive website helps people from all cultural and spiritual backgrounds study Jesus of Nazareth, the person. It offers relevant learning for people of all ages, as well as a place to connect and dialogue with others about Jesus.

    God Speaks

    Presents the Good News of Jesus Christ through stories, testimonies, audio messages, and clearly answered questions about faith. Simple, lucid, and relevant.

    Lee Strobel
    This website is packed with helpful material, including hundreds of great videos and newsletters. Find answers to your faith questions from more than a dozen top Christian speakers, authors, evangelists, and professors.

    The Good News
    It’s not flashy, but it’s powerful. This simple website, created in partnership between the Luis Palau Association and Campus Crusade for Christ, uses the Four Spiritual Laws to walk its visitors through the Good News. Best of all, each person who indicates a decision for Jesus Christ is connected via e-mail with a well-trained counselor, who leads him or her through the discipleship process.
    The List: EvangelismWatch | Liveblog | Christianity Today

    Tuesday, January 8, 2008

    Side by side

    David J. Theroux writes about C.S. Lewis's view of friendship:
    In The Four Loves, Lewis explores the nature, glories, and misuses of love in its four distinct forms: family affection (storge), friendship (philia), erotic love (eros), and charity or divine love (agape). He notes that “[a]s soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.” Yet, of the four loves, Lewis says that friendship is the least instinctive, or biological, and unnecessary from simply a survival basis. In contrast, the affection of parents for a child and the earthiness of erotic love are both directly connected organically to the natural world. ....

    The modern world has often viewed friendship with suspicion and even derision. For many modern thinkers, friendship has appeared as superficial and insubstantial compared with the “organic loves” mentioned above. Freud discounts friendship as a separate love altogether, claiming it merely to be disguised heterosexual or homosexual eros. For such moderns, only metaphysical materialism can be true and evident, and thus friendship as mere carnal instinct must be true. However, Lewis refutes this claim by pointing out that “nothing is less like a friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.”

    Lewis points out that friendship embodies a spiritual relationship that begins from the companionship among peers, when two or more individuals choose to break away as they discover and wish to share some common interest. As he notes, the development of friendship involves the question, “Do you see the same truth?—Or at least, ‘Do you care about the same truth?’” Contrasted with mere companions or colleagues who pursue a common physical goal, friends share a common interest that is more introspective and nonmaterial. And seeking friends as a material goal is pointless: “The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends.... There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice.” (more)
    C. S. Lewis Blog: Mere Friendship: C.S. Lewis on a Great Joy

    Sunday, January 6, 2008


    Just as Christians can be categorized denominationally and theologically so, Michael Novak argues, can atheists. He offers what might be called a taxonomy of atheism:
    One. Those rationalists who believe in science, rationality, and truth, and who abhor relativism and nihilism, and who have very firm moral principles grounded in reason itself — but who see no evidence for the existence of God, neither for the theism of the ancient Greeks and Romans nor the personal God of Judaism and Christianity. They might wish that they could believe in God, but their intellectual conscience will not allow them to.

    Two. Those relativists and nihilists who do believe, as Nietzsche warned, that the “death of God” has also meant the death of trust in reason and science and objective rules of morality. Such atheists, therefore, may for arbitrary reasons choose to live for their own pleasure, or for the joy of exercising brute power and will. This is the kind of moral nihilism that communist and fascist regimes depended upon, to justify the brutal use of power. It appears, also, to be the kind of atheism that Ayn Rand commended.

    Three. Those who do not believe in the personal God who heeds prayers, and is concerned about the moral lives of individual human beings — the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. Instead, some who call themselves atheists actually do recognize a principle of intelligent order and even awe-inspiring beauty in the natural world. They also believe in a kind of primordial energy or dynamic power, which pushes along, for example, evolution and the potentiality of human progress. They are at about the same stage in thinking about morality and metaphysics as the ancient Greeks.

    Four. The “Methodist atheists” — those who maintain all the qualities of niceness and good moral habits and gentle feelings associated with the followers of Wesley down the generations, but do so without believing in God. In other words, they remain indebted to inherited Christian moral sentiments, even while they seldom or never darken church doors. They have come to think that believing in God is a little like believing in Santa Claus. They have outgrown the metaphysics, but not the ethics.

    Five. The merely practical atheists — that is, those who by habit remain members of a religious faith, and who share a certain pietas regarding their family gods, and continue going to church according to the old routines, but whose daily behavior and speech show that they actually live as if God does not exist. Their religiousness is formal, routine, empty — or very nearly so. Indignantly, they may insist that they are not atheists, a term they probably associate with #2 above.

    Six. Those like Friedrich von Hayek, who wished he could be religious but confessed that he seemed to have no “ear” for it, just as some people have no ear for music. He felt he was an atheist by defect. [more]
    Michael Novak on Atheism on National Review Online

    Friday, January 4, 2008

    Racism and Scripture

    In a review of a new book it is pointed out that racism can find no sanction in either the Old or New Testaments, however reactionary modern commentators seem to think the Scriptures:
    Even the Old Testament—that vast, stagnant pond in which all manner of offensive viewpoints are supposed to lurk—offers no support to racists. Kidd admits this candidly: "the Bible is itself colour-blind with regard to racial difference." Racists have often quoted Scripture when expounding their views, but Kidd observes that they imported these racial readings into the text rather than finding them there. The New Testament teaches unequivocally that God "hath made of one blood all nations of men" (Acts 17:26 KJV). [more]
    Enlightened Racism - Books & Culture

    Thursday, January 3, 2008

    The Lectionary

    Michael Spencer provides a tutorial on The Lectionary:
    1. What is the lectionary?
    Lectionary: schedule of readings from Holy Scripture for use in the weekly (or daily) liturgy. In current use are both an historic, one-year lectionary with readings that have been in use for centuries, and a more recently developed three-year lectionary called the “Revised Common Lectionary.” Use of a lectionary provides the congregation with the opportunity to hear carefully chosen sections from the entire Bible and provides an individual with various scripture passages for daily reading, worship of study.
    2. Is the lectionary related to the Church Year?
    Yes, lectionaries are one of the main ways a Christian or a congregation stays “on track” with the liturgical or Christian year.
    3. What is the difference between a daily and a weekly lectionary?
    Weekly lectionaries usually contain the scripture lessons used in public worship by liturgical churches. The Revised Common Lectionary is an attempt by many different denominations to coordinate worship by means of the same lectionary.

    Daily scripture readings are not part of the Revised Common Lectionary, and vary much more widely from source to source. [quite a bit more]
    Note the Daily Lectionary from The Book of Common Prayer [using the ESV] provided in the column on the left. » Blog Archive » A Lectionary F.A.Q.