Two Thumbs Up for Jim Caviezel

What amazing news that Jim Caviezel, who played Christ in Mel Gibson's astounding movie "The Passion of the Christ," has turned down an opportunity that might have made him a multi-millionaire. The 35-year-old actor refused to sign on for roles in TV commercials and a T-shirt deal that were worth an estimated $75 million. "I think if I had given way on just one scheme, I would have been tempted to do more," explained Caviezel, who said he wanted to remain true to his Catholic beliefs. "It would have been the easiest thing in the world to make that kind of money quickly."

There's nothing wrong with making money (Loose Canon would love to make some--honestly, of course), but it is just astounding and inspiring that an actor would forsake this kind of money because he thinks it might corrupt him. If seeing him play Christ has had such a profound impact on many (including LC), then actually playing Christ must have made a really deep impression on him.

I had no outlet to express my admiration for the movie, so allow me to get on my soapbox (or into my pulpit?) and utter a few words now: It was the backdrop to Lent for me, making the banal version of the Stations of the Cross unbearable while adding so much to the solemn Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday.

If you haven't seen it, blue staters, be broadminded and do so. As for the alleged anti-Semitism, since seeing the movie, I came across an old hymn ("I See the Crowd in Pilate's Court) that expresses perfectly how the Christian reacts to the scenes of Christ being scourged:

"I see the crowd in Pilate's hall,
their furious cries I hear;
their shouts of 'Crucify!' appall,
their curses fill mine ear.
And of that shouting multitude
I feel that I am one,
and in that din of voices rude
I recognize my own."

By the way, I found this on a wonderful web site that gives you access to Anglican hymnals from 1861 through the 1960s. You can even listen to the tunes played on an organ.

Two Thumbs Up for John Ashcroft

I must chide my colleague the Swami for his unkind remarks about John Ashcroft's press conference.

Even though it's hard to imagine terrorists not wanting to stage a Madrid-style (or bigger) event before we go to the polls, Swami believes that the AG is making these statements for political reasons: He writes: "This kind of fear-mongering should have this reaction: 'Hey, pal, why scare us? Why not just nab the terrorists?'"

May I point out to Swami that every time Ashcroft does nab somebody, folks (perhaps folks Swami knows Uptown?) set up a howl about their civil liberties? In the matter of nabbing, by the way, I'm willing to bet that Swami would not agree with this realistic policy suggested by Peggy Noonan in a column headlined "Let's Catch Them Now" in the Wall Street Journal:

"It's kind of crazy out there," Peggy writes. "So this might be a good time to say: Let's do our best as a people to catch and imprison terrorists. Let's get 'em. Let's make it our highest national priority. Let's find those who mean to end the lives of hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of innocent people. Then, once it looks like all or most of the bad guys are captured, let's turn our national attention to studying how we could have done it better, more gently, more justly, more competently. But first the capture, then the criticism."


This just in: "A Vatican statement said the pope had appointed [Cardinal Bernard] Law to be the archpriest of the Rome Basilica of St Mary Major, one of the most important churches in the Italian capital. The archpriest is the senior figure in a cathedral or a basilica, responsible for how it is run and usually presiding at many of the services."

I was one in that more recent the din of voices baying for Law's resignation--and in this case, I think the din had it right. I had originally suggested that the cardinal walk barefooted to Jerusalem, but this strikes me as about right. It can't be easy going from Archbishop to Archpriest (wonderful title, though), and I'm satisfied. Others, no doubt, won't be.

Ten Commandments Judge

Believe it or not, Loose Canon is not pleased with Judge Roy Moore, the Alabama justice who was ousted when he refused to remove a 2.6-ton granite block with the Ten Commandments on it he had put up in the state Supreme Court building. He is now appealing his case to the Supreme Court. While Loose Canon recognizes that, had he erected a statue featuring, say, artistic condoms, he might be a martyr to free speech and have a whole 'nother set of friends, LC is also against people putting up 2.6-ton monuments of their own accord on public property. Loose Canon also doesn't approve of somebody doing this kind of foolish thing presenting himself as a Christian martyr.

I Was Too Nice, Part 2

Maybe the crocodile tears I shed for nutzoid former veep Al Gore over his public bid for a permanent slot in bedlam (I refer to his meltdown speech) were unwarranted.

Heck, even hard-hearted Maureen Dowd is laughing at Gore.

"John Kerry's advisers were surprised and annoyed to hear that Mr. Gore hollered so much, he made Howard Dean look like George Pataki," Dowd wrote. "They don't want voters to be reminded of the wackadoo wing of the Democratic Party."

I Was Too Nice

A short time ago, Loose Canon commented on Senator Fritz Hollings' column attributing Bush's Iraq policy to an effort to attract Jewish voters. Though I found the senator's remarks troubling, I was squeamish about labeling the senator's comments anti-Semitic.

I was too nice.

The Weekly Standard's report on Hollings' defense of his column on the Senate floor is pretty shocking:

In the course of [the defense) he (a) groused that "you cannot have an Israel policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here"; (b) insisted on the "legitimacy" of his notorious reference to the late Howard Metzenbaum as the "senator from B'nai B'rith"; and (c) revealed that just "the other day" he'd asked his staffers how they supposed they'd react were the Israeli army to bulldoze their families' homes. "Wouldn't you want to cut their throat?" Hollings said he asked his aides. And "They said: 'In a New York minute.'"
"When Sen. Hollings retires home to South Carolina at the end of this year," the Standard concluded, "we hope he takes his staff along."

Quit Shouting

Every Sunday, after hearing somebody read the lessons badly, I think: This is just the sort of thing chanting was invented to prevent. Why can't we have sung lessons and a sung gospel? But instead, we have to listen to somebody proclaiming!

Preachers seem to think that, if they just use enough exclamation points, they can convince us that this 2,000 year old story is true.

A piece in Crisis Magazine headlined "Fourteen Easy Ways to Improve the Liturgy" seems to share my discomfort with all this desperate declaiming: "These days, conventional guidebooks on liturgy emphasize 'proclaiming' and broadcasting one's voice... Ironically, experts in the advertising world have found that the low voice actually draws out the attention of the listener."

Other wise suggestions: Shorten the sign of the peace (this doesn't apply to me--I've found that by simply whispering, "I have ringworm," I can avoid shaking hands with all but the most rabid peacers), don't force people to sing during communion, and don't attempt a rousing good-bye. (Unfortunately, this article is one of the ones in the issue that was not made available online.)

The Other Scandal

Abu Ghraib isn't the only scandal in Iraq deserving of the media spotlight. The other scandal is the United Nations' oil for food program--which should have been called the oil for palaces and kickbacks program. Intrepid reporter Claudia Rosett, who has been doggedly pursuing the scandal, seems to have the story almost to herself. Nobody else seems to want to speak ill of the East River Debating Society. Don't miss Rosett's latest National Review piece on the stalled investigations of the scandal no one wants to talk about.

Who Let Him Out?

Joking aside, Al Gore's manic speech yesterday demanding that various Bush administration officials be sacked was a sad spectacle. You can't help thinking that Al Senior's relentless pushing of his only son and namesake had a profoundly negative impact. I tend to agree with John Podhoretz of the New York Post, who believes that pore Mr. Gore is genuinely cracked. Look at the disturbing picture of Gore speaking, posted on Drudge and Lucianne, and be thankful that this guy wasn't subjected to the pressure of being president on Sept. 11.

Why I Disagree With St. Paul (and John Paul) on Gossip

Even somebody in an infallible office can get things all wrong: Pope John Paul II's call for regulations to ensure that media is truthful and offers undistorted views of the family and morality shows how badly the Vatican understands how the media works. "Thanks to modern technologies, many families can directly access vast resources of communication and information and take advantage of it for education, cultural enrichment and spiritual growth," the pope is quoted saying. But the pope adds that the media can "cause grave harm to the family when they offer an inadequate or even distorted vision of life."

If the pope is saying that parents should monitor what their kids watch on TV, that's fine. But otherwise the best regulation for the media is.competition. I don't like any attempt to regulate the press. That's why I am a big supporter of the blogosphere and even of the positive role of gossip (yes, I know: It's the one subject on which I disagree with anti-gossip epistler St. Paul) as an astringent in the public arena.

A good piece in Reason magazine makes the (counterintuitive) point that gossip is good and that the circulation of gossip in places like the Drudge Report is actually a benefit to journalism. Reason used the rumor that John Kerry had had an affair with an intern, an item that made a brief splash on Drudge before retiring into oblivion, to make the point:

By day five [of the Kerry-intern rumor] it was all over but the shouting about What This Means for Journalism.

"There definitely is a media food chain," the oft-quoted, dour media critic Tom Rosenstiel told The Boston Globe's Mark Jurkowitz in one of the dozens of ethics postmortems. "What you get is...the bad journalism driving out the good."

Rosenstiel has it backward. If there was indeed no affair (and Drudge continues to suggest there was, pointing out that Kerry's oral denial is much weaker than Monica Lewinsky's signed affidavit), having the story vetted and slapped down by elite news organizations before it could gain political traction should be hailed as a triumph of substance over scandal.

I've always been amused by the notion among some Catholics that the Church could somehow "harness" the media and make it a force for good. But really, the media is (as it should be) a system of competitive people trying to get good stories.

Don't get me wrong: I think many members of the media are biased and sometimes despicable. I just happen to think that the only antidote is more competition. FOX is a good start.

The Burden of History

Was a Spanish bishop right to remove a 14th century statue of St. James "the Moor Slayer" from his cathedral? Read the Christian Science Monitor's intriguing piece on Spain's debate about the relationship of its Christian and Islamic heritages.

Relax! The Christians Won't Get You!

I was intrigued by a piece by my dear colleague-in-crime, the Swami, who noted that a group of conservative Christians are going to try to take over a state.

Quoth the Swamster:

"ChristianExodus.org has been established to coordinate the move of 50,000 or more Christians to a single conservative state in the U.S. for the express purpose of reestablishing constitutional governance."

Several southern states were mentioned as places for these Christians to take over and establish their nefarious plan.

As someone who keeps in touch with her roots, I've got news: There are already people there. I can't quite see the Episcopalian-dominated Mississippi Delta giving up without a fight.

I predict many years of wandering in the wilds.

It's Really Bad When They Don't Even Want Your Money

Anglican leaders in Africa have long been recipients of the financial largess of the Episcopal Church in the United States. But now they've called upon their benefactors to "repent" of having consecrated an openly gay bishop.

Saith the prelates of Africa: "In a May 17 statement issued on behalf of 18 Anglican provinces in Asia, Africa and Latin America, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria said Episcopalians have 'cut themselves adrift' by consenting to the election of openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire."

"This deliberate disobedience of the revealed will of God in the Holy Scriptures is a flagrant departure from the consensual and clearly communicated mind and will of the Anglican Communion," Akinola said.

Easier Grader

I may have been too downbeat about the president's speech last night. Not everybody shared Loose Canon's disappointment. Andrew Sullivan gave Bush a B+. Sullivan felt the president had done what needed to be done.

Perfidious Networks

Why am I surprised? I missed the first few moments of President Bush's Iraq address last night because I foolishly had assumed that the networks--which have been trying to use Abu Ghraib as a WMD against the Bush administration for weeks on end--would automatically carry the address. Silly me--it wasn't newsy enough for them. It was also, as Tom Shales pointed out in his report on the speech in the Washington Post, the last night of the May ratings sweeps. But it was outrageous that they didn't cover the speech anyway. Is it really better to watch women in bathing suits eat larvae than to hear the president speak on the most troubling matter before us right now?

On the other hand (and I only heard the speech on radio--I don't have cable), the address was not one of Bush's finer moments. If you're correcting an error, you don't restate the error. But I still think that Bush should have addressed the (I think erroneous-see the Kondracke article I quoted previously) notion presented in the press that we're in a quagmire.

Instead the president got bogged down in such minutia as the news that our embassy in Iraq will have regional offices. He just dropped in that Iraq is now producing 2 million barrels of oil a day. There were a few good moments, as when the president said that elections are the "best defense against the return of tyranny" or when he referred to "this hard-won ground."

After the speech, the C-Span callers seemed to divide into two categories--angry people who sounded as if they'd been reading the Nation magazine, and defenders of the president. "I'm 72, and if he'd take me, I'd go to Iraq," said my favorite caller, a veteran.

Of course, the thing that will matter in November will be the state of Iraq, not the speeches about Iraq. Lincoln was saved by a late-breaking Union victory. Of course, as Michael Barone points out, Lincoln didn't have to contend with the same kind of press corps we have today.

Those Were the Days

I've already predicted that there will be Watergate-style investigations if George W. Bush wins a second term. The clan is already gathering. Carl Bernstein is the latest Watergate honcho to emerge from mothballs--and he says that Bush is even worse than Richard Nixon!

There Is a Hell

Quote from one of the soldiers involved in the abuse at Abu Ghraib: "The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, 'I love to make a grown man piss himself'." Too bad the Christian didn't win out in this battle. Too bad he viewed his work as a corrections officer in such sadistic terms.

Meanwhile, columnist Dennis Prager: "For if there is a hell, those who murder and torture the innocent while praising God are surely the first to go there." Prager, one of my favorite columnists, is speaking specifically of Islamic torturers; I feel certain he would agree that those who torture in the name of Christ are also in deep doo doo.

Deja Vue

At the end of my post on the horror of Abu Ghraib, I reiterated my unwavering support for the war. Citing a piece by Mort Kondracke, I joined the Roll Call executive editor in hoping that the media and others will not lose the war for us. A correspondent on the message boards suggests that what I was saying is that the media fabricated the Abu Ghraib scandal that has turned many against the war.

Not at all what I was saying.

Let me explain by quoting from the Kondracke piece (as perhaps I should have done in my original post): "The American establishment, led by the media and politicians, is in danger of talking the United States into defeat in Iraq. And the results would be catastrophic," he wrote.

It would not be the first time that the media has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory:

"In 1968--by no accident, a U.S. presidential election year," Kondracke wrote, "the Viet Cong launched a massive countrywide offensive in South Vietnam, invading the U.S. Embassy complex in the process.

"By every military measure, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces devastated the Communist forces. (It's all recorded in the late Peter Braestrup's masterful book 'Big Story.') Yet the U.S. media reported the episode as a U.S. defeat, helping convince the American establishment that the war was unwinnable.

"In this respect, there is a real danger that Iraq could become like Vietnam--a self-inflicted defeat. Public support for the war is down, and even conservative columnists such as David Brooks and George Will are implying that Bush's aims are unachievable."

We went to the war for moral reasons, and if we succeed, the world will be a better place. I hate to think what will be the consequences if we fail.

Along these lines, Bill Kristol and Lewis Lehrman had a good piece, headlined "Crush the Insurgents in Iraq," in yesterday's Washington Post. "The central battle in the war on terror is Iraq," they wrote. "Unless we win that battle, we will see America itself, and the world, shift disastrously into neutral in the broader war."

"Cursed Are the Peace Makers"

We hawks are a dispirited bunch right now. I ran into one of the better known journalistic hawks--who shall remain nameless--in the 'hood Friday afternoon. We talked about what a disaster a loss in Iraq would be, both for us and the people of Iraq and about how beleaguered hawks are in Washington right now.

English hawks are also having a hard time. Writing in the Spectator, James Delingpole, in a piece titled "Cursed Are the Peacemakers," deplores the "pea-brained" peaceniks and isolationists who are filling felled trees with "defeatist sniveling."

"For me, the final straw came when--as I so often do at difficult geopolitical times--I turned for consolation to the weblog of Andrew Sullivan and found that even this wise, articulate, principled defender of the war had suddenly come over a touch wobbly. The next day, admittedly, his resolve had been stiffened by all the 'Et tu, Sully?' emails he'd had from his readers. But by then the damage had been done. 'Bloody hell, I thought. ..."

"Of course, I appreciate as much as the next struggling hack the need to be flexible with one's opinions. The Abu Ghraib scandal definitely helped create a seller's market for stories on the lines of 'How terribly, terribly guilty I am for having supported the war, now that I realize we're just as bad as them.' More recently, the vile beheading of Nick Berg has created an equally strong market for ones going, 'Oh no, hang on. They are worse than us after all.' Maybe--money-grubbing whores as most of us are--it's too much to expect any journalist to demonstrate virtues like consistency, responsibility or maturity. But I do think in the case of Iraq we ought to struggle to make an exception. It is, after all, the issue on which our security and stability for the next 50 odd years most depend." Loose Canon of the People

I used to consider myself a bit of a snob. No more. Without shifting one iota on my positions with regard to my view of the sorts and conditions of all mankind, I find that I am now a veritable populist. As a woman of the people, I have been shocked at the number of times the words "Wal-Mart" and "trailer park" have come up in discussions with friends about the events at Abu Ghraib.

While I certainly agree with those who suggest that the moral education of those who abused prisoners must have been deficient, I can't believe that the problem is that the perpetrators didn't go to nice prep schools.

(N.B.: This is by no means a plea for leniency for those who made the wrong moral decision.)

The Cardinals and Mrs. Kennedy

In an op-ed headlined "The Altar Is Not a Battlefield" in Sunday's Washington Post, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the Washington lawyer who is married to pro-choice Senator Edward M. Kennedy, takes on the Roman Catholic prelates who are threatening to deny Communion to pro-choice Catholic pols. Mrs. Kennedy outlines the usual arguments, including the complaint that there has "been no talk of withholding Communion from pr-death-penalty Catholics."

She makes one blooper I can't let pass.

"Where is the logic or moral justice in punishing those who allow a person to make a private moral decision," she writes, "while remaining silent about those who authorize the government to take a life and thereby deprive a human being of his God-given right of salvation?"

Capital punishment deprives nobody of the chance of salvation. In fact, I would argue, based on having interviewed two strikingly non-repentant death row inmates years ago, that a man who knows he is going to die is more likely to prepare to meet his maker than one who busies himself writing Amnesty International every time a guard looks at him crossways.

A Big Fat Sermon on Gluttony

Is nothing sacred? First, the Big Mac gets blamed. Now a headline in the San Diego Union-Tribune asks, "Isn't It Time for Religion to Examine Its Role in Expanding Waistlines?" According to the story, "Jewish holidays can be summed up with: They've attacked us, we won, let's eat," says Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Carlos. "Food is considered to be an integral part of every single celebration. Breaking bread is also big in Christianity."

I'm struggling to drop some pounds, but things could be worse: What if I were a Baptist? According to the story, Baptists are the fattest denomination. Jews, Muslims and Buddhists are the least overweight.


Loose Canon wants to reply to a couple of posts on the message boards.

Beliefnet member fromoz is glad that I expressed horror over the abuses at Abu Ghraib: "I'm moved that Charlotte also seems to have some feelings," fromoz says, adding, "However I cannot fathom how she distinguishes--how she can write about the prison system in Iraq being a horror while she's seemingly able to shut herself off from images of innocent civilians being mutilated and humiliated outside the prison."

Well, with the caveat that war is not about our feelings, I have a question for fromoz: Were you able to shut yourself off from knowledge (there were few images available for the public) of the humiliation and mutilation that went on under Saddam?

It was worse, and it held no hope of anything better.

"As for Charlotte Hays, the 'Onward Christian Soldier' bit suggests that she would like a Muslim Christian War as well," writes another Beliefnet member. "You will notice in this scandal that all of the officers involved have been transferred, discharged or hidden away in the confetti leaving the enlisted personnel to suck up the blame. We want George W. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld charged with Crimes Against Humanity in the World Court of Law."

Even though I do want to win the war on terror, a "Muslim Christian War"--whatever that might be in this day and age--is the last thing I want. The next to last thing I want is to try American officials in an international court, an institution beloved of the politically correct.

Before condemning the Bush administration for "crimes against humanity," shouldn't we get all the evidence about the crimes against human beings at Abu Ghraib?

The Horror

As we head into the weekend, it's time for me to eat crow. I am embarrassed to have been one of those who believed that the treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib most likely fell far short of torture. The new information about what went on in Abu Ghraib in this morning's Washington Post changes everything. It was a chamber of horrors, an embarrassment to a civilized nation that went to Iraq for the right reasons.

The cruelty and sexual perversion are sickening. The videos reportedly include images of guards "forcing detainees to masturbate, and standing over a naked prisoner while holding a shotgun." One hooded prisoner, apparently distraught at being forced to engage in this activity, "repeatedly slams his head into the green metal, leaving streaks of blood before he ultimately collapses at the feet of a cameraman."

It is of Joseph Conrad's novel "The Heart of Darkness," about the brutality of one man in the face of the utter breakdown of civilized norms, that I'm thinking this morning. For the record, I support the war, and like Mort Kondracke, writing in Roll Call, hope that the media and others won't lose it for us.

The Wrong Enemy

I can't get over the ugly behavior of the 9/11 families that have chosen to direct their venom at the good guys.

Undoubtedly mistakes were made on 9/11, but the appalling treatment of former mayor Rudy Giuliani yesterday by angry 9/11 families was inexplicable. Giuliani was testifying before the increasingly absurd 9/11 commission, which was holding its increasingly absurd hearings in New York yesterday.

One would like to feel sympathy for Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son perished in the attacks, but it's difficult after the performance she turned in yesterday:

"My son was murdered because of your incompetence!" she shrieked at Giuliani. During the mayor's remarks, Regenhard, who had plenty of company from other angry and vocal survivors and family members, held a sign proclaiming Giuliani's words "Fiction."

Barring some startling revelation, however, it is Ms. Regenhard & Co. who live in a world of fiction. "Blaming George Bush or Bill Clinton at least has some logic. Blaming Rudy Giuliani has none," writes Paul Beston of the American Spectator.

What's behind their strange behavior? Trendy anti-Americanism? Stockholm Syndrome? Or just a wrong-headed expression of grief.

The Devil's (Virtual) Workshop

When Beliefnet editor-in-chief and co-founder Steve Waldman was starting the website, he asked me if I thought the Sacrament of Penance could be done on the phone or Internet.

I never figured out if Steve was being serious or just pulling my leg, but I nearly jumped down the phone or over cyberspace at the very idea. Outrageous idea, I sputtered.

Stuffy old me.

An Internet Church launched this month. Reuters reports that an outfit called the "Church of Fools" went live last week. Apparently, you can use your computer to interact with a little picture that sings, prays, and shouts, "Hallejulah." As far as I know, the picture does not make the sign of the cross, genuflect, or snore during the homily.

Alas, like the Ship of Fools, the CoF promptly sailed into trouble. Reuters reports that it has "fallen victim to a plague of virtual demons, some of whom have been logging on as Satan and unleashing strings of expletives during the sermons."

Toldja it wouldn't work, and it's not just that I don't want somebody hacking into my sins during virtual confession.

Our Crowd

I don't blame Jewish leaders for being "rattled" about Senator Fritz Hollings's strange editorial charging that Bush launched the Iraq war to curry favor with Jewish voters. "Bush felt tax cuts would hold his crowd together and spreading democracy in the Mideast to secure Israel would take the Jewish vote from the Democrats," the South Carolina Democrat wrote in a May 6 column in the Charleston Post and Courier. This is just plumb wrong.

Invading Iraq was never going to get "the Jewish vote" for George Bush, and he had valid reasons for going into that patch of hell that are related to the larger war on terror.

As others on Capitol Hill jump onto Hollings bandwagon, I guess we have to ask if the column was anti-Semitic. It was clearly anti-neo-con, which some regard as a synonym for Jewish. Hollings names several leading neo-cons by name, including the columnist Charles Krauthammer, who supported the war.

Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League is calling upon Hollings to recant what he has said. That's Foxman's job, but I'm squeamish about calling anybody else anti-Semitic without hard proof; it's a toxic charge. But in the absurdity of the Senator's claim, and at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe and elsewhere, the Senator is, at the very least, skirting pretty close to the line.

By the way, I want to recommend a book on the rise of anti-Semitism. It's hard to get but well worth it if you can: "The Great Hatred," by Maurice Samuels. One of the hallmarks of anti-Semitism, as I recall it from this seminal book, is that it attributes unrealistic powers to Jews.

War of Words

In my defense yesterday of the beleaguered General Boykin who is coming under fire in the Iraq prison scandal because of his outspoken Christian beliefs, I noted that Boykin's language about his faith offends many because he believes that Christianity is exclusively true. I invoked Victorian missionary hymns, which also proclaim that Christianity is uniquely true, noting that folks rarely talk that way nowadays but that Boykin has every right to do so.

Swami chided me on this, and with regard either to what Boykin said or to those Victorian hymn I plugged, the Swamster wrote, "[I]t's a short slide down the slope from racist language to racist acts. This is why, in a public space, if some moron lurches around shouting, 'Nigger,' African Americans have the good sense to move back."

Swami, dear, I couldn't agree more. I firmly believe that that racist language is the prelude to racist behavior.

Believe me, Swami, if General Boykin had been lurching around shouting the n-word, or some similarly derogatory term about Muslims, I would never, never have defended him. But he didn't do that.

Boykin merely made a claim for the exclusivity of the Christian faith, though in language that polite people often don't use--Boykin said his deity is "bigger" than the warlord's deity. This isn't racist, though most polite people don't talk this way.
On a less combative note: Swami, you're absolutely right--the correct wording in the hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers," to which I alluded, is "as to war," as you have it, and not "off to war," as I mistakenly had it. Mea culpa.

Cross Talk

I like a heartwarming saga about Christ and Mary Magdalen getting hitched and becoming parents as much as the next person. From what I gather, that is part of the plot of "The Da Vinci Code," the novel in which author Dan Brown portrays the Catholic Church as suppressing the truth about Christ--and Mary M., too, of course. The book has sold over 7 million copies and will soon be a major motion picture. Tom Hanks is said to be under consideration for a major role, which one hopes isn't that of Christ.

Unfortunately, the book has confused many Christians because they think that the story is true. They're about to become more confused. According to a report in the Manchester Union Leader, Brown has told "an adoring audience" that he has "intriguing and persuading" information that Christ survived the Crucifixion but that it was "too controversial" to put in the book.

A lot of people are, unfortunately, going to believe this claim. It would be truly astounding for Brown to come up with new information, and, based on a piece in Crisis magazine by Sandra Meisel, this is unlikely. Meisel dismantles the claims that the book is history by showing that Brown's "research" tends to be a mishmash of books by feminist scholars and other material that isn't likely to pass scholarly muster.

Moreover, Meisel found that Brown wasn't good on just the ordinary facts of history. "[D]espite Brown's scholarly airs," wrote Meisel, "a writer who thinks the Merovingians founded Paris and forgets that the popes once lived in Avignon is hardly a model researcher." Does this sound like a guy who could come up with what would be one of the biggest scoops in history?

But What If Ann Coulter Says Something Really Outrageous On Thursday?

Even though yesterday was only Tuesday, my fellow Beliefnet blogger Swami hated David Brooks' column on Iraq in the New York Times so much that he boldly declared it "Howler of the Week."

As you might have guessed, I had a whole different take on Brooks' column. When I read it, I admired the candor mixed with hope. In the column, headlined "In Iraq, America's Shakeout Moment," Brooks acknowledged that we're in a rough moment in Iraq. Brook admits that many of our plans were "naïve," but he believes that the United States will, as it has done so many times in the past, right the situation. The Swamster offers this gloss on Brooks: "[A] big-hearted nation is so filled with goodwill it rushes into a war without any planning--because, hey, those good intentions just make you do silly things."

Oh, Swami, Swami. Brooks is admitting mistakes but he believes that, confronted with the situation in Iraq, we can get it right. It's really a hymn to American resilience from Jamestown to today. I found Brooks' admission of the current frame of mind among some hawks (of whom I am one) both brave and moving.

"Hope begets disappointment," Brooks wrote, "and we are now in a moment of disappointment when it comes to Iraq. During these shakeout moments, the naysayers get to gloat while the rest of us despair, lacerate ourselves, second-guess those in charge and look at things anew. But this very process of self-criticism is the precondition for the second wind, the grubbier, less illusioned effort that often enough leads to some acceptable outcome."

Onward, Christian Soldier

General Boykin, the Christian general under fire in the Abu Ghraib scandal, is being demonized. I suspected Boykin might be in for a rough ride the second I read New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh's characterization of him as somebody who "equated the Muslim world with Satan." But Hersh isn't the only person who's asking if Boykin's Christian faith might have somehow contributed to the debacle at Abu Ghraib. The general is military assistant to State Department official Stephen Cambone, who, according to Hersh, set up a "black" program aimed at getting information from Iraqi prisoners that may have led to Abu Ghraib. The sly implication is that Boykin hates Muslims and that this is a factor in the events at Abu Ghraib.

Boykin has been a target since he got in the papers for publicly professing his faith and making some decidedly politically incorrect statements about Islam. "Why do they [radical Muslims] hate us?" he asked at a gathering in Oregon. "Why do they hate us so much? Ladies and gentlemen, the answer to that is because we're a Christian nation." (In fact, this is quite true: Islamic fanatics, still living in the Middle Ages and unable to recognize that the U.S. is a largely secular society, do hate us because of our perceived Christianity. They also hate us because we're successful and powerful.)

In another speech, Boykin recounted capturing a Somali warlord who had believed that Allah would keep him from falling into American hands. "My God is bigger than his God," Boykin said. "I knew my God was a real God, and his was an idol."

This is breathtakingly politically incorrect, but Boykin has every right to reject the trendy relativism that makes all religions equal. Believing in the exclusivity of any religion, Christian or Muslim, doesn't make anybody a partner in cruelty. If anything, being a devout Christian or Muslim of the non-jihadist stripe should make a soldier more concerned for the welfare of prisoners.

People rarely talk like Boykin does nowadays, but such thoughts were the staple of the wonderful, old Victorian missionary hymns. Using the language of a less secular era doesn't make Boykin somebody likely to mistreat others.

Boykin has also said that we will win in the Middle East only "if we come against them in the name of Jesus." This would be an inappropriate way to address the troops, but, in my book, General Boykin is free to go forth in the name of Jesus. If it makes him a good soldier, that's great. It never will make him a torturer.

Can Bishops Tell Us How to Practice Our Faith?

Some politician was quoted recently saying bishops shouldn't tell Catholics how to practice their faith. But that's precisely what they are supposed to do. It's a big part of the job description.

Nevertheless, I honestly don't know what to make of Bishop Sheridan's rule barring Catholics in his diocese who vote for pro-choice or gay "marriage" candidates from receiving Communion. On the one hand, I agree with Sheridan that both positions are profoundly contrary to Catholic teaching. And I am dismayed by politicians who don't agree with the Church but are afraid to officially leave the Church because they don't want to risk the Catholic vote. But I'd prefer that the bishop had merely asked them not to present themselves at the altar rail. On the other other hand, now that he's spoken, he should be obeyed.

What would I do if I were in a diocese where the bishop forbade people who support capital punishment (like me) from receiving communion? I might be angry but I would comply. You don't have a "right" to life, liberty, and the sacrament of Holy Communion. It is a gift from God, made available through the Church. Throughout history, for various reasons, bishops and popes have barred various people from the sacraments. The bishop has the right to do that in his diocese. And it's always quite possible that Bishop Sheridan has done the right thing.

Bed Rock

Frankly, my dears, I've never given a damn what people do in bed. In the past, I think my attitude towards homosexuality has been that it doesn't personally bother me, but I am willing to accept the Church's teachings on the matter. Based on my conversations with members of the cultural elite, college professors, scribblers, and their ilk have an opposite reaction: They're (secretly) troubled by homosexuality but wouldn't dare express a negative opinion. Because they've never actually met anybody who opposes gay "marriage," they've never had a really serious discussion on the subject.

With the legalization of gay "marriage" in Boston today, the issue jumps right out of the bed and into the public arena. It is shocking that Massachusetts is going where no society I've ever heard has ever been, and with little discussion. Lots of shouting and sentimental pictures of elderly gay couples ready to tie the knot, but very little real discussion. Can we really drastically change the nature of an institution that's been a bedrock of civilization for thousands of years with impunity? Is human nature so plastic that we can decree marriage is whatever you want it to be? And, most disturbing: What's next?

Stanley Kurtz's Weekly Standard article in February showed why the "conservative argument" for same-sex "marriage" doesn't hold up. He looked at what has happened to the institution of marriage in Scandina via, where gay "marriage" has been legal for quite awhile.

"Beyond Gay Marriage: The Road to Polyamory," also by Kurtz, is also helpful.

Brief Lives

A series of profiles of kids who've been killed in violence in Sunday's Washington Post attained a level of non-judgmentalism that boggles the mind.

"This is a sad story of addiction," somebody says when one-year-old Selena McDonald is found with her head bashed in.

"Sometimes the lines are blurry," writes the Post reporter in the profile of Timothy Hamilton, dead at 15. "When the guy you learned to ride a bike with and the one you used to play hide-and-seek with become thugs, do you stay friends?"

Let me answer that question.

One of the youths profiled was Wardell Smith, 17, who died two months ago of a gunshot wound. The family thinks that it might have been the result of a neighborhood feud. The piece includes a supposedly poignant list of "things Wardell left behind."

Said list includes a memory of Wardell cutting up at school, another of him imitating a character from "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," a TV show. Also casually mentioned, third on the list in fact, Wardell left behind "a 6-month-old boy named Devonte Walton."

Oh, wait, a baby--that's not like a pair of sneakers or a happy memory. But no judgments, please! "People thought the baby might turn Wardell's life around," writes reporter David A. Farenthold, giving us the first and only hint that anything in Wardell's personal life needed turning around.

None of the kids in this article should have died. It's sad beyong belief, and the Post reporters who produced this series, who no doubt have mortgages, mutual funds and kids in private schools, don't help by glossing over the truth about the awful culture in which they lived their brief lives.


Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak last week quoted an unnamed official demanding Rumsfeld's head for the Abu Ghraib mess. "There must be a neck cut, and there is only one neck of choice," the unnamed one opined. In response, columnist Mark Steyn writes, "Bob Novak's 'senior official'--some languid upper-class Brit? a cynical Continental?--usefully reminds us of the difference between the participants in this war. On one side, references to decapitation are purely metaphorical; on the other, they mean it."

Decline of the West?

The most fascinating phenomenon in the world today is the clash between a branch of Islam and the largely secular West. The Vatican is obviously worried about the impact of Islam. Pope John Paul II, who has prayed in a Damascus mosque, has been a widely quoted foe of the war in Iraq. But now the Vatican has issued a document urging Catholics not to marry Muslims. Women, described in the document as "the least protected person in the Muslim household," are cautioned in particular. There is no outright ban on Catholics marrying Muslims.

For me, the most interesting sentence in the Reuters piece on the document was a quote from Cardinal Ratzinger: "The Vatican's top theologian, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said earlier this week the West 'no longer loves itself' and so was unable to respond to the challenge of Islam, which was growing because it expressed 'greater spiritual energy.'"

Who killed Nick Berg?

"This isn't going to be easy," writes Michael Smerconish of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "But some things need to be said to Michael Berg even as he grieves the loss of his son. It would have been more appropriate to let the dust settle before this discourse began, but that is no longer an option where he has turned this tragedy into a morbid blame game.

"Bush did not kill your son. Nor did Donald Rumsfeld. And, quite frankly, you are the one politicizing his death when you introduce their names into the same breath as his obituary.

"[...] Furthermore, it's just not accurate for you to say 'Nicholas Berg died for the sins of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld.' Your son died due to the sins of unholy people acting through some misguided and irrational vision of their faith. And, frankly, you give your son's murderers the credibility they so desperately lack when you say otherwise."

The E-pistles

Loose Canon would like to reply to some of the e-pistles she's received since launching this blog.

My description of the Inquisition as "much-maligned" did not make a favorable impression on Beliefnet member willsea.

"And if the inquisition was such a party, then there's nothing wrong with what happened to Abu Ghraib or Nick Berg. Is that what you are saying?" asks willsea. "If so, please return to the 14th century, your rack is waiting."

Nobody could be more shocked and horrified by both these events than I am, though I confess to being far more shocked and horrified about what happened to Nick Berg. I am also shocked by the Big Media's telling attempts to ignore the Berg story (as compared with the constant attention to Abu Ghraib).

Glad to report that willsea is willing to put up with me as long as I can remain non-violent: "If, on the other hand," willsea writes, "your inquiry into heresy is on the IDEA level, I'm willing to engage."

It's definitely on the idea level, but, before we begin engaging, could I show you something in my basement...?

Another correspondent, catholicseeker, points out that "there were no Episcopalians at the Crucifixion."

Could that be true?

Banning Gay Marriage

Good News: Speaking of Episcopalians, one of the most liberal dioceses in the U.S. has banned gay "marriage".

The Face of the Enemy

"It's not every enemy of freedom who shouts, 'Allahu akbar [God is great]!' while committing murder in front of a camera," writes Diana West in the Washington Times. Ms. West thinks that the White House-approved term "enemies of freedom" is too vague.

Introducing Loose Canon

As a reporter in the early 1980s for the National Catholic Register, a conservative weekly, I used to jokingly refer to myself as the "Anglican Torquemada," though I was probably much more gleeful in my heresy hunting than the Dominican priest whose name is associated with the much-maligned Inquisition.

It was a fascinating time to be reporting for a Catholic newspaper: The Church was still absorbing the aftershocks of the Second Vatican Council, and I covered so many "feminist liturgies" that still I consider myself a world-wide expert on deviant nuns. But the nice thing was-people got upset, risked their careers, and staked their reputations on things that most people in contemporary life consider to arcane to be taken seriously.

I have, as you may have guessed, since dropped the "Anglican" part. On the Feast of the Epiphany, 1984 I was received into the Catholic Church at a Dominican Church in Washington, D.C. But I still enjoy amateur heresy-hunting.

I won't stick to specifically religious issues in this blog. As a "Loose Canon," I plan to go ricocheting around all over the place. But I write as one who believes that the Judeo-Christian tradition is worth preserving. I believe that many of the horrors of the modern world are with us because we have lost our moorings.

I also think it's difficult to confront these horrors without understanding that there is such a thing as evil and that the loss of genuine religious belief has opened us up to all sorts of naïve beliefs. I am not, in short, "a spiritual person."

I grew up in Greenville, Mississippi, and St. James Episcopal Church was a much-beloved feature of my childhood. My mother's family has been Episcopalians since the Crucifixion, and I retain from my youth a love of Anglican plainsong, Tommy Cranmer's English, the 1940 hymnal, and an all male priesthood. Without deviating from any of these loves, I went through my atheism phase at the appropriate age-high school. (Back then, you could get some mileage out of being a high school atheist-today it's being a high school Christian that is considered weird. It was a better time.) My lapse into atheism was occasioned by reading a book called "The Riddle of the Universe," by some fella named Ernst Haeckel. Mr. Haeckel called God the "gaseous vertebrate." It just seemed so--exciting. Unfortunately, I promptly converted my best friend to atheism, earning the undying enmity of the local Presbyterian minister.

I am always amazed at the militancy of atheists. I can't help thinking they're in for a rude awakening.
I was a pretty lukewarm atheist. In my adult life, I've encountered so many people who hate religion, or what they refer to as "organized religion." I don't get it. Are there really all these people who are bitter, bitter about their religious upbringing? Or is some of this feigned anger that makes folks feel that they are intellectuals. (Christians are so dumb! This from people who've never heard of Aquinas.) Maybe I don't get the anger because no nun rapped my knuckles, but I am always amazed at the militancy of atheists. I can't help thinking they're in for a rude awakening.

I left the church because of a book, and I returned to the church through another. I got interested in the relationship of Christianity and Western civilization, both seemingly in decline, when I was working on an alternative paper in New Orleans. (Yep, I was a lefty, too.) Reading Paul Johnson's magisterial history of Christianity, I was struck by the notion that all this stuff might be...true. Becoming convinced that Christianity is true and Catholicism truest, I was given instruction and received into the Romish Church by the late Rev. Raymond Smith, O.P. Because Torquemada wasn't available, my pal Tom Bethell graciously agreed to stand in and be my sponsor.

My conversion wasn't a protest vote against what was known in my family as "what's happening to the Episcopal Church"--indeed, I have always sent St. James a tiny, tiny check at Christmas to have my late mother's name on the "Flowers on the Altar" list. This last Christmas, however, because of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop who would risk schism, I could not bring myself to send my tiny, tiny check to St. James. Instead, I opted to send my wee check to the Republican National Committee, a more Christian organization, in my opinion. One can't be a gaseous vertebrate, can one?

What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of...Poor People?

As a Loose Canon, I feel it only right to begin by disagreeing with a fellow Beliefnet writer. Rabbi Shumley Boteach believes that socio-economic factors played a key role in the mess at Abu Ghraib. "It need not come as a great surprise," writes Boteach, "that someone from the lowest socioeconomic rung--who may have felt that economic plight was personally humiliating--might find pleasure in making someone feel even lower than herself." Rabbi Boteach is hardly a liberal, but in this he embraces the liberal notion that poverty is the root of most evils (though I seriously doubt that Pfc. Lynndie England would consider herself impoverished--people who actually live in trailer parks are far less shocked by mobile homes than members of the chattering classes).

An English psychiatrist who writes for conservative publications, Theodore Dalrymple, has a take more to my liking. "Where there is neither social nor legal pressure to behave decently," writes Dalrymple, "there will be a festival of evil. We have created a society in which often there is neither such pressure; as a consequence, I am confronted every day in my work by new evidence of man's propensity to evil, in the conduct of my patients or that of the people with whom they consort."

Did Nick Berg Die Because He Was Jewish?

As we strive to be multiculturalists, some of our enemies (oops! I mean people who are not yet good friends) are taking a rain check on love and tolerance. The prisoners at Abu Ghraib, for example, were as upset by the presence of female soldiers as by any physical pain they endured, and now there are alarming reports that Nicholas Berg might have been targeted because he was Jewish.

From JTA, the Global News Service of the Jewish People: "Though Berg's religion wasn't mentioned on the video, posted on a Web site linked to Al-Qaida, Berg cites his family members, similar to the way [Danny] Pearl did."


Can somebody please find a straight jacket large enough for Senator Ted Kennedy? I'm referring to Kennedy's remark that Saddam's "torture chambers" have "reopened under new management, U.S. management." Let's hope this is just political posturing because otherwise Kennedy has lost his mind. "The inability to distinguish between categories of evil is evidence of the inability to distinguish between evil and good," writes talk radio host Hugh Hewlett in the rather rightish Weekly Standard. "That Ted Kennedy lacks such capacity does not surprise. What does surprise is that Kennedy's colleagues have not condemned his slander of the American military. He is equating the suffering of millions and the deaths of hundreds of thousands under Saddam, with the actions of a handful of rogue soldiers."

Yes, Teddy should get a grip: If Saddam were still in power, those wires streaming from the hooded prisoner in the infamous picture would have been attached to an electrical device. Writes Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby: "I'm sickened as well by the relish with which this scandal is being exploited by those who think that the defeat of the Bush administration is an end that justifies just about any means."

Double Standards

Also on the subject of the press and Abu Ghraib, my colleague Charlotte Allen (from the Independent Women's Forum) has a brilliant piece on the IWF's site comparing the feeding frenzy over Abu Ghraib with the "dead silence on the part of America's major print media on the beheading of Nicholas Berg by Islamic terrorists on Tuesday."

Let's face it: Abu Ghraib embarrasses us, and the Berg story embarrasses our enemies. Only the strong among us will be able to stomach the Maureen Dowd quote (that Charlotte includes): "Should we really be reduced to defending ourselves," Dowd asks, "by saying at least we don't behead people."

Come to think of it, Mo has a point: This is a big difference between our society and militant Islam.

Setting Up Barriers...

As annoying as Maureen Dowd is, the Vatican is even worse when it comes to the war in Iraq--and almost as silly. L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, put out a statement saying that "Mankind has been scarred" by Abu Ghraib. Note to Vatican: Mankind was scarred long before Abu Ghraib was even dreamt of; it's called Original Sin. Look it up.

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