Blame America First!

Guess what, folks: George Bush and the evil United States didn't cause the tsunami. Without the U.S.'s generosity, those who suffer so grievously in that region would suffer even more. That's hard for the knee-jerk Bush hater to accept, and they're searching high and low for some way to blame the president (including his having the audacity--the gall! the insensitivity!--to go ahead with his inauguration) and the United States for something--anything--related to the tragedy in Asia.

Though the tsunami brought us stories both of horror and of kindness, "Not everyone distinguished himself," writes Peggy Noonan. "What to say of those who've latched on to the tragedy to promote their political agendas, from the U.N. official who raced to call the U.S. stingy, to the global-warming crowd, to administration critics who jumped at the chance to call the president insensitive because he was vacationing in Texas and didn't voice his sympathy quickly enough? Such people are slyly asserting their own, higher sensitivity and getting credit for it, which is odd because what they're actually doing is using dead people to make cheap points."

Andrew Natsios, the head of US Agency for International Development, lauded our generosity last night on the Newshour with an incredulous Gwen Iffil. It was a terrific interview. Natsios--who seems to be that rara avis: an international bureaucrat who doesn't look down on the United States--particularly addressed fellow U.N. bureaucrat Jan Egeland's slurs about U.S. stinginess:

NATSIOS: I have written books on this. I've been doing this work for 15 years. Jan Egeland is a friend of mine; we're the biggest donor to fund his office and his staff.

I called him and said, Jan, what are you talking about? He's talking about development assistance, not disaster relief. For disaster relief, it's simply nonsense. He doesn't know what the data shows.

If he did, he wouldn't have made that comment. He told me he was misquoted and he was speaking about development assistance.

What he did not know is that President Bush has arranged the largest increase in development assistance since Harry Truman.

The budget when Bill Clinton entered office for ODA, Official Development Assistance, which is an international formula used by 27 countries that are donor governments, was 10.6 billion dollars. In 2003, it was $24 billion.

You've had a 140 percent increase. We're well beyond what the president committed at Monterey and at Johannesburg. There is a huge effort to combat HIV/AIDS, the millennium challenge account. My food aid budget has been increased hugely. So Where Was God?

A lot of people, including my colleagues at Beliefnet, have been trying to fathom the theological meaning of the horror in Asia. As Janet Daly notes in the Daily Telegraph:

"Natural disasters make the best case for unbelief because they are not even susceptible to the theological explanation of human evil - that without the capacity to make immoral choices, men are not truly free: the ability to do good would be meaningless if we did not also have the ability to do evil.

"The whole point of the human condition is to choose to do what is right rather than what is wrong. But an earthquake has no motive and no free will. It just is what it is. A tsunami does what it does. It sweeps away the blameless and the helpless without reason. So where is the divine purpose in that?

"In fact, there is no logic in the sceptic's argument - or, at least, not the logic that he assumes. If terrible events are to constitute evidence that God does not exist, then every wonderful event - every cured cancer patient, every child rescued from a fire - has to be evidence that He does. The unbeliever would, by his own reasoning, have to accept that all the fortunate things that have ever happened were proofs of God. Not that the rising number of unbelievers is linked to rationalism.

"Strictly speaking, what The Daily Telegraph poll showed this week was not an increase in unbelief but in non-belief. It is not so much that people have consciously discredited the notion of faith, as that they have ceased to care about it."

Daly does not solve the theological problems of the tsunami, but she does conclude that the current apathy about God eats away at our civilization--and our selves:

"Like so many things in modern British life, agnosticism is not a function of deliberation and reasoning, but of apathy and indifference. We don't positively repudiate the idea of God, just as we don't positively reject the idea that politics can be of any use. We just don't give a damn.

"This is not scepticism in the proper sense, which involves conscientious questioning of beliefs - an insistence on investigating received opinion which might, in the end, result in acceptance. It is something much more corrosive and incurable: a detachment from any abstract or profound understanding of life and its meaning. It is a cynicism that refuses to dwell on any but the most immediate satisfactions and concrete rewards."

Lady Marchmain Would Be Jealous

Relapsed Catholic, one of my favorite blogs, spotted this gem on GetReligion:

"So the lavish Sawbridgeworth, England, estate of soccer megastar David Beckham and his wife, Victoria--formerly known as pop tart 'Posh Spice'--contains its own private chapel. Who knew?

"This is merely one of the too-good-to-be-true details in a recent USA Today story by reporter Cesar G. Soriano that could open up an entirely new niche for professionals on the Godbeat. Weddings are old hat for the paparazzi and gossip columnists. Now the super rich and fabulous are hitting a new stage of life--celebrity-party christenings."

Stop the Madness!

Loose Canon is on record (several times) as saying that it's madness to try Saddam Hussein--the court system wasn't meant to handle such situations. Neither Churchill nor FDR originally favored holding trials for evil Nazis. Shoot him, hold him in prison, whatever. But don't try him.

This is all so ludicrous that you knew that sooner or later former attorney general Ramsey Clark had to surface.

Here's what the Rammer (thanks to Midwest Conservative for the nickname and spotting the interview) told Al Jazeera:

"[Clark] said in the Jordanian capital Amman that his principle concern was protecting the former president's rights, who only saw a lawyer for the first time this month - a year after his capture.

"'In international law, anyone accused of crime has the right to be tried by a confident, independent and impartial court, and there can be no fair trail without those qualities,' he said.

"'The special court in Iraq was created by the Iraqi governing council, which is nothing more than a creation of the US military occupation and has no authority in law as a criminal court,' he said."

It's Still Christmas!

No, it can't be Christmas every day. But, according to the Christian calendar, we're still in the Christmas season. Joseph Loconte, religious scholar at the Heritage Foundation, has a fascinating little essay on how both liberals and conservatives have always been eager to enlist the man born in the manger for their causes:

"Even today, nearly everyone wants Jesus on his side of an argument. But the babe in the manger, the man worshipped as Deity by millions, goes his own way - and bids that we follow."

By the way, this will be the last blog entry for 2004--best wishes to all for a happy new year. See you in 2005.

What Powell Should Have Said

You'd think that when a natural disaster of epic proportions ravages a region and kills around 60,000 people, U.N. officials would have better things to do than use the horror to damn the United States. But you'd be wrong.

Not surprisingly, it was a U.N. official, Jan Egeland, Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, who has been foremost in the attack on the U.S. Egeland seized on the tragedy to call the U.S.'s relief allocation "stingy."

Secretary of State Colin Powell responded that the United States "has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world." Powell needed to express more outrage with Egeland. What should he have said? An editorial in the New York Post has sage (if belated) advice for the secretary:

Rather than simply defending America's record, however, Powell might have more effectively suggested that if Egeland is searching for some serious money, he should simply pass the hat among his fellow U.N. officials.
What we should be lamenting in not false accusations of U.S. stinginess, but red tape that apparently makes it hard for international aid to get where it's needed. Asia News quotes Bishop Kingsley Swampillai of Trincomalee and Batticoloa in Sri Lanka on the subject:

"So far we have not received government aid that would normally be provided in such a situation. We hope it will come soon. 90% of survivors have lost everything of their homes which were constructed along the seaside, so they will be here in the welfare centres for some time. The government must make some plans for relocation."

Bishop Kingsley said much time and paperwork was needed for international aid to reach the area, which it had not done so far. Don't get me wrong-I'm glad that the U.S. upped its contribution. I just wish that some organization less corrupt than the U.N. were in charge. If you'd like to help privately, Beliefnet provides a list of organizations accepting donations to help tsunami victims.

Speaking of good deeds, I talked to somebody who's going to visit wounded soldiers at Walter Read, and he was told that there are two things that they really appreciate: long distance calling cards and gift certificates for Subway and other restaurants that have outlets inside the hospital. These might make nice gifts for anybody who wants to do something for those who have done so much.

Camping in Eternity

For those who, like me, are fans of the obituary as an art form, the death of Susan Sontag, the wrong-thinking public intellectual, should keep us busy for days. From the Sartre-quoting Le Monde to the New York Times ("Social Critic with Verve"), Sontag's obituaries have been predictably hagiographical.

While her celebrated and long-ago essay on camp may have been fairly harmless, her overall influence on American intellectual life was, as Martha Stewart might put it, not a good thing. Charlotte Allen of the Independent Women's Forum notes:

She was almost single-handedly responsible for all the bad intellectual fads that came out of the 1960s and are still with us: pornography as high art; "camp" as something more significant than the gay subculture's fondness for Judy Garland; the tiresomely 'ironic' stances on everything that are now de rigeur among artists and academics. From Jonanthan Franzen to Al Franken--they're all Sontag's moral children. Worst of all--and very much alive--is the Sontag-generated notion that America is the most fearsome tyranny on the face of the earth and that anyone who would seek to destroy America, from Fidel Castro with his Soviet-supplied missiles to the terrorists who plowed the planes into the World Trade Center towers, deserves a hero's medal.
Writing in the New Criterion, Roger Kimball--my favorite public intellectual--has this to say:
Never mind that a lot of [Sontag's work] was literally nonsense: it was nevertheless irresistible nonsense. It somehow didn't matter, for example, that [Sontag's] whole notion of 'an erotics of art' was ridiculous. Everyone likes sex, and talking about 'erotics' seems so much sexier than talking about 'sex'; and of course everyone likes art: How was it that no one had thought of putting them together in this clever way before? Who would bother with something so boring as mere 'interpretation'--which, Sontag had suggested, was these days 'reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling,' 'the revenge of the intellect upon art'--when we could have (or pretend to have) an erotics instead?
Kimball quotes from "Susie Creamcheese Makes Love Not War," a hilarious parody of Sontag by Marvin Mudrick, who pointed out that Sontag was...
...a critic whose every half-baked idea is a reject or thrift-shop markdown from the pastry cooks of post-World War II French intellectualism. . . . [W]hat matters [to her] isn't truth or sincerity or consistency or reality; what matters is 'style' or getting away with it.
Kimball continues:
Mudrick is especially good on Sontag's use of the word 'exemplary': 'Barthes's ideas have an exemplary coherence'; 'Some lives are exemplary, others not'; Rimbaud and Duchamp made 'exemplary renunciations' in giving up art for, respectively, gun-running and chess; 'Silence exists as a decision--in the exemplary suicide of the artist . . .'; etc. Dilating on Sontag's effusions about silence-'the silence of eternity prepares for a thought beyond thought, which must appear from the perspective of traditional thinking . . . as no thought at all'--Mudrick usefully points out the similarity between Sontag and that other sage of silence, Kahlil Gibran: 'Has silence or talk about it,' Mudrick asks, 'ever anywhere else been so very . . . exemplary?'
What Osama Fears

The increase in vicious attacks by "insurgents" in Iraq shows that they know something American intellectuals don't know: Successful elections could mean the beginning of the end for them. As Ralph Peters notes:
Monday's message from Osama bin Laden told us what he fears: a vote.

Condemning any Iraqi who goes to the polls as an infidel, the terror master hopes to derail the elections. He knows that every ballot cast is a defeat.

Anyone who dismisses the importance of the upcoming Iraqi elections need only listen to Monsieur bin Laden's urgent plea for a boycott. Osama praised the atrocities of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a hands-on executioner, and welcomed his collaboration in efforts to block the balloting.

Islamic terrorists distrust the common people. They dread the strength of those who might think for themselves. Convinced that men and women must be governed fiercely from above, the terrorists are the gory religious incarnation of thousands of years of tyranny. Their god is a savage dictator in the clouds.

But Is It Kosher?

Activists from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have gone undercover in a kosher slaughtering house. The ensuing video has given several rabbis second thoughts about one establishment called Agriprocessors:

After watching the video, which PETA posted online, some rabbis have concluded that the animals at Agriprocessors suffer unnecessarily--and have declared the meat unfit.

'The animals appear to be in agony,' Rabbi Joel Rembaum recently wrote his congregation at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles. 'The meat that comes from there is not kosher.'

He was shocked, he wrote, by the sight of animals with gashed necks thrashing on a bloody floor for a minute or longer. He also rejected as unacceptably cruel the equipment the plant uses: a revolving metal drum that turns the cattle upside down, baring their necks for the cut, and then dumps them out seconds later on the concrete. An Age-Old Question

Stuck in airports yesterday, I marveled at the inadequacy of televised reports on the devastation in Asia. One asked: How is the Bush administration responding? Even a few print pieces on how tectonic plates work seemed insufficient in the face of such suffering and horror. It is difficult to fit such a primeval event into the normal format for "the story."

"All of this takes our mind away from today's comforts and technologies and gives us a glimpse of the world as it was centuries, if not millennia, ago," writes Carlo Stagnaro, who works for a Turin-based free market think tank. "Namely, hostile: every single moment of the human adventure on Earth is part of a struggle between man and (mother) nature. Every step forward in our history has moved us toward a more humanized world: cold has been defeated by fire; difficulty to travel has been overcome by the wheel; food scarcity has been tackled by agriculture; the need for energy mitigated by the harnessing of fuel."

Stagnaro does have an agenda, but, since his remarks are original and worthy of debate, here is another nugget:

"Whatever the Gaia worshippers believe, nature is not a man's friend. By their stewardship over the environment, humans make it ordered and beautiful; natural forces can be a wellspring of life; but if they are not harnessed or controlled, they can bring about destruction and ugliness -- as they did in half a dozen countries on Monday. ...

"The countries that were struck by the tsunami are looking for a future, that may come only thanks to the free market. Foreign aid may help, but that's not the key. The key is the creation of wealth in order to make those places even more pleasant than how they used to be before the tragedy. Everything has to be reconstructed, brick after brick -- no matter if bricks and cement are politically incorrect."

William Rees-Mogg also saw mankind being humbled by awesome power of nature, but he noted a certain terrible irony: "If a million people have had their homes damaged or destroyed in Sri Lanka, there will be another million on the coast of India and more again in Thailand and Indonesia, perhaps in the Maldives as well. They will get some aid, but nothing like enough to make good their probable losses. The proud have had a lesson, but at the expense of the humble people of the earth. Nature can be a brutal moralist."

Amy Welborn noticed this intellectual challenge to Christians posed by the tsunamis--it comes from Rob Vischer on a website devoted to the development of Catholic legal theory:

"It seems to me that if we want a moral anthropology rooted in the Incarnation to be taken seriously, we must try to offer an explanation of a world in which tsunamis rip children from their mothers' arms. This is an age-old question, but it must lie at the heart of any effort to engage a culture made skeptical of our 'Catholic legal theory' project, at least in part, by pervasive human suffering seemingly caused by the God we embrace."

A False Rap for Israel?

Catholic World News is reporting that L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper, is criticizing the Israeli Army's response to the disaster:

"Calling for 'a radical and dramatic change of perspective' among people 'too often preoccupied with making war, L'Osservatore Romano singled out Israeli military leaders for declining a request for emergency medical help. The Vatican paper observed that in what "should be a time for unconditional solidarity," some world leaders seem incapable of escaping a 'small-minded approach that restricts their horizons.'"

But the Israeli's may be getting a bum rap from the Vatican. Extreme Catholic, a blogger, contends (on Catholic World News):

"I just did a Google News Search of 'Sri Lanka Israel' and every news source from the BBC, to Indian, to American, all these news sources report that, on the contrary, Sri Lanka rejected the Israeli offer of aid because of its military composition. No news source other than LOR reports a denial by Israel of a request for assistance. According to the BBC: "Instead, a smaller team will escort a convoy carrying emergency supplies, Israeli officials said."

Since When Was Closing a Theater Free Speech?

Novelist Salman Rushdie, who knows a thing or two about the West's tradition of free speech, is outraged that violent protests by Sikhs closed down a repertory theater production in Birmingham, England:

"Mr. Rushdie, 57, speaking at his London home, said: 'It has been horrifying to see the response. It is pretty terrible to hear government ministers expressing approval of the ban and failing to condemn the violence, when they should be supporting freedom of expression.' "His outburst was sparked by the refusal of Fiona Mactaggart, the home office minister, to offer support for either the theatre or the author following protests by a violent mob last weekend. Sikh groups organised the demonstrations because part of the play, which involves scenes of rape and murder, takes place in a temple, or gudwara.

"'The minister is sending entirely the wrong message,' Mr Rushdie said. 'It should be quite clear that, in this country, it is the liberty of any artist to express their view of their own society and their own community. Frankly, bookshops and theatres are full of things that would upset an interest group."

But of course the West is so afraid of the East and so lacking in confidence of its own traditions that it is not surprising that Mactaggart caved. As the target of a death threat by Iranian clerics, enraged by his portrayal of Islam in the novel "The Satanic Verses," Rushdie probably appreciates Western values a heck of a lot more than Mactaggart does.

The Hookies

New York Times columnist David Brooks is doling out Hookies--named after public intellectual Sidney Hook--for the best essays of the year. Not surprisingly, several Hookies dealt with the contemporary conflict between East and West.

Here's one Hookie winner:

"When Islam Breaks Down, by Theodore Dalrymple. City Journal. A British prison doctor analyzes radical Islam. A typical passage: 'Their problem, and ours, is that they want the power that free inquiry confers, without either the free inquiry or the philosophy and institutions that guarantee that free inquiry. They are faced with a dilemma: either they can abandon their cherished religion, or they can remain forever in the rear of human technical advance. Neither alternative is very appealing; and the tension between their desire for power and success in the modern world on the one hand, and their desire not to abandon their religion on the other, is resolvable for some only by exploding themselves as bombs."

The Reason for the Season

"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, be hold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
--The gospel according to Luke, beginning at the second chapter...

"Training for Eternity"

It's so hard to remember what really matters when the going gets rough. There could be fewer places where it gets rougher than in Iraq. "Training for Eternity" is the blog of a chaplain at Mosul who somehow manages to remember what is important in the in the most desperate of circumstances.

Instapundit and Belmont Club have both quoted from the chaplain. Here's what Insta cited:

The enemy chose the weakest point he could find to attack; exploited the known limitations of the American response; and understood that he was to all intents and purposes exempted from the condemnation attendant to attacking the wounded and medical personnel. The chaplain and the medical personnel knew this and did not mill around expecting the Geneva Convention to protect them from those who have never heard of it, except as it applies to their own convenience. ...

But the enemy ability to exploit the limits of American response and attack medical personnel with public relations impunity are examples of military advantages that arise from political restraints. To the extent the blogosphere can dispel the propaganda cover willingly provided by the Left, people on the home front can help the soldiers in the field. It is necessary to link the war criminal behavior of the enemy with the studied blindness of 'sophisticates' towards their most heinous crimes. They are twinned; with the former made possible by the latter. The Daily Telegraph describes how some European agencies actually refuse to look at mass grave sites to avoid being party to the punishment of war criminals." This is what made me read the chaplain's blog--and it's a great and relevant observation. But I hope you'll go into the blog and read about the chaplain's ministering to the wounded and dying. This part doesn't lend itself to snippet quotes.

A Too Hot Tip for the AP?

"Conservative bloggers tar an AP photojournalist with complicity in Sunday's street execution in Baghdad--another cheap shot at the 'left-wing' media," opines Salon.

Belmont Club (which is terrific on what's going on in Iraq) responds:

"The photo itself raises more questions than any conservative blogger ever could. It shows traffic backed up behind the killers, afraid to proceed further. The attack, according to the Associated Press's own account was carried out by "about 30 armed insurgents, hurling hand grenades and firing guns", but the photograph itself is taken from a fairly elevated position, as from a standing person."

"It was the surely the most amazing of coincidences that placed an Associated Press photographer in a position to openly photograph an execution, where we are reliably informed, no less than 30 armed men were firing guns and hurling hand grenades. ..."

(Salon includes a picture of the photo in question.)

Religion without Rules

Loose Canon has never understood religion that one makes up oneself. This piece on pagans in a London weekly is very confusing to her:

"So, can a modern pagan just pick any god to worship? I asked. Egyptian? Roman? African? Are there any rules? Steve put his hands self-consciously under the table, 'No rules,' he said. 'Being a pagan is about being free from institutional rules. And the gods? Once you start seeking they choose you, really. Everyone has their own path, but we all celebrate the same festivals: the summer and winter solstices, spring and autumn equinoxes and four other festivals: Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasad.'"

Were Mary and Joseph in a Relationship?

That's the headline of a piece by Peter Toon. Seems they weren't:

"One thing about a modern 'relationship' is that it is freely entered into and it can be freely dissolved by one party alone or by joint agreement of all parties involved. Thus "relationship" is a word that particularly fits well into modern western culture where individual rights and freedom are so much prized and people are on the move.

"So were Mary and Joseph in a 'relationship'? No! No! and No!...We first hear of them as being betrothed..."

The Rev. Toon is author of "The End of Liberal Theology: Contemporary Challenges to Evangelical Orthodoxy."

Were Lucrezia and Alexander in a Relationship?

Lucrezia Borgia, of course, was in lots of relationships. Her most notorious was with her papa, Pope Alexander. But now Sarah Bradford, the celebrated English biographer, is claiming in a new book, "Lucrezia Borgia, Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy", that history's most notorious loose woman did not, in fact, have an affair with not so dear old dad.

According to Bradford, it was all a nasty canard started by Giovanni Sforza, to whom the pope married Lucrezia and then quickly dissolved the union when it was no longer helpful to the papal pop.

From a review by Andrea Hoag:

"[Alexander's] reason for the church-sanctioned split? He claimed Lucrezia's husband was impotent. Eager to defend his sexual prowess, the spurned Sforza was the man responsible for starting the Borgia incest rumors; he insisted that the real motive behind the divorce was the lusty pontiff's desire to keep Lucrezia all to himself.

"Bradford is quick to point out that there's little concrete evidence to support this claim, but still, the biographer proves she can dish with the best of them when necessary. Even as she's denying some of the more salacious rumors clinging to Lucrezia's legend, she faithfully includes the deliciously slanderous bits she stumbled across in her research. ..."

A Christmas Memory

Christmas is one of those times when we see all around us people who'll have a hard time that day.

Peggy Noonan recalled a happy Christmas memory:

"Is there a moral to this memory? What it taught me, what I remember all these years later, is that everyone likes gifts but no one is more affected by their power than children. They are susceptible to wonder. A child can look at a red toy car in the red-green glow of Christmas tree lights and imagine an entire lifetime. A child can play with a new doll and smell good things being cooked and hear sweet music and it can make that child imagine that life is good, which gives her a template for good, a category for good; it helps her know good exists. This knowledge comes in handy in life; those who do not receive it, one way or another, are sadder than those who do...."

A Christmas in Wartime

Such a mixture of despair and hope this Christmas. NBC's Brian Williams signed off movingly last night, noting that the unit that suffered so many deaths in the attack in a Mosul mess tent had once been Patrick Henry's. George Washington also commanded it. The soldiers in Mosul are the latest to give their lives for the freedom of others. If we can just keep the Iraqi elections on track...

The New York Daily News brilliantly sums up the situation in Iraq in an editorial headlined "Darkest Before the Dawn of Freedom:"

"[N]ow death rains down on a packed Mosul military mess tent, four days before Christmas, the single deadliest attack suffered by American troops since the war began 21 months ago.

"This comes just days after assassins so brazen they didn't even bother to mask themselves stopped a car on a busy Baghdad street in broad daylight, dragged out three Iraqi election workers and summarily executed them for all the world to see. This comes just days after car-bomb blasts efficiently murdered dozens of innocents in Karbala and Najaf.

"It cannot be said that the insurgents' backs have been broken, not yet. Clearly, the bad guys are still in business - and determinedly cranking up the heat as Election Day approaches for Iraqis.

"Because that's what will be the beginning of the end of them. When elections come off as scheduled Jan. 30 - and both Baghdad and Washington vow that they will not be derailed by this last-minute spasm of terrorist violence - the outlaws will have lost their gangster game, which is to strike raw fear into the hearts of freedom-seeking Iraqis and of the allies who are fighting to bring that freedom to a long-tortured land."

Writing on Tech Central Station, Stephen Schwartz, a convert to Islam (and fast becoming one of Loose Canon's favorite pundits), has this to say about the glad tidings from Iraq (the ones you rarely see in the newspapers):

"Terrorism continues in Iraq and monopolizes headlines. But there is much more to be said about the situation in that country, and it has to do with much more than the restoration of public services and infrastructure. Perhaps the biggest story left unreported in the West is the extraordinary exuberance about the Iraqi election, set for January 30, among Iraqi Shias.

"I know about this because I spend a great deal of time talking to Iraqi Shia religious leaders, some of whom commute back and forth between Iraq and the U.S. The effervescence among them must be experienced to be believed. One prominent Shia in the U.S. told me, 'I call the president Imam Bush.' (In Shia Islam, the imams are the chief religious guides throughout the history of the sect.) 'He is a believer in God, he is just, and I believe he will keep his promise to hold a fair election on January 30,' my interlocutor said. 'He liberated Kerbala and Najaf [the Shia holy cities]. He has done more for Shias than anybody else in history.'"

I quote this, knowing that it will feed the unfortunate fears of Swami's pals that theocracy is imminent on these shores.

In Memoriam

Richard Doerflinger is head of the pro-life office in the United States Catholic Conference. He is also the father of Thomas Doerflinger, who died earlier this year in Iraq, and whose short span said something very important about the meaning of life.

Here is how Austin and Cathy Cleaver Ruse remember Thomas Doerflinger in the National Catholic Register:

"On Nov. 11 Thomas Doerflinger jumped out of that vehicle [a Stryker armored personnel carrier] in a hostile town called Mosul. American and Iraqi forces had invaded the terrorist stronghold of Fallujah, the place of beheadings south of Baghdad. Other terrorists took this opportunity to invade Mosul's police stations which were inadequately guarded by Iraqi security forces that promptly ran away.

"These would be Thomas Doerflinger's last moments on earth.

"His high school teacher said he did not understand why a young man with such a vibrant intellect chose the Army instead of college. His girlfriend tried to talk him out of it. After the funeral, a woman was overheard saying, 'What a wasted life.'

"But when Thomas Doerflinger was confirmed in the Catholic Church, he took the name Maximilian Kolbe. No one takes the name of Kolbe just because he founded the Knights of the Immaculata. Or because he started what became the largest religious magazine in Poland. Anyone who takes Kolbe's name does so because at a time in the world when courage mattered most, Kolbe did not hesitate. He offered himself up to the Auschwitz starvation bunker in exchange for a man with a family. You take the name of Kolbe because you hold self-sacrifice and the love of fellow man in the highest regard."

You Can Never Find Neverland

If you're looking for a good holiday movie, you can't beat "Finding Neverland," the story of J. M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) and how his friendship with Sylvia Llewellyn-Davies (Kate Winslet), a widow, and her brood of fatherless boys inspired him to create Peter Pan. Julie Christie is wonderful as Mrs. Llewellyn-Davies' mother, and there's a great Newfoundland dog who plays the great Newfoundland dog who inspired Nana in Peter Pan.

There was one thing that puzzled me about the play: Why was Barrie's friendship with the boys so innocent, while other adult friendships with lost boys are seen as evil?

The movie critic James Bowman addressed the issue:

"One problem with the otherwise excellent Finding Neverland is its title. Perhaps its Swiss director, Marc Forster, didn't realize that many Americans would think the movie had something to do with Michael Jackson and so miss what is in fact a touching little biographical essay about the author of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie, marvelously played by Johnny Depp, and his relationship with the Llewelyn-Davies family--in particular a boy named Peter (Freddy Highmore). But in a way it does have to do with Michael Jackson too. For it is important that Neverland mean Never. It is by definition a place removed from reality and the film-makers, including David Magee who adapted a play by Allan Knee, sometimes show signs of repeating Mr Jackson's mistake in trying to make it really exist."

How Did You Become Such a Strong Woman?

Wanna be Catholic and still get good press? That's easy! Be a pro-abortion nun...Here's a quote from a story on a pro-abortion Sister of Mercy, who will be buried by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton:

"She had just made national headlines by deciding to leave the Sisters of Mercy, under pressure from Rome, rather than resign her job directing the state's Department of Social Services. The pope could not accept that in her position she administered the funding of abortions for poor women.

"I undertook to profile Agnes, to explain how she became such a strong woman. I spent weeks talking with friends and enemies. I watched her lead meetings and deliver impassioned speeches about justice for the poor to affluent, ambivalent audiences."

When Does a Fetus Become a Baby?

Loose Canon couldn't help noticing the interesting way the words fetus and baby were used in the horrific story of Bobbie Jo Stinnett's child being ripped from her womb.

Rich Lowery of National Review also noticed it:

"During the coverage of the crime, the status of the Bobbie Jo Stinnett's unborn girl steadily changed. All at once on AOL News during the weekend, there were headlines tracking events in the case: 'Woman Slain, Fetus Stolen'; 'Woman Arrested, Baby Returned in Bizarre Murder'; 'Infant in Good Health.' Note how a 'fetus' -- something for which American law and culture has very little respect -- was somehow instantly transformed into a 'baby' and 'infant' -- for which we have the highest respect. By what strange alchemy does that happen?"


Loose Canon has tried her best to come up with Advent meditations to help usher in the Christmas season--and, I must say, it took the Swami to hit upon the perfect one. Do flip to Swami to read the Magnicat, the words ascribed to the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation. It's one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture, the perfect hymn to a God who "hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts" and who "hath filled the hungry with good things." (If you care to read the more antiquated translation of the Magnificat that I love so much, here it is--just scroll down a bit.)

Hand Me a Shovel--I Want to Dig Deeper

You'd have thought that even William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights would know that sometimes it's good to just hush up. But no. He admits that saying Hollywood is "controlled" by secular Jews on a show with Rabbi Shumley Boteach was not quite right. But then he puts the other foot in his mouth:

"Beliefnet readers should know that while [Rabbi Shumbley] Boteach has been railing against me, I have been tagged as 'a neocon plant inside the Catholic right.' And do you know who did the planting? Jews."

Here's his concluding bon mot:

"My hope is that Rabbi Boteach will now take the opportunity to apologize to Jennifer Giroux, director of Women Influencing the Nation, for calling her an 'ignorant peasant' on that same MSNBC show. That's no way to treat a lady."

Speaking of the ladies...has Donohue apologized publicly for calling the woman who received a $30,000 settlement because of former Crisis magazine editor and former Bush adviser Deal Hudson's horrific sexual misconduct towards her a drunk? Donohue posted this ungallant characterization of the wronged woman on his website but quickly removed it after criticism from, among others, Loose Canon.

Just asking...

Caught Spinning?

A number of newspapers and websites from around the world are reporting that 44% of Americans would welcome the abridgement of the civil rights of Muslims in the United States. The number comes from a poll conducted by Cornell University.

Volokh Conspiracy, the respected legal site, quotes this summary of the Cornell study from the Associated Press:

"Nearly half of all Americans surveyed said they think the US government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim Americans, according to a nationwide poll."

Posting on Volokh, Orin Kerr, a former Justice Department lawyer, thinks that these "extremely disturbing figures" may be a matter of press spin:

"[T]here is something important that the press reports overlook: the 44% of people polled did not actually say that they wanted to curtail the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. Rather, 44% of people reported views that the Cornell University pollsters themselves categorize as being support for the curtailment of the civil liberties of Muslim Americans.

"I found the report on the poll here. It turns out that the pollsters asked people to agree or disagree with four statements:

1) Muslim civic and volunteer organizations should be infiltrated by undercover law enforcement agents to keep watch on their activities and fundraising.

2) U.S. government agencies should profile citizens as potential threats based on being Muslim or having Middle Eastern heritage.

3) Mosques should be closely monitored and surveilled by U.S. law enforcement agencies.

4) All Muslim Americans should be required to register their whereabouts with the federal government." Kerr notes that for each of these statements, between 20 and 30 percent of the subjects agreed. Kerr further notes that overall, the study reports, 29% of the subjects agreed with 2 or more of these statements, and 15% agreed with one of them.

He asks:

"I don't want to be nitpicky, but am I right in thinking that a certain amount of spin is involved in how this poll is being reported? The pollsters made a judgment call that if you agree with any one of these statements, you are in favor of curtailing the civil liberties of Muslim Americans...."

I don't want to be an ogre, but...

You can't have it both ways. You can't complain that we didn't have the human intelligence to prevent 9/11 and then shrink from what's required. Do I hope that undercover agents have infiltrated radical mosques and fund raising organizations? You bet I do. On the other hand, the notion of asking ordinary Muslim citizens to register appalls me. That's an unsettling idea.

They Gave All Their Time

Loose Canon belongs to the oh 36% or so of those who want Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to remain in office, and I hate to see what Wes Pruden of the Washington Times calls the "gaffe patrol" on his case. I'm glad that, as John Podhoretz notes, Bush doesn't play the media game and therefore won't give them Rummy's scalp.

That said, the news that Rumsfeld used an autopen to sign letters to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq just takes your breath away-however Rumsfeld values his time, they gave more of theirs. They gave up the time it takes to watch their children grow up or to start careers or to...well, they all their time on earth.

Keep It Up, Swami--2008 Is Coming

Swami and LC have been dueling about the dueling Nativity covers of Time and Newsweek. Hostilities opened after LC quoted Hugh Hewett's piece:

"Hit pieces like [Newsweek's Jon] Meacham's targeting Christianity have become commonplace in recent years as magazine editors and book publishers have come to understand the size of the market for stories on faith, but find themselves staffed almost exclusively with skeptics of one degree or another--usually extreme skeptics."

Masochists might want to reread the whole Swami/Loose Canon exchange, but here is his latest volley:

"As for Time and Newsweek, who but a Religious Nutcase would try and power-wedge the ultimate meaning of Christ into some seasonal filler of an article about religion in a weekly newsmagazine? Let's have a little sense of proportion, please! Or do you want articles like 'Jesus is My Pit Crew' in Car & Driver?"

I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that the Religious Nutcase may be me. Did I say anything about "power-wedging" the ultimate meaning of Christmas into "some seasonal filler" in a magazine? No, I merely quoted--and agree with--Hewett's notion that the supposedly educated scribes in the top magazines are not equipped to present a balanced piece on the Nativity.

There was a time when those who held Swami's views intimidated the rest of us and made us feel we had dressed in all the wrong ideas. No longer. After the post-election paroxysms of Swami & Co., we're more amused than anything else.

The Year of "The Passion"

Loose Canon was fascinated by Frank Rich's piece on "The Passion of the Christ" in yesterday's New York Times.

Much of the column was a rant against the "values voters" who dared to reelect George W. Bush. There was also a rant against the unfortunate remarks made by William Donohue, the loudmouth president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. (It's rare that LC and Frank Rich, who epitomizes the blue state values voter, agree on anything, but I also criticized Donohue's remarks.)

But along with the blue bile, Rich had this to say:

"As we close the books on 2004," he wrote, "and not a moment too soon, it's clear that, as far as the culture goes, this year belonged to Mel Gibson's mammoth hit. Its prurient and interminable wallow in the Crucifixion, to the point where Jesus' actual teachings become mere passing footnotes to the sumptuously depicted mutilation of his flesh, is as representative of our time as 'Godspell' was of terminal-stage hippiedom 30 years ago. The Gibson conflation of religion with violence reflects the universal order of the day - whether the verbal fisticuffs of the culture war within America, as exemplified by Mr. Donohue's rant on national television or, far more lethally, the savagery of the actual war that radical Islam brought to our doorstep on 9/11."

Leaving aside Mr. Donohue (and how I wish we could), Mr. Rich has hit on something profound: It's not the hippie Jesus, the young carpenter with lots of neat things to say, that offends, but the Christ who suffered mutilation and died a horrible death in a cosmic drama that redeems us that is so offensive. It's always been this way, and Mr. Rich's recoil from the Christ who died is both modern and timeless.

If You're So Smart, Why Don't You Work for Newsweek?

With regard to my link to Hugh Hewett's critique of Newsweek's cover story/hit piece on the Nativity, Swami asks: "LC and her pals want nice, tidy, second-rate newspapers and magazines that have all the certainty of Fox News. In recent years, they've had great success in getting their way. But I have to wonder: Why are they always complaining? If they're so incredibly talented, why don't they try to get jobs at Time and Newsweek? I can't believe, if their talents are superior, that their beliefs will get in the way."

Get it? If you don't work for some magazine in Swami's milieu, you're too stupid to have opinions that matter. My passive aggressive holiday wish for Swami this year is that he will come to recognize that there are people who don't work for Time and Newsweek who might nevertheless have something to say. In other words, I'm asking for a miracle.

Can You Put a Lump of Coal in a Louis Vuitton?

Swami isn't the only person who has let snobbery show this holiday season. Here's how James Cramer sums up the difference between red and blue state folks in New York magazine:

"The average blue-state voter drives a Lexus or a Beemer, fancies a vacation to Paris or the Amalfi Coast, and splurges for Hermès ties, Thomas Pink shirts, Chanel perfumes, and Louis Vuitton luggage. The average red-state voter drives a Chevy or a Ford, takes trips to Disney World or the Indianapolis 500, and shops at Wal-Mart for Levi's, Russell fleecewear, and American Tourister suitcases. That's why it should be no surprise to anyone that the ever politically motivated Bush administration tacitly condones the dollar's astonishing free fall against the euro and the yen. A strong dollar subsidizes the decadent tastes of the blues, and a weak dollar doesn't affect the lifestyles of the reds."

Iraq: Another Voice

The great event of 2004 was the breaking of the mainstream media's monopoly on what we get to read. Bloggers accomplished this feat. Maybe it's happening elsewhere, too.

Howard Kurtz has a piece on Iraqi bloggers in today's Washington Post:

"[Iraqi blogger] Omar Fadhil says the media are painting far too dark a portrait of Iraq.

"Outsiders 'think there is fighting at every corner, people can't walk the streets, the economy is devastated and people are starving,' he says. 'No one is showing the good news coming from Iraq. That's usually ignored. Things are difficult, but life is going on.'"

Happy Virtuemas!

Gee, it sounds like a Christmas card from Robespierre:

Washington Times columnist Diana West is Jewish but she still doesn't get the war on Christmas:

Writes West:

"I'd like to open today's sermon, I mean column, with a newsflash out of Vatican City, courtesy Reuters: 'Pope John Paul, battling to keep Christ in Christmas, has defended nativity scenes that are being stripped from holiday celebrations in some Italian schools to avoid offending non-Christians.'

"This could be a farcical joke, but the trite wire copy is pathetically true. For starters, it seems that a school in Como has edited out the name 'Gesu' (Jesus) and replaced it with the word 'virtu' (virtue) in its choir's renditions of Christmas hymns. Which rhymes and everything, but falls flat. Also, the province of Vicenza has canceled its annual contest for the best nativity scene in the schools of the province. Then there's the elementary school in the northern Italian city of Treviso that has decided to nix its traditional Christmas pageant depicting the birth of Christ in order to present a dramatic, um, Virtumas presentation of the adventures of Little Red Riding Hood."

The E-Pistles

Loose Canon wants to thank everybody who replied to my question about spirituality. I'd wanted to know if being spiritual implies belief in another reality or simply a kind of peace.

Some find their spirituality through belief in a spiritual being, while others find ways of being spiritual as atheists. One of my favorites was this one: "Us spiritual folks, we have numerous approaches to belief in 'the other side, if you will," wrote one correspondent. "Some focus on angels, or spirit guides, or simply accept that our true form is the soul and that it is never destroyed. The study of near death experiences is often some of the most inspirational reading for us. In essence, that other reality is the true reality from whence we came and to which we return. This earthly life is a school, an incubator, a soul accelerator. We are spirits passing through."

"As an atheist, I consider myself spiritual in that I am seeking truth, peace, compassion and wisdom. I don't feel I have to believe in supernatural beings in order to do that," wrote another.

I do hope I'll be forgiven if I say that so many of the responses reflected a hope and longing that is appropriate for the time of year known as Advent. Many of the replies were moving and eloquent. Again, thanks.

No Wonder They Called Him That

As Advent moves towards Christmas, I do want to offer a few Christmas thoughts from great Christian thinkers this week. I've always loved St. John Chrysostom, a doctor of the Church who lived from 347 to 407. Chrysostom means "silver-tongued."

Here's a bit from a Christmas sermon St. Chrysostom preached more than a thousand years ago:

"What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness."

Classical Anglican Net News, a delightful site, has more Advent readings.

A Tiny Baby

Of course, it isn't just great preachers like St. Chrysostom who help us understand the mighty meaning of Christmas. Gerald O'Collins, a Jesuit writer, has a wonderful piece in The Tablet, the UK Catholic magazine, on how Christmas carols teach us the tenets of the faith.

In the piece, O'Collins talks about the lovely Once in Royal David's City (you can listen to it if you have speakers), a hymn for children:

"...The Son of God did not leap down on the human scene as a fierce, adult warrior. Inspired by love, he came to reveal himself as a tiny baby...."

Many thanks to Amy Welborn, another O'Collins fan, for spotting this piece.

Let's Buy This Church and Turn It Into a Gay Bar

Loose Canon does something very evil: She watches mindless TV to relax. To avoid seeing my red state beliefs mocked, I must frequently switch channels.

"Cold Case," for example, the CBS series featuring a female detective with a good haircut who hunts down culprits from years gone by, looks perfect for holding one's attention. But I always switch when I sense that the murderer will turn out to be a mean nun or an anti-abortion fanatic.

Turns out that I'm not just being a curmudgeon: A piece in the Washington Times headlined "Reality TV: It Slams Religion" reports that "television's depictions of religion are 'overwhelmingly' negative, despite 90 percent of the American public professing a belief in God, according to a study released yesterday by the Parents Television Council."

The study shows that NBC "leads the pack as the most anti-religious network." Surprisingly, dear old Fox comes in second, followed by WB, ABC, UPN and CBS. The study was of 2,385 hours of prime-time programming during a 12-month period that began in September 2003. And it took more that a character uttering a few damns to make it onto the anti-religion list: "To be counted as negative in the study, religion had to be treated in a derogatory manner or treated without respect in a specific instance.

"Several incidents were cited, such as a Dec. 17 episode of Fox's 'That '70s Show' that referred to a couple having sex next to a manger scene; an Aug. 5 episode of NBC's 'Last Comic Standing' that referred to Catholicism as a religion that awards a 'get-out-of-hell-free card' to anyone but pedophile priests; and a dialogue in a Feb. 10 episode of NBC's 'Will and Grace' in which sidekick Karen tells lead character Grace, 'Let's go buy that historic church and turn it into a gay bar.'"

There's a reason why I rely so on my remote.

Swami's Crusade

Swami riddles me an intriguing question: "Why did it take a soldier confronting Rumsfeld to get the government to fast-track the armoring of Humvees?"

Swami, why did it take an out-to-get Rummy reporter from the Chattanooga Times to put the question in the soldier's mouth? Here's National Review on the encounter:

"[The reply to the soldier's question] that has most angered Rumsfeld's detractors is his statement that you go to war with the Army you have. That may have been too frank in such a forum, but it was true. We went into Iraq with a military not yet fully transformed to adjust to 21st-century reality, which turned out to include an insurgency launched in a harsh urban environment. If Rumsfeld's hawkish critics, some of whom were banging the drums for the Iraq war for years, thought that war could be responsibly fought only with an Army equipped with 8,000 up-armored Humvees, they had adequate time to make that known - or at least lessen their enthusiasm for the enterprise accordingly. Of course, they didn't."

LC has been mightily impressed with Swami's crusade, if you'll pardon the expression, to get armor for the troops and hopes that this is not just a passive aggressive way to go after Rumsfeld.

Senators John McCain and Chuck Hagel are also joining their voices in the hue and cry against Rumsfeld:

"The McCain-Hagel Caucus has spoken," notes National Review. "It has no confidence in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Senator John McCain has said so explicitly, while Senator Chuck Hagel has only strongly hinted at it. Both senators have 2008 aspirations, and Republican-primary voters would do well to take early note of how they behave during a budding media frenzy directed at one of the Bush administration's key players.

"The get-Rumsfeld crowd - mostly Democrats, joined by the McCain-Hagel caucus and a few stray hawks - takes great umbrage at Rumsfeld's answer to a National Guardsman's question about an insufficient number of up-armored Humvees. Hagel intoned, 'those men and women deserved a far better answer from their secretary of Defense than a flippant comment.' But Rumsfeld wasn't being flip. One wonders whether Hagel has even taken the time to read the full transcript of the secretary's remarks. The troops gave Rumsfeld a standing ovation at the end. Is it the position of the secretary's critics that the troops were too stupid to realize they had just been belittled?"

Oh, Brave New World That Has Such Doctors in It...

A recent Washington Post report on couples who opt to choose the sex of their children makes it sound oh so innocent:

"The lab harmlessly removes a single cell from 3-day-old, eight-cell embryos to test them. Only embryos of the desired sex are implanted into the womb. The process is almost infallible for picking sex and has the same overall success rate for producing a baby as standard IVF."

LC is willing to hazard a guess that the procedure is not so harmless for embryos not of the desired sex.

Are You Saved? I Dunno

"One of the unfortunate consequences of growing up in the South is that one is frequently approached by a close to perfect stranger and asked, 'Have you been saved?' That sort of question leaves Catholics, Orthodox, and other traditional Christians a bit perplexed. Certainly, I can't imagine St Peter or St Paul going around asking people that," writes the priest of the Diocese of Arlington, who presides over the charming and insightful Dappled Things blog.

If LC were asked such a question, she would reply, "Golly, how would I know?" Turns out that's not such a bad answer after all. Dappled links to Pontifications, which gives the inside skinny on being saved, from an orthodox Anglican perspective. ("Orthodox Anglican"--now that's a turn of language that's definitely not redundant nowadays!)

The Pontificator uses a Q & A format for this all-important question:

"Can a human being know whether he is presently in a state of grace?

"Answer: Hmmm. Now things start to get more complicated. ..."

The E-Pistles

Beliefnet member thefish has raised an interesting question on the mini-board: "When are some people going to understand that you can be very moral, spiritual, giving, loving, kind...a virtual pillar of society...and practice NO RELIGION AT ALL!"

It seems to me that we do recognize that there are moral people who are pillars of society who practice no religion at all. I can think of numerous people who fall into this category in history and in my circle of acquaintances.

But thefish hints at something I have long wanted to know: Do those who describe themselves as "spiritual" believe in a reality with spiritual beings, or do they consider being spiritual simply a way of being at peace in a world without another reality?

I can't get the answer to this question by googling, but perhaps thefist and others might tell me about this phenomenon.

We're Listening

Loose Canon is thoroughly amused by the spectacle of the Democrats trying to learn to talk about religion. Aren't they commissioning some study on how to bond with us benighted believers?

Peggy Noonan offers the Dems some simple tips on how to speak convincingly about religion:

Stop the war on religious expression in America. Have Terry McAuliffe come forward and announce that the Democratic Party knows that a small group of radicals continue to try to "scrub" such holidays as Christmas from the public square. They do this while citing the Constitution, but the Constitution does not say it is wrong or impolite to say 'Merry Christmas' or illegal to have a crèche in the public square. The Constitution says we have freedom of religion, not from religion. Have Terry McAuliffe announce that from here on in the Democratic Party is on the side of those who want religion in the public square, and the Ten Commandments on the courthouse wall for that matter. Then he should put up a big sign that says 'Merry Christmas' on the sidewalk in front of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters on South Capitol Street. The Democratic Party should put itself on the side of Christmas, and Hanukkah, and the fact of transcendent faith.

This would be taking a stand on an issue that roils a lot of people, and believe me those people don't think conservatives are scrubbing America of Christmas, they think it's liberals; and they don't think it's Republicans, they think it's Democrats. Confound them, Terry! Come forward with a stand. It is the stand that is the salvation, not mysterious words or codes or magic messages.

Do this, Democrats. Announce you will apply pressure to antireligious zealots throughout the country. You have nothing to lose but a silly and culturally unhelpful reputation as the party that is hostile to religious expression. What you could gain is respect and gratitude. Pick up that Christmas tree, Terry, take it outside and put a star on top, stand next to it, yell Merry Christmas and ring a bell. That's a manipulation of symbols that would actually make sense. But the Democrats can't afford to take Peggy's advice--regular voters might approve, but important Democratic constituencies would be offended.

Christian Hits

Loose Canon has posted several items about Time and Newsweek magazine's dueling Nativity covers. The language problem addressed above might be a factor in why these stories didn't appeal to those who actually believe the Incarnation was a Big Deal.

Hugh Hewitt of the Weekly Standard explains: "Hit pieces like [Newsweek managing editor Jon] Meacham's targeting Christianity have become commonplace in recent years as magazine editors and book publishers have come to understand the size of the market for stories on faith, but find themselves staffed almost exclusively with skeptics of one degree or another--usually extreme skeptics."

Postpone = Cancel?

A good observation on the Iraqi elections from Powerlineblog:

"As we've said before, the only people who want the elections postponed are the ones who want them never to take place. The vast majority of Iraqis can't wait to begin exercising their privileges as free citizens. And it's good to see that an overwhelming majority expect the U.S. to stand by its commitment to January elections, rather than giving in to the terrorists and Democrats. They have learned, I guess, that President Bush is a man who says what he means and means what he says. As, thankfully, have we."

When Cardinals Forget

It's amazing how unimpressive so many princes of the Church are. Amy Welborn pointed out this LA Weekly article on Cardinal Roger Mahony's deposition regarding sexual abuse complaints from Catholic lay people:

"Confidential documents and sworn statements by Cardinal Roger Mahony were released last week, ending two years of legal maneuvers to shield 'his eminence' from examination in the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal. The cardinal's testimony, memos and letters offer a rare glimpse into Mahony's formative years as a priest and young bishop in Fresno and Stockton from 1962 to 1985, and reflect on his moral standing as shepherd of 5 million Catholics in Los Angeles and ranking prelate in the United States.

"Mahony emerges as a man of contradictions and memory problems. A man who claims never to have known a priest to have sex before 1968, who struggles to remember steps he took - or did not take - to address a pedophilia crisis of epic proportions. A man whose fitness to lead must now be examined in light of whether he is telling the truth or not."

And this:

"The result is 265 pages of testimony that shows Mahony distancing himself from his own career. 'As I get older, more distant things I can't remember,' he says. Like a crooked screw, his story just doesn't fit, no matter how hard he twists.

(The LA Weekly links to the deposition, excerpts from Mahoney's testimony from a 1998 civil trial, a letter from the cardinal to the Modesto Police about Father Camacho,and a 1984 memo from Cardinal Mahony about Camacho.)

Is Your Wristwatch a Sacrament?

One reason blue state intellectuals can't speak the lingo (see above) is that they regard most religious questions as just too trivial for words. James Carroll goes to Mass at the Paulist Center frequented by John Kerry. After reading Carroll's latest gem, Travis McSherley concluded that Carroll believes that "debate over religion is a trivial matter, as a clock in light of time."

Decide for yourself:

"The clock is a sacrament of the passage of time, a way to note the movement of one day into the next, a method of location in the otherwise uncharted ocean whose two horizons are the past and the future. Mariners are fond of saying, especially when the ship unexpectedly runs aground, that the chart is not the sea; similarly, the clock is not time.

"I propose this image for our new and urgent discussions about religion. In America, a religious divide has suddenly emerged as politically decisive, and in the world, religion is a runaway engine of violence. A fanatic fringe of Islam asserts its doctrine by joining suicide to murder in Allah's name. In Gaza and the West Bank, some hypernationalist religious Jews stake claims to land with God as guarantor -- disastrous consequences to Palestinians and Israel both be damned. Similarly, America's war in Iraq has evolved into a two-sided holy war, even if only one side explicitly defines it as such.

"Meanwhile, mainstream churches waste themselves in conflicts over sexual identity, the new meanings of marriage, and mysteries of the medical frontier -- arguments in which "God's will" is invoked as if sacred texts elucidated the biology of genetics, post-sexual reproduction, open-ended lifespan. The 'religious right' fervently seeks to impose its definitions of the social good on the devout and the indifferent alike. 'Bright' nonbelievers, in turn, match the absolutism of the zealots of faith with absolute rejection.

Nope, he's not learning the language.

Off with Their Life Support!

If you thought Bloody Mary Tudor was scary, wait until you meet England's new Queen Mary: That's how Jasper Gerard hails Baroness Mary Warnock in an admiring piece on the euthanasia-minded baroness and philosopher in the Times:

"She is our philosopher queen. Whenever Britain is in a royal mess over some fiendishly tricky quandary, we beseech Queen Mary for her counsel. ...

"So I head off to ask Mary Warnock for her words of wisdom - and, it turns out, controversy: for not only does she now think assisted suicide should be legal - before she didn't - she also feels the very frail should slink away, like elephants, to die quietly. She reckons doctors, when asked to assist in this, bang on too much about their consciences rather than their patients' interest.

"Oh, and she suggests that if parents want to keep premature babies with unviable lives on life-support machines, they should stump up the cost. Gulp.

"Warnock points out that the sick at the beginning and end of life's cycle often rely on a limited public purse, and if we keep a baby alive on a life-support machine we deny someone else treatment: "Maybe it has to come down to saying, `Okay, they can stay alive but the family will have to pay for it.' Otherwise it will be an awful drain on public resources..

"So we should be more like elephants? `Exactly, they creep off and get out of the way.' And we should show similar bravery? `Absolutely. It used to be much easier to crawl into one's corner and die than it is now because people are always dragging you off to be rescued.' Cue: loud laughter."

Loose Canon's immediate reaction to the Archbishop of York's recent assertion that he would be "hard-pushed to say we are a Christian country" was: Ho hum. So what else is new? But if you read the entire Warnock story you will realize that Britain adrift from its Christian moorings could become a frightening place for the weak or aged.

Maddening Charlottes

Loose Canon has been fascinated by the response to I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe's new novel. I think that the first few chapters are the same dazzling prose we expect from Wolfe. But the reviews aren't that hot. My colleague Charlotte Allen of the Independent Women's Forum thinks she knows why:

"The incomprehension of the elites about what is really going on in the heads of many ordinary Americans explains the torrent of negative reviews written about I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe's satirical new novel about college campus life, which has vaulted into the best-seller lists," writes Charlotte.

"The critics cannot conceive of virginal innocence as something of value or of a culture that seeks to shield its young people from the moral debasement of the larger, media-driven culture -- just as many cannot conceive that Mr. Bush's moral sincerity and religious faith could have appealed to so many voters.

"In the eyes of America's long-secularized upper crust, the sexual revolution was a gale wind of 1960s personal liberation, and virginity is a young girl's burden -- it's called 'inexperience' -- to be sloughed off as early."

The Big Media That Couldn't

Barone less scary than Baroness: It's been a week or so since Loose Canon has remarked on how bad the mainstream media is. So here's a snippet from US News columnist Michael Barone, speaking in a symposium ostensibly about faith and values in the 2004 presidential race: "Twenty-five years ago I had the theory that you could cover a presidential election, fall campaign, from five rooms. If you could gain admittance to the two candidate morning meetings where they decided what message they were going to pitch for that day, and then if you could get access to the three broadcast network meetings where they decided what would go on the 6:30 news, you could learn pretty much all of what Americans were going to learn about the presidential campaign that day. That's where all the big decisions were made. The rest of it was just execution and so forth. Those five rooms were the secret. This campaign you could not cover from 100 rooms.

"We've got a new media landscape out there. And what we've seen is the precipitous decline and, in my view, discrediting of old media, particularly the New York Times and CBS News. They were professional hit men for the Democratic Party, or at least they attempted to be such in the campaign. I have not seen such biased and unfair and hortatory coverage in the press in my 32 years in Washington when I've been close to media people throughout that whole period of time. I think it's genuinely shocking.

"And also, it didn't work. September 8th, Dan Rather presents the Texas Air National Guard records, carefully typed up on Microsoft Word in 1971. (Laughter.) Within 14 hours the blogosphere has exposed this. FreeRepublic.com, PowerLineBlog.com, and LittleGreenFootballs.com have exposed these as fraudulent documents. Rather, 12 days later, admits that he doesn't have full confidence in the documents anymore and says he'd like to "break the story." You know, you want to say, Dan, the story was broken 11 days and 10 hours ago. You're missing the story. That was a blatant attempt to influence the election against George W. Bush. It backfired."

Shroud of Turin: The Dating Game

Speaking of forgeries, it looks like the Shroud of Turin might not be one after all: "The latest item comes from the London-based Journal of Optics, published by the Institute of Physics," Christianity Today reports. "Two scientists from the University of Padua, Giulio Fanti and Roberto Maggiolo, report in the journal's April edition the discovery of a heretofore-undetected reverse image on the shroud. They say the smaller, fainter image on the back of the cloth depicts just the face and hands. And it's a superficial image, adhering only to the outermost fibers, just like the image on the front. `It is extremely difficult to make a fake with these features,' Fanti writes."

The Shroud ran into a spot of trouble in 1988 when carbon dating tests indicated that it was a medieval forgery. Now, however, Raymond Rogers, a retired fellow of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, says the tests used a piece of the shroud that came from a medieval repair job. National Geographic has also proposed that this might have been the case. "It's a case of science vs. science, not faith vs. science," Gary Habermas, a Liberty College professor who has written about the shroud, told CT. Habermas says that the carbon dating tests, unless disproved, remain a powerful obstacle to accepting the Shroud as genuine.

What's It All About, Alfie?

Columnist Richard Cohen of the Washington Post detects a Zeitgeist Shift between the making of the first Alfie, in 1966, starring the incomparable Michael Caine, and the second one that just came out starring Jude Law:

"The second 'Alfie' was obviously made before folks such as me decided that moral values were what made George Bush the winner of this year's presidential contest. Still, very little about making films is an accident--movies cost too much--so I can posit that someone had sensed that the zeitgeist had shifted: Abortion is no longer seen as central to sexual liberation but rather as much more troubling and problematic. Over the years, the so-called right-to-life movement has changed some minds.

"Mine among them, I am quick to say. This is especially the case with late-term abortion, which in some cases has been not too unfairly packaged for propaganda reasons as "partial-birth abortion." Whatever it is called, a description of it turns the stomach and makes you wonder whether the procedure should be authorized only under certain circumstances. For the record, I stated my qualms a long time ago.

"But the Democratic Party still marches to the tune of 'Alfie'('What's it all about, Alfie?') as if nothing has changed in almost 40 years. ..."

But James Bowman, one of Loose Canon's favorite movie reviewers, thinks that the remake reflects a Zeitgeist Shift in the opposite direction.

Bowman notes that the one scene people remember from Caine's Alfie is when Alfie breaks down on seeing a dead fetus in the kitchen of an abortionist. "I don't know what I was expecting to see," Alfie says; "certainly not this perfectly formed being." He also has an epiphany: "'You know what you done?' I says to myself. "'You murdered him.'"

"Of course, this would be an impossible line in Charles Shyer's new remake of the picture," writes Bowman. "Shyer, who co-wrote the screenplay with Elaine Pope, must have seen that the last 40 years of feminist consciousness-raising have made 'You murdered him' in this context into a political--and, of course, a reactionary--statement. ..."

The War on Christmas

US News & World Report columnist John Leo has a great piece on the assault on Christmas:

"The standard anti-Christmas maneuver is to argue that all references to Christmas in public schools are suspect, while references to Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, for whatever reason, are not. The policy of the 1,200 New York City public schools is that no purely religious symbols are allowed, only ones that have a 'secular dimension,' such as Christmas trees, menorahs, and the star and crescent. But the star and crescent is hardly secular. It is the symbol of Islam. And the menorah, though now losing some of its religious significance, is the symbol of an intervention by God to save the Jewish people..."

Leo notes that some Christians are taking action against this double standard:

"The Thomas More Law Center filed suit on behalf of a Roman Catholic mother of two public-school students, saying, in effect, that if the city's public schools are allowing brief and educational use of religious symbols for Muslims and Jews, then the Christian crèche should be permitted, too. Last February, U.S. District Judge Charles Sifton ruled for the school system. The case is under appeal. The crèche, for now, remains banned."

Missing the Closet

Canadian essayist David Warren dares to be different on the issue of same-sex "marriage:"

"There is no upside, even for the homosexuals, to whom the State has promised what Nature will never provide. My closest living homosexual friend (he despises the word 'gay') put it most succinctly, on behalf of the many who never signed on to the activists' agenda: 'I long to lead the charge back into the closet.'

"But he's an American; and even better, from a nice Red State in the Deep South. He and the man he lives with have enjoyed, through their adult life, a level of tolerance and accommodation that was unthinkable elsewhere in time and place. He has, as he therefore explains, no desire to tamper with the society that has made his life so easy. And he is not the sort of fool who imagines that changing the definition of marriage can fail to undermine what remains of family life.

"Now here is a fine irony, for the people who wrote the numerous items of hate-mail on this issue for my inbox last year. Much of my own thinking on the issue has been formed, or developed, in conversations with this remarkable (and by his choice, anonymous) homosexual. For I don't know of another person who has read so broadly in social history. And the more he reads, the more amazed he is by the 'Middle American' society around him--the achievement of that very stable, tolerant, and free social order that activists of every stripe seek to pull down.

"They want Utopia. ..."

(Thanks to Relapsed Catholic for spotting this column.)

Another note on gay "marriage:" Loose Canon is wondering if the Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King, is about to lose some of her liberal friends. You see, the younger Rev. King was one of the leaders of a several-thousand-strong march to oppose gay "marriage" in Atlanta.

Duncan Hunter Adopts a Humvee

Sometimes LC gets really depressed knowing that she will never be as compassionate as the Swami. The latest is that my big-hearted colleague is single-handedly trying to make sure our military has the proper armor for their humvees ("Army of One. That's me. Private Kornbluth, reporting for duty. My mission: make sure our troops have armored Humvees.").

But, hark, do I see reinforcements?

O, compassionate Swami, I hope you won't slack if I tell you that you're not alone in this endeavor. Brendan Miniter of the Wall Street Journal reports that Rep. Duncan Hunter (of California) is also on the case:

"A few weeks ago Rep. Duncan Hunter handed me a reason that has largely escaped media attention on why our troops in Iraq don't have all the armor protection they need. It was a piece of ballistic glass, roughly the size of a small dinner plate. But as it was four sheets of glass glued together, it was also very thick and extremely heavy. But I peered through it, and it was as transparent as a normal windshield. In Iraq, this glass is saving lives because it can stop bullets and shrapnel from roadside bombs."

"The problem, the House Armed Services Committee chairman explained, is that a ballistic windshield is too heavy for some of the military's vehicles. The window frames simply cannot support it without being reinforced. In many instances that means the soldiers are driving vehicles with regular windshields as the bureaucracy works out the logistics of sending over vehicles that can handle ballistic windshields or finds a way to retrofit the vehicles now in theater. It's this waiting that has unnerved Mr. Hunter."

Bending Beckham

A Reuters report on vandalism at Madame Tussaud's controversial nativity scene:

"A protester has attacked a controversial waxwork nativity scene featuring England soccer captain David Beckham as Joseph and his pop star wife 'Posh Spice' Victoria as the Virgin Mary.

"'He pushed Posh and Becks over. It caused some damage but we don't know how much. The baby Jesus is fine,' said a spokeswoman for Madame Tussaud's waxwork museum in London Monday."

Feeding Hollywood to the Lions

Loose Canon thinks it's fine and dandy if Christians want to lobby for "The Passion of the Christ" to receive an Oscar instead of "Fahrenheit 9/11," The Passion for the left. Fahrenheit's Michael Moore is lobbying Tinseltown as heavily as the Christians.

I figured it was a win-win situation: If "The Passion" won, Hollywood would have been forced to recognize a film that racked up record audiences by telling the story of Christ's death on the cross. If what was clearly a record breaking film didn't win, it would say all you need to know about Hollywood's isolation from the mainstream of America.

Like I said: win-win. Then Bill Donohue of the Catholic League opened his mouth on Scarborough Country. It was vintage Donohue: "Who really cares what Hollywood thinks? All these hacks come out there," he said. "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, OK? And I'm not afraid to say it. That's why they hate this movie. It's about Jesus Christ, and it's about truth. It's about the messiah."

He continued: "Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism. We have nothing in common. But you know what? The culture war has been ongoing for a long time. Their side has lost."

It's not so much that ballistic Bill got his facts wrong--it's just that (as usual) he made us look as nasty they are. The anal sex bit was a nice touch, wasn't it? And, Loose Canon will go out on a limb and say Donohue doesn't care much for those who belong to Christ's own ethnic group.

Rabbi and fellow Beliefnet writer Shumley Boteach, who was on the same show, was much more effective: "Well, firstly, let me just say that I hope that Michael Moore actually wins so we can finally confirm what Hollywood is," Boteach said. "Hollywood has become an America-hating bastion that always portrays people in uniform in some sinister role. It's always the CIA killing President Kennedy.

"And so when I see Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 9/11' and he portrays our soldiers as a bunch of cutthroats who play Metallica while killing Iraqi civilians, let's confirm what Hollywood is by giving him this Oscar."

Does this mean Boteach would like for "The Passion" to win? No. Boteach says it was a denominational movie for Christians and it was too violent. ("It really should win the World Wrestling Federation Oscar for best movie. It's a guy for two hours being kicked, beaten, his blood gushing everywhere. It's just a diabolical, criminal, violent mess.")

Loose Canon disagrees--denying "The Passion" an Oscar on those grounds would be like giving the art award to a minor Renaissance artist instead of, say, Andrea Mantegna because his "Dead Christ" is just too powerful.

Moral Vanity: You Can Break Your Arm Patting Yourself on the Back

"Riddle Me This: I Hate the War, But I Care More About the Troops than the President," Swami wrote last week. I sincerely doubt if Swami cares more about soldiers sent to war that the president who had to make the agonizing decision to send them to war.

Swami's kindred spirit is American Prospect magazine editor Robert Kuttner, who recently wrote this: "Bill Clinton won election by declaring, as a matter of values, that people who work hard and play by the rules should not be poor. Middle America forgave him for treating gays as people."

George Will used this thought from Mr. Kuttner to lead off his Sunday column:

"Ponder that second sentence," Will urged. "Kuttner could not resist a spasm of moral vanity. He had to disparage 'middle America,' which means most of America, as so bigoted it denies the humanity of gays. If liberals like Kuttner keep thinking like that -- they have been doing it for so long they cannot easily stop -- in December 2008 they will be analyzing their eighth loss in 11 elections at the hands of voters weary of liberal disdain."

One Flew Over the...Wait! Not So Fast!

Loose Canon and other believers were getting awfully excited about the news that philosopher Anthony Flew, one of Britain's top atheists, was having doubts. ABC News reported that the eminent philosopher "now believes in God more or less based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday.

"At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.

"Flew said he's best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people's lives."

After a spate of internet rumors, Flew responds that reports of his doubts are false and that he remains an atheist:

"I recognize that developments in physics coming on the last twenty or thirty years can reasonably be seen as in some degree confirmatory of a previously faith-based belief in god, even though they still provide no sufficient reason for unbelievers to change their minds. They certainly have not persuaded me."

Knock, Knock

Columnist Robert Novak knocks George Bush for having a closed door when Rocco Buttiglione, who lost a chance to be a commissioner of the European Union because of his staunch Catholic beliefs, came to town:

"Displaying arrogance, ignorance or both, the Bush White House refused to grant one of America's best friends in hostile Western Europe an appointment with President Bush or a senior aide. There was no pretense of an overly tight schedule. It was just plain 'no!' Tim Goeglein, Bush's staff liaison with Catholics, told Buttiglione's entourage there was nothing he could do. Father Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, based in Grand Rapids, Mich. (sponsoring the visit), informed the White House the snub was 'politically imprudent' and 'morally revolting.'"

Can you imagine how scandalized Swami and his friends would have been if Buttiglione had been invited to the White House? They would have immediately spotted signs of a Christian coup d'etat.

What Else Can You Say?

In case you've missed it, here's a report on England's controversial Nativity scene mounted at Madame Tussaud's wax museum:

"Church leaders united on Wednesday to condemn a Christmas nativity tableau depicting soccer star David Beckham as Joseph and his pop singer wife Victoria as the Virgin Mary.

"Anglicans, Catholics and Presbyterians called the exhibit at Madame Tussaud's waxwork museum in London a new low in the cult of celebrity worship.

"In the tableau, Australian pop star Kylie Minogue hovers above the crib as an angel while Posh Spice Victoria lays her shawled head tenderly on Beckham's shoulder.

"British Prime Minister Tony Blair, American President George Bush and the Duke of Edinburgh star as The Three Wise Men. The shepherds are played by Hollywood star Samuel L Jackson, British actor Hugh Grant and camp Irish comedian Graham Norton."

For once, a spokesman for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev. Jonathan Jennings, got it right:

"There is a tradition in which each generation tries to re-enact the nativity, but oh deary me," he told BBC News.

No Good Will Come of This

It's unavoidable--we have to talk about Canada today. The Supreme Court of our neighbor to the north has, as you know by now, attempted to redefine one of the bedrock institutions of society in favor of the notion that members of the same sex can marry one another. The Supreme Court generously ruled that religious officials will not be forced to perform marriages they regard as shams.

The Court noted:

"Several centuries ago, it would have been understood that marriage be available only to opposite-sex couples.

"The recognition of same-sex marriage in several Canadian jurisdictions as well as two European countries belies the assertion that the same is true today."

One shudders to think what marriage will be several centuries hence--except that I predict that gay marriage will bomb once the initial enthusiasm for forcing it on society fades.

Meek Christian Response: Anglican Bishop Colin Johnson of Toronto issued a statement that could hardly be construed as fighting words. While upholding the idea that for Anglicans marriage is "not only a contract but, more important, a sacramental covenant," the bishop said that the new ruling "clarifies the federal government's right to redefine marriage to include marriages between same-sex couples. ...Our civil laws should accurately reflect current societal values."

Question for the Right Reverend: Isn't "current societal value" very close to the definition of a trend?

My guess is that proponents of same-sex "marriages" won't be nearly as meek and mild as the Bishop of Toronto. Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler seemed to be dodging questions on how religious leaders who refuse to perform same-sex ceremonies will be protected. A Conservative MP, Rob Moore, said "across the country, marriage commissioners are being told to resign if they cannot perform ceremonies that conflict with their religious beliefs."

The court's gay "marriage" ruling is just another case of judicial overstepping. It is worth recalling that in 1999 the House of Commons voted 216-55 to preserve the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

Time and Newsweek at the Manger

Of course, I know that that the gospels contain historical inaccuracies and that we can't be sure about many aspects of the Nativity of Christ. But I was still fascinated with this dissection, by a Baptist minister named Albert Moller, of the recent Nativity cover stories published by Time and Newsweek. I spotted Moller's musings on FillingUpSpace, a newsy Prot blog:

"Of the two, the Newsweek article is more problematic by far. Time's article, 'Secrets of the Nativity,' is written by reporter David Van Biema, a skilled writer who often covers religious stories for the magazine. Even as the article opens with questions about the identity of the wise men, the nature of the star, and whether or not Jesus was born in Nazareth, rather than Bethleham. Van Biema goes on to report: 'In the debates over the literal truth of the Gospels, just about everyone acknowledges that major conclusions about Jesus' life are not based on forensic clues. There is no specific physical evidence for the key points of the story."...

"But, if Time's article raises questions about the historical truthfulness of the New Testament, Newsweek goes on to deny many essential biblical truth claims out of hand. In 'The Birth of Jesus,' writer Jon Meacham goes right to the heart of the matter, arguing that the infancy and birth narratives were simply invented by the early church in order to answer awkward questions and develop a fully-orbed theology and understanding of Jesus. He argues that 'the Nativity narratives are the subject of ongoing scholarly debate over their historical accuracy' and that 'almost nothing in Luke's stories stands up to close historical scrutiny.'"

Deconstructing with a Vengeance

In a speech shortly before his death in October, deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida decided it was okay to relish Europe's heritage as long as it's a way of sticking it to the United States:

"Caught between US hegemony and the rising power of China and Arab/Muslim theocracy, Europe has a unique responsibility. I am hardly thought of as a Eurocentric intellectual; these past 40 years, I have more often been accused of the opposite. But I do believe, without the slightest sense of European nationalism or much confidence in the European Union as we currently know it, that we must fight for what the word Europe means today. This includes our Enlightenment heritage, and also an awareness and regretful acceptance of the totalitarian, genocidal and colonialist crimes of the past. Europe's heritage is irreplaceable and vital for the future of the world. We must fight to hold on to it. We should not allow Europe to be reduced to the status of a common market, or a common currency, or a neo-nationalist conglomerate, or a military power.

"Though, on that last point, I am tempted to agree with those who argue that the EU needs a common defense force and foreign policy. Such a force could help to support a transformed UN, based in Europe and given the means to enact its own resolutions without having to negotiate with vested interests, or with unilateralist opportunism from that technological, economic and military bully, the United States of America."

But I love the idea of moving the UN to Europe.

Alexander the Chic

Yes, those ancient Greek guys did have a thing about one another. But Oliver Stone overdoes the emphasis on this aspect of his hero's life in his new Alexander the Great movie, according to conservative media watchdog Brent Bozell:

"Everywhere you turn you are met by a homoerotic scene. Historians believe young Alexander was tutored by Aristotle. Do you suppose the greatest lesson the grand philosopher imparted to the lad was 'How and When It's Wonderful When Grown Men Bed Each Other'? Stone does, and he forces us listen to this garbage for several minutes."

The Big Yawn

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer is amazed by the big yawn with which the miracle in Afghanistan has been greeted by America's intellectual elite. Even if they are forced to admit things are going better than expected, they refuse to give credit where credit is due:

"Who is responsible for it? The New York Times gives the major credit to 'the Afghan people' with their 'courage and commitment.' Courage and commitment there was, but that courage and commitment was curiously imperceptible until this administration conceived a radical war plan, executed it brilliantly, liberated the country and created from scratch the structures of democracy."

Abuse Database: Making It Harder to Hide

Can Loose Canon second a nomination for Texan of the Year? Probably not. But I'd still like to commend one in yesterday's Dallas Morning News made by Rod Dreher, who proposes Sylvia Demarest, a prominent Dallas lawyer who helped win a record verdict against child molesting former priest Rudy Kos.

But that's not all. Ms. Demarest has donated her research to Bishop Accountability.org, a Boston-based organization that documents abuse. The material will be put online and allow parents to research the backgrounds of 2,600 priests whose names have come up in Ms. Demarest's work.

I do hope that no innocent people have been caught in the web of research, but the Church's failure to correct abuse has made this project more than welcome. As Dreher notes:

"The database will make it much harder for the church to hide clerical sex offenders. And it will serve as a permanent record of the extent of the lies, cruelty and criminality the Catholic Church--my church--inflicted on innocent children and their families.

"To do this kind of work is to immerse yourself in the depths of human depravity, as lawyers, counselors, journalists and anyone intimately familiar with the clerical sex abuse scandal can testify. But for some, once they understand the evil that children and families endured at the church's hands, it's hard to stop fighting the system that did this to defenseless and trusting folks and got away with it for so long. That's what drove Ms. Demarest to keep laboring on the files, even as her health suffered."

(Many thanks to Amy Welborn of Open Book for spotting Rod's piece.)

Tying to Hide: A story in today's Dallas Morning News reminds us why Ms. Demarest's database might be needed. It's about allegations that Brownsville Catholic Bishop Raymundo Peña urged a priest suspected of sexual abuse to leave the United States. The bishop denies the allegation.

A Trojan Horse in Athens?

As the Netherlands absorbs the shock of the murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by Islamic fanatics, Athens is about to see the erection of the first state-recognized mosque. It will be financed by the King Fahd Foundation of Saudi Arabia.

In a piece headlined "The Trojan Horse of Wahhabism," Stephen Schwartz, a convert to Islam, says there are some big risks here:

"Foreign assistance for the radicalization of Islam in Greece will inevitably be a central element of the activities at the mosque, which will be very large, intended, it is said, to accommodate all of the estimated 120,000 Muslim faithful in the capital city. The total number of Muslims in Greece is estimated at more than 500,000.

"A major portion of the current Greek nation-state was still under the Ottoman Empire less than a century ago. Western European journalists who have tended to report the debate over the mosque as if it stemmed entirely from the fact that the Ottomans ruled Greece for more than 400 years are wrong. Rather, the problem has everything to do with the international spread of Wahhabism, the violent, exclusivist, and fanatical Islamic sect that is the state religion in Saudi Arabia.

"Athens is the only capital city in the European Union that lacks a state-recognized mosque. There are many former mosques in Athens, but they all were desacralized as Muslim holy sites following the end of Ottoman Turkish governance. As a result, Muslims in Athens meet and pray in dozens of improvised mosques in garages and private homes. The government views this as a problem since these informal gathering places are considered to be inevitable breeding grounds for Islamic radicalism. Non-Muslims imagine that the improvised mosques will eventually be dominated by demagogues and recruiters for al-Qaeda.

"In reality, the demography of Islam in Greece, both among indigenous Muslims and among most immigrants, is a barrier to radicalization. Turkish, Thracian, and Albanian Muslims have a long and proven history of rejecting Muslim fundamentalism, which they correctly identify with Wahhabism, as an Arabic import into the European environment in which they live. Their Islam follows the pluralistic Hanafi school of religious law, and they have learned that survival is based on coexistence with their Christian neighbors, rather than agitation against them."

Better Red Than Just a Senator...

One of John Kerry's problems was that he wasn't comfortable speaking about his religious faith (one is always more comfy talking about one's faith when one is not breaking the rules of said-Church). Peggy Noonan suggests that if Hillary Clinton runs for president, she won't have that problem:

"She knows it's not enough to run around quoting scripture on the stump, as John Kerry did. On the other hand she cannot speak as Bush did of Christ as the center of her life because that would not be credible: She has never spoken that way and strikes no one as born again.

"But she can go about it in her own way. She will begin giving interviews in which she speaks of the importance of the teachings of Christ in her thinking about policy issues. She will also begin to emphasize as never before her Methodist youth, and her hometown pastor's emphasis on public service. Something tells me a big black Bible is being put on a coffee table in her office even as I type. And there will also suddenly be more media availabilities after Sunday church service.

"Always remember what Bill Clinton did after he lost re-election to the governorship in 1980. He joined the choir in the only local church whose services were broadcast on television throughout Arkansas every Sunday morning. You could turn in every Sunday and see him in his robe, with his music book, singing spirituals."

Yes, This Is Exactly the Sort of Advice the Blue States Need

Former Telegraph editor Max Hastings, writing in the Guardian, has just returned from a visit to the frightening American theocracy: "There is an attractive rationalist case for insisting that candidates for election anywhere in the world are required to sign a declaration forswearing religious affiliation," he writes. "Had this been done in Ireland a couple of generations ago, think what we would have been spared."

(Many thanks to Travis McSherley of Filling Up Space for noticing Hastings's column. Filling Up points out that this is just the opposite what de Tocqueville thought about religion in America. )

Please Tell Me He Didn't Really Say That

In a recent interview, Bishop Donald W. Trautman, who has been elected by the U.S. Catholic bishops' liturgy committee to see if he can possibly make things worse, said: "We have to look not only at the accuracy of those texts but also to the proclaimability of those texts." Proclaimability? I really beginning to long for the dignity of the sung Gospel.

How Creepy Was Dr. Kinsey?

Loose Canon is already on record as having found the movie "Kinsey" funnier than "Fahrenheit 9/11." But the creepy sex doc's real-life practices were not a laughing matter.

John Zmirak of God Spy has an intriguing piece about Kinsey. The jumping off point is Kinsey's nonjudgmental chat with a pedophile, but it goes on to make an intriguing comparison to the Kinsey flick and a play about Cardinal Law:

"[The movie] does include an encounter between Kinsey and a particularly creepy sex addict and pedophile, who relates with lip-smacking glee his molestation of babies--and provides Kinsey with information about infantile ejaculation which the researcher duly publishes. (Other researchers might have refused to use data collected by a criminal on unwitting victims--as they even today leave untouched the results of grisly Nazi experiments. But not the intrepid Kinsey.) The movie leaves out the fact that Kinsey corresponded with this pedophile for more than a decade, derived large portions of his data from the sex criminal's confessions, and never troubled to report the deviant's ongoing crimes to the authorities. (Doctor/patient confidentiality does not cover child abuse.) All of which is to say that Kinsey was at best an enabler of pedophilia-more culpable than the universally vilified Cardinal Law. By the way, there's now a Broadway play depicting Law's negligent handling of pedophile priests; ironic that it's running at the same time as this hagiography of Kinsey. Try to imagine things the other way around-an exposé of Kinsey, and a soft-focus, inspirational biopic about Law. Kind of hard to picture, isn't it?"

(Thanks to Relapsed Catholic, who spotted the piece.)

Is This Like Campaign Finance Reform?

Loose Canon has been worried about the swift passage of legislation to reform the nation's intelligence gathering. Washington Times columnist Tony Blankley put his finger on what's bothering me: "Beware of large bipartisan majorities. They usually form around either trivial issues or headline driven, rushed proposals."

Depends on the Question

Loose Canon's neighborhood is a veritable garden of signs that proclaim, "War is not the answer." I've always wanted a sign that says, "Depends on the Question." Father James Schall, a Jesuit at Georgetown University (but a splendid fellow despite these unfortunate liberal associations) obviously has the same impulse.

In a piece entitled "Sometimes War Is the Answer," Schall writes:

I argue that our main problems are not too much force, but too little. A peaceful world is not a world with no ready forces but one with adequate, responsible, and superior force that is used when necessary. The failure to have or use such forces causes terror and war to grow exponentially. Unused force, when needed at a particular time and place, ceases to be force. But force is meaningless if one does not know that he has an enemy or how this enemy works and thinks. That latter is a spiritual and philosophical problem, not a technical one. Many an adequately armed country has been destroyed because it did not recognize its real enemy. Nor is this an argument for force "for force's sake." It is an argument for force for justice's sake. I am not for "eternal peace," which is a this-worldly myth, but for real peace of actual men in an actual and fallen world. Peace is not a goal, but a consequence of doing what is right and preventing what is wrong and, yes, knowing the difference between the two.
Bah Humbug!

Apparently willing to make people even angrier than Loose Canon does, Andrew Sumereau, writing in the iconoclastic American Thinker, offers thoughts on the meaning of the Incarnation and says bah humbug to Kwanzaa:

"By any rational measure this event [the Incarnation] remains the most momentous in the history of Western Civilization. ...

"Against the stupendous Incarnation and the accompanying two thousand years of tradition and devotion what do we have arrayed? One genuine and two ginned-up alternative holidays. ..."

"Chanukah begins tomorrow night, and I wish all of my Jewish readers a meaningful celebration and commemoration, one deeply connected with the survival of the Jews throughout millennia of persecution. As such, Chanukah merits its own commemoration, not immersion in a vague and deracinated 'Holiday Season' or a 'greeting' keyed to Winter, not to the inspiring story it symbolically re-enacts. Chanukah deserves to stand and be celebrated on its own, distinctively Jewish basis.

"However the American scene is also now featuring a neo-pagan, fake-Druid solstice Saturnalia and a modern invention of politics and hodge-podge spiritual nonsense--Kwanzaa. But I have said here the one thing you are not supposed to say."

I Vow Thou Art a Lunatic

England's Rt. Rev. Stephen Lowe, bishop of Hulme, who in August garnered headlines for saying the beloved hymn I Vow To Thee My Country is "heretical," has now found new sources of annoyance--the alleged "marginalization" of St. Joseph is his new pet peeve. (I was unaware of Joseph's exclusion, but I guess every family needs a victim.) Still, that's just the beginning of his complaints:

"Writing in the diocesan newsletter, Crux, he outlines a litany of laments about what is depicted on modern Christmas cards, saying he doesn't like robins, Christmas trees, snowdrops, Santas, donkeys - 'breathing unhygienically over the baby Jesus' -- and snow-covered cottages. He even has reservations about stars, doves, angels and the Three Kings."

Stronger than Harvard

The Church has struggled with human corruption for nearly 2000 years--she has also been the fount of the divine for 2000 years. Swami is deluded if he thinks that the Church will cave to his bullying the way Harvard University (the Swam's alma mater) did. (See Swami's account of threatening to withhold donations if Harvard didn't change its ways about the Vietnam war, which he sees as a model for gays to use in changing Church dogma.)

The Wages of Sin: Another Diocese Files for Bankruptcy

When it comes to priestly sexual abuse of minors, Loose Canon belongs to the why-didn't-they-just-call-the-cops school of thought. But they didn't, and now the Diocese of Spokane becomes the third U.S. diocese to file for bankruptcy because of the burden of settlements to alleged victims of sexual molestation by Catholic priests.

Although diocesan officials hope that the filing will help them continue the work of the Church while claims are pending, the filing may not bring as much finality as they had hoped:

"In those two dioceses [Tucson and Portland, which filed earlier], bankruptcy judges have ruled that victims with repressed memories of their abuse could come forward far from now, thus leaving in question the exact extent of the dioceses' potential liability. And in both dioceses, it's still an open question whether parish properties - including churches and schools - could be sold to pay off the lawsuits."

Quite a few "recovered memory" claims are bogus. But if the Church had dealt with the real claims when they happened, the Church would be less vulnerable to fakes. I hate for Catholic education to be affected by these financial disasters, but otherwise there is a kind of poetic justice.

P.S. A friend of mine believes that the Church's operating theory was that secrecy would prevent people from losing their faith. But when there's something that smells to high heaven, you're going to get caught. The mainstream media, which I rarely praise, did the Church a huge service by forcing her to recognize this rot. But the Church still tries to act as if secrecy is an option.

Is Sexual Identity Only Skin Deep?

When interviewing candidates seeking surgery for "gender reassignment," Dr. Paul McHugh urged them to say the Serenity Prayer ("God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."). McHugh, psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital at the time, wondered where people got the idea that you can alter your sexual identity.

When McHugh raised this issue with fellow shrinks, they always pointed to their successfully reassigned patients:

"Men (and until recently they were all men) with whom I spoke before their surgery would tell me that their bodies and sexual identities were at variance," writes McHugh. "Those I met after surgery would tell me that the surgery and hormone treatments that had made them 'women' had also made them happy and contented. None of these encounters were persuasive, however. The post-surgical subjects struck me as caricatures of women. They wore high heels, copious makeup, and flamboyant clothing; they spoke about how they found themselves able to give vent to their natural inclinations for peace, domesticity, and gentleness--but their large hands, prominent Adam's apples, and thick facial features were incongruous (and would become more so as they aged). Women psychiatrists whom I sent to talk with them would intuitively see through the disguise and the exaggerated postures. 'Gals know gals,' one said to me, 'and that's a guy.'"

Get Out the Vote!

From today's Washington Post, here's the most optimistic headline I've seen this week: "Shiite Clergy Mobilize Voters."

Yes, there are thugs (fondly known as insurgents) who will fight bloody murder to prevent elections. But:

"'We're deciding our destiny,' said [Maher] Hamra, 48, a burly, bearded man with an ever-present cigarette next to a scalding glass of sweetened tea. 'We have a responsibility to help build the new Iraq.'"

David Brooks: The New Red-Diaper Babies

Is having more than 1.5 babies coming back in style? Even though birth rates have declined in the industrialized world, David Brooks of the New York Times suggests in a column on the new red-diaper babies, that natalists in the red states are defying the trend:

"They are having three, four or more kids. Their personal identity is defined by parenthood. They are more spiritually, emotionally and physically invested in their homes than in any other sphere of life, having concluded that parenthood is the most enriching and elevating thing they can do. Very often they have sacrificed pleasures like sophisticated movies, restaurant dining and foreign travel, let alone competitive careers and disposable income, for the sake of their parental calling."

Not only will such rampant breeding be regarded as distasteful in the latte nation, there are political implications they won't like either: "As Steve Sailer pointed out in The American Conservative, George Bush carried the 19 states with the highest white fertility rates, and 25 of the top 26. John Kerry won the 16 states with the lowest rates."

Before you start getting scared of being squished by overpopulation, here's an essay by Ben Wattenberg. It argues that overpopulation may have been over-hyped.

The E-Pistles

Loose Canon had suggested that if the United Church of Christ got to air their gay cuddling ads it might turn off potential members and cause the numbers-challenged denomination to see further decline. Not so, says a Beliefnet member:

"The attendance at UCC churches has increased from 10 to 25 percent in the areas where the ad has aired. I know that the comment you made about being happy to see their membership dwindle was made in some haste, but please comment on this if you will. Perhaps the membership decrease should actually be expected in Catholic churches instead? Or also the conservative Protestant churches will also see the collection plates shrinking? "It looks like UCC has made a smart decision with this ad. If it airs in a certain market, UCC benefits. If it doesn't, the controversy also benefits the UCC. In any case, it appears the churches with a bias against homosexuality will see the decrease. Do you think they would be pleased to see this happen anyway? "No spite here. I would just like to hear you honest opinion in light of these developments."

I can't seem to find your figures anywhere, but I have no reason to doubt you--and every reason to thank you for the genial nature of your questioning. As a rule, it's the more traditional churches that are seeing a rise in numbers, but maybe anything-goes-Christianity has an appeal of its own. I'd prefer fidelity to Christian teachings over numbers, though.

Further proof that LC is not inerrant: I quoted a piece about crossing the border from Canada to Jesusland from Relapsed Catholic yesterday. The piece was written by another blogger, Trudeaupia and not Relapsed herself. Tru, you're a hoot and a half. I am sorry to have deprived you of credit.

A Doubting Thomas on Darwin

If Loose Canon were more highly evolved, she would have noticed "Doubts About Darwin," author Thomas Woodward's intriguing response to a National Geographic cover story with the daring headline "Was Darwin Wrong?"

Well, not too daring-author David Quammen's answer to the conundrum on the cover, says Woodward, is "a loud triumphal 'No!'" But writes Woodward:

"Most significantly, there is no hint that intelligent, well-informed dissent exists anywhere in the university world. As I read Quammen's article, I kept looking in vain for his response to the telling critiques of the Intelligent Design Movement. This is puzzling, in light of the conundrum that is confronted in the article: Why so many Americans still doubt Darwinism?

"In terms of specific evidences (and 'evidence' is a key word for Quammen), major questions are unaddressed: Why not discuss the Cambrian Explosion? Or the mystery of how complex molecular wonders such as the blood clotting system or the flagellum could have possibly formed, step-by-Darwinian-step? Why not confront, at least briefly, the riddle of how the vast quantities of genetic information, sufficient to run even the simplest living system, arose? And most tellingly: Why not reveal the widespread questioning of the creative power of natural selection--a foundational problem now widely admitted even among evolutionary researchers?

"In a nutshell: How can an article of this importance completely ignore the scholarly labors of a mushrooming network of scientists at leading universities who have held important university-based symposia, and published over fifty books in the last decade?"

Before the miniboards light up, let me admit it: I am a creationist. I believe God created us. But I don't care if he used evolution--Darwin's version or some other idea about how species evolve--to accomplish this job. Genesis is, as I see it, theological truth told via an amalgam of history and ancient myths. I believe in evolution...until further notice.

New Mission for Americans United

The swallows may have an even more dilapidated San Juan Capistrano mission to return to if Americans United for the Separation of Church and State get their way.

The "watchdog group" as the Washington Post describes them, has filed suit to prevent public money from being spent on restoration of the historic missions of California. Barbara Boxer, not usually seen as a wild-eyed theocrat, supports the use of public money on such restorations.

"Houses of worship must be maintained by their congregations, not the federal government," the Rev. Barry Lynn, head of the organization, said in a written statement. "If this type of assistance is upheld, every house of worship in America that is deemed 'historic' could demand upkeep and repair courtesy of the taxpayer."

"Demand." Interesting choice of words.

Jesusland: The Travel Guide

Relapsed Catholic, who is Canadian, is going to spend a few days in Dallas. She has a piece on her travel plans and crossing the border into Jesusland:

"This being my first trip to America since the consolidation of theocratic rule I made sure I was prepared for the interview with the Homeland Security guy. I made sure I packed my Bible and Rosary to display with my passport and customs form. It's an important trip for me and I wouldn't want to get turned back at the border due to forgetting such essentials as the New Testament."

Let's Bash the Crusades Some More!

There's a new school of thought in England right that the Crusades weren't unremittingly wicked. So I was curious when I saw that the New Yorker had a review of two books by revisionist historians.

Reviewer Joan Acocella tipped her hat early in the review:

"So the Church fathers went to work on the doctrine, and by the eleventh century it was agreed that in certain circumstances God might not only condone war but demand it."

Thanks to Amy Welborn for spotting the review.

Newsweek's Big Nativity Scoop

There's been a lot of heated talk this year about the end of Christ's earthly life as rendered by Mel Gibson. Now we prepare to celebrate the beginning. For the next few weeks, I'll be trying to provide some nice things to read in Advent.

Pseudo-intellectuals might find Newsweek's take on the whole business at Bethlehem (only it wasn't Bethlehem, according to Newsweek) satisfying. Nor was Mary a Virgin, according to Newsweek's Jon Meacham.

Meanwhile, if you read Kenneth Richard Samples' essay on the Incarnation, you may be struck, as I was, with how precise the Church Fathers were at the Council of Chalcedon, the one that defined Christ's nature.

"While one may know many important things about God via general revelation (i.e., through the created order, the providential ordering of history, and the human conscience)," writes Samples, "without the Incarnation, talking about God is highly speculative and knowing God personally is virtually impossible."

Loose Canon Advent Quiz: How many natures did He have before He was born? How many after? Which is more intellectually-sophisticated, Newsweek magazine or the Council of Chalcedon?

Methodists: No E-Z Integrity Today

The Methodists, an offshoot of the Anglican Communion, turn out to have more courage in standing up for the ancient teachings of Christianity than their mother church. I am referring to the decision (see here and here) of an ecclesiastical court that Irene Elizabeth Stroud, a Lesbian who served a church in Pennsylvania, is no longer credentialed to be a Methodist minister.

Ms. Stroud is probably a wonderful person, and I hate to sound harsh. But Christianity teaches that engaging in homosexual activity is contrary to the gospel. One can wish Ms. Stroud the best and still be glad that this group of Methodists decided that you can't rewrite Christianity to make it convenient.

Needless to say, not everybody agrees with me. Here are two different views from the Washington Post report:

"It's a very positive declaration that church law will be upheld,' said Patricia L. Miller of Indianapolis, executive director of the Confessing Movement, an evangelical renewal movement within the 8.3 million-member denomination.

On the other side of the political and ecclesiastical battle lines, the Rev. Troy Plummer said Stroud's ouster was cause for "great sadness."

"Nobody won today," said Plummer, executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, an alliance of about 200 congregations and campus ministries working for full acceptance of homosexuals in the Methodist Church. "Beth lost her credentials but kept her integrity. The church kept its rules but lost its integrity." I'd say the church kept its integrity. It's much easier to go with the flow and say anything you want to do is acceptable. It didn't do that because that's not the truth.

Anglican Pikers

Speaking of Anglicans, Christianity Today has a provocative editorial on the Windsor Report, the Canterbury-authorized report on the church in the wake of the Episcopal Church in the USA's unilateral decision to consecrate an openly gay bishop.

CT notes that "Anglicans have been waiting for the arrival of the Windsor Report like Tolkien fans panted after the movie premiere of The Lord of the Rings" but that the report "has flopped." CT says the mealy mouthed report in particular and Anglican primates in general suffer from a failure of nerve when standing up for the teachings of Christianity.

"How did it come to this point?" CT asks. "Let's focus on the American church: The problem began in the 1960s when a bishop of the Episcopal Church (ECUSA), James Pike, began publicly doubting doctrines like the Trinity. His fellow bishops, afraid that church discipline would seem medieval to the rest of America, only mildly rebuked him and dropped the issue.

"This failure of nerve gradually opened a hole in the church that truckloads of aberrant clerics have since driven through. ..."

Fighting about Religion

If you ask a secularist what's wrong with religion, chances are they'll tell you that throughout history religion has caused wars. Now Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, proposes that European wars caused European secularism:

"This secularization did not take place because people stopped believing in God. That, if anything, was a consequence, not a cause. It happened because men and women of goodwill lost faith in the ability of religious believers to live peaceably with one another. With Catholics and Protestants fighting each other across Europe, people began to search for another way. Could we, they asked, find a path of pursuing knowledge, or wealth, or power, while leaving our religious convictions at home? Thus began what the English poet and essayist Matthew Arnold called the 'melancholy, long, withdrawing roar' of the retreating sea of faith."

I'd argue that it was the loss of faith that caused secularism. "Dover Beach," the wonderful Matthew Arnold poem Sacks cites, is about the loss of faith in the nineteenth century, long after Protestants had ceased to slaughter each other. I've never understood why evolution caused so many to lose their faith, but it did, and it was developments like this that, I think, had affected Mathew Arnold's ability to believe.

As a Northern European, Sacks is amazed that faith lives on, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill:

"Religion didn't die. It persists as humanity's oldest, noblest attempt to endow human life with meaning. Secularization turned out to be the exception, not the rule."

I don't think religion is humanity's oldest, noblest attempt to endow life with meaning--I think it's God's noble attempt to endow our lives with meaning. But the Sacks essay is provocative and certainly worth a read.

All Together Now

Charles Krauthammer's column today deals with the hypocrisy of being for democracy in the Ukraine and against it in Iraq (the common position of the snobocracy):

"So let us all join hands in praise of the young people braving the cold in the streets of Kiev," writes Krauthammer. "But then tell me why there is such silence about the Iraqis, young and old, braving bullets and bombs, organizing electorate lists and negotiating coalitions even as we speak. Where is it written: Only in Ukraine?"

A Few Words about Tolerance

There were quite a few yesterday on my supposed intolerance on the miniboards. I imagine today's post on the rejection (about which I rejoice) of a practicing lesbian as a Methodist minister will provoke a few more. I just want to say that there is quite a fur piece between being intolerant and saying something that is wrong is right. As I said, I go to a Mass that is known as the gay Mass. I have no idea whether the gay men and women who attend are engaging in homosexual acts or not. It's none of my business. (I'm also delighted that I don't have to tell my sins in public!) I'm glad they're at Mass with sinners like me. On that I am inclusive. But being tolerant and inclusive doesn't mean saying something that is wrong is right.

I opined elsewhere today on the movie about Alfred Kinsey. I enjoyed the flick, but only because it was unintentionally a hoot and a half. (Liam Neeson as Kinsey reminded me of Otto Octavius, the mad doc in "Spider Man.") However, I do think that there is one interesting reason Kinsey has become such an icon--we not only want to do what we durn well please, we want to be told that whatever we durn well please is right.

Yeah, But Does He Say 'Do Your Own Thing'?

The members-challenged United Church of Christ has launched a controversial new advertising campaign with the theme, "God is still speaking." All Loose Canon can say is: Golly, has He ever changed His tune since the Bible was written.

One of the TV ads features a bouncer standing in front of a non-UCC church turning people away, including a male couple holding hands. "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we," says a voice over. Yes, you probably can guess what's coming: an amorous Lesbian couple engaging in a public display of affection.

The UCC's too-hot-to-handle Christian cuddling advertisement has been rejected by both CBS and NBC. According to an Associated Press report, CBS said that it refused the ad because it doesn't accept advocacy advertising, and because gay relationships "remain a subject of public debate," this would come under the heading of advocacy. In a similar statement, an NBC spokesman said that the ad was turned down because it dealt with "issues of public controversy."

Predictably, gay rights advocates are up in arms. "CBS and NBC's decision to reject an advertisement by the United Church of Christ that affirms its inclusion of diverse people of faith, including same-sex couples, raises significant concerns not only for GLAAD, but also for many in the LGBT and faith communities," GLAAD media director Glennda Testone is quoted saying on Digital Spy.

I guess I'm of two minds about the rejection of the ad--part of me says hooray for the two networks (and now if we can just get rid of the ad about the four-hour erection that is rather hard to explain to very young children), and the other part of me wishes they'd run it. The UCC has lost 23 percent of its members in the last 15 years, and I can't help thinking that the ad would help them lower their membership by a few more percentage points.

It's a really nasty ad.

First of all, no really Christian church turns gays away. I frequently attend the 5:30 Sunday Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral here in Washington, D.C.--it's quietly known as the gay mass, and sometimes I feel that I've wandered into a gay bar. It is good that, gay and straight, we have come to Mass. We're all welcome (though I do wish we could hire some burly bouncers to haul out priests who preach boring sermons!).

But there's a difference between welcoming sinners and rewriting the gospel to accommodate sin.

The Associated Press quoted Ellen Garbarino, assistant professor of marketing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, saying that church advertising can be effective:

"Because of the UCC's liberal reputation, its money might be best spent on ads during 'Dharma & Greg,'' which portrays less traditional relationships, than a reality-show audience that might not be open to the UCC message, Garbarino said."

Wouldn't "Will and Grace" be better?

P.S. The reason the networks gave for rejecting the ads seemed a bit contorted. Josh Marshall has more on this issue. I suppose the days when you could just cite decency are gone.

Perhaps They Find the Plot Boring

Here's the latest egregious example of liberal Catholic bishops turning on our heritage:

"At a November 29th meeting of the U.S. Catholic-Jewish Consultation Committee, a group of Catholic bishops condemned the movie, The Passion of the Christ, calling it a 'modern version of the notorious medieval Passion Plays.'"

The medieval Passion plays were not only great folk art, but they also told the story of the Passion of the Christ for poor, illiterate peasants. Yes, they were flawed, especially by today's lights, but they were much loved by simple people (and by simple English majors like me).

In the dispatch, the bishops recall that there was "understandable concern" that the Mel Gibson movie would be anti-semitic. "Happily...the film precipitated no such anti-Jewish violence," the bishops note. But they still don't like it.

"Good thing nobody listens to them anyway," says Relapsed Catholic.

Sexy Santa

Santa had better watch it this Christmas. Here's why (courtesy of News 24.com):

"In what managers described on Thursday as a 'sad sign of the times,' a British shopping centre has installed a spy camera in its Christmas grotto to protect Father Christmas from possible child abuse allegations.

"Bosses at the Saint Elli Centre, in Llanelli, south Wales, are also discouraging children from the age-old practice of sitting on Santa's knees as they reel off their list of Christmas present requests. ..."

It's Never Too Late to Make Amends

Okay, okay, it's a gimmick, but I love this story anyway:

"A British hotel chain is offering couples called Mary and Joseph a free night's stay over Christmas. ...

"We are trying to make up for the hotel industry not having any rooms left on Christmas Eve 2004 years ago," said Sandy Leckie, manager of the Travelodge hotel in London's Covent Garden."

The Narrow Path

Amy Welborn of Open Book turned me onto a provocative book review from Christianity Today. The book is "Good Fences: The Boundaries of Hospitality" and CT's subhead says it's about "the difference between welcome and inclusion." I'll quote two paragraphs from David Neff's review.


"'Jesus says that narrow doors and gates offer the only sure and safe entrance into God's realm of life,' writes Caroline Westerhoff in Good Fences: The Boundaries of Hospitality. 'Gates that swing too wide and doors that open too fast do not give us the opportunity to slow down and decide what is important before we make our choices.' Indeed, the only time the Bible tells us to 'fling wide the gates' is so that the 'King of Glory can come in.'"

And this:

"Part of the sloppy thinking, according to Westerhoff, is to confuse welcome (what we should do with those outside the household of faith) with inclusion (the process that makes people members of the family). 'When we state that we welcome others into our particular boundary, we are also saying that for now anyway, they live somewhere else.' But if we pretend there are no boundaries to the community of faith, we lose our sense of identity and have no 'inside' into which we can invite those who are 'outside.'"

Give Mo's Column to Her Bro!

It's great to be back. I lugged a four-pound manuscript to FedEx this morning, and now I can only hope for the best. I'm eternally grateful to the distinguished band of bloggers who kept the cannon balls firing in my absence. Usually, I try to comment on up-to-the-minute articles, but having been in solitary confinement for the last two weeks, I am going to indulge myself by blogging on some articles that have been kicking around for a few days.

The increasingly unhinged Maureen Dowd took a day off by printing as her Sunday column an email from her brother, a conservative who was explaining why Bush won. It was one of Maureen's best columns.

"We do not live in a secular country," Kevin Dowd wrote. "There are all sorts of people of faith that place moral values over personal freedoms. They are not all 'wacky evangelicals.' They are people who don't like Howard Stern piping a hard porn show over the airwaves and wrapping himself in the freedom of the First Amendment. They don't like being told that a young girl does not have to seek her mother's counsel about an abortion. They don't like seeing an eight-month-old fetus having his head punctured and his brains sucked out. They don't like being told the Pledge of Allegiance, a moment of silent prayer and the words 'under God' are offensive to an enlightened few so nobody should be allowed to use them. ... My wife and I picked our sons' schools based on three criteria: 1) moral values 2) discipline 3) religious maintenance - in that order. We have spent an obscene amount of money doing this and never regretted a penny. Last week on the news, I heard that the Montgomery County school board voted to include a class with a 10th-grade girl demonstrating how to put a condom on a cucumber and a study of the homosexual lifestyle. The vote was 6-0. I feel better about the money all the time."

It's obvious that the Times hired the wrong Dowd.

The other piece I want to note is David Brooks's Saturday column "Who Is John Stott?" John Stott is a leading Christian evangelical, but he's never been booked on TV shows--he doesn't make Christians look bad enough to make him look good to blue-state-of-mind bookers who'd rather see the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton engage in "a food fight."

Writes Brooks:

"Stott is so embracing it's always a bit of a shock--especially if you're a Jew like me--when you come across something on which he will not compromise. It's like being in 'Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood,' except he has a backbone of steel. He does not accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, and of course he believes in evangelizing among nonbelievers. He is pro-life and pro-death penalty, even though he is not a political conservative on most issues."

I notice that both these articles made it into the Times 25 most emailed articles which seems to indicate a thirst for sanity even among readers of the Times.

Is It Ever Okay To Hope Somebody Is in Hell?

Loose Canon was roundly criticized on the miniboards (should I make a New Year's resolution not to read them?) for not making nice with mealy mouthed platitudes when the monstrous Yasser Arafat, the godfather of modern terrorism and plunderer of his people, died. I'll admit it: I got pleasure of thinking of Arafat getting his after all these years.

Regarding Arafat, columnist Dennis Prager raises an interesting question: Is it ever okay to hope somebody went to hell?

"Just as any decent human being would want good people to be rewarded in whatever existence there is after this life," writes Prager, "they would want the cruelest of people to be punished."

I feel better already.

But They Talked a Good Game

Swede professor Tore Janson should go jump in the flumen after all the things he said about the ancient Romans in his new book, "A Natural History of Latin: The World's Most Successful Language". Brit editor Peter Stothard has nihil nice to say about Janson:

"'Repulsive' is his word for the Roman farmers of the 2nd century BC as he introduces us to Marcus Porcius Cato whose work De Agricultura is one of the oldest extended pieces in the language. According to Cato, it is a mark of the highest praise to call someone a 'bonum agricolam'. According to Janson, the slave-owning farmer Cato is 'a heartless and inhuman profitmonger'. Next we meet the legendary Roman hero Mucius Scaevola, who, in a scene much loved by later European painters, is said to have held out his sword-hand into a fire as penance for his failure to finish off the Etruscan king Porsenna; then Titus Manlius Torquatus, the consul who sentenced his son to death for engaging the enemy contrary to orders.

"'Personally,' says the professor, this all 'makes me feel sick.'

"By the time we find Julius Caesar in Gaul it is no surprise to be told that his rampages through Gaul would today merit the charge of 'genocide.' Alexander the Great, by contrast, is credited merely 'with an extraordinary series of conquests.' But then he is part of that superior Greek civilization that had made such 'unique progress while Rome was still just a small town.'"

Advent Hum Along

The Christian year began last Sunday with the first Sunday in Advent--I love Advent, the purple vestments and altar hangings of penitence and the feeling of anticipation before Christmas. I heard somebody say today that at Christmas we can celebrate ourselves. Sorry, wrong Person to celebrate.

(In a column on what's he's giving for Christmas, the always amusing James Lileks begins, "The season of nonsectarian joy and fellowship is finally upon us, and as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Baby Claus Tree, let us pause to remember what's really important.")

For those of us awaiting a Person besides the Baby Claus, Advent is a time of lilting hymns. There's a children's Advent hymn I just love. It both sweet and pedagogically useful to teaching children about the Christian year, which we begin anew:

"Advent tells us Christ is near;
Christmas tells us Christ is here!
In Epiphany we trace
all the glory of his grace...."

I hope somewhere children still sing it.

You can click here for the words and (if you have speakers) the tune on the wonderful Oremus hymnal site.

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