Is it time to start loving the French? The French voted non on the European Union's constitution, dealing a blow to elitist internationalism. Writing on the eve of the French vote, columnist George Will described the European Union as having "a flag no one salutes and an anthem no one knows," seeking "ratification of a constitution few have read."
"Surely only its authors have read its turgid earnestness without laughing, which is one reason why the European project is foundering. Today in France, and Wednesday in the Netherlands, Europe's elites -- political, commercial and media -- may learn the limits of their ability to impose their political fetishes on restive and rarely consulted publics."
Well, we now know what the French think. The EU plan has gotten as far as it has because it has until now been decided by internationalist elites who don't mind (Will's words) the "leeching away" each nation's sovereignty. The constitution sounds ludicrous:
"The proposed constitution has 448 articles -- 441 more than the U.S. Constitution. It is a jumble of pieties, giving canonical status to sentiments such as 'the physical and moral integrity of sportsmen and sportswomen' should be protected. It establishes, among many other rights, a right to 'social and housing assistance' sufficient for a 'decent existence.' Presumably, supranational courts and bureaucracies will define and enforce those rights, as well as the right of children to 'express their views fully.' And it stipulates that 'preventive action should be taken' to protect the environment.
"The constitution says member states can 'exercise their competence' only where the European Union does not exercise its. But the constitution gives E.U. institutions jurisdiction over foreign affairs, defense, immigration, trade, energy, agriculture, fishing and much more."
While protecting such important aspects of civilization as the physical and moral integrity of sportsmen and sportswomen, the constitution's authors adamantly refused to acknowledge Europe's Christian roots. As columnist William Murchison writes:
"The Constitution's defeat this week doesn't translate as victory for a God annoyed at being snubbed -- not when fears for the future of the welfare state mingled at the polls with deep distrust of Chirac. But what a chance now for some rethinking! About what? About the connection between God and freedom -- a connection that appears presently to escape most Europeans."
Bill Kristol is good on the establishment that produced the document:
"It's hard for Americans to appreciate just how out-of-touch the establishment (and it really is a single establishment) of Paris, Berlin, the Hague, and Brussels is. Its arrogance almost beyond belief. Former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the father of the 448-article constitution, early on in the campaign dismissed complaints about the document's opacity by assuring his countrymen, 'The text is easily read and quite well phrased, which I can say all the more easily since I wrote it myself.'"
The Church of the Absurd
A good summary of a recent decision by the Anglican Church:
"The senior bishops of the Church of England, led by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, have said that clergy can 'marry' their boyfriends - and of course, the female clergy, can 'marry' their girlfriends - if they promise to refrain from sexual activities with their 'spouse.' In a decision that may go down in history as being the first to render Monty Python parodies redundant, Rowan Williams offered this compromise as a solution to the problem created by a British law that recognizes same-sex unions for purposes of tax and inheritance benefits. The decision is part of the Anglican bishops' draft Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships. The bishops also agreed to change ecclesiastical law to enable gay partners to occupy vicarages for up to two months after the death of their clergy 'partners.'"
Here's the Times of London account. Meanwhile, Get Religion says Benedict XVI may want to "check his voicemail for messages from England."
A report on the cause of crime among the young in England reached some fairly radical conclusions:
"After a lengthy investigation into criminal behaviour among young people, the committee reached the following conclusions: the main causes were the 'improper conduct of parents', the 'want of education' and the 'want of suitable employment'. Moral guidance and civilised order were seen as the remedies."
"Catholics Split on Embryo Issue"--the headlined looked like another of those stories reporting that Catholics don't embrace Church teaching (with the subliminal message that teaching should be changed to accommodate them).
But it was actually a fascinating and troubling discussion of the issue of adopting children while still in the embryonic state:
"[T]he debate over embryo adoptions is just beginning to take shape. 'There are very few moral issues on which the Catholic Church has not yet taken a position. This is one,' said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, chief spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.
"One of the leading voices in the church in favor of embryo adoptions is the Rev. Thomas D. Williams, dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome. 'It's reaching out to another human being, albeit in an embryonic state, in the only way that that little being can be helped,' he said.
"But the Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, who has a doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and is staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, argued that embryo adoptions would make Catholics complicit in test-tube fertilizations, which the church considers illicit. Moreover, he said, artificially implanting an embryo in a woman's womb is a 'grave violation of the nature of marital sexuality.'
"When counseling Catholic couples on the issue, Pacholczyk said, he is careful to point out: 'The Vatican could prove me wrong tomorrow. But I don't think the church will ever give them permission for this.'"
It would seem to me that the creation of these embryos is wrong and adopting them is right. But like Father Pacholczyk, I think I'll wait and let the Vatican decide.
"Modern memorials stand for the warriors, not the war," a USA Today headline (story no longer free) proclaimed. Sad when our nation is committed to bringing freedom and justice to the people of Iraq. This Memorial Day, I'll think about our soldiers--and our noble cause. God Bless Our Native Land.
Trying to Make Us Feel Small?
Does your size matter in determining your moral status? Yeah, I know that's a really stupid question. But here's the brilliant New York Times on embryonic stem cell research:
"The president's policy is based on the belief that all embryos, even the days-old, microscopic form used to derive stem cells in a laboratory dish, should be treated as emerging human life and protected from harm. This seems an extreme way to view tiny laboratory entities that are no larger than the period at the end of this sentence and are routinely flushed from the body by Mother Nature when created naturally.
"These blastocysts, as they are called, bear none of the attributes we associate with humanity and, sitting outside the womb, have no chance of developing into babies. Some people consider them clumps of cells no different than other biological research materials. Others would grant them special respect but still make them available for worthy research. But Mr. Bush is imposing his different moral code on both, thereby slowing research that most consider potentially beneficial....Unfortunately, none of this week's heated debate focused on the most promising area of stem cell research, research cloning or therapeutic cloning. Mr. Bush is adamantly opposed to such research, which involves creating microscopic embryos to derive stem cells that genetically match a diseased patient, thus facilitating research on particular diseases and ultimately potential cures. There, too, he seeks to impose his morality on a society with pluralistic views."
Blastocysts, as they are called... Here is a definition of a blastocyst. As you can see, it has a lot in common with human beings--it is a human embryo--though the New York Times probably believes you have to have consciousness and high SATs to qualify as a human being.
Christian blogger Dawn Eden found the New York Times editorial even smugger than usual:
"Putting aside the question of what are the attributes we associate with humanity--e.g. embodying a human life at a particular stage of development--the Times is making a disturbing distinction. Apparently, any creatures that 'bear none of the attributes we associate with humanity' and 'sitting outside the womb, have no chance of developing into babies' are fair game for slicing and dicing. That criteria--particularly with the attributes of 'humanity' left vague and subjective--could quite easily be taken to mean any fetus that is not yet viable.
"Then there's this: 'Mr. Bush is adamantly opposed to such research, which involves creating microscopic embryos to derive stem cells that genetically match a diseased patient, thus facilitating research on particular diseases and ultimately potential cures.'
"Note the emphasis on 'microscopic.' As in, 'insignificant.' As in, 'Don't worry your pretty little head about what you can't see.'"
Has the Times moved from mere condescension to belittlement?
Love the Guy with the Horns!
Why we should never have thawed God's frozen people: I've already mentioned the clown Eucharist at New York's posh Trinity Episcopal Church, but you really shouldn't miss this picture.
Is There a Cover-Up?
In "Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II," Jason Berry and Gerald Renner charge that the Vatican protected Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the influential Legion of Christ, who has been accused of molesting seminarians. The National Catholic Reporter's John Allen has a fascinating report on the Vatican's confusing stance on Maciel:
"On May 20, the Legionaries of Christ issued a news release stating that the 'Holy See' had informed them that 'at this time there is no canonical process underway regarding our Founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, LC, nor will one be initiated.' Subsequently, the Catholic News Service and other press agencies quoted the Vatican Press Office as confirming the statement.
"That news startled some observers, since an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican agency charged in 2001 by Pope John Paul II with responsibility for reviewing cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, traveled in early April to New York and Mexico City to collect testimony from alleged victims. Those efforts by Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the Promoter of Justice within the congregation, suggested that a preliminary investigation was underway.
"Most observers assumed that the new communication to the Legionaries must have come from that congregation, the office once headed by Pope Benedict XVI
. "In fact, however, the communication came from the Secretariat of State, the department that handles papal diplomacy and acts as a coordinator for the work of other Vatican agencies. It came in the form of a fax, which was unsigned but bore a seal from the Secretariat of State indicating official status. Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's Secretary of State, is a longtime supporter of Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ.
"What this means is that the statement did not come from the Vatican agency that ultimately has responsibility for deciding Maciel's fate. Officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have refused to make any comment on the recent news reports, but a senior Vatican official told NCR May 25 that the congregation has made 'no statement' on the Maciel case, even to the Secretariat of State.
"The official stressed this does not mean that there eventually will be a canonical case against Maciel, merely that the agency charged with making that decision has not yet communicated its intentions. Given the preeminence of the Secretariat of State within the Vatican, at a minimum these recent developments suggest there are grave doubts within the Holy See about proceeding."
In other words, as Allen points out, the communiqué did not come from the Vatican office.
Anti-Americanism of the Rich and Famous
Victor Davis Hanson has figured out what's really so awful about America-hating elites abroad: they're boo-ring:
"The anti-Americanism that we frequently see and hear, then, is often a plaything of the international elite - a corporate grandee, a leisured athlete, or a refined novelist who flies in and out of the West, counts on its globalizing appendages for wealth, and then mocks those who make it all possible - but never to the point that their own actions would logically follow their rhetoric and thus cost them so dearly."
This is going to be a case of strange bedfellows: Loose Canon and Wiccans. A judge has told Wiccan parents in Indiana, who are in court for a divorce, that they can't bring up their son according to their beliefs:
"Thomas E. Jones Jr. questions an order that Marion County Superior Court Chief Judge Cale Bradford put into divorce proceedings that bars Jones or his ex-wife from exposing their child to 'non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals,' the Indianapolis Star reported Thursday. Jones has asked the state appeals court to look into the case."
Because I don't especially like the idea of children being reared as pagans, I was tempted to post this item without comment. But I will comment: It's wrong for a judge to inject himself into a family's religious practices.
As blogger Ed Morrissey notes:
"[Judge] Bradford's reasoning behind this ban? The boy attends a Catholic grammar school -- and the judge doesn't want the parents to `confuse' Junior with contradictory doctrine. The father attended the same school as a youngster, despite also being a non-Catholic, and along with his ex-wife considers this ruling a flagrant violation of both their parental rights and their right to free expression of their religious beliefs.
"I carry no brief for Wicca, nor do I want to enter into a debate about its wisdom or foolishness. The important and relevant fact is that government has no business telling people how to practice religion unless the rites themselves break the criminal code (i.e., if someone practiced human sacrifice, etc). The child's attendance at a Catholic school has no relevance to the parents' practice, or even that of the child. Many non-Catholics send their children for Catholic education because of the quality of instruction delivered at these schools, and understand the trade-off of religious instruction."
Setting the Record Straight
Just to set the record straight: I am very much in favor of stem cell research; I am very much against embryonic stem cell research. Today's op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal embraces an opinion quite different from mine. But it sets the record straight on several factual issues (issues on which supporters of embryonic stem cell research are wont to play the demagogue):
For example, how about that federal "ban" on research that is preventing U.S. scientists from curing everything from Parkinson's to the common cold?
"So what's happened, research-wise, since 2001? Given the rhetoric of some of the President's critics, you might think the answer is nothing. In fact, federal funding for all forms of stem-cell research (including adult and umbilical stem cells) has nearly doubled, to $566 million from $306 million. The federal government has also made 22 fully developed embryonic stem-cell lines available to researchers, although researchers complain of bureaucratic bottlenecks at the National Institutes of Health."
But Back to the Moral Issues: Eric Cohen takes issue with a statement by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations in support of embryonic stem cell research:
"While acting positively to save life is a great Jewish good, so is preserving a society that welcomes the weak and never kills the innocent. Even if embryos are not our ontological or moral equals - though the argument for such a position is hard to make on rational grounds - there are good Jewish reasons not to promote the destruction of nascent human life, precisely because it will corrode the sensibilities that make us good people - and good Jews. It is simply wrong to appeal to Jewish law on abortion, which privileges the life of the mother over the life of the unborn child, as a moral justification. Jewish law does so, after all, only in cases where the unborn child is a "pursuer" who threatens the mother's life and health directly. With embryo research, by contrast, there is no direct conflict between an embryo and a patient, and we are not in the position of using particular embryos to save particular patients. Rather, we are proposing a speculative research project that requires the massive, ongoing destruction of human embryos. And this should make all Jews and all decent citizens shudder - not only for what it is, but for where it might lead. Where is the Jewish 'fence around the law' when you need it?"
O, Imperiled Town of Bethlehem?
Few things are sadder than intolerance towards Christians in places where sacred feet have trod. Christians in Bethlehem are concerned about their fate:
"Christians in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, are concerned that their city may slowly become an Islamic stronghold following recent municipal elections in which radical Islamic groups took a number of seats....
"Bethlehem, a once-thriving, predominantly Christian town with a booming tourist trade and easy access to jobs in neighboring Jerusalem, now has high unemployment, cut off as it is by more than four years of violent uprising and now by Israel's security barrier."
The Empire Fights Back
Loose Canon gets the feeling that the Mainstream Media is ready to fight back, and that the Newsweek fiasco may be their rallying point. Like Jeremy Lott, I heard from a friend (well, he heard from lots, but I maybe don't get out enough) today who insisted that the retracted Newsweek story alleging that the Koran had been flushed down a commode is true.
Their perception is based on a story about an F.B.I. report:
"Nearly a dozen detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba told FBI interrogators that guards had mistreated copies of the Koran, including one [!] who said in 2002 that guards 'flushed a Koran in the toilet,' according to new FBI documents released today....
"Nearly all of the hundreds of pages of documents consist of FBI summaries of detainee interrogations, and therefore do not generally provide corroboration of the allegations. At least two detainees also conceded that they had not personally witnessed mistreatment of the Koran but had heard about incidents from other inmates, the records show."
Lott says it best:
"I'm willing to believe that a Koran - or pages of a Koran, at any rate - were indeed flushed down a toilet as part of U.S. interrogations of prisoners. But I am not willing to believe this wholly on the prisoners' say-so."
Killing Embryos: Don't Forget to Follow the Money
Loose Canon doesn't know whether to chalk up the stunning vote in the House in favor of funding research that kills human embryos to ignorance or something more sinister.
The picture of President Bush holding baby Trey Jones (here and here), adopted while still in the embryonic stage, was pretty effective in dramatizing what's at stake.
There was a great deal of misinformation and moral confusion in the arguments. As National Review's editors note:
"In yesterday's House debate, the most popular argument for the funding was that the embryos were going to be 'discarded' or go 'unused' - so why not derive some advantage from their demise? That argument appeals to people's practical streaks, but it rests on a bit of sleight of hand. It is a way of assuming that human embryos are not human beings with rights without actually trying to establish the point. Anyone who takes seriously the idea that human beings in the embryonic stage of development have rights would find the language jarringly inapposite. Nobody complains that death-row inmates and nursing-home residents are going 'unused' since their organs are not being taken from them before their inevitable deaths. (The argument is also misleading, since the vast majority of embryos are not going to be 'discarded anyway,' but rather would be indefinitely frozen - a problematic situation, but not the same as death.)"
In a piece on "meeting the leftovers" Ann Morse introduces you to children who, like Trey Jones, were adopted as embryos.
Most reports say something to the effect that the House voted to relax restrictions on scientific experiments with human embryos--actually what they voted to do was force taxpayers defray the cost of something many of us find morally repugnant.
A Heritage Foundation pointed out some things taxpayers should know about this kind of research:
"In the process of harvesting embryonic stem cells, the embryo is destroyed. The primary ethical question raised is whether embryos are people or property. A second ethical issue lies in the extreme inefficiency of harvesting embryonic stem cells. Specifically, the process requires women's eggs. To treat, for example, the 17 million diabetes patients in the United States will require a minimum of 850 million to 1.7 billion human eggs. Collecting 10 eggs per donor will require a minimum of 85 to 170 million women. The total cost would be astronomical, at $100,000 to $200,000 for 50 to 100 human eggs per each patient.
"Even more important than the dollars and the difficulty is that the process of harvesting a woman's eggs for stem cells places that woman at risk. Superovulation regimens for fertility treatments would be used to obtain women's eggs. The risks associated with superovulation regimens or high-dose hormone therapies are debated. But there is a growing body of evidence showing that these practices, when used for standard IVF, can cause a wide spectrum of problems including memory loss, seizure, stroke, infertility, cancer, and even death. This points to yet another ethical issue: the future commercial exploitation of women, and particularly poor women, to collect their eggs."
And don't forget to follow the money. Wesley Smith gives you some financial hints in an interview with National Review:
NRO: To what extent is the move toward "a Brave New World" about business? California making sure it rakes in the biotech money, etc?
Smith: I live in California. The proponents of Proposition 71 spent $25 million telling us that we would rake in the biotech money if we would just pass the initiative. But we will actually be shelling it out of our own wallets to the tune of about $7 billion, including interest. And this is borrowed money to finance corporate welfare in a state that is so broke our current medical needs are going unmet as our emergency rooms and trauma centers close for lack of funding.
The passage of Proposition 71 has set off an Oklahoma Land Race mentality as states compete to attract cloning companies. Yet, the private sector has mostly avoided investing in this technology because it is so highly speculative and unlikely to be a source of profitable medical products any time soon. Indeed, at this point private companies will be forming with a primary purpose of collecting taxpayer dollars.
I predict that eventually the coming cloning business boom funded by taxpayer dollars will eventually become the next dot-com bust. Only this time, the money that lost will be public funds and not private investments.
It Gives New Meaning to the Term "Kiddie Porn"
As if having your kids exposed to Viagra ads or "Will and Grace" isn't enough, there are now dirty books for teens. Michelle Malkin has the scoop:
"Here's a rich irony: I'm writing today about a new children's book, but I can't describe the plot in a family newspaper without warning you first that it is entirely inappropriate for children.
"The book is 'Rainbow Party' by juvenile fiction author Paul Ruditis. The publisher is Simon Pulse, a kiddie lit division of the esteemed Simon & Schuster. The cover of the book features the title spelled out in fun, Crayola-bright font. Beneath the title is an illustrated array of lipsticks in bold colors...
"A 'rainbow party,' you see, is a gathering of boys and girls for the purpose of engaging in group oral sex. Each girl wears a different colored lipstick and leaves a mark on each boy. At night's end, the boys proudly sport their own cosmetically-sealed rainbow you-know-where bringing a whole new meaning to the concept of 'party favors.'
"In the end, the kids in the book abandon plans for the event and news of an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases rocks their school. But the front cover and book marketing emphasize titillation over education, overpowering any redeeming value the book might have. Indeed, according to Publisher's Weekly, the bound galleys sent to booksellers carried the provocative tagline, 'don't you want to know what really goes down?'"
Is Alexander Hamilton Turning in His Grave?
"You know that really dignified looking Gothic-style Episcopal church on Wall Street? You know, the one where Alexander Hamilton's buried?" asks Amy Welborn of Open Book. Yep, they had a clown mass. Don't miss the pictures! (Thanks to the orthodox Anglican wits who run one of my favorite websites for the tip.)
With Friends Like These...
If I had any doubts that Republicans had snatched compromise from the jaws of victory, they were erased when liberal columnist David Broder hailed dealmaker John McCain as "the Senate's real leader."
Snatching Compromise from the Jaws of Victory
Loose Canon is a traditionalist, which means she rightly regards change as anathema. But there's no right to filibuster in the Constitution, and I'm sorry that seven Republicans blinked. As columnist Neal Boortz argues:
"Republicans, on the other hand, had the votes to change the Senate rules to prohibit filibusters on judicial nominees, and have set such a rule change aside... They had total and complete victory in their hands, and they gave it up. Would the Democrats do that? Of course not! Democrats play for keeps. They know that when you have your opponent on the ropes, you don't feel sorry for them, worry about their 'minority rights' and offer them something they're not entitled to. You put your foot on their throat and defeat them by the widest margin of victory possible. The Republicans gained seats in the Senate in the last election. They defeated the sitting Democratic leader over this very issue. They should have voted to change the rules on the first day of business back in January. Now that they have the votes, it should have been simple."
The compromise doesn't really do much more than postpone the issue until there is a Supreme Court nomination. "Democrats will be still able to filibuster future nominees, including any Supreme Court candidate," writes Mickey Kaus, "under what they decide are 'extraordinary circumstances.' Republicans get to revive the anti-filibuster 'nuclear option' if they believe Democrats are finding 'extraordinary circumstances' where there aren't any. ... So what did the 14 moderates actually accomplish with their deal?"
The compromise brokered by the moderates, in fact, included a huge power-grab by some senators (i.e., Senate Democrats) who now seek to completely rewrite the meaning of the right to give "advice" on the president's nominations:
"We believe that, under Article II, Section 2, of the United States Constitution, the word "Advice" speaks to consultation between the Senate and the President with regard to the use of the President's power to make nominations. We encourage the Executive branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration."
They find a warrant for this imaginary right in imaginary history:
"Such a return to the early practices of our government may well serve to reduce the rancor that unfortunately accompanies the advice and consent process in the Senate."
Back to Boortz:
"Maybe we should address this in terms of whether the Constitution won or loss. Here I would call it a loss. The Constitution has been losing for some time in Washington. There is no clause anywhere in the Constitution that gives a minority in the Senate any power at all to block a vote on a judicial nomination. This is a power that was created by Senators, not established by the Constitution. The Republicans had a chance to stand up for the Constitution, and they passed."
The Schiavo Legacy
The starving of Terri Schiavo sent a message: don't get old, or sick, or in any way incapacitated. Here's a frightening piece from the Weekly Standard on the case of Leslie Burke, whom I've mentioned before, and who has the audacity to want to live out his God-given lifespan:
"The most important bioethics litigation in the world today involves a 45-year-old Englishman, Leslie Burke. He isn't asking for very much. Burke has a progressive neurological disease that may one day deprive him of the ability to swallow. If that happens, Burke wants to receive food and water through a tube. Knowing that Britain's National Health Service (NHS) rations care, Burke sued to ensure that he will not be forced to endure death by dehydration against his wishes.
"Burke's lawsuit is even more important to the future of medical ethics than was the Terri Schiavo case. Schiavo was dehydrated to death--a bitter and profound injustice--because Judge George W. Greer ruled both that Terri was in a persistent vegetative state and (based on statements she allegedly made during casual conversations some 20 years ago) that she would not want to live under such circumstances. In other words, Terri Schiavo lost her life in order to safeguard her personal autonomy, though she never made the actual decision to die.
"But Burke, who is fully competent, worries that his wishes will be ignored precisely because he wants food and water even if he becomes totally paralyzed. Receiving food and water when it is wanted certainly seems the least each of us should be able to expect. But, it turns out, whether Burke lives or dies by dehydration may not be up to him."
Prepare for a Long, Hot Summer
The Supreme Court's surprise decision to take an abortion case this fall will add heat to the fire, especially with confirmation hearings seeming likely in the near future:
"'It is a bold step to take the case, bold in a political sense,' said Douglas Kmiec, a constitutional law professor at Pepperdine University. 'It may well be the court's way of reminding the president there's a lot at stake in a Supreme Court vacancy.'"
When Bad Blood Flows in Both Directions
Just for Fun: Judy Bachrach has penned a very funny review of Alexandra Pelosi's new book, "Sneaking into the Flying Circus: How the Media Turn Our Presidential Campaigns Into Freak Shows":
"She seems to be awfully confused, given how she begins her book: 'This leads us to a conflict that is as old as democracy itself. Ever since the press stopped trusting politicians, the politicians have been suspicious and paranoid of the press. There is a lot of bad blood running in both directions, and that tug of war is undermining our democracy.'
"Let's leave aside--but only for a moment!--the ineradicable image of a lot of bad blood running in both directions (Dr. Harvey, please report to surgery). Pelosi clearly has given but limited thought to the premise of her book. After all, if something is as 'old as democracy itself,' then it can't very well be, 230 years later, the undermining of the republic. And if this conflict is truly embedded--as those of us who followed the career of John Peter Zenger might perhaps conclude--then the press hasn't 'stopped trusting politicians,' as it considered them untrustworthy from the start. And finally (and it does make one wonder how many books the author actually read before she began writing), in what possible way is all this bi-directional blood "undermining our democracy"? Pelosi gives no examples, possibly for good reason. Show me a country where politicians are fond of reporters, and I'll show you the Soviet Union."
Thou Shalt Lie About Evangelicals
Loose Canon has been wondering what sparked the sudden smear campaign about Christian evangelicals. You can't pick up a newspaper or magazine without seeing a story about how scary they are. What's going on? Why now?
As for the latter question, it turns out that the answer is quite simple: Christian evangelicals trend Republican. As former Reagan interior secretary James Watt pointed out in Saturday's Washington Post, the media has suddenly noticed that evangelicals were a large part of the reason George W. Bush got to keep his job.
But, as Watt further noted, the detractors of evangelicals are not above lying:
Last December [Bill] Moyers received an environmental award from Harvard University. About three paragraphs into the speech, after attacking the Bush administration, Moyers said: "James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, 'After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.' Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know what he was talking about. But James Watt was serious. So were his compatriots out across the country. They are the people who believe the Bible is literally true -- one-third of the American electorate if a recent Gallup poll is accurate."
I never said it. Never believed it. Never even thought it. I know no Christian who believes or preaches such error. The Bible commands conservation -- that we as Christians be careful stewards of the land and resources entrusted to us by the Creator. Moyers then attacked the congressional leadership, some by name, saying that "we're not talking about a handful of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half the U.S. Congress before the recent election -- 231 legislators in total and more since the election -- are backed by the religious right." (Moyers has since corrected himself in a statement he gave to Beliefnet.)
On the other hand, this New York Times piece on evangelicals on Ivy League campuses is fair and balanced.
"Think Kafka--without the Bug"
Not only are they frightened by evangelicals, they can't hold onto its own. Writer Keith Thompson explains why he is leaving the left
"I choose this day for my departure because I can no longer abide the simpering voices of self-styled progressives -- people who once championed solidarity with oppressed populations everywhere -- reciting all the ways Iraq's democratic experiment might yet implode.
"My estrangement hasn't happened overnight. Out of the corner of my eye I watched what was coming for more than three decades, yet refused to truly see. Now it's all too obvious. Leading voices in America's 'peace' movement are actually cheering against self-determination for a long-suffering Third World country because they hate George W. Bush more than they love freedom.
"Like many others who came of age politically in the 1960s, I became adept at not taking the measure of the left's mounting incoherence. To face it directly posed the danger that I would have to describe it accurately, first to myself and then to others. That could only give aid and comfort to Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and all the other Usual Suspects the left so regularly employs to keep from seeing its own reflection in the mirror.
"Now, I find myself in a swirling metamorphosis. Think Kafka, without the bug. Think Kuhnian paradigm shift, without the buzz. Every anomaly that didn't fit my perceptual set is suddenly back, all the more glaring for so long ignored. The insistent inner voice I learned to suppress now has my rapt attention. 'Something strange -- something approaching pathological -- something entirely of its own making -- has the left in its grip,' the voice whispers. 'How did this happen?' The Iraqi election is my tipping point. The time has come to walk in a different direction -- just as I did many years before."
Embryos Are, Like, Sooo Dumb
From a piece advocating embryonic stem cell research by Michael Kinsley: "If my life is worth no more than the survival of one of these clumps, then it is terribly unfair that I can plead my case on the op-ed page, and they can't."
Is Rock Music the Anti-Christ?
An erudite essayist called Spengler notes that, while John Paul II sometimes acted like a rock star, Benedict XVI has written that rock music is antithetical to Christianity:
"John Paul II bestrode the stage like a rock star, chanting to youthful crowds, 'Woo-hoo-woo! John Paul II, he loves you!' He shared a stage with Bob Dylan as well as 'walk on the wild side' rocker Lou Reed. Benedict XVI has radically different views. Citing [a speech by the future Benedict XVI]:
"'... Rock music seeks release through liberation from the personality and its responsibility ... [it is] among the anarchic ideas of freedom which today  predominate more openly in the West than in the East. But that is precisely why rock music is so completely antithetical to the Christian concept of redemption and freedom, indeed its exact opposite. Hence music of this type must be excluded from the Church on principle, and not merely for aesthetic reasons, or because of restorative crankiness or historical inflexibility.'"
Spengler, by the way, argues that this position may be just one more example of what he regards as the Church's getting it wrong about musicians. Speng ties it to the Church's relationship with Jews and dubiously but cleverly ties both strands together.
Loose Canon can understand not wanting a half way house or a singles bar in the 'hood--but a retreat house run by the Fraternite Notre Dame? Apparently, neighbors of a proposed retreat house fear the group, which is charismatic, might raise a ruckus:
"'This proposed development is not perceived as harmonious,' Laurie Cisneros said at a recent hearing before the McHenry County Zoning Board of Appeals."
Welcome to the Decanting Room
The claim by South Korean scientists to have produced embryonic human clones for research was reported on the news last night as an upbeat story. But it is an eerie development. Human embryos are created to be killed:
"When one reads the actual paper in Science magazine," notes the New Atlantis magazine, "it sounds hauntingly like the 'decanting room' in Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World'--systematic, precise, and unrepentant about its use of women as egg factories and human embryos as raw materials. In the South Korean experiments, 242 eggs were harvested from 16 women; 14 cloning 'protocols' were tested; 30 embryos were developed to roughly the 100-cell stage; all of them were destroyed-to get one stem cell line."
The Korean recipe for cloning is being hailed as an important step towards curing diseases that cause enormous suffering:
"[The Korean research] is not cloning to make babies. Instead, scientists create test-tube embryos to supply stem cells the building blocks which give rise to every tissue in the body that are a genetic match for a particular patient and thus won't be rejected by the immune system.
"If scientists could harness the regenerative power of those stem cells, they might be able to repair damage from spinal cord injuries, diabetes, Parkinson's and other diseases.
"Stem cells also can come from embryos left over in fertility clinics. But these cells would not be a genetic match for any patient."
It would be wonderful to cure these diseases (though that, if possible, is probably far down the line) but not by adopting a purely utilitarian view of human life that says it's okay to create embryonic beings to harvest useful parts and then kill them. This is not the purpose of a human life, and it is the triumph of the rest of society over the weakest members of the human race.
Whatever cures might be affected (and we don't know what might really be the benefits), it is essential to keep in mind what we are really doing: killing:
"Whether created sexually or asexually, every new life begins as a one-celled human embryo. From the moment it exists, it is a distinct, unique, individual human organism with its own genetic makeup and sex. Assuming he or she is nurtured in the proper prenatal environment, each embryo has the potential to develop through embryonic and fetal stages into a newborn infant."
Did you see Steven Spielberg's not-very-heralded "Artificial Intelligence: A.I."? Here is a summary from a movie site: "A highly advanced robotic boy longs to become 'real' so that he can regain the love of his human mother." It was a profound movie, and I felt that it had a lot to do with viewing other human beings in purely utilitarian terms--the robots had been created to relieve human toil in much the way clones are seen as relief from disease. The robots, of course, couldn't be as human as a cloned embryo.and yet David yearned to love.
The human embryos killed in abortion or a lab all have the capacity to grow into human beings--and to love.
But We Don't Riot
Some Muslims in the Middle East rioted on a false report that the Koran had been flushed down a commode at Gitmo. A Muslim writer had an interesting piece in today's Wall Street Journal on how the Bible is treated in Saudi Arabia:
"The Bible in Saudi Arabia may get a person killed, arrested, or deported. In September 1993, Sadeq Mallallah, 23, was beheaded in Qateef on a charge of apostasy for owning a Bible. The State Department's annual human rights reports detail the arrest and deportation of many Christian worshipers every year. Just days before Crown Prince Abdullah met President Bush last month, two Christian gatherings were stormed in Riyadh. Bibles and crosses were confiscated, and will be incinerated.
"The Saudi Embassy and other Saudi organizations in Washington have distributed hundreds of thousands of Qurans and many more Muslim books, some that have libeled Christians, Jews and others as pigs and monkeys. In Saudi school curricula, Jews and Christians are considered deviants and eternal enemies. By contrast, Muslim communities in the West are the first to admit that Western countries--especially the U.S.--provide Muslims the strongest freedoms and protections that allow Islam to thrive in the West. Meanwhile Christianity and Judaism, both indigenous to the Middle East, are maligned through systematic hostility by Middle Eastern governments and their religious apparatuses."
Just This Feeling...
Tonight is 20/20's much-anticipated show on the Resurrection: Did it happen?
Here is a breakdown of the experts who will address the issue. Some say it happened, and others say it didn't. The strangest view is that the Resurrection was really just a feeling the Apostles had about Christ. Must have been a mighty powerful feeling that took them to the ends of the known world and martyrdom! FYI: Here is what St. Paul had to say on the subject: "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain."
You Don't Remember Me, Do You?
Since the 60s, a low, dishonest decade, we don't sufficiently appreciate those who protect us and make civilized life possible.
Oh, Dear... They Want to Live?
Anyone who's been to the movies lately might be forgiven for thinking that the grievously handicapped want nothing so much as to have some compassionate friend pull the plug. "Million Dollar Baby"--which won the Oscar for Best Picture--and "The Sea Inside"--which won the Oscar for best foreign film--both drove home that point.
But there's a serious problem. Not all handicapped or sick people want to die before their time:
"Leslie Burke, 45, who suffers from cerebellar ataxia, a degenerative brain condition, won a landmark case last May granting him the right to stop doctors withdrawing artificial nutrition or hydration (ANH) treatment until he dies naturally.
"The Department of Health, backing the GMC's attempt to reverse the ruling, said that if that right were established, patients could demand other life-prolonging treatments. The department argues that this will create a culture in which patients request treatments 'no matter how untested, inappropriate or expensive, regardless of doctors' views.'
"Philip Sales, for the Health Secretary, told a panel of three appeal judges, headed by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers: "A general right, as identified (in the High Court), for an individual patient to require life- prolonging treatment has very serious implications for the functioning of the NHS."
Think I'll pitch a script about a quadriplegic battling the medical establishment for the right to live.
But nobody in Hollywood would buy it.
A Bow Wow Appointment in Rome
Loose Canon's initial response to word that San Francisco's Archbishop William Levada has been appointed as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the pope's old job: Say it ain't so, Benedict.
Seasoned Vatican watcher Roger A. McCaffrey agrees that Levada is hardly an inspiring choice:
"Press reports that he is an old friend of Benedict's or that he is a clone of the new Pope are as usual imprecise. Friend? He did work for Ratzinger 24 years ago, as a secretary, for less than two years. Comrades in arms? Certainly Levada is a company man, yes. But he gave the game away at a press conference after his appointment when he said that he would be more like God's 'cocker-spaniel' than his 'rottweiler,' the nickname the press gave Ratzinger in that post."
I heard Levada say on TV that his job would be to represent the American church in Rome. Gee, I thought it was to uphold doctrine, which is often quite the opposite of representing the Church in the U.S.
As sorry as Loose Canon is about Levada, there may be an explanation that, while hardly uplifting, doesn't mean doctrine is going to hell in a handbag. McCaffrey:
"My theory: during the conclave, Cardinal Ruini of Rome, said to have been the kingmaker, suggested to the crucially important American cardinals that the time had come for one of their own to be in one of Rome's top two dicasteries. Naturally, Ruini would go on, the new Holy Father had to decide the details and it would be wrong, very wrong, for him to even mention this to his man during the conclave.
"Were this arrangement to have taken hold in the imaginations of the American cardinals, they could well imagine that Ruini would also deliver the Italian vote. Not being a dumb man, Cardinal Ratzinger would have caught wind of these thoughts without ever speaking to Ruini and without ever feeling bound in conscience to implement any such plan.
"And as long as none of those involved in the recent conclave felt bound or pressured, such arrangements are human and perfectly proper."
The New Line on Newsweek
The developing meme is that we're being unfair to Newsweek. Poor folks, how could they know that fanatics would go on a rampage? I'm not willing to let Newsweek off the hook, but Jeff Jacoby nevertheless makes a good point:
"Christians, Jews, and Buddhists don't lash out in homicidal rage when their religion is insulted. They don't call for holy war and riot in the streets. It would be unthinkable for a mainstream priest, rabbi, or lama to demand that a blasphemer be slain. But when Reuters reported what Mohammad Hanif, the imam of a Muslim seminary in Pakistan, said about the alleged Koran-flushers--'They should be hung. They should be killed in public so that no one can dare to insult Islam and its sacred symbols'--was any reader surprised?
"The Muslim riots should have been met by outrage and condemnation. From every part of the civilized world should have come denunciations of those who would react to the supposed destruction of a book with brutal threats and the slaughter of 17 innocent people. But the chorus of condemnation was directed not at the killers and the fanatics who incited them, but at Newsweek."
Newsweek deserves every bit of the criticism leveled at it--they went with a story they knew was shaky, that would have a profound effect in a volatile part of the world, and they did this because of their own biases.
Ann Coulter points to the irony of the magazine's having held the (true) Monica Lewinsky story, while going with the (untrue) Koran flushing story by the same reporter:
"Ironically, among the reasons Newsweek gave for killing Isikoff's Lewinsky bombshell was that Evan Thomas was worried someone might get hurt. It seems that Lewinsky could be heard on tape saying that if the story came out, 'I'll (expletive) kill myself.'
"But Newsweek couldn't wait a moment to run a story that predictably ginned up Islamic savages into murderous riots in Afghanistan, leaving hundreds injured and 16 dead. Who could have seen that coming?"
Remains to Be Seen
According to Catholic World News, last year's exposition of the incorrupt body of St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary, at the Bom Jesus Basilica in India drew record crowds:
"Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa led the solemn ceremony closing the 43-day exposition of the mortal remains of the saint who died in 1552. When it was over, the glass casket containing his body was returned to its regular place at the side altar of the Bom Jesus Cathedral. Several Indian bishops, hundreds of priests, and thousands of lay Catholics attended the closing ceremony, as the body of St. Francis Xavier, still preserved after more than 400 years, was brought back to the Bom Jesus cathedral in a solemn procession from the Se cathedral, just across the road, where it had been exposed for public viewing and veneration since November 21. ..."
Non-Catholics find the whole business of incorrupt bodies of saints (I'm not sure you have to believe this phenomenon, but it doesn't matter to me, as I do believe it) strange. But Francis Xavier's remains appear to be in good shape for a fellow who's been dead four centuries:
"Ever since that servant dug up the grave and discovered the body of St. Francis Xavier incorrupt a year after his death, the condition of the saint's remains has been an object of wonder and veneration. When the body arrived in Goa in 1554, the news spread like wildfire, and virtually all of the Catholics in the region lined up for a glimpse of the missionary's remains. As a result of the public sensation, in 1556 King John III of Portugal ordered his viceroy in Goa to conduct an inquiry into the life, work, and miracles of the great saint. That study added to the popular devotion to the Jesuit missionary, and in 1624 Goa witnessed massive celebrations following the canonization of St. Francis Xavier."
St. Francis Xavier's remains are shown publicly every ten years.
The Truth about Mary
Loose Canon has never quite understood the intensity of Protestant reservations about the Virgin Mary--let's face it, it was her "yes" that got Christian history off and running. But, golly, did the Anglicans ever give away the store, blithely dismissing all of Protestantism's historical rejections of Catholic Marian theology, in the joint Anglican-Roman Catholic statement on Mary:
"Mary: Hope and Grace in Christ was launched at a Roman Catholic Mass in Seattle by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (Arcic).
"The long-awaited document, published after six years of discussion, effectively seeks to backtrack on centuries of Anglican dissent over the place of Mary in the Catholic Church by giving new credence to dogmas that helped inspire the Reformation. ...
"In the passage likely to cause most dissent, the document says the infallible dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption - the teachings that Mary was herself conceived 'without sin' and that on death she was 'assumed' body and soul into Heaven - are 'consonant with the teaching of the Scriptures.' ...
"The document is published at a sensitive time in Anglican-Catholic relations. The last Pope, John Paul II, was noted for his devotion to Mary. He also made clear his dismay over the direction the Anglican Communion was taking over the ordination of women and more recently of homosexuals."
Loose Canon would love to believe that her former communion, where high church members have always said the Hail Mary, has simply seen the light and is ready to embrace the fullness of truth about Mary. But I have a hunch that that's not what happened.
My guess is that the Anglican communion is simply no longer interested in any theological questions. Mary-schmary, what do we care? We've got really important things to do--such as consecrating openly gay men as bishops.
The Mary document has been hailed as removing a barrier to Anglican-Catholic reunion--but there are so many more barriers. Rome could never embrace a communion that had lost any sense of Christianity's teachings on sexuality, just for starters. It's interesting (and more promising) that Benedict XVI is reaching out to orthodox Anglicans, who will probably want serious discussions about Mary.
At least sixteen people have died, and Newsweek is still smug about the erroneous story that played a role in triggering the Newsweek riots. Isn't anybody distraught (and I mean about the deaths, not their own journalistic careers)? Michelle Malkin has extensive quotes from Newsweek's Howard Fineman this morning on the Imus show.
We all know, deep down, that Newsweek was blinded by bias. It was an agenda that, as Dennis Prager notes, led the magazine to one of the deadliest mistakes in the history of scribbling:
"Newsweek is directly responsible for the deaths of innocents and for damaging America. As a typical member of the American news media, Newsweek's primary loyalties are to profits and to its political/social agenda. We are very fortunate that in America, at least, we now have talk radio and the Internet; the mainstream news media are no longer Americans' only sources of news."
Similarly, Glenn Reynolds--Instapundit to you--thinks that the Newsweek scandal is just the latest in tipping audiences away from the mainstream media.
Worth a Thousand Words
Loose Canon has become a huge fan of Dawn Eden's witty way with words--a talent that is certainly manifest in Eden's summation of wayward Reagan daughter Patti's latest column in (yes) Newsweek: "Patti Davis 'Cells' Out." It's an emotional, if not exactly well-reasoned, call for federal funding for stem cell research.
For Eden, the art is as interesting as Patty's overwrought "thought" processes:
"The image at the top of the article says it all: a collection of test tubes at an embryonic stem-cell bank. Each one of those tubes contains a human life--or what would have been a human life, were it not torn apart after growing for several days.
"What's truly chilling about the photo is its bloodlessness. The tubes look antiseptic, clean. One of them is raised with gleaming metal pincers by an unseen laboratory worker. Talk about your Brave New World.
"It's images like that which make me believe, as much as I hate gore and hate the idea of children's being exposed to gore, that Priests for Life are right when they say on their Web site, 'America Will Not Reject Abortion Until America Sees Abortion.'"
I have always had serious reservations about showing gruesomely destroyed children, but the visuals do seem to have a profound impact.
There is something bittersweet about Terri Schiavo's parents being welcomed at the Vatican. They lost the battle because, unlike the Church, all too many people don't recognize the value of life.
Horrible New World
One of the most appalling things I've read about recently is a new T-shirt for children who were born by artificial insemination: "My daddy's name is Donor" is the slogan. As the Chicago Tribune reports:
"The T-shirt and bib are offered by a company called Family Evolutions. Their Web site says the company was founded by a lesbian couple--pictured with their two young children--who live on the Jersey shore. Their son is the boy modeling the shirt."
Sometimes enlightened liberals sense something is horribly wrong, but they know you aren't supposed to be judgmental. The Chicago Tribune reporter obviously feels this way and flounders all over the map trying to explain that there's something not quite right about this situation.
Dawn Eden, who wrote about the Daddy Donor T-shirt more than a year ago, doesn't have the problem of not knowing what's wrong:
"Look at this boy, and look at his T-shirt. That's what the homosexual-marriage campaign is about.
"It's not about letting a new social norm be accepted alongside the old. It's about upending the norms, so that instead of a mother and father, a child simply has Parent A and Parent B. It's about making fatherless or motherless children the rule--and not the exception."
(Thanks to Michelle Malkin for spotting this disturbing item.)
Newsweek: Blinded by Bias?
The emerging "remedy" for the Newsweek error that triggered death-dealing riots: less reliance on anonymous sources. But reporters can't work without anonymous sources--and, anyway, the problem wasn't the source, it was the reporters. You know--reporters are folks who're hired to confirm stories that sources give them.
As National Review's Rich Lowry notes, the story was not only unconfirmed-the nature of the error was fraught with irony:
"No one is perfect - not even the brilliant Mike Isikoff [the reporter who wrote the story] - but this is a telling error. One government official told Isikoff that he had seen the Koran-desecrating incident in the forthcoming Gitmo report. Newsweek tried to confirm this. But a spokesman for SouthCom refused comment because it is an ongoing investigation. Another Defense official attempted to correct one error unrelated to the Koran desecration, but didn't comment on the rest. With this solid nonconfirmation in hand, Newsweek ran with its explosive single-sourced item.
"Once people started dying, Isikoff's original source said he couldn't be sure that he had read about the incident in the SouthCom report. Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker issued a weaselly statement saying that 'we regret that we got any part of our story wrong,' without detailing what the errors were. Nor did he forthrightly apologize - although Newsweek was part of the press pack demanding that President Bush acknowledge and apologize for his errors during last year's presidential campaign."
Sources often have axes to grind. That's perfectly okay as long as reporters, who have say over what gets in the newspaper, don't have axes to grind. The Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal argues that Newsweek reporters were blinded by bias (as in the CBS/George Bush military records story):
"Our own answer is that this is part of a basic media mistrust of the military that goes back to Vietnam and has shown itself with a vengeance during the Iraq conflict and the war on terror. Long gone are the days when AP's Ernie Pyle--an ace reporter by the standards of any era--could use the pronoun "we" in describing the Allied struggle against the Axis. In its place is a kind of permanent adversary media culture that goes beyond reporting the war news--good or bad as it should--and tends to suspect the worst about the military and American purposes. ...
"We aren't saying that reporters shouldn't be skeptical, and they certainly have a duty to report when a war is going badly. Where the press corps goes wrong is in always assuming the worst about military and government motives. Thus U.S. intelligence wasn't merely wrong about Saddam Hussein's WMD, it intentionally 'lied' about it to sell an illegitimate war. Thus, too, an antiwar partisan named Joe Wilson with a basically unimportant story about uranium and Niger is hailed as a truth-telling whistle-blower. And reports from Seymour Hersh in late 2001 that the U.S was losing in Afghanistan set off a 'quagmire' theme only days before the fall of the Taliban. The readiness of Newsweek to believe a thinly sourced allegation about the Koran at Guantanamo is part of the same mindset.
"We have all been reading a great deal lately about both the decline of media credibility, and the decline of both TV news viewership and newspaper circulation. Any other industry looking at such trends would conclude that perhaps there is a connection. Certainly a press corps that wants readers to forgive its own mistakes might start by showing a little more respect and understanding for the men and women who risk their lives to defend the country."
A historian of Islam, Paul Marshall was amazed by the cluelessness of Newsweek scribes who claimed to have had no inkling the impact such a story might have:
"Equally disturbing is the fact that Newsweek reporters seemed to have little idea how explosive such a story would be. While noting that, to Muslims, desecrating the Koran 'is especially heinous,' Thomas looks for explanations, including 'extremist agitators,' of why protest and rioting spread throughout the world, and maintains that it was at Imram Khan's press conference that 'the spark was apparently lit.' He confesses that after 'so many gruesome reports of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, the vehemence of feeling around this case came as something of a surprise.'
"What planet do these people live on that they are surprised by something so entirely predictable? Anybody with a little knowledge could have told them it was likely that people would die as a result of the article. Remember Salman Rushdie?"
Hey, Maybe Movie Goers Don't Like Having Their Values Mocked Either
There was a thumb-sucking story on the network news last night (I don't know if it was ABC or NBC--I watched both) on the flat line at the box office. Why, oh, why are people not spending more at movies?
Well, maybe it's because we get sort of tired of paying money to see our values scoffed at or mocked. A gossip item asks if the new Star Wars is an anti-Bush flick. Whaddaya bet it is...
The network piece mentioned that "The Passion of the Christ" had been the industry's salvation at the box office, but it did not draw the obvious conclusion from this.
Could it be that Christian movies do well at the box office?
The term Christian movies sounds yucky (like Christian rock?) unless you remember that some of the greatest writers were Christian writers (Dante and Shakespeare come readily to mind).
"I'm Everyone's Worst Nightmare"
"Both of the best picture awards went [movies about] killing cripples," Steven Drake, a disability rights activist, told Michael Fumento of the American Spectator. Fumento writes that many people with severe handicaps were appalled by the it's-okay-to-pull-the-plug messages of "Million Dollar Baby," about a quadriplegic who persuades a friend to kill her, which won Best Picture, and "The Sea Inside," about a quadriplegic who fights for the right to die, which best foreign picture:
"John Kelly of Boston calls ["The Sea Inside"] film 'a lie.' He's not a film critic, but he knows something about the subject. 'When I was 21 I was sledding on a piece of cardboard down a hill and a tree jumped up in front,' he told me. He's now paralyzed from the neck down. 'I'm everybody's worst nightmare,' he says chuckling."
The Newsweek Riots
It's safe to say that more people have perished in the Newsweek riots than in Guantanamo--and because of a report on U.S. treatment of detainees that wasn't even true. Newsweek has apologized for the factual error that caused riots in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries that have claimed 15 lives. Editor Mark Whitaker said "whatever facts we got wrong, we apologize for. I've expressed regret for the loss of life and the violence that put American troops in harm's way. I'm getting a lot of angry e-mail about that, and I understand it."
He understands? Well, that is very nice of him. It would be pretty amazing if Mr. Whitaker didn't understand after so many deaths because of lousy reporting. "Whatever facts we got wrong." That's encouraging. Have they still not sorted out the story?
As a young reporter, I used to say people should write their stories and let the chips fall where they may. But the assumption was that the stories were accurate. If you read the magazine's account of how Newsweek came to publish a story alleging that interrogators flushed copies of the Koran down the toilet to rattle detainees, you will realize that Newsweek never really had the story. They felt shaky about the story and ran it past an unnamed Pentagon official--if he didn't pounce on this "fact," as he did not, they'd go with it.
"[Whitaker] said that a senior Pentagon official, for reasons that 'are still a little mysterious to us,' had declined to comment after Newsweek correspondent John Barry showed him a draft before the item was published and asked, 'Is this accurate or not?' Whitaker added that the magazine would have held off had military spokesmen made such a request. That official `lacked detailed knowledge' of the investigative report, Newsweek now says. Whitaker said Pentagon officials raised no objection to the story for 11 days after it was published, until it was translated by some Arab media outlets and led to the rioting."
So now it's the Pentagon's fault that Newsweek made a colossal mess? The incredible hubris continues in Whitaker's apology:
"Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we. But we regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst."
Here's something Whitaker's aces might ponder as they continue to investigate: "Anyone ever try to flush a book?" asks Lucianne Goldberg.
Whitaker lamely points out that the riots his magazine triggered were "fanned by extremists and unhappiness over the economy." But they were started by a false item in a major newsweekly.
Braying and Honking: Go Ahead--but Don't Blame Me If You Look Ridiculous
Columnist Nicholas von Hoffman is calling on "all pagans" and giving them advice on how to defeat the Religious Right:
"We of little faith and less zeal are neither organized nor rich nor eaten up with a need to proselytize, and therefore we are without defenses against God's putschists.
"To stop them, we don't have to pass laws. It's not vital to get `under God' out of the Pledge of Allegiance. What is vital is that we, the faithless, raise a hullabaloo every time the people of faith play the family-values card, every time they claim that their faith puts them at the head of the line, every time they presume to decide what we should see, hear and do. What is vital is that we bray, honk, whinny, oink and screech at every public assertion that superstition trumps science, that they've got a god and that those of us without one are no damn good."
And then there's Mr. von Hoffman's concern about his portfolio:
"Shout out the facts: They put 'in God we trust' on the money, and every year it's worth less than it was the year before."
The Good Book in America
Loose Canon supposes it's probably for the best that the overwrought Mr. von Hoffman didn't live in colonial America when believers were even more prevalent.
In a terrific piece on the Bible's influence in the founding of America, David Gelernter writes:
"Here is a basic question about America that ought to be on page 1 of every history book: What made the nation's Founders so sure they were onto something big? America today is the most powerful nation on earth, most powerful in all history--and a model the whole world imitates. What made them so sure?--the settlers and colonists, the Founding Fathers and all the generations that intervened before America emerged as a world power in the 20th century? What made them so certain that America would become a light of the world, the shining city on a hill? What made John Adams say, in 1765, 'I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence'? What made Abraham Lincoln call America (in 1862, in the middle of a ruinous civil war) 'the last, best hope of earth'?"
Loose Canon has a few quibbles with this excellent piece, though. I think Gerlernter overemphasizes the alleged Puritanism of the Church of England gallants who colonized Jamestown in favor of emphasizing the New England dissenters. It seems to me that Puritanism, by way of Emerson and the Transcendentalists, ultimately created the highly secular American intellectual, whereas the cavalier tradition, sacramental in nature, didn't start falling apart as a religious ethos until the 1970s, when the Episcopal Church went nuts.
One of the things that has always slightly bothered me about the saintly Cardinal Newman is that he seemed to care too much what people thought about him--but the result was that Newman left behind his engrossing "Apologia Pro Vita Sua," a history of his religious beliefs.
Well, I'm afraid I'm only going to produce a humble blog item, but I nevertheless do want to clarify something--one of the posters on the mini-board expressed the opinion that Loose Canon had suggested that I have been born again. I have been born again in the sense that I was baptized as an infant but not in the sense of having had an emotional experience. That said, I do find religious experiences that may feature an emotional component, including that of John Wesley quite fascinating.
Why do you want to receive Holy Communion if you aren't even reverent when doing so? When you want to make a point and don't care about the holiness of the sacrament.
Pentecost Sunday, yesterday, was adopted by the Rainbow Sash group of gay and lesbian Catholics as the time to attend Mass clad in their sashes. Amy Welborn of Open Book has posted disturbing reports on the lack of respect for the sacrament:
Amy also posts a note from Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney welcoming Rainbow Sashers:
"Just a note to say that, as in the past, members of the Rainbow Sash Movement who come to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels this Sunday will be most welcome to attend any of our Masses. Over the years, Cardinal Roger Mahony has consistently spoken to the faithful in Los Angeles about being respectful and inclusive of our Catholic brothers and sisters who are gay and lesbian. All of us struggle to be better Christians, but I think a good number of our parishes in the archdiocese are places where people feel welcome and included, regardless of their sexual orientation."
Of course, everybody should be welcome at Mass--but not everybody should receive Communion. Mahoney failed to do his job as a shepherd by not making that clear in his welcoming message.
You Can't Even Enjoy Ruining Your Mind with TV the Way This Country Is Going
Loose Canon is addicted to NBC's Law & Order (even the name is poetic, isn't it?). But, as is often the case on TV, some weeks the PC gremlins take control. It happened again this week, and Law & Order joined in the media jihad against the Religious Right.
In this episode, a man had committed a racially-motivated murder and then been born again instead of turning himself into the police. National Review's Jonah Goldberg thought for a minute that the show wasn't going to trash Christians:
"They even showed Jack McCoy (played by Sam Waterston) stunned beyond words that a born-again Christian could be so sincere. In one scene I swear he made the same face my old basset hound would make when I tried to feed him a grape: total and complete incomprehension. His assistant even confessed she goes to church regularly and knows decent born-agains herself.
"But this was all grace on the cheap. The rest of the storyline was festooned with nasty - and dishonest - shots. For example, as McCoy and his assistants work to bring the murderer to justice, the shadowy forces of the Christian right seek to have him absolved of all accountability for his crime because he'd accepted Jesus as his personal savior."
The plotline was absurd. It is great if somebody sincerely finds Christianity, but I submit that the majority of conservative Christians would be highly unlikely to regard this as relevant in judicial proceedings. Though a minority of our ranks might be soft on crime for the twice-born, most of us simply aren't that squishy. As Jonah notes:
"[T]he only remotely similar episode in recent memory concerned Karla Faye Tucker, the white female ax murderer who also happened to be a born-again Christian. Some conservative Christians - and many other anti-death penalty advocates - argued she should be spared the death penalty but not absolved of her crime. George W. Bush - the supposedly theocratic Christian - was the governor of Texas at the time, and was empowered to halt the execution. His response to such requests: No dice. 'I have concluded that judgments about the heart and soul of an individual on death row are best left to a higher authority," he declared. 'May God bless Karla Faye Tucker, and God bless her victims and their families.'"
But setting up this ridiculous plot gave the lawyer and assistant DA permission to utter over and over again, "the way the country is going these days," referring to the supposed rise of scary evangelicals.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of Loose Canon. It's been great fun, though I'd be less than truthful if I didn't admit that sometimes I've been saddened by the hatred (that's not too strong a word) for orthodox religion and Western civilization that I've noted from time to time on the mini-boards. But we all have a right to our opinions and I look forward to more spirited exchanges. This is a great gig.
Loose Canon will miss Swami. No, really. I will. I think it's safe to say Swami and I agree on nothing. But Swami writes like an angel (even if he probably doesn't believe in them?), and it has been an honor to mix it up with him. He'll be sorely missed. I'll think of him every time I eat chicken paillard. And on the brighter side, I'm sure our revels aren't quite ended. It's likely we'll spar again if Swami goes weekly.
Another Judicial Fiat
Issues Decided This Way Go On Forever: A federal judge has just ruled that the state of Nebraska has no right to ban same-sex marriages. One of the many reasons that this is bad is that it increases the likelihood that this issue will, like abortion in Roe v. Wade, will be decided by judicial fiat rather than voters and elected legislatures.
Religion: It Drives You Mad
Loose Canon can't quite let go of Sir Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven"--its portrayal of religion was so inaccurate and so filled with animus. The Law & Order segment (see above) was child's play compared to Ridley Scott's jihad against religion.
First, there's the misrepresentation of the hero, Balian of Ibelin:
"In the movie, Balian's faith in God is in jeopardy. Scott has Balian questioning whether God even knows him--his search for forgiveness in Jerusalem ends in disappointment. But what little we know about Balian from historical records suggests he was indeed a pious Christian who took his faith quite seriously. According to one account from the 13th century Estoire d' Eracles (an old French translation and expansion of a 12th century Western chronicle of the Crusades), Balian was on his way to join forces with other crusaders when he realized it was a church feast day and stopped in town to take Mass. Rather than doing his military duty, he stayed overnight at the house of the bishop, talking all night with him. The visit actually cost the kingdom something, as Balian was not there to help his comrades prevent a military defeat."
As film critic James Bowman points out, the movie reflects not the beliefs to the noble Crusaders but those of contemporary Hollywood:
"Turns out that the Crusades were not the struggle between Christians and Muslims that you might have thought they were but between both Muslim and Christian religious fanatics on the one hand and modern tolerant liberals like the film-makers - oh and, by the way, everyone else in Hollywood - on the other. Who knew?
"The most hilariously idiotic of the film's many historically stupid moments comes at the climax of the battle for Jerusalem in 1187 when Balian of Ibelin (Orlando Bloom), the commander of the city's Christian defenders, has a parley with the leader of its Muslim besiegers, Saladin, here invariably given his more authentic moniker, Salah al-Din (Ghassan Massoud). Nice that they insist on accuracy in something. Balian tells his adversary that he will surrender the city if the Muslim army will give its Christian inhabitants a safe-conduct to the sea, where they may take ship to return to Europe. The terrible alternative, Balian tells him, is that he will give the order for all the religious sites in the city to be destroyed: 'Your holy places, ours - everything that drives men mad.' It's hard to imagine a more perfect example of Hollywood's view of religion - or of a thought that would have been more unthinkable to the person supposedly uttering it."
Is Slow Suicide Better for Episcopalians?
Is the Holy See looking at the doings of our Anglican brothers and sisters through rose colored glasses? The Vatican has issued an overly optimistic statement about our friends across the Tiber:
"The Vatican on Thursday praised steps by Anglican leaders to deal with the election of a gay bishop in the United States and the blessing of same-sex unions there and in Canada, saying there were now foundations for continued dialogue and cooperation.
"The assessment came after Anglican leaders on Feb. 24 asked the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to temporarily withdraw from a key council of the world Anglican communion because of the crisis that threatened to split their 77 million members.
"The elevation of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, and subsequent blessings of same-sex unions in the United States and Canada, also jolted Anglican-Catholic relations. The Vatican has strongly objected to same-sex unions, and says homosexual acts are 'intrinsically disordered.'"
The Episcopal Church in the U.S. was asked to "temporarily withdraw" from a "key council" and Rome considers this sufficient? As long as Gene Robinson is permitted to keep his miter, the Episcopal Church is terminal.
Witty, orthodox Catholic blogger Diogenes is right in saying that praising the Anglican prelates for their tepid stand is like complimenting the "other guys on their option for suicide via hunger strike instead of by shotgun."
Diogenes adds, "Let's talk to [orthodox African prelate Peter ] Akinola [who has been outspoken about what's happening in the Episcopal Church in the U.S.]. He'll probably still have a church ten years from now."
On Not Rooting for Rudy
Loose Canon belongs to the I-Love-Rudy-But Club: He's a great guy, an appealing candidate, and one of New York's best mayors--and he's a pro-choice Catholic. A piece in Agape Press is an early indicator that, no matter what Pat Robertson, who said on ABC that Giuliani would be a "good president," says, the Religious Right is not going to rally behind Rudy for President:
"Good? I don't think so -- and neither does Robertson. Change the name from Republican to Democrat and from Giuliani to Clinton, and we would have an all-out CBN war were this guy to get close to the nomination.
"Here's the dangerous thing: because Robertson has come out of the gate with this pronouncement and because others in the religious right have sort of wondered along the same lines but dared not say what the famous broadcaster has, his admission gives permission for others to do the same.
"It also causes a shift in the sentiments of some in the religious right. In chess -- and politics is all about such game theory -- you never make a move that doesn't change the entire rest of the contest. Every move affects every other move. "And this move by Robertson, friend of Giuliani or not, does indeed change a few things, is just plain wrong, bad for the party he loves, and bad for religious conservatism. What he should have said: 'I have a personal relationship with Rudy and like him. I suspect, however, that the Republican Party will have a pro-life and pro-values candidate at its helm in the next election, and I, like Rudy, aim to fight hard for that candidate.'"
Robertson's remark may give permission--but only to those who wanted to dump the GOP's pro-life stand, one of the things that make the party idealistic, in the first place.
And don't forget, most members of the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. still have a sneaking fondness for the Democrats--bet they won't pussyfoot around withholding Communion from a pro-choice Republican. Nor should they.
As I noted, the New York Times plans to build reader credibility by increasing coverage of religion and rural America. And what might we expect from the Times forays into these alien climes?
Here's some possible foreshadowing: Amy Welborn of Open Book has this post from a reader on Vanity Fair's recent piece on Pope John Paul II:
"You probably don't have any time for worthless guilty pleasures, but one of mine is Vanity Fair. And it's a pleasure only getting better as [Vanity Fair editor-in-chief] Graydon Carter is getting more unhinged. This month there is a priceless piece on the Vatican, and of course they got the best they could find: John Cornwell. Could be worse, they might have asked Christopher Hitchens and he can actually write. It's good for a game of 'spot the errors and slants.'"
We're going to have so much fun when the Times gets religion--because they'll never "get" it.
Meanwhile, a columnist in North Carolina makes some good comments about the Times report:
"While avoiding the term bias and never admitting anything, this report nevertheless is a roadmap that shows how bias creeps into a newspaper via news analyses, interpretive reporting and monotone coverage of events.
"The 'Preserving our Readers' Trust' report submitted to Executive Editor Bill Keller on Monday was the product of '19 highly experienced news people' from The Times who 'met for extensive discussion 10 times since mid-November.' The Times' biggest problem, the committee seems to feel, is that it, like the Democratic Party, just can't get its story out."
"'On occasion, our reporters have been lured into offering opinions or making statements that went beyond reporting and their expertise,' the committee said (emphasis added). The poor Times reporters, they feel, are simply no match for the average TV news host. The solution to this, they conclude, 'lies in new training, new internal checks and closer coordination between the newsroom and our corporate communications department.' This is what the media usually call 'information management' when someone else does it."
This is a Bad Idea--but It's Not Going Anywhere
The relation of religion and politics is complicated in the United States. I don't like the notion that religious expressions must be erased from the public square. But a proposal to allow churches to become more deeply involved in politics and still hang onto their tax exempt status could have terrible ramifications.
"My whole contention is that I believe - and I am very strong in my faith - that if we do not allow freedom of speech to be expressed in our houses of worship, you will have people in the state legislatures and Congress who have no respect for the Bible or the Torah," [bill-proposer Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina] FOXNews.com.
My own Church has made egregious political mistakes in the last 2000 years. Moreover, while Christian voters need Christian tenets to form their consciences, the application of this rich tradition often allows for great latitude. I also think that Rep. Jones' proposal would lessen rather than increase respect for the Bible and the Torah. The last thing Christians need now is pastors who try to tell them which candidate is acceptable. (On the other hand, I have no problem with bishops asking Catholics who don't uphold Church teachings to refrain from presenting themselves at the altar rail for Holy Communion.)
Democrats had to trash John Bolton personally--they couldn't just go into the hearing room and say they had ideological differences. The voters had already made some decisions about whose ideology they preferred. But Robert Novak reports that Fidel may have been the real sticking point for some Democratic opponents of Bolton.
This Didn't Have to Happen
The most repugnant story I've seen in a long time is the murder of two little girls in Illinois, eight-year-old Laura Hobbs and friend Krystal Tobias, 9. Laura's father, Jerry Hobbs, 34, recently released from a Texas prison where he was serving time for assault, (here and here) has been arrested for the murders.
The brutality of a man killing children is almost unthinkable--except that it happens. What did the little girls think was happening to them in their last moments on earth?
Most chillingly, Hobbs helped the police find the bodies:
"The police said Mr. Hobbs led them early Monday to the girls, lying fully clothed, face up and side by side in a dense wood off a popular bicycle path, saying that he and his father-in-law had happened upon them while searching for the girls."
I've noticed something about these cases of child-murder--if you read these stories, you notice kids and their mothers often have different last names, an indication that the family, which is supposed to protect children, is really at breaking point. One father of a murdered daughter had left her with her grandparents on the night of the abduction so he could spend the night with his girlfriend.
Of course, in the case of suspect Hobbs, there is a family failure of a different sort: This is a family unit that should have been broken up to protect Laura and her mother, Sheila Hollabuagh, with whom he appears to have been living at the time of the murders. Hobbs did not belong in a house with a child. He had been convicted of aggravated assault--he had chased neighbors with a chain saw. And it sounds like the family from hell--it may have been an argument with Ms. Hollabaugh that triggered a rampage.
Another question might be: Are violent people not receiving stiff enough sentences when they assault others? It was a fight with Ms. Hollabaugh that led to the chain saw incident.
If convicted, Hobbs richly deserves to be executed. Though not enough, it would at least be just. My heart also goes out to the relatives and friends of Krystal Tobias.
There's No Comparison
My quotation from New Criterion editor Roger Kimball in an exchange with an Indian feminist--"Had Britain had the courage to face down Gandhi and his rabble a few years longer, the tragedy that was the partititon of India might have been avoided"--has triggered conniption fits.
The volatile but analogy-challenged Swami wrote rather offensively:
"Not LC's words, but she applauds the sentiment. Wonder what she thinks of Moses? Or M.L. King, Jr.? Does the word 'uppity' come to mind?
"Go Pharaoh, go! Lash those Jews! And you, Leroy--tote that barge!"
Since Swami wasn't the only person who made this comparison, I thought I'd better address the comparison because...there's no comparison. The deep-south brand of apartheid had nothing beneficial about it, and the sooner it ended the better. Martin Luther King gave his life for this cause, and ranks with the great leaders of history.
But Kimball argues (and I agree, though this certainly isn't my specialty) that the British Empire was a beneficial force in history, that it brought good things to India and might have lingered just a bit longer to the good of the fledgling nation:
Here is a bit more from the original bit by Roger Kimball:
"Of course colonialism comes in different flavors. The Belgians did not acquit themselves honorably in the Congo. But everywhere that Britain went--I cannot think of a single exception--it left better off. Santayana was right when he observed, in Soliloquies in England, that
"What governs the Englishman is his inner atmosphere, the weather in his soul. Instinctively the Englishman is no missionary, no conqueror. He prefers the country to the town, and home to foreign parts. He is rather glad and relieved if only natives will remain natives and strangers strangers, and at a comfortable distance from himself. Yet outwardly he is most hospitable and accepts almost anybody for the time being; he travels and conquers without a settled design, because he has the instinct of exploration. His adventures are all external; they change him so little that he is not afraid of them. He carries his English weather in his heart wherever he goes, and it becomes a cool spot in the desert, and a steady and sane oracle amongst all the deliriums of mankind. Never since the heroic days of Greece has the world had such a sweet, just, boyish master. It will be a black day for the human race when scientific blackguards, conspirators, churls, and fanatics manage to supplant him."
Look, this is not a politically correct opinion, and I don't expect many Beliefnet members to share this view. But, please, let's be civil.
I do hope you'll agree that such utterances as "Lash those Jews! And you, Leroy--tote that barge!" misrepresent my position and are nasty in the extreme.
But Aren't Soup Cans More Inspiring?
Christianity inspired some of the world's greatest art. If you want to know just how marginalized Christians are in today's art world, here's a story about a new art gallery from the New York Times.
Telling It Like It Is--Not Like It Was
If you want to know exactly why Sir Ridley Scott's movie "Kingdom of Heaven" was ultimately a failure, despite the heavenly props, you need do no more than read this terrific interview with Thomas Madden, a history professor and expert on the Crusades. Asked about the movie's presentation of Saladin as a man who desired peace and of some Crusaders as world-weary sophisticates and others as warmongering members of the Religious Right, Madden said...
"They were very devout men; that's why they were there. It doesn't make sense for someone with no religion to go to the enormous expense and danger of the Crusades for the fun of it. Nothing explains it except their enormous devotion to their religion and what they thought was right, on both the Christian and Muslim side.
"These are not people who have a jaded view of religion. You read [Saladin's] biographers--men who knew him and spent their lives with him--it's clear he's an extremely devout man. He prayed, he got rid of taxes that were illegal by Islamic law, and so he ended up losing a lot of money by getting rid of them. He believed strongly, the way Christians believed, that if he was a good and pious ruler, God would reward him with these victories.
"He attacked because he wanted to. It's true that Reynald de Chatillon was a complete jerk, a very cruel man. He provided the excuse for Saladin to break the truce, but Saladin was going to anyway. It was just a matter of time. According to Islamic law, an Islamic leader is not allowed to make peace with an infidel state. They can make truce--which is temporary.
"[Retaking Jerusalem] was going to be the crowning triumph of his reign."
Not Heaven at the Box Office
"Kingdom of Heaven," the saga of Crusaders who read the Nation magazine (or would have, if it had been published in 12th century Jerusalem), has not found salvation at the box office. Newsday columnist James Pinkerton takes note of these tidings:
According to The Hollywood Reporter, 'Kingdom' led a 'lethargic charge' to the top of the box office over the weekend. But as E! noted, the big movie premiere of the same weekend last year, the unremarkable 'Van Helsing,' generated more than 2 1/2 times as much revenue. The poor performance by "Kingdom" is all the more remarkable because it was directed by Ridley Scott, who helmed such hits as 'Alien' and 'Gladiator.'...
Some KOH supporters have blamed the relatively poor showing on conservative critics...
"But Tom Neven, a critic for Pluggedinonline, a Christian movie guide, dug deeper into the film's weakness. Describing Scott as a 'self-professed agnostic,' Neven lamented that 'distinctly 21st century views on religion' had been imposed on the film. Thus much of the historical-religious context of the film was leached away. As Neven explained of the Christian and Muslim combatants, 'as for the distinctiveness of their respective faiths, you'd never know what they were fighting about.'
"That was a big mistake, commercially as well as historically. By contrast, the three 'Lord of the Rings' movies were huge successes, because they presented a sharp moral worldview, of good pitted against evil. Gandalf and the Hobbits vs. Sauron and the Orcs: You knew which side you were on."
Euw! Yuck! Please Don't Make Me Cover Christians, Boss!
Loose Canon was so busy with "Kingdom of Heaven" that she failed to take note of the New York Times' amusing report on the report of an internal committee's charged with finding ways the newspaper might go about building readers' confidence in the wake of the Jayson Blair fabrications and other recent setbacks for the mainstream media. My pal Lucianne Goldberg had a really clear cut prescription ("Tell the truth"), but nothing's ever that simple when a committee is involved:
"The committee also recommended that the paper 'increase our coverage of religion in America' and 'cover the country in a fuller way,' with more reporting from rural areas and of a broader array of cultural and lifestyle issues." I can hardly wait for more stories about scary evangelicals in the New York Times.
Not a Heavenly Choice
Loose Canon has been dismayed by the rumors that San Francisco Archbishop William Levada is the likely replacement for Benedict XVI at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Domenico Bettinelli has heard the same rumor from good sources and comments:
"This is not good news. Archbishop Levada is the prelate who compromised with the city of San Francisco over the city's demands that Catholic Charities and other Church organizations provide 'domestic partner' benefits to employees. His archdiocese is also a mess with dissenting priests, homosexual activists running all over the place, the University of San Francisco trampling the faith, and more.
"I'm really very surprised by this. I would have thought that Pope Benedict would have seen this for what it was, especially considering his close association with [Jesuit] Father Fessio, who had been in San Francisco for many years."
Nevertheless, All Will Be Well
Didn't realize that day before yesterday was the birthday of Julian of Norwich, one of the great Christian mystics:
"A matter that greatly troubled her was the fate of those who through no fault of their own had never heard the Gospel. She never received a direct answer to her questions about them, except to be told that whatever God does is done in Love, and therefore 'that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'
"Speaking of her visions of heaven and hell, she said, 'To me was shown no harder hell than sin.'
"Of our response to the sins of others, she said: 'The soul that would preserve its peace, when another's sin is brought to mind, must fly from it as from the pains of hell, looking to God for help against it. To consider the sins of other people will produce a thick film over the eyes of our soul, and prevent us for the time being from seeing the 'fair beauty of the Lord'--unless, that is, we look at them contrite along with the sinner, being sorry with and for him, and yearning over him for God. Without this it can only harm, disturb, and hinder the soul who considers them. I gathered all this from the revelation about compassion...This blessed friend is Jesus; it is his will and plan that we hang on to him, and hold tight always, in whatever circumstances; for whether we are filthy or clean is all the same to his love.'"
Thanks to one of my favorite Anglican sites for noticing Juliana's day.
Blowing Smoke in the War Against Drugs
Loose Canon is very much in favor of legalizing drugs--legalizing drugs might not stop people from destroying themselves with drugs, but it would almost certainly reduce the number of innocent children and others who get caught in the crossfire of drug-related violence. Even stupider than waging an expensive "war on drugs" that we will never win is waging an expensive war on a drug that's less dangerous than the so-called hard drugs, marijuana. Perhaps it's not totally benign, but marijuana is hardly a threat to the republic.
As Rich Lowry of National Review reports, our government is doing just that:
"As the nation's 'drug czar,' John Walters is supposed to be saving us from the ravages of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine. At least that was the original sales pitch for the "war on drugs" in the 1980s. But the war has evolved into largely a fight against marijuana, which no one has ever claimed is a hard drug. Walters is nonetheless committed, Ahab-like, to arresting every marijuana smoker in the country whom law enforcement can lay its hands on."
Wouldn't it be simpler to legalize marijuana?
Kingdom of Heaven: Blue State Crusaders
Sir Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven" is a gorgeous movie--the battles are spectacular, the scenes of Jerusalem and the sea are breathtaking, and the leper king, Baldwin IV, in his silver mask (played by Edward Norton), steals the show, whether riding reluctantly at the head of his great army or speaking ethereally, with only his eyes slightly visible, from behind his mask. But other than being visually heavenly, and having nice music, the movie is a piece of propaganda, the Iraq war always suggested in its portrayal of the Crusades.
The movie depicts the Crusades as they never were, featuring good Muslims and good and bad (Rumsfeld) Christians. Vaguely agnostic and unlikely to offend in a blue state salon--the crosses on their tunics seem almost ironic--the good crusaders, disillusioned by war, are peaceniks, eager to set up a "kingdom of conscience" in 12th century Jerusalem. Yes, you read that right.
As John Podhoretz--who calls KOH one of the most anachronistic movies ever made--notes, Saladin and the good Crusaders are portrayed as wanting a United Nations "to come into existence circa 1186 to ensure a multicultural, internationalized Jerusalem."
The hero is Balian of Ibelin, a blacksmith at the outset of the movie, who is actually the illegitimate son of Godfrey of Ibelin, a baron and person of consequence in Jerusalem. Godfrey rides up, reveals Balian's parentage, andinvites his newfound son to join him in Jerusalem. Balian at first rejects the idea but then kills a priest and feels a Crusade would help him cleans his soul of the offense. The priest, by the way, was a doozy. He mocked Balian's wife for having taken her life in a bout with post partum depression and stole a gold cross from the dead woman's corpse, about par for the course for men of the cloth in this movie. The bishop in Jerusalem will prove even more of a jerk.
Balian catches up with Godfrey, and the smithy receives a quick lesson in the use of a sword. He's a natural and will prove a great knight. In fact, he helps to fight off "the bishops' men," who try to take him back to be tried for the murder of a priest, but not before Godfrey announced, "I am a murderer, too."
Well, that seemed odd. Crusaders didn't routinely think of themselves as thugs or murderers. Oh, wait--Godfrey is a good crusader. Of course, he must regard killing somebody in battle as murder. Otherwise, he'd be a bad Crusader with an un-evolved consciousness. Godfrey belongs to the Baldwin IV-United Nations faction of the Crusaders. Balian soon becomes a stalwart of that faction, replacing Godfrey, who dies of wounds.
The Rumsfeld Christians are represented by two louts, Guy de Lusignan and Reynald who has a dyed red beard. "Give me a war," Guy, who becomes king after Baldwin dies, orders Reynald. Guy and Reynald are warmongering fools. In Ridley Scott's apparent view of the Crusades, a true crusader could be nothing else.
One of the film's failures is that it has no understanding of the Crusades. The Crusaders weren't thugs encroaching on the territory of peace-loving Saracens (the term they would have used instead of Muslims). There is a terrific corrective faction piece on the Crusades by historian Thomas Madden on Christianity Today, and it is a corrective to the view presented in KOH. Madden writes:
"Misconceptions about the Crusades are all too common. The Crusades are generally portrayed as a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics. They are supposed to have been the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilization in general. A breed of proto-imperialists, the Crusaders introduced Western aggression to the peaceful Middle East and then deformed the enlightened Muslim culture, leaving it in ruins. ...
"So what is the truth about the Crusades? Scholars are still working some of that out. But much can already be said with certainty. For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression-an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.
"Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. Christianity--and for that matter any other non-Muslim religion--has no abode. Christians and Jews can be tolerated within a Muslim state under Muslim rule. But, in traditional Islam, Christian and Jewish states must be destroyed and their lands conquered. When Mohammed was waging war against Mecca in the seventh century, Christianity was the dominant religion of power and wealth. As the faith of the Roman Empire, it spanned the entire Mediterranean, including the Middle East, where it was born. The Christian world, therefore, was a prime target for the earliest caliphs, and it would remain so for Muslim leaders for the next thousand years.
"With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed's death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt-once the most heavily Christian areas in the world-quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.
"That is what gave birth to the Crusades. They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense."
One of the other problems with the movie is that Ridley Scott apparently can't fathom what it would be like to be a believer and to make one's choices according to belief--unless, of course, believing is seen as being a full-fledged fanatic. The Crusaders are proto-Religious Right members, and, as such, can't be (in the eyes of those who made this movie) anything other than uncouth warmongers.
After Guy and Reynald make a mess, Balian takes upon himself the defense of Jerusalem. But this is okay because he seems himself not as a crusader but as a defender of indigenous peoples. Balian makes a big speech about how the goals of the Crusaders-holding onto the holy places Christ walked, etc., etc.--don't amount to a hill of beans. The fanatics shout "Deo Volente" before going into battle. Balian's warriors don't, a sign of their superiority.
At the end of the movie, Saladin, seeing an altar cross that has fallen to the grown in defeated Jerusalem, picks it up and sets it right. Muslims are repelled by the notion of a deity who was humble enough to die on the cross. Saladin was a great figure of chivalry, but I can't see him being quite that ecumenical.
History is often rewritten to suit a particular age. Shakespeare wrote immortal plays that changed history to bolster the Tudor claims on the throne. But I can't help feeling that, in our banal and preachy age, we are stranded in the present with no sense of history. This beautiful movie has added to the sum of human ignorance.
Another View of Gandhi
Many thanks to Powerline for spotting this marvelous remark from the New Criterion's Roger Kimball in an exchange with an Indian feminist:
"Had Britain had the courage to face down Gandhi and his rabble a few years longer, the tragedy that was the partititon of India might have been avoided."
Small Fish to Fry?
There are reports (here and here) that the Vatican had a hand in forcing the resignation of Jesuit Thomas Reese as editor of the liberal America magazine, the Jesuit publication.
The action would have been in the works before Cardinal Ratzinger became Benedict XVI. Even Loose Canon's conservative friends are saying that this seems like an awfully small fish for the Vatican to fry.
For Catholic blogger Diogenes, however, the move made sense:
"The point is that America's notion of what counts as a hot topic is selective and ideologically slanted against the Holy See. ...
"At least as important as Reese's departure as editor will be his loss as the media's go-to person in New York, in which capacity he came to be seen as the voice of U.S. Jesuits. He usually stated fairly the rival perspectives on a given controversy, but used a kind of ironic detachment to suggest that intellectually respectable opinion belonged overwhelmingly to one side...."
Does anybody remember one of LC's first questions on hearing of the elevation of Pope Benedict XVI? When are we going to turn those altars around? Well, I'm not the only one asking. Here's the lead of a story from the Los Angeles Times:
"Forget about whether Pope Benedict XVI will soften his attitude toward the role of women in the church or discover a more pastoral approach to homosexuals or heed the pleas of manpower-poor bishops for an experiment with married priests. For many Catholics, there is only one question about the new pope's intentions: Will he turn the altars around?"
Thanks to Amy Welborn of Open Book for noticing this piece.
Three Cheers--and a Sense of Foreboding
Whodathunk Loose Canon would be rooting for a Labour victory in the British elections? Needless to say, the press is spinning Tony Blair's unprecedented win--the first time a Labour PM has held on for a third term in the scepter'd isle's history--as a defeat in disguise.
But there was one ominous sign in the election:
"[T]he Muslim factor played a bigger part than ever before -- and a damaging one for British democracy," writes British journalist Daniel Johnson in a column that was carried on the New Criterion website. "Cities with large concentrations of Muslim voters all registered strong votes against Tony Blair and for anti-war candidates of any other party, however extreme. It looks as though many Muslims still obey their community leaders and imams and vote en bloc.
"As the proportion of Muslims grows, due to a higher birthrate and immigration, we are seeing this behaviour affecting more and more seats, as politicians make greater efforts to appease Muslim demands. Labour has already promised a new law to restrict 'incitement to religious hatred' which nobody except the Muslims wanted. Now that the imams have flexed their electoral muscle, we can expect the Islamic shopping list to grow over the next few years."
I do not think it is good that a voting faction hostile to Western values is set to exercise influence.
The Heartbreak of Obesity--for Democrats
Fortunately, our Democrats weren't as winning as England's Labour Party. Historian Victor Davis Hanson, one of my favorite writers, has a terrific piece on Democratic Suicide. "When will the Dems start winning again?" it asks, replying, "When they start living and speaking like normal folks."
"A Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, George Soros, or Al Gore looks - no, acts - like he either came out of a hairstylist's salon or got off a Gulfstream. Those who show up at a Moveon.org rally and belong to ANSWER don't seem to have spent much time in Bakersfield or Logan, but lots in Seattle and Westwood. When most Americans have the semblance of wealth - televisions, cell phones, cars, laptops, and iPods as well as benefits on the job - it is hard to keep saying that 'children are starving.' Obesity not emaciation is the great plague of the poorer."
Why Not Worry about Something Real?
There's been a lot of worry lately that evangelical Christians will take over America. Fat chance. As columnist Don Feder has observed, Dominionist Christians have about as many adherents as those who subscribe to the flat earth theory.
Liberals are fixated on this "issue," and, meanwhile, refuse to focus something that really is happening: the rise of feral young men who lack a moral sense or compunction about harming others.
The most disturbing thing I've seen in a long time was a report on a man savagely beating an elderly woman who has been a street vendor at the Foggy Bottom Metro station here in Washington for many years. The beating was caught on surveillance tape--it was the attacker's unhesitating kicks--you could almost hear the thud, thud--that I haven't been able to forget. Somehow, I imagine the vendor, who was pursued to her apartment and robbed, feels, amid the physical pain, shock that somebody could do this to her.
Actually, I'd be delighted if those scary evangelicals had gotten their nefarious hooks into the man who attacked the elderly vendor in time to instill in him the wacky Christian notion that kicking old ladies practically to death is wrong.
But, hey, let's worry about Dominionism.
Fascinating, If True
That's Relapsed Catholic's assessment of a rumor she reports on and that I've been hearing lately in Catholics circles--namely on why John Paul II may have dismissed out-of-hand reports that certain priests were gay.
"He did so because accusing someone of homosexuality was a standard practice of the Communist government in his native Poland regarding anyone it regarded as an enemy of the state. From his ordination as a Catholic priest in 1946 to elevation to Archbishop of Krakow in 1963 and Cardinal in 1967, the then Karol Wojtyla witnessed this personal destruction repeatedly. So traumatized, he summarily dismissed such accusations as pope, and would approve the elevation of anyone so accused."
The quote appears to be from a book by E. Michael Jones on degenerate moderns.
Read Before Signing
Remember how the big story after the starvation death of Terri Schiavo was that you should have a living will? Not so fast. Here's a snippet from an alarming story from the National Catholic Register:
"Bernadine O'Dea was a good Catholic. She knew at the end of her life she didn't want to hang on, plugged into tubes and machines that weren't going to do any good.
"So, when the senior living center gave her a living will to fill out, she checked all the boxes that indicated they were extraordinary care: antibiotics, cardiac resuscitation, mechanical respiration, feeding tubes, intravenous fluids, chemotherapy and kidney dialysis.
"Fortunately, the 85-year-old Michigan woman trusted her son and handed it to him to check, Mike O'Dea recalled. He's still appalled by the possibility that his mother could have inadvertently signed her life away.
"Mrs. O'Dea's living will didn't just authorize the withdrawal of those treatments if she was dying; it also would have applied if she was permanently unconscious or, as the document stated, conscious but had 'irreversible brain damage and will never regain the ability to make decisions and express my wishes.'
"Five years later Mrs. O'Dea died, with her son and his family by her side. But before that, she needed antibiotics and intravenous hydration and recovered to live another three years - very fully, O'Dea said."
My theory is that the living will clique thinks granny can be so intimidated that she won't dare ask for antibiotics much less a feeding tube.
In other medical news Chicago's Cardinal Francis George has asked Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to rescind his directive that pharmacists cannot refuse to sell contraceptives, including the morning-after pill, regardless of their consciences.
Evangelical wit Dawn Eden of Dawn Patrol has touted two funny recent headlines: her own on Pope Benedict XVI's (I love writing that!) trip to the summer palace, Castel Gandolfo: "A Man's Rome Is His Castle;" and Memphis seminarian Dennis Schenkel's take on ebay's offering of a consecrated host: "Spitting on the Mock of Ebay." (If this one stumps you for a moment, think Otis Redding.)
The Ascension of Our Lord
"The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, of all things which Jesus began to do and to teach, until the day on which, giving commandments by the Holy Ghost to the apostles whom he had chosen, he was taken up. To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion, by many proofs, for forty days appearing to them, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And eating together with them, he commanded them, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father, which you have heard (saith he) by my mouth. 5 For John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence.
"They therefore who were come together, asked him, saying: Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? But he said to them: It is not for you to know the times or moments, which the Father hath put in his own power: But you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had said these things, while they looked on, he was raised up: and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they were beholding him going up to heaven, behold two men stood by them in white garments....
--From the epistle for Ascension Day, which falls this year on May 5, from the Douay-Rheims Bible.
The Religious Right: Are You For Them or Against Them?
All of a sudden the religious right is all the rage. Today's Wall Street Journal features pro and con pieces. James Taranto is pro:
"I am not a Christian, or even a religious believer, and my opinions on social issues are decidedly middle-of-the-road. So why do I find myself rooting for the "religious right"? I suppose it is because I am put off by self-righteousness, closed-mindedness, and contempt for democracy and pluralism--all of which characterize the opposition to the religious right.
"One can disagree with religious conservatives on abortion, gay rights, school prayer, creationism and any number of other issues, and still recognize that they have good reason to feel disfranchised. This isn't the same as the oft-heard complaint of 'anti-Christian bigotry,' which is at best imprecise, since American Christians are all over the map politically. But those who hold traditionalist views have been shut out of the democratic process by a series of court decisions that, based on constitutional reasoning ranging from plausible to ludicrous, declared the preferred policies of the secular left the law of the land....
"Curiously, while secular liberals underestimate the intellectual seriousness of the religious right, they also overestimate its uniformity and ambition. The hysterical talk about an incipient 'theocracy'--as if that is what America was before 1963, when the Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools--is either utterly cynical or staggeringly naive."
Iconoclastic scribe Christopher Hitchens is con:
"I am neither a Republican nor a Christian, and I don't propose that there is any congruence between Sen. Goldwater's annoyance and the alleged words (which occur in similar form in all four gospels) of the possibly mythical Nazarene. Yet two things are obvious. The first is that many conservatives appreciate the value of a secular republic, and do not make the idiotic confusion between 'secular' and 'atheist' that is so common nowadays. The second is that no 'Moral Majority' type has yet proposed that the most important commandment, the one underlined by Jesus himself, be displayed in courtrooms or schoolrooms. It turns out that the Eleventh Commandment is not 'Thou shalt speak no ill of fellow Republicans,' but is, rather, a demand for the most extreme kind of leveling and redistribution. ...
"Thus far, the clericalist bigots have been probing and finding only mush. A large tranche of the once-secular liberal left has disqualified itself by making excuses for jihad and treating Osama bin Laden as if he were advocating liberation theology. The need of the hour is for some senior members of the party of Lincoln to disown and condemn the creeping and creepy movement to impose orthodoxy on a free and pluralist and secular Republic."
Loose Canon is trying to fathom why the fixation on the religious right is more intense than ever. I hope it's a primal scream: Democrats are beginning to realize they need the votes of "these people;" but they still find them unspeakably tacky. But the intensity and irrationality of the hatred directed at the religious right is distressing.
Columnist Don Feder defends the religious right's political rights:
"When any other group (environmentalists, feminists, peace activists) organizes to effect political change through education, lobbying, and get-out-the-vote efforts, it's called...democracy.
"When Christians (as Christians) try to exercise their rights as citizens, it's called sinister, an attempted hijacking of the political process - theocracy!"
Here's something Feder can say until he's blue in the face and the left is still going to squawk:
"Dominionism and Christian Reconstructionism are obscure belief systems with slightly fewer followers than flat-earth theory. In many years of working with Christian conservatives, I have yet to encounter anyone who subscribes to either dogma. What The Protocols of The Learned Elders of Zion meant to anti-Semitism, Dominionism and Christian Reconstructionism are for the anti-Christian Left - an attempt to stir up hatred by seeking to convince the unwary of a dark plot to take over the world or nation."
Another Saintly Abortionist
First, there was Cider House Rules's saintly abortionist Wilbur Larch, who runs a boys' home and offers women "an orphan or an abortion." Now there's Vera Drake of the eponymous movie. Columnist William Murchison on Vera:
"I went to see 'Vera Drake' on a cold, dreary November Sunday afternoon.... 'Vera Drake' is about abortion; specifically, abortion as practiced in England more than half a century ago, in that gray postwar time before the complete transvaluation of Victorian values. Abortion, under the Offenses Against the Person Act of 1861, was a crime.
"But what has that to do with the gentle and dowdy Vera? From her respectable if tacky London flat ... Vera bustles forth to do endless good. We see her visiting shut-ins, checking on her mother, making copious pots of tea; being dear and lovable, in short. What else is she up to, however? ... Vera does abortions. Not that she calls her interventions by that name. She thinks of her work as outreach to the distressed.
"No piece of fiery propaganda is 'Vera Drake,' despite its attitude toward the destruction of unborn life. An invitation is what you might call it -- an invitation to think of 'helping young girls' in Vera's special manner as normal and merciful and, when you get to thinking about it, just what decency compels. What's a poor girl to do, after all, when she gets in the family way?"
(Many thanks to the Washington Times Culture, Etc. column for spotting this item.)
The Editorial Jihad against Evangelicals
A name Loose Canon recognized from Gay Talese's monumental book about the New York Times, "The Power and the Glory," was splashed across the top of the Washington Post's op-ed page today: John McCandlish Phillips. Phillips was an ace reporter, but he also stood out at the Times as the only evangelical Christian among 275 or so editorial employees and the only Timesman who kept a leather-bound Bible on his desk.
Headlined "When Columnists Cry 'Jihad,'" Phillips' soberly-written piece deals with the dismaying escalation of verbal attacks on evangelical Christians by members of the chattering classes in the last month or so:
"I have been looking at myself, and millions of my brethren, fellow evangelicals along with traditional Catholics, in a ghastly arcade mirror lately -- courtesy of this newspaper and the New York Times. Readers have been assured, among other dreadful things, that we are living in 'a theocracy' and that this theocratic federal state has reached the dire level of -- hold your breath -- a 'jihad.'"
"In more than 50 years of direct engagement in and observation of the major news media I have never encountered anything remotely like the fear and loathing lavished on us by opinion mongers in these world-class newspapers in the past 40 days. If I had a $5 bill for every time the word 'frightening' and its close lexicographical kin have appeared in the Times and The Post, with an accusatory finger pointed at the Christian right, I could take my stack to the stock market."
Among others, Phillips takes note of columnist Maureen Dowd ("Oh my God, we really are in a theocracy"), Paul Krugman, who has compared some Christians to Islamic extremists, and Frank Rich, who wrote that GOP members of Congress have tipped the U.S. into "a full-scale jihad." Rich might temper this judgment, says Phillips, if he "were to have the misfortune to live for one week in a genuine jihad, and the unlikely fortune to survive it."
I agree with Phillips that the notion that evangelical Christians want to establish dominion, breaking down the barrier between church and state, is hogwash--the dream of editorial writers and journalists, many of whom grew up amid provincialism (including evangelical faith) and want desperately to escape it.
They also want to eradicate religion from the public square. Evangelicals know that their rationale rests on an ahistorical interpretation of American history and a distorted view of those backward enough, in their collective judgment, to be Christians:
"In the long journey from the matchless moment when I became 'born again' and encountered the risen and living Christ, I have met hundreds of evangelicals and a good many practicing Catholics and have found them to be of reasonable temperament, often enough of impressive accomplishment, certainly not a menace to the republic, unless, of course, the very fact of faith seriously held is thought to make them just that. It is said, again and again and again, that the evangelical/Catholic right is out of accord with the history of our republic, dangerously so. What we are out of accord with is not that history but a revisionist version of it vigorously promulgated by those who want it to be seen as other than it was.
"Evangelicals are concerned about the frequently advanced and historically untenable secularists' view of the intent of our non-establishment/free exercise of religion clause: that everything that has its origin in religion must be swept out of federal, and even civil, domains. That view, if militantly enforced, constitutes what seems dangerous to most evangelicals: the strict and entire separation of God from state. This construct, so desired by some, is radically out of sync with much in American history that shows a true regard for the non-establishment of religion while giving space in nearly all contexts to wide and free expressions of faith."
Why Won't He Just Stay Dead?
There was a post on the mini-board (the discussion to the right of the blog) to the effect that my saying that if evangelical Christians want to establish their religion, then we should be wary, was a breakthrough.
Well, but of course. I have no more desire to live under an evangelical theocracy than the next papist. But I do not expect such an eventuality, no matter how the glossy magazines frighten you.
The problem is that, as with so much in the MSM (mainstream media) today, their reporting on religious issues appears to be bizarrely biased (see John McCandlish Phillips above). Their jeremiads seem born not of a real threat from Christian evangelicals but of some strange psychological fixation of their own.
I blogged recently on the May Harper's magazine cover on "The Christian Right's War on America." I wish it were online so that you could read Harper's editor Lewis Lapham's Notebook, subtitled "The Wrath of the Lamb." Mr. Lapham isn't a polite unbeliever--he has an animus against religion:
"I didn't encounter the problem of religious belief until I reached Yale, where I was informed by the liberal arts department that it wasn't important because God was dead. What remained to be discussed was the autopsy report.... On the evidence presented in the history books, the exit strategy wasn't as important as the good news that the Great Man was well and truly gone."
Might Mr. Lapham's disgust that God won't stay dead have contributed to his magazine's war-on-America approach to reporting on evangelicals?
"Not a Single Sentence Promotes Theocracy"
An honest writer for the Denver Post may never be invited to a cool party again--he has dared to say in print that neither Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput nor James Dobson of Focus on the Family is a raving lunatic who promotes theocracy:
"My initial reflex has been to pile on Dobson, with whom I disagree on social issues. After reading his words, however, I discovered not a single sentence that promotes a theocracy.
"Instead, what I found out was that progressives believe separation of church and state means that anyone involved in religion should avoid involvement in politics.
"(Thankfully these forces weren't around when 'religious nuts' like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the abolitionists of the North were.)
"Or is it only conservative Christians that need to shut up? ..."
Why the Crusaders Were Right After All
Apparently, taking up the Cross isn't what it used to be: Loose Canon, who is planning to see "Kingdom of Heaven" this week, is, in the meantime, indebted to Relapsed Catholic for spotting a terrific piece in the Telegraph (headlined "The Crusaders Were Right After All"). It features the novel reflections of Sir Ridley Scott, who made the movie--in his own image:
"Sir Ridley explains: 'Balian is an agnostic, just like me.' Yet there were no agnostics in the 12th century. That might sound ridiculous, but the word 'agnostic' is a 19th-century invention (1869), just like the word 'homosexual' (1892). There were sex acts between men in the Middle Ages, just as men and women doubted their faith, but neither fact defined a personal ideology.
"Sir Ridley's problem is that he links agnosticism and tolerance as joint forces of good in his film, and he makes true believers -- either Muslim or Christian -- baddies. That is an impossible historical pill to swallow. And -- groan -- the Knights Templar (with their baggage from The Da Vinci Code and The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail) become the 'Right-wing or Christian fundamentalists of their day', in Sir Ridley's words.
"'If we could just take God out of the equation,' says Sir Ridley, like John Lennon in Imagine, 'there'd be no f---ing problem.' A more realistic view of history requires less retrospective fantasy and more brain work. It means forcing our heads round to see what motivated men and women centuries ago. Try thinking the unthinkable -- that the Crusaders were right, and that we should be grateful to them.
"It takes no great counter-factual leap to see what would have happened if Crusaders had not fought back. Gibbon for once got it right when he imagined a Muslim England where 'the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet'. "That, you might think, need not be so bad. But we wouldn't now be complaining how boring the election is. There would be no election and no free press in which to complain."
Fear and Loathing on the Secular Left
Loose Canon has noticed that the secular left is becoming quite shrilly evangelical on the subject of scary conservative Christians. A Washington Times report on a New York conference on the religious right captured the flavor:
"The 58-year-old man stepped to the microphone and spoke like a zealous Christian anxious to learn about carrying the Gospel to nonbelievers.
"'We're trying to understand these people. How do we reach out to them?' asked Wayne Reagan, 58, a retired Housing Authority official.
"But Mr. Reagan was asking how to evangelize believers, specifically Christians, with the gospel of secularism.
"Mr. Reagan, who is not religious, attended a conference Friday and Saturday at the City College of New York, called 'Examining the Real Agenda of the Religious Far Right.' The event was sponsored by the New York Open Center, a holistic learning center, and by the People for the American Way Foundation."
LC can't help thinking that the titles of the sessions aren't really designed to extend an olive branch to these scary Christians--"Fundamentalism: The Fear and the Rage;" "Is an Unholy American Theocracy Here?" and my own personal favorite, "On the Psychology and Theocracy of George W. Bush: Reflections in a Culture of Fear."
Though these titles certainly suggest a culture of paranoia on the left, I must admit that the conference introduced me to a term I'd, frankly, not encountered before--"dominionism." I think it must be what Swami and others have in mind when the talk about encroaching theocracy.
Goggling the term, LC came across this description:
"The idea, also called Dominionism, states that Christians are mandated to gradually occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns. ...While during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries many Christian thought leaders believed in one form of Dominionism or another, their hope largely faded with the Industrial Revolution as society grew increasingly complex and problems mounted upon one another. But the idea of Christians obtaining control of secular society gained widespread acceptance again with the 1981 Francis Schaeffer book, A Christian Manifesto. Schaeffer and his wife, Edith, ran a retreat center in Switzerland, where young American 'Jesus Freaks' studied how to apply Dominion theology back home."
Well, LC still isn't clear on what dominionism is. If it's just a matter of Christians running for office, then it's certainly not shocking. On the other hand, if it includes the goal of breaking down the barrier between church and state, a great achievement of western civilization, then we must be wary of it.
But scared to death? LC can't help thinking that, faced with the prospect of being dominated by a religious minority, cooler heads will prevail--and by cooler heads, she doesn't mean people who can only think of conservative Christians in terms of fear and rage.
One of the most annoying things about the vernacular Mass is saying the creed as, "We believe." Not only do I not see how I can be asked to vouch week after week for the beliefs of total strangers, LC knows that her high school Latin teacher, Mrs. Martin, would have been appalled (but not surprised) if she had mistranslated the original "Credo" as, "We believe," rather than the correct, "I believe." I can't help thinking that the "liturgists" who are the bane of modern Catholicism are guilty of a willful mistranslation.
Anglican priest Peter Toon, head of the Prayer Book Society (yes, it still exists) gladdens my heart with word that help may be on the way:
"Some years ago I had a correspondence with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now the Pope) on this topic and we agreed that while 'we believe' is not heretical it is nevertheless wrong and should be 'I believe' - and (to jump into the 21st century) I understand that eventually the Roman Missal in English will revert to 'I believe' and will have other changes, e.g., 'and with your spirit' for 'and also with you.'"
You might enjoy Toon's reflections on why (in addition to being illiterate) 'We believe' is wrong.
Is It Okay to Vote for Rudy?
The Rev. Pat Robertson surprised everybody when he said Sunday on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" that he could see voting for Rudy Giuliani for president, despite Giuliani's pro-choice position on abortion.
The New York Sun is positively giddy about what this could mean for the Republican Party:
"This character endorsement is an important green light to a possible presidential run that some social-conservative political operatives were overconfidently whispering was dead on arrival. It is also a generous and timely reinforcement of Ronald Reagan's principle of the 'big tent' by someone associated with the far right of the party. With even tacit support and an established comfort level with leaders of the Christian Coalition, the broad popular support for a Giuliani presidential campaign that already exists among Republicans and independents could be unstoppable. He could be the first Republican candidate since Ronald Reagan to win both New York and California on the way to winning the White House."
I love Rudy. It's an enticing prospect. There's just one hitch: I could not in good conscience vote for a pro-choice Catholic. A pro-choice Catholic on a national ticket always ignites a firestorm. It's inevitable, and it will happen even if the candidate in happens to be a Republican.
A Night at the Theater?
A Buddhist chaplain in training takes issue with my post on the lesbian Methodist minister who was reinstated. LC thinks it was a mistake to re-frock. Danny Fisher thinks I need a night at the theater and quotes Dorothy Day at me--it's actually a beautiful passage from Day, one about the light of Christ shinning in people who don't look at all promising. Well, yes. But that doesn't mean that we are all qualified for the clergy.
Harper's Magazine's War on the Religious Right
A lot of people are talking the May Harper's magazine's "scary" cover on "The Christian Right's War on America." It consists of two pieces, one I haven't yet read on Christian radio ("Feeling the Hate with the National Religious Broadcasters"), and another piece by The Revealer's Jeff Sharlet on "America's most powerful megachurch." (The May Harper's isn't online yet.)
The megachurch in question is the New Life church in Colorado Springs. With undeniable ties to the Bush administration (put on your running shoes, Swami!), New Life is a curious blend of free market economics and what appears to be a peculiarly American theology.
New Life founder Pastor Ted Haggard--always referred in the story to as Pastor Ted--believes that members of his flock "like the benefits, risks, and maybe above all, the excitement of a free-market society," Sharlet writes. The article features several faux Joan Didion passages: "Colorado Springs is a city of moral fabulousness. It is a city of fables."
But it's not the imitation Didion that bothers me: What's unfair about the piece is to take New Life--which simply isn't classical Christianity--and present it as typical of the entire religious right. While it certainly is a part of the religious right, it is not representative of the rest of us. Oh, well, if it scares Swami, it can't be all bad.
There He Goes Again
Speaking of the Swamster, Loose Canon would rather be put on the rack than have to explain papal infallibility to him again. But I guess it must be done. Please listen this time. With regard to my support for capital punishment, which Pope John Paul II did not support, Swami asserted:
"LC, a Catholic who decries 'cafeteria Catholics,' repeats a position that directly contradicts the views of her infallible Pope..."
Swami reminds me of Rex Mottram in Brideshead Revisited, who, according to the poor Jesuit giving him instruction to enter the Catholic Church, didn't "correspond to any degree of paganism known to missionaries." Rex was asked if the pope looked into the sky and said it was going to rain, would it be bound to rain. Rex said it would. What if it didn't, the Jesuit persisted. "He thought a moment and said, 'I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we'd be too sinful to see it.'"
Swami, dear, not everything the pope says comes under the heading of infallibility. Catholics believe that we must always listen to what the pope says but infallibility is limited to when he speaks ex cathedra, in his office as pope. He has not done this with regard to capital punishment.
Loose Canon doesn't think that strictures against the death penalty--which the new pope seems to share with the previous one, but with perhaps less certainty--could be proclaimed as infallible. It would seem to me to indicate a change in teaching. Other Catholics, including Jody Bottum, the new editor of First Things, disagree with me and see an anti-capital punishment that must be considered by faithful Catholics. As Bottum has written:
"The anti-death penalty changes to the Catechism over the past decade still allow the application of prudential judgment-as do the pope's many preachings against the use of judicial death sentences in developed countries. But Evangelium Vitae suggested strong grounds for the prudential judgment against capital punishment, beginning with the corruption endemic to a culture of death. At its best, the death penalty is supposed to teach the culture about reverence for life: We honor life so much that we will not allow those who murder to live. But in a culture already turned away from life, the death penalty teaches merely that yet more life is dismissable, that yet more life doesn't count."
That's a very strong statement against capital punishment. It doesn't persuade me, but the death sentence is one issue on which even an ardent supporter can never be entirely without qualms.
The Ups and Downs of Saladin
A marvelously fact-filled piece on the new Ridley-Scott flick on the Crusades suggests that Muslims weren't always touchy on the subject. Guess when it changed...
"'One often reads that Muslims have inherited from their medieval ancestors bitter memories of the violence of the crusaders," [Cambridge historian Jonathan Riley-Smith] wrote. "Nothing could be further from the truth." "What actually happened, according to Crusades historians -- Riley-Smith's analysis draws in part on the work of Carole Hillenbrand of the University of Edinburgh, whose book 'The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives' is the preeminent work examining the Muslim point of view -- is that after Muslims expelled the Crusaders, they mostly put this unpleasant episode behind them. If they did look back, it was with what Riley-Smith describes as 'indifference and complacency.' After all, they'd won -- big time. From their point of view, also, they'd faced far greater challenges, among them a frightful onslaught by the Mongol descendants of Genghis Khan.
"In Europe, meanwhile, the Crusades stayed high-profile. They were romanticized by medieval chroniclers as the height of chivalry, derided by Enlightenment thinkers as gross religious intolerance, rehabilitated by 19th-century historians as glorious antecedents of nationalism and portrayed -- first with approval, then disapproval -- as the precursors of European colonialism. Through all this, the figure of Saladin became rooted in the European imagination as the worthiest and most chivalrous Crusader opponent, just as he is in 'Kingdom of Heaven.' In Damascus, by contrast, his tomb was allowed to decay.
"Riley-Smith's mention of Nov. 8, 1898, refers to a remarkable manifestation of this contrast. On that day, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany 'laid a satin flag and a wreath, with an inscription dedicated to 'the Hero Sultan Saladin'' on Saladin's grave, which he'd apparently had some trouble locating. He then paid to restore the tomb and included 'another wreath, this time bronze gilt, and inscribed 'From one great emperor to another.'
"But the Muslim world's take on the Crusades was about to change. It began to look at these ancient wars through the European lens, and what it saw was: colonial oppression.
"The head of the Ottoman Empire, which was rapidly losing territory to Europeans, responded by asserting that his foes were engaged in a new Crusade. World War I and its aftermath brought a renewed British and French presence in the old Crusader territories of Palestine, Lebanon and Syria - 'Behold, Saladin, we have returned,' one French military governor proclaimed. The Crusade metaphor was picked up by Arab nationalists. Saladin was revived as an inspirational figure. Later in the century, he would be embraced by the likes of Syria's Hafez Assad and Iraq's Saddam Hussein."