"Go not for every grief to the physician, nor for every quarrel to the lawyer, nor for every thirst to the pot." —George Herbert (1593-1633)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Syrian Troops Leave Lebanon

The road ahead for Lebanon is perilous, but the departure of Syrian troops out of the country is one essential element of the Lebanese having a chance at successful self-government. Lebanon was once a beautiful country, until its society was crushed by demographic changes and, even more damagingly, international gamesmanship by larger powers. Support from the United States and the rest of the West will be crucial to the new country's future. Americans can be excused for a sense of exhaustion after the Iraq War, but Lebanon definitely needs help in making the transition to self-government.

Under The Overpass

In my Passover message at The American Spectator, I ponder the fact that so few Jews actually believe that the Exodus occurred as reported in Scripture - although they are willing to celebrate the day for its theme of freedom.

Monday, April 25, 2005

South Park Conservatives

Bernard Chapin has an excellent review of Brian Anderson's book on South Park Conservatives, in today's issue of Mens News Daily. Anderson's book claims that there is a new breed of person on the Right, especially among the young, who espouse conservative values but enjoy earthy popular culture without embarrassment and are tired of leftist claims of moral superiority. (The term appears to have been invented by columnist Andrew Sullivan.) Chapin writes,

"If the existence of the South Parker surprises traditional conservatives, imagine how unnerving it must be for your average liberal to discover that the guy who sat next to him during Phish’s last concert had the Opinion Journal delivered to his Inbox every morning."

Anderson's book says that such South Park conservatives have mounted a very effective grass-roots counterrevolutionary campaign against the reigning media, whom he correctly describes as overwhelmingly left of center. He cites the TV show South Park and comedians such as Dennis Miller plus numerous other writers, columnists, and bloggers who are puncturing the sacred cows of modern liberalism.

Chapin identifies a central motivation of South Park Conservatives as a simple wish for freedom to say what they think:

"One of the vilest villains in Anderson’s book is not actually a program or a person, but a phrase: 'creating a hostile environment.' This gibberish has been used for all kinds of nefarious purposes by the cultural inquisitors."

Anderson's book, as Chapin says, fully documents the illiberalism of today's liberals, which one should hardly think necessary at this time but does still seem to require continued argumentation, given that the Left still retains control of most of the cuture and academy:

"Anderson’s belief that conservatives have stopped losing the culture war is certainly contestable. Ask any kid in the United States between 10 [yes, I meant 10] and 18 what their favorite kind of music is, and I’ll bet you that at least fifty percent, regardless of race or socioeconomic background, will say 'rap' or 'hip hop.' Furthermore, all of the blogs, Foxnews, NRO and techcentralstation’s in the world cannot outdo the power of Hollywood’s alternative lifestyle worshipping generofilms."

I would refer to truly liberal persons on the Right as liberals, but I think that the phenomenon these writers are documenting is a real one by whatever name. Undoubtedly Anderson's book will be come another right-oriented bestseller, which says something in itself.

The Idiotic Malconclusions of Frank Rich

Prepare to get angry, then read Frank Rich's latest column in the NYT. First he praises the Roman Catholic Church in the wake of John Paul II's death. Then, he dumps on evangelical Christians unhappy with the unprecedented use of the filibuster to stop conservative judicial nominees who have the votes to be confirmed.

Note to Mr. Rich: The evangelicals and Catholics are on the same page, numbnuts. Many of the judges being filibustered are Catholics.

Second note to Mr. Rich: You attribute all the anger over judicial filibusters to bias against gay marriage. Are you completely clueless? Issue numero uno with evangelicals and Catholics for about thirty years has been abortion. It's still numero uno. We are still waiting for the court to recognize the personhood of the unborn child or allow states to legislate the matter for themselves. Gay marriage is important, but not life and freaking death.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Knippenberg Sorts Out Justice Sunday

Read it and be enlightened. The good Professor Knippenberg correctly points out that having religious reasons for pushing a particular policy is quite different from enacting a religious law.

As the professorial pundit puts it:

Yes, the FRC and Focus on the Family are religious groups. But what they are asking for is an up-or-down vote on judicial nominees, not a religious test for office-holding. Whatever faith or reasons move them, the position they’re actually supporting is consistent with long-standing Senate practice (actually voting on nominees). Yes, there’s a slippery slope somewhere, and the judiciary may be the only remaining bastion of secular liberalism, but the alternative is not theocracy, but rather sober constitutional jurisprudence.

The distinction is frequently lost on journos who have studied little more than how to write crisp paragraphs. Lefties conveniently forget their outrage over incursions into the secular realm when the religious conclusions are other than conservative or free market. See my AmSpec piece on an interesting situation in Alabama last year.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Abortion and Crime

Steve Sailer has an interesting and comprehensive article answering University of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt's argument, from his new book Freakonomics, that legalizing abortion cut crime in the United States. In addition to its controversial political and social implications, this is a fascinating question about causality. Sailer writes,

"[T]he acid test of Levitt's theory is this: Did the first New, Improved Generation culled by legalized abortion actually grow up to be more lawful teenagers than the last generation born before legalization?

"Hardly. Instead, the first cohort to survive legalized abortion went on the worst youth murder spree in American history."

Sailer writes from an openly anti-abortion point of view, but as in all of his writing, he pursues the statistics wherever they lead.

Read it here.

Karnick Gets Hired

Crux Magazine, currently an internet venture founded by the guys at the great print mag Touchstone, announced the hiring of our own S.T. Karnick as their Books and Arts editor today.

We expect Crux to be in print in the near future and can't wait to see what kind of section Mr. Karnick produces. I'm guessing it will stand out just as Whittaker Chambers' Books section stood out at the old Time.

Mainstream Voodoo Revisited

After reading Paul Volcker's April 10 Washington Post rant about the U.S. economy "skating on thin ice," followed by Alan Greenspan's efforts yesterday to resuscitate the handy hoax that interest rates depend on budget deficits rather than Fed, I thought it might be useful to recycle my characteristically respectful disagreement with such conventinoal claptrap back in 1984:


'Mainstream Economics': None Dare Call It Voodoo
By Alan Reynolds
The Wall Street Journal, 7 May 1984


The quality of public debate on economic issues is rapidly degenerating to the level of intellectual barbarism. Contradiction has become the mark of sophistication, evidence is dismissed as irrelevant, and "experts" are defined as anyone who advised the government during some economic catastrophe. Indolent journalists lean on an imaginary consensus, claiming that "most economists agree" about this or "Wall Street worries" about that.

Most economists are said to be concerned that a growing economy must raise interest rates, which will prevent the economy from growing. The solution, it seems, is for the Fed to raise interest rates to slow the economy, so that interest rates can fall and thus speed up economic growth.

Mainstream economists are reported to agree that a strong dollar causes trade deficits, and trade deficits make the dollar weak. The Fed therefore has to raise short-term interest rates to attract long-term foreign investment, or else the absence of foreign investment might raise interest rates. If foreigners keep investing in U.S. factories, on the other hand, most economists fear the U.S. will become a "net debtor" rather than a net lender (to Latin America and East Europe). The solution is to attract and repel foreign capital.

Most economists apparently believe that all countries should export more than they import, and can do that by periodically devaluing their currencies against each other. Exports are the benefit from trade, and imports are the cost. Inexpensive foreign goods make us poorer. The U.S. should try to raise import prices and cheapen exports, so that we can give up more wheat for less oil.

Most economists did not approve of the falling dollar of 1978-79, or the rising dollar of 1981-83. But most of all they do not like a stable dollar. The dollar must be free to float, but it always floats to the wrong level. Most economists agree that the dollar is overvalued 30%, and in danger of falling, but monetary authorities must ignore exchange rates and prices.

Most economists believe that future monetary policy should instead be based on either past real growth or past money stocks. The latter is because housewives and corporate treasurers decide how much to spend by consulting last year's balance in their checking accounts. If the Fed lowers interest rates, that always makes people expect more inflation, so interest rates rise. If the Fed raises interest rates, interest rates also rise. Most economists know that monetary policy is therefore optimal at all times, since easing or tightening raises interest rates.

Most economists understand that credit is good but debt is bad. Too much private borrowing will raise interest rates, and higher interest rates will result in too little borrowing. The object of tax reform is therefore to encourage lending by discouraging borrowing. There is a need to tax consumption in order to encourage saving for future consumption. The economy must produce more auto factories and consume fewer cars.

Most economists argue that budget deficits stimulate and crowd out private spending. Budget deficits also cause inflation and make the dollar too strong. Reducing deficits would therefore lower the dollar's value abroad and raise it at home.

Budget deficits are simultaneously described as the consequence of recession, the cure for recession and the cause of recession. Estimated future deficits are said to have effects in the present that actual deficits do not have now and did not have in the past. The 1989 deficit explains 1984 interest rates, but the 1984 deficit does not explain 1979 interest rates.

Budget deficits always "threaten to" do something. They threaten to raise inflation unless tax indexing is repealed, so that inflation can reduce the inflationary deficits. Using inflation to reduce the deficit would make people want to buy bonds, thus lowering interest rates. Deficits also threaten to stop a near-record increase in business fixed investment, unless taxes are hiked to reduce the after-tax return on capital.

Time magazine's "Monster Deficit" story noticed "a growing list of studies purporting to show that deficits do not raise interest rates." Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office's Economic Outlook lists two dozen studies with virtual agreement that deficits do not have a significant impact on interest rates, including several by economists at the Federal Reserve banks and Council of Economic Advisers. Yet Time goes on to explain that overwhelming evidence "has had very little impact on the thinking of mainstream economists." Reality, after all, is a matter of belief and consensus.

Economic policy has never before been so thoroughly dominated by ever-changing economic theories and forecasts. Economists who can't predict the next month now propose to fine-tune the 1989 budget or the 1986 inflation rate. There is a panicky political impulse to fix things that are not broken and ruin things that were almost fixed. Always, the rationale is that "most economists agree" that "something" must be done. If economists were actually guilty of believing half of the strange ideas that are attributed to them, it would be safer to base economic policy on astrology.

UCLA: The Media IS BIASED.

Check out the intro to this amazing study from the political science department at UCLA:

Our results show a strong liberal bias. All of the news outlets except Fox News’ Special Report and the Washington Times received a score to the left of the average member of Congress. Consistent with many conservative critics, CBS Evening News and the New York Times received a score far left of center. Outlets such as the Washington Post, USA Today, NPR’s Morning Edition, NBC’s Nightly News and ABC’s World News Tonight were moderately left. The most centrist outlets (but still left-leaning) by our measure were the Newshour with Jim Lehrer, CNN’s NewsNight with Aaron Brown, and ABC’s Good Morning America. Fox News’ Special Report, while right of center, was closer to the center than any of the three major networks’ evening news broadcasts. All of our findings refer strictly to the news stories of the outlets. That is, we omitted editorials, book reviews, and letters to the editor from our sample. (boldface type added)

Did any of us doubt that a careful study would lead to this conclusion? How good is Brent Bozell's Media Research Center looking right now? Roger Ailes ain't feeling too poorly either.

Baptist Higher Ed Fallout

In the previous blogging about Baylor's conference on the future of Baptist Higher Education, I mentioned one flare-up with Bill Leonard from Wake Forest in which he demanded an apology in the middle of his presentation. Turns out there's more to the story and that he engaged in further argumentation of the point in another session later. Here's the item from ABP, which is some sort of Baptist Press. I'm not familiar enough with the versions to tell which branch of the Baptist world it represents.

Right to dissent may be key mark of Baptist colleges, Leonard suggests
Date: 04/21/2005

By Ken Camp WACO, Texas (ABP) --

The right to dissent -- even about what makes a school religious -- should be a key distinctive of Baptist higher education,suggested church historian and seminary dean Bill Leonard.

Addressing a national conference on the future of Baptist higher education,Leonard, dean of the divinity school at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., said the conference's program planners were "rude" in the way they characterized Wake Forest."

Baptists began as a community of dissent," Leonard said during his presentation on how Baptist education functions within a context ofconflict. Early Baptist dissent was grounded in freedom of conscience and a commitment to uncoerced faith, he stressed.

"I would suggest that one Baptist way-no doubt there are many-for responding to the changing nature of campus life would be a reassertion of those early Baptist ideals of dissent, conscience and believers' church," he said.

"That is, Baptists should be at the forefront of the quest for 'voice' on college and university campus - not as a tepid, grudging response to nebulous political correctness, but because voice is endemic to the natureof Baptist identity, perhaps even its most profound distinctive."

At that point, Leonard departed from his prepared manuscript and said he intended to exercise his own Baptist right to dissent and voice disapproval of what he considered an unfair characterization of his school. He cited a statement in the conference's program about the loss of religious identity at many Christian colleges and universities.

"Secularization has been so powerful that these once-Christian institutions now speak of themselves only as having a religious heritage, the substance of which is reflected in vague language about values in their institutional mission statements," the printed program read. "Although these reach backinto Baptist history, with prominent examples being Brown University and theUniversity of Chicago, in the last quarter century, the light has been extinguished in a growing number of venerable Baptist institutions in theSouth. The University of Richmond, Wake Forest University, Stetson University, Furman University and Meredith College serve as examples."

Leonard characterized the language as "incorrect, inhospitable and downright rude." "If the light has gone out at Wake Forest University, then why invite me?"he asked. "If a public apology is not given, I will pack my bags and go homeright now, and I'll return to Wake Forest where we are trying to keep thelight burning."

Don Schmeltekopf, provost emeritus at conference host Baylor University,immediately stood and asked Leonard to accept his apology for any offense.

Schmeltekopf explained in an interview the language in the program was derived from a book by James Burtchaell, "The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from their Christian Churches." Burtchaell devoted a chapter in the book to Wake Forest University, he noted.

Later in the conference, the issue re-emerged during a presentation by Larry Lyon, senior vice provost and dean of the graduate school at BaylorUniversity. Lyon presented a quantitative study in which he refuted the notion that national universities with religious roots must become secularized to achieve a strong academic reputation.

In his analysis, Lyon distinguished religious from non-religious universities on the basis of church affiliation, explicit religious language in the schools' mission statements, and required religion courses in theschools' core curriculum.

Analyzing how U.S. News & World Report ranks schools and how successful schools are at recruiting top students and faculty, Lyon concluded universities do not necessarily have to choose between religious commitment and a strong academic reputation.

One subheading in his academic paper-distributed to all of the seminar participants- raised the question, "Will Baylor go the way of Wake Forest?"

At the conclusion of Lyon's presentation, Leonard again spoke against a"regrettable generalization" about his school, saying he felt some at the conference had unfairly cast Wake Forest as a "straw-man institution" they could knock down.

As evidence of Wake Forest's commitment to religion, Leonard cited the selection of Nathan Hatch - an evangelical Presbyterian who was provost atNotre Dame University - as president, a $2 million Lilly Foundation grant on the theological exploration of vocation, and investment in the university's divinity school. Leonard called for "dialogue in which we don't characterize each other."

Lyon responded that his study was a quantitative analysis that did not factor in the kind of qualitative measures Leonard noted, and he felt the criteria used-religious references in mission statements and religion in the core curriculum-were clear measures for analysis.

Lyon also noted Wake Forest holds the "tier one" academic status to whichother schools, such as Baylor, aspire, and he said he did not feel his paper presented Wake Forest in negative light.

In an interview, Schmeltkopf said he shared Leonard's view that Hatch's selection as Wake Forest's president bodes well for Christian identity at the university, and he hoped it might signal a time when Baylor and otherBaptist schools could work more closely in "common cause" with Wake Forest.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Interview with Steve Babb

Composer, multi-instrumentalist, and singer Steve Babb, of the terrific musical group Glass Hammer, talks about many things, including the band's forthcoming album, in a new interview at Popthought. Steve's advice to young musicians: "Stay independent, write the music you truly wish to write, find your own place in the world, search far and wide for inspiration (novels, movies, romance, nature, God) and for goodness sakes, stop chasing the rock star dream." That describes Steve's own career admirably.

For more info on Glass Hammer, see the following:

Glass Hammer website

Review of Shadowlands

Review of Shadowlands and interview with band members

Review of Lex Rex

Absolutely THE BEST Pope Commentary EVER

Without comment, I offer the following bits from James Lileks:

The selection of Ratzinger was initially heartening, simply because he made the right people apoplectic. I’m still astonished that some can see a conservative elevated to the papacy and think: a man of tradition? As Pope? How could this be? As if there this was some golden moment that would usher in the age of married priests who shuttle between blessing third-trimester abortions and giving last rites to someone who’s about to have the chemical pillow put over his face. At the risk of sounding sacreligious: it’s the Catholic Church, for Christ’s sake! You’re not going to get someone who wants to strip off all the Baroque ornamentation of St. Peter’s and replace them with IKEA wine racks, okay?

* * *

To those who want profound change, consider an outsider’s perspective: the Catholic Church is the National Review of religion. You may live long enough to see it become the Weekly Standard. In your dreams it might become the New Republic. But it’s never going to be the Nation. And if ever it does, it will have roughly the same subscriber base.

* * *

The election of Ratzinger to the papacy has disappointed the Ordination of Catholic Women who were hoping to begin a modern era with a new pope.Habeum pap. Note: every era is the modern era to the people who inhabit it; a “modern” pope in 1937 would have announced that godless collectivism was the wave of the future, and ridden the trains to Auschwitz standing on top, holding gilded reins, whooping like Slim Pickens. The defining quality of 20th century modernity is impatience, I think – the nervous, irritated, aggravated impulse to get on with the new now, and be done with those old tiresome constraints. We’re still in that 20th century dynamic, I think, and we will be held to it until something shocks us to our core. Say what you will about Benedict v.16, but he wants there to be a core to which we can be shocked. And I prefer that to a tepid slurry of happy-clappy relativism that leads to animists consecrating geodes beneath the dome of St. Peter's. That will probably happen eventually, but if we can push it off for a century or two, good.

All The Livelong Day

Today, at The American Spectator, in the aftermath of the Terri Schiavo tragedy, I issue an appeal to stem the tide of "right-to-die" laws.

In support of my appeal, I enlist the wisdom of King Solomon. Please enjoy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Still More Baptists and Higher Education Reporting

The Future of Baptist Higher Education Conference wrapped up at Baylor today with some interesting sessions. Most notably, Martin Marty (in case you don't know THE RELIGION SCHOLAR IN AMERICA) addressed the entire conference. Your intrepid reporter showed up at the session with four friends who are also Ph.D. students. For some reason, perhaps nobility of soul, Dr. Marty made a beeline for us and spoke to us corporately and individually for 5-10 minutes. He asked about our research interests and commented on each. Before walking away he whispered his email address as though to say, "Write me. I'll actually field your questions and give advice." Shocking stuff from a tremendously prolific scholar. I'm still composing my message in my head.

In any case, Marty attacked the standard account that claims America is secularizing in linear fashion. Nothing new there, but he was trying to blunt the alarm many of us feel about the trajectory of the American academy. He sees America as very religio-secular, in a good way, with more give and take about religion than ever before. In particular he points to the profusion of good scholarship relating religion to . . .well, everything.

We also had a concluding session by young Baptist scholars who convincingly criticized older lions for being stuck in the old Southern Baptist Convention war and completely absorbed in defending freedom and autonomy. Being Baptist better mean more than freedom and dissent, otherwise we can just don our baseball caps and be Michael Moore-ons. Not a pretty future, not for me, anyway. Sadly, that's just what we heard from some conference speakers. Kirby Godsey, president of Mercer University, gave an account of reality that sounded exactly like Moore in Bowling for Columbine. Happily, the young scholars in the final session offered hope for something other than freedom (surely the value that needs less defending than any other in North America) as a basis for Baptist life and scholarship.

A Libertarian Critique of Corporatism

Our English Libertarian friend Dr. Sean Gabb has been speaking out on numerous issues as the British parliamentary elections approach, always from his decidedly principled and uncommon point of view (particularly rare in Britain). Dr. Gabb recently spoke at a joint conference between Christian Aid and Oxfam in London (after midnight, for some odd reason).

The conference was about Free Trade Versus Fair Trade—yawn—but Dr. Gabb characteristically turned things on their head by moving straight to a central principle that is very seldom discussed: in this case, the favoritism governments show toward corporations as opposed to individuals and partnerships, and the consequences of that treatment. Here is an excerpt:

"If you think that I came here tonight to defend multinational corporations and the international government institutions, you have chosen the wrong person. These are dishonest. They are corrupt. They are incompetent. They have blood on their hands.

"But do not suppose for a moment that the world trading order as it actually exists is liberal or more than incidentally connected with free markets. A free market is a place where individuals and groups of individuals come together to transact voluntary exchanges without any backing of government force. To call the actually existing order liberal—or "neo-liberal"—is as taxonomically accurate as calling the old Soviet Communist Party syndicalist. That order is based on tariffs, subsidies and a web of other often invisible regulations. The international institutions are a projection of Western states. The multinational corporations are creatures of these states. They shelter behind the privilege of limited liability. They get their political friends to cartelise markets, and do favours in return.

"This is not market liberalism. It is a fraud played on us all by our ruling classes—these being those politicians, bureaucrats, educators, lawyers and media and business people who derive wealth, power and status from an enlarged and activist state.

As a result, Gabb does not support the current free trade system, although it is far better than the presently offered alternative, so-called fair trade. "But give me a straight choice between this and the economics of the jungle that is fair trade," he said, "and I will choose the present system. Global corporatism may be unfair. But it does at least allow some wealth to be created. It does allow at least some rational economic calculation. Fair trade simply gives even more power to politicians and bureaucrats and favoured business interests in poor countries—that is, to the very people and interests that made and have kept these countries poor. "

In his accompanying comments available on his website, Gabb elaborates on the matter of corporatism:

". . . I grow increasingly convinced that allowing the creation of joint stock limited liability corporations was one of the greatest legislative mistakes of the 19th century. Their existence is based on a separation of ownership from control. The owners are released from all responsibility. The controllers form a separate class of corporate bureaucrats little different in outlook from civil servants. The usual psychology operates. They will commit immoral acts for their organisations they might not consider committing for themselves. The owners will assent. The legal privileges and unlimited lifespan of these corporations let them grow to enormous size and wealth. The opportunities exist for highly effective immorality. Collectively, they become part of the state apparatus, and work to destroy true, unregulated enterprise.

"These corporations could not exist in any natural economic order. I have heard other libertarians argue that they might emerge without legal privilege on some loose contractual basis. But I do not agree. The shareholders would still be liable in tort, and that alone would deter them from any involvement with a business that they did not personally control. As for the utilitarian argument, that large undertakings need large companies, I also disagree. So long as it showed an acceptable return on investment, there is no project too big to be taken on by clusters of sole traders and partnerships. No doubt, things like the Channel Tunnel would not have been built–but I fail to see how not having that would have made the world a poorer place. Even if some highly valuable projects might not be undertaken, their lack would be compensated by the greater general innovation to be expected in an order of small, unregulated firms.

"Indeed, the matter of what to do about the corporations is more interesting to me than world poverty. As I said in my speech, people in places like black Africa are poor because they have maniacally corrupt and oppressive governments. They would do better even with the most cartelised global corporatism than left in the clutches of their own rulers. And that is it. But how can this corporatism be replaced by a system of voluntary exchange between legally responsible small firms? I think I have a few answers here, but will give these at another time."

Gabb's search for the true liberal position on economic matters is a fascinating one, and his critique here is strangely reminiscient of G. K. Chesterton's views on economic affairs. I look forward to Dr. Gabb's continuing analysis of corporatism and the potential liberal alternatives.

Baptists and the Pope

Another item from the Baptist Higher Ed Conference at Baylor. Several speakers thus far have mentioned the passing of the Pope. John Paul II has only been spoken of positively, although speakers tend to emphasize whatever aspect of his papacy suits their ideological bent. The big news, though, is that he is recognized and appreciated as a Christian leader rather than as some dark harbinger of the end times. This group was impressed by the Pope, his clearly formed legacy, and the outpouring of grief that attended his death.

By the way, an up and comer is clearly identifiable at the conference. David Gushee of Union University looks very good in the younger generation of Baptist scholars. He delivered a paper encouraging Baptists to look to the great tradition for a theological basis for the life of the mind and higher education. His voice will be heard more and more as the years go by and older lions recede.

More on the Higher Ed Conference

Baylor's conference on the future of Baptist higher education has had some serious drama. Outgoing president Robert Sloan uncorked a high intensity speech to open the event. He criticized the willful stupidity of those who see fundamentalist conspiracies behind every attempt to take the faith seriously. He also questioned those who take "Baptist freedom" so far as to nullify even a basic statement of the faith like the Apostle's Creed. After blasting various parties all over the religious and political spectrum he concluded by asking, "By the way, have I already welcomed you to Baylor?" The crowd responded with massive applause.

Later, Wake Forest's Bill Leonard demanded an apology for a statement in the program casting Wake as one of the institutions where the light has been extinguished, common parlance for formerly religious schools that have secularized. Due mostly to hospitality, Provost Emeritus and conference organizer Donald Schmeltekopf gave the requested apology. Denton Lotz of the Baptist World Alliance pressed the issue with Leonard with a question from the floor wondering in what way Wake Forest is meaningfully Baptist. Leonard's response was weak, pointing to Baptist heritage and an emphasis on dissent. We all know Wake Forest isn't Baptist any longer. The purported insult was a clear example of protesting too much.

More later.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Legal Query

Here is a comment that I appended to a discussion of the Terri Schiavo case at Patterico's blog, which is oriented to discussions of perspectives within the law. Please let me know what you think, especially if you are a legal beagle like the great Hunter Baker.

May I offer a legal theory that I believe could have been applied here with a modicum of creativity. Namely, the idea of the Federal Government appointing a guardian to supersede the State guardian. Now this idea is of the "out-of-the-box" variety, so let me give it a moment of development.

It seems clear that the status of "citizen" applies only as a description of a relationship with the Federal Government. One is a citizen of the United States and a resident of, say, Florida (like Terri Schiavo and me).

Theoretically, one could be a citizen of the United States and not be a resident of any state. Sell your house and move for a full year to another country and I don't believe that any State can claim jurisdiction over you as its resident.

Now, the institution of guardianship is usually left to the State to apply, within the context of its protection of residents. However, in theory there is no reason that the Federal Government cannot appoint a guardian for a person's rights of citizenship. That guardian would not be answerable to any State court.

Arguably, this might even be doable by order of the Executive branch alone, but it could certainly be done by the Legislative. The Congress could have passed a bill appointing Jeb Bush or some such personage as the guardian of Terri Schiavo, and the authority of Michael Schiavo would have been superseded and consequently circumvented.

No? Let's hear from all those finely honed legal minds.

Fifth Fessay

Regular readers are aware - and new readers are invited to learn - that I have invented a literary form that I call the "fessay", the fictional essay. I write an 800-word column about current events, except that I do it in the form of fiction.

Try it, you'll like it. The newest one is a mordant swipe at the CIA's pathetic intelligence-gathering apparatus. The one before that was a bitter synopsis of the cultural fallout from the Terry Schiavo case.

Go forth and read. In later years, you'll be able to say that you were there at the inception. And please leave a comment.

The Future of Baptist Higher Education

Baylor University is hosting an important conference on "The Future of Baptist Higher Education." Since the publication of books like George Marsden's "The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship," Mark Noll's "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind," and James Burtchaell's "The Dying of the Light," tremendous interest has been building in the concept of distinctively Christian higher education.

This week Baptists of several different persuasions will meet to discuss what higher ed. looks like within the nexus of Baptist and Christian distinctives. I'll be there and will serve as your intrepid reporter if anything interesting breaks out.

And by the way, Martin Marty will be there. If you don't recognize his name, you've never read a newspaper story on religion. The AP stylebook specifically states than any religion story must feature at least one quote from Dr. Marty.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Gnawing At A Biblical Puzzle (4)

And so the Jews march off into history, their initial, formative moral battle taking place in Egypt. Sure enough, the experience of Abraham is replicated on a national scale. This time the entire Jewish People is held hostage, plagues befall the Egyptian nation as a whole; then freedom results, once again with valuable parting gifts.

Then, this mysterious passage follows (Exodus 13:17): "And when Pharaoh expelled the nation, the Lord did not lead them through the Land of the Philistines, which was close, because the Lord said, 'Lest the nation regrets [leaving] when they encounter war and they will return to Egypt.' "

Why mention the road not taken?

Today we view this verse with an exciting new clarity. After the Jews had left Egypt, showing the world the national victory of morality as exemplified by Jews over corruption as exemplified by Egypt, the logical next step was to have a war of sorts with the Philistines, to demonstrate the superiority of God-based morality over the civil society founded on enlightened self-interest. The text perforce must explain that this skirmish had to be skipped, to be postponed until some future date, as the Jews were simply not in a condition to face another broad-based national struggle in their flegling state of development.

That battle would finally be fought in the era of Samuel, a uniquely great prophet whose leadership invited comparison to Moses. (See Psalms 99:6)

Thus, the demonstration of the power of the Ark within the Philistine camp is the very moment of national clarification that had been awaited since leaving Egypt. The Ark will show through symbols and plagues that ultimately true morality must be based on fear of God and that the finest civil society, replete with the loveliest manners, will eventually disintegrate along the fault lines of greed and lust when the voltage of temptation or desperation is turned high enough.

The first proof is in the human head and hands falling off Dagon, leaving the fish torso intact upon the pedestal. The fish represents the lesson of swimming paths around each other to avoid collision, enabling incredible quantities of creatures to coexist by circumventing the routes of others. This part of their ideology is fine and the Philistine avoidance of strife and theft is worthy of being celebrated.

But is there enough there to build a human head upon such a base, to create a thorough ideology that can provide a basis for human society? The answer is no: off with its head. Is there enough to guarantee a pair of human hands, human behaviors and actions that will withstand the push of temptation or the pull of desperation? Again no: off with its hands.

The people are punished, too, but not with externally manifest disease or violence. They maintain a society that has a nice exterior and their bodies need not be marred with wounds and lesions. But inside? Inside there is rot. So the punishment is hemorrhoids, an irritation at the border between the internal and the external.

Indeed the verse that provides the heart of that moment is this one (Samuel I 5:9): "...and they had hemorrhoids hiddenly."

Is this familiar? Have we seen this in our time? Do we see societies, or segments of societies, that have mastered the language and rhythms of civility, but do not find a place for God in their hearts? Have we seen such societies tested at the fringes, at the less-clear points, at the beginnings and the ends of things, with great pleasure or great pain, with great loss or great gain?

Let us reflect.

Gnawing At A Biblical Puzzle (3)

The visits of Abraham to Egypt in Genesis Ch. 12 and to the Philistines in Ch. 20 are notable first for their similarities and then for their differences. The stories begin the same way. Abraham arrives with his beautiful wife Sarah and presents her as his sister. Immediately, the border guards confiscate the woman and bring her to the king (Pharaoh in Egypt, Abimelech among the Philistines) as a trophy. Then God punishes the king until he is forced to relinquish the woman.

What are the points of distinction between the two stories?

1) Pharaoh's punishments are delivered by an angel, whereas Abimelech receives a prophecy directly from God telling him to free the woman. That prophecy takes the form of a dialogue in which the king declares to God that he would never have taken her had he known that she was married.

2) Pharaoh's punishments are described as 'great plagues', indicating that they were visible. Abimelech was punished by the wombs of his womenfolk being barren, something that takes place internally.

3) Abraham did not bother explaining himself to Pharaoh after the ruse was discovered, but when Abimelech confronted him, he took the trouble to parse his own calculations and motivations.

4) Abraham leaves Egypt entirely behind but he develops a comfortable working relationship with the Philistines and even signs a peace treaty that is valid for four generations.

The conclusion seems clear. Pharaoh was running an evil society but Abimelech was leading a decent society. Prophecy is not possible for evil Pharaoh but is quite appropriate for Abimelech, a basically nice person. Abimelech can tell God truthfully that he would not ordinarily behave in that fashion.

Being a nice person running a decent society, Abimelech is entitled to an explanation from Abraham. Pharaoh is a lowlife who is not deserving of such consideration. Eventually, Abraham can come to terms with Abimelech sufficient to the formation of a diplomatic relationship encoded in treaty. Such concord is impossible with a Pharaoh.

Consequently, the plagues visited upon Pharaoh are public and conspicuous. His society is openly corrupt and the punishment fits the crime. Abimelech, however, has an outwardly civil society, with some subtle internal flaw. Its retribution is delivered in ways that do not present themselves to the casual observer. The flaw is deep; the reproof is beneath the surface, as well.

What, then, is this shortcoming that prevents the Philistine society from being a truly virtuous one? Abraham answers that himself when he says (Genesis 20:11): "Because I said [to myself] that there just is not the fear of the Lord in this place, and they might kill me over the matter of my wife."

There it is: civil society without fear of God. For all that it is vastly superior to the Egyptian model of grab-now-ask-later, Abraham argues that it still is fatally flawed because it has no ultimate limiting force. The Philistines have arrived at the strong sociological conclusion that their lives will be better if they treat each other with civility and respect each other's property rights. But they do it because it works, not because it's right. At some point, that will break down. Maybe a million dollars, maybe ten million; there is a point at which the person will make the grab and forget the principles. Abraham did not want to test their resolve with his wife, the world-class beauty.

In our final installment, we will apply these lessons to the latter-day Philistines of Samuel's day.

Gnawing At A Biblical Puzzle (2)

When last we convened, we were pondering the matter of the Ark's effect on the Philistines. It made their idol, Dagon, lose its human head and hands, retaining only its fish torso: merman become ordinary fish. It also caused all the Philistine citizenry to experience extremely painful hemorrohoids, to the point where people were wailing loudly in the streets.

The key to this event, I would posit, lies in the initial encounter of Abraham with the Philistines. It is a basic principle of Biblical exegesis that the experiences of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob on the individual level always presage national experiences of the Jewish People.

We know that Abraham is described as clashing with two specific cultures. Although he lived in Canaan, he occupied territories that had been lying fallow until his arrival, so there is no overt conflict between him and Canaanites. He only once is presented as interacting with a Hittite (a sub-nation of Canaan), when he negotiates to buy a piece of property for a burial plot. Additionally, whatever clashes he may have had with Nimrod and others before being called to go to Canaan are not specified in the Scripture; whatever we know of that period is through oral history, some of which was eventually written into Midrash.

In brief, the Bible chooses to record only the two collisions of weltanschauung, one with Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and one with Abimelech, first identified only as king of Gerar (Genesis 20:2). Later, when Abraham signs a treaty with him, the text (ibid 21:32) identifies his people as being Philistines.

Clearly, these are the two prototypical encounters for the man living the inspired life in the material world. The meeting with the Egyptians; then, the meeting with the Philistines.

More later.

Gnawing At A Biblical Puzzle (1)

My readers will forgive me, I pray, for allowing the spirit of the weekend to move me toward writing of matters Scriptural. Yet I feel certain that before we are done, we will have explored arenas that we encounter even in what we like to call the 'real world'. Realness in that context defining a thing's immediacy rather than its essence.

The story is told in the first Book of Samuel of the Jews fighting a war against the Philistines and taking very heavy casualties. On the second day of fighting, not only is the human toll high, the Ark that contains the Tablets of the Covenant is captured. The Philistines take this trophy and place it in the temple of their idol, whom they call Dagon. Dagon had the body of a fish, with the head and hands of a human being.

When they open the temple the next morning, they find that Dagon has fallen to the ground. They restore it to its perch. The morning after that, they awaken to discover that God has refined the message a bit. The fish torso is still in its position on the platform, but the human head and hands have fallen off. Thereafter, they assign a greater reverence to the portion that remained on its base.

After this, the Philistine people begin to suffer a widespread plague of hemorrhoids. Everyone seems to be suffering from them, so much so that the streets are a cacophony of wailing from the pain. Finally, they come to the conclusion that they must return the Ark.

The obvious questions are: why did the head and hands fall off and the fish body remain? And why were they punished with hemorrhoids of all things? These questions have been engaging me for twenty years or more and only recently have I arrived at a theory that explains this to my satisfaction.

Have a look at Samuel I, Chapters 4-6, and see what you think. I'll be back in a few hours to offer my analysis and its relevance to contemporary life.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Dialogue and Perspective

Just to clarify, it's not as if we held an editorial board meeting to determine what comments would stay or go. Standard rules of engagement apply. I wouldn't remove any comments that make a substantive point unless they go off into utter obscenity or completely unedifying villification.

Tlaloc enjoys being a gadfly. I imagine that any readers digging his comments are probably busily scanning the Democratic Underground. I'm still waiting for Tlalocblog so we can get a more full perspective on our resident critic's thoughts and dreams.

A Cautionary Tale

The Reform Club is an open-minded place; although its host authors have worldviews with very large fields of overlap, our policy is not to censor the Comments section, except in very extreme cases of bad taste. As the Dean of the Yeshiva I attended was wont to say: "The only people we expel are those who are experiencing prophecy."

Yet, the comment by Tlaloc below, offering 'perspective' for the 9/11 murderers, seeing them as an inexcusable yet understandable response to this nation's oppressive policies abroad, stands well beyond the pale of civilized discourse and by right should be excised.

The decision to leave it was not based on 'allowing that view to be heard in the arena of intellectual debate'; rather, it is there as a demonstration of the absolute horror that can emerge from a mind that is not moored in bedrock values.

Cultural Changes and Their Causes

Mike D'Virgilio of MDV Outlook has referred to this author's Washington Examiner article on religion in popular culture, in his excellent blog. MDV points out,

"Christians have always had an ambivalent relationship to culture. Throughout the history of the Church you can see the way Christians in the variety of traditions sought to relate to the culture they lived in. The classic study of this is “Christ and Culture” by H. Richard Neibuhr. This is required reading if you are interested in this sort of thing."

As it happens, I read Christ and Culture a while ago, on Mike's recommendation. It is indeed an excellent book. Though I do not fully agree with all of the author's conclusions, I think it a brilliantly insightful and knowledgable book and an excellent analysis of how people relate to their surrounding culture.

Mike believes that a prominent cause of the changes some of us see in American culture was 9/11:

"At the top of my list would be 9/11. As problematic as the idea of evil is, when we look into the face of it we cannot deny it exists. And if evil exists so does good, and if good and evil exist there is probably more to the universe than matter-plus-time-plus chance. Madilyn Murray O’Hare, the infamous atheist who disappeared some years ago, groomed her son to take over the crusade, but something happened on the way to this atheistic nirvana. The son became a Christian. The reason, he said, was because he saw in his mother evil (she was not a pleasant women, in case you don’t know the story), and if evil really did exist, so did good and so did God. As Augustine said, evil is the absence of Good, the privation of goodness."

(Regarding the O'Hair case, I acknowledge, of course, that many people who claim to be Christians have lived evil lives, and that atheists can be quite benevolent. What Mike is pointing out is what one particular person saw and how he reacted.)

I have written elsewhere that "Even an event as riveting as the September 11 atrocities, however, can only do so much to change underlying social attitudes, and one would be wise to expect any changes based solely on such a phenomenon to have a very limited shelf life, however intense the immediate effects." I perceive that there has been a gradual change in the American culture, and that people are only now really beginning to notice it. However, I think that Mike may be correct in observing that 9/11 accelerated or added some definition to the process.

Mike points out that 9/11 made the existence of evil quite vivid:

"So Americans after that horrific day were forced to confront a reality that had been easily ignored."

That seems to me quite true.

There can be no question that most Americans saw the 9/11 attacks and their perpetrators as evil. Most social changes, however, have multiple, intertwining causes, as Mike notes. And as I wrote in the aftemath of that event, "
If they are to last, however, such changes must have a solid foundation in the nation's values and ideals. Fortunately, there is positive news here, too. As author Colleen Carroll noted in the December 3, 2001, issue of The Weekly Standard, 'evidence abounds that a growing interest in religion-especially traditional religion-among the young antedates September 11 by several years. It seems to be a trend that springs from deeper roots and thus may prove to be enduring.' Her observations accord with other poll information and cultural evidence, suggesting a possible base for a sustained social reformation."

Hence, "
The heroes of September 11 were there on September 10, but it took a crisis to call them forth. Just so, the American people may well have been calling for a new culture that would reflect their essential decency, and there are distinct signs that artists, producers, and the like are beginning to listen. The new million dollar question is whether this process will continue. But one thing is clear. If there is to be a real cultural change in the wake of September 11, it will be because there was already one in progress before that."

I believe that these changes are indeed real and likely to last. As Mike points out in his article, however, the nature of our culture depends on how we choose to engage it. And sometimes our actions have unexpected consequences.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Lost Project of Reclaiming Liberalism

The good Mr. Karnick dreams of reclaiming the word "liberal" for people with opinions like his own. He is right to want to do so because at one time men like him and even Ronald Reagan would have easily qualified for the label.

Writing for The Weekly Standard, Joel Engel takes yet another shot at explaining why today's "liberals" don't deserve the appellation they now own. Here's a sampling:

Depicting Condoleezza Rice in editorial cartoons as a big-lipped mammy who speaks Ebonics to her massa is many things (offensive, sickening), but it is not liberal.

and a bit more . . .

Referring to illegals as "undocumented workers," and to those who'd like to enforce immigration laws as evil and racist, is many things (self-destructive, short-sighted), but it is not liberal.

Joking about Charlton Heston's Alzheimer's because you don't abide his politics is many things (cold-hearted, intolerant, sophomoric), but it is far from liberal.

Enjoy Lacrosse!

A nice article in the Daily Southtown, a newspaper based in subarban Chicago, explores the increasing popularity of lacrosse around the nation. Lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport in the country, in terms of participation at the K-12 level. It has long been popular among young people on the East Coast and is now spreading rapidly across the nation, though it has not yet achieved true mass popularity or awareness.

In addition, today's issue of USA Today includes a story on Gary Gait, one of the greatest lacrosse players of all time, who is retiring at the end of this season. Gait has correctly been called the Michael Jordan of lacrosse, for his competitiveness, his amazing leaping ability, and the great and innovative scoring touch brought to the game.

In a college game for Syracuse, Gait leaped forward from behind the goal (which is surrounded by a circle that offensive players may not enter), extended his stick, and shot the ball into the net. No one had ever done it before. It was like the sport's first slam dunk. (The move is now illegal.) In addition, Gait and his twin brother, Paul, spiced up the sport with no-look passes, airborne between-the-legs shots, and other such impressively athletic moves.

Gait will become a coach in the professional outdoor lacrosse leage this summer.

The author of the Southtown article describes lacrosse as follows: "this is a sport that essentially combines the toughness of hockey and soccer, and revolves around a rock-hard rubber ball that blasts like a closed fist from a shooter's stick to the back of the net."

I would say that lacrosse is the roughest outdoor team sport with the probably exception of football alone. (Rugby is about is rough as lacrosse.) Lacrosse is great fun to watch. The action is continuous, the players hit hard and often, and the scoring happens much more often than in soccer, hockey, baseball, and football. When played by young ladies, the sport is not nearly so rough as the boys' game, but the finesse part can be even more interesting.

It is important to recognize that the ball does not naturally remain in a player's crosse, the net part of the stick; one has to "cradle" the ball in the crosse (twist the stick rapidly to create centrifugal force) in order to run with the ball. Opposing players are allowed to strike the stick of the player carrying the ball, in order to dislodge it. These efforts often miss, which means that the player carrying the ball is often hit repeatedly about the head and shoulders with other players' sticks. Hence, a player dodging through traffic to score a goal is doing something very difficult indeed.

Lacrosse is my second-favorite sport, close behind football, which is the greatest sport ever invented, in my view.

Lacrosse was recently shown on network televsion for the very first time, as ABC telecast the National Lacrosse League All-Star Game. (The NLL is the major professional indoor lacrosse league. Major League Lacrosse is the major professional outdoor league. Indoor is a slightly faster game with lots of hitting and a bit more scoring, but the outdoor game has a real beauty to it in the way the offensive and defensive strategies play out.)

A rapidly increasing number of lacrosse games is being shown on cable stations as well. MLL games are shown on ESPN during the warm months, and NLL games are shown on several Fox Sports Net channels, Comcast Sports Net channels, and the like, during winter and early spring. Games are now being shown in the New York City area (on Fox Sports NY) and other major markets. Denver's Altitude Sports Network is very strong on lacrosse coverage. In addition, numerous college games are shown on College Sports Television, ESPNU, the BYU network, and many local sports cable stations.

For more information on this great and growing sport, visit the U.S. Lacrosse site at http://www.uslacrosse.org/.

More on Paul Henning

An article on satirist Paul Henning (an expansion of thoughts that have appeared on this site) is available at National Review Online today.

Dole Pines For Big Apple?

If you get a chance in your market to see a rebroadcast of Charlie Rose's interview this morning with Bob Dole, or you can buy a copy, by all means avail yourself. This is something absolutely out of this world. I stumbled on it "by accident", i.e. the Good Lord was kind enough to open this door for my edification and education.

This is no politician's evasive interview, no New York ingroup ego-fest; it is frank and revealing but never treacly.

Asked to define his legacy, he answered: "If they could put on my little marker 'Honor. Duty. Country. God Bless America', that's good enough for me.

Three's A Charm

It becomes awkward after a time to keep marching out here to tout my columns as they appear in a variety of publications. Today marks a third consecutive day with a published essay, the writerly equivalent of of a "dynasty".

The good news is that I write in different tones and modes, so you never know for sure what you will get on a particular day. Today's piece, in Jewish World Review, covers the flinging of flan at conservative speakers - well, pies anyway. A topic like this calls for lots of humor, so I try to rise to the occasion with at least one joke in every line.

Some are subtle, though. As a sample, when I say that David Horowitz "cussed hard" about the pie that struck him, I am making a pun on custard pie.

Okay. Go. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Where the Heck Is Hunter Baker?

I know. I know. It's the question being asked all over the internet. A couple of days pass without postings from me and a feverish electronic search takes place spontaneously.

The little family and I are moving to a new world headquarters. Once we hired a moving company I decided I should hurry up and find a place to put the furniture. Be patient. Like the great MacArthur, I shall return.

The place has been found and legally obligated, so I'll now visit with old political friends in Georgia (the state where HQ will be located) and will renew old alliances. In case you haven't noticed, Georgia has gone red-state down to the state legislature and gubernatorial level and the social conservatives are getting some nice bills passed. For the premier group doing good policy thinking and acting, check out my former employer Georgia Family Council. If you look at their publications, you can read "The Family Manifesto," which was one of my earlier works from before I became a magazine writer.

Revelations About Culture

My article in today's issue of The Washington Examiner newspaper explores the current treatment of religion in American popular culture, in particular television:

"In the new TV series 'Revelations,' an unreligious man of science is visited by a determined Christian seeking to transform his worldview. That premise could serve as an apt description of American life and culture today. . . .

"Religion is big box office in America these days, and 'Revelations' is only one of many signs of the times, if not the 'end times' the series purports to illustrate. . . . [R]religion now suffuses American culture more strongly than at any time since the late 1940s and perhaps since the 1910s."

The article looks at some likely reasons for this, noting in particular the ironic effect of evangelicals' attempt to set up an alternative, Christian culture in the past decade and the role of modern marketing techniques.

Jay Again? Land Sakes!

Getting columns published on consecutive days is heady stuff. Getting the lead column of the day at any magazine is headier. So instead of linking to my article at The American Spectator today, I will link to their home page, so you can behold me in my glory, sitting atop the crew of fine scriveners that make TAS a crisp and yummy daily read. Then you can read the article with the proper reverence.

Today I explain to the uninitiated the facts about Ma'ale Adumim, the expansion of which the President chose to criticize publicly yesterday. Additionally, I sneak in a great story about Menachem Begin, not widely known, an interesting fact about Lauren Bacall, not widely known, and the occasional witticism.

And how about this line?

My eyes bugged out so far that my wingtips looked like incoming missiles.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Being Defensive

Once again, I seem to have slipped into humble mode and neglected to plug my latest article. Well, it's still April 12 for another two hours, so the oversight is not entirely beyond rectification.

My article in today's American Spectator traced the origin of the principle of self-defense in law from the Bible through the Talmud and all the way to Maimonides and his prime commentators. I also point out a distinction between Good Samaritan imtervention on behalf of a potential victim and the victim's right to strike back himself.

Dog the Bounty Hunter

I haven't seen the A&E Network reality show Dog the Bounty Hunter, but Catherine Seipp's insightful review on National Review Online today almost persuades me to do so. Almost. Her central thought is quite interesting and liberal-minded:

"Dog and his motley crew of Hawaii-based bounty hunters (most of whom are related to him in one way or another) do look rather disreputable, with their mullet haircuts and all that leather. But the charm of the reality series is the juxtaposition of this with their determined, straight-arrow decency."

I have noticed the same thing in regard to the Discovery Channel program American Chopper, which follows the adventures of a family that designs and builds custom motorcycles. The central characters look like a bunch of mugs, but they work hard and are clearly quite creative.

We human beings have a tendency to equate appearance with goodness, and Seipp's observation usefully reminds us that looks can be deceiving. Perhaps I shall take a look at this program sometime after all.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Theologically Liberal and Influential . . .

Question for the readers: Who is the most influential theological liberal in the United States? We can easily reel off the influential theological conservatives like Dobson, Colson, and Neuhaus, who are explicity religious and polito-cultural at the same time. Who is that person or persons among theological liberals? My thesis is that we can't find anyone to compete. Love to see any names you provide.

Military Attache?

Capitol Police were wise to tackle a man who brought two suitcases to visit Congress. You always need to watch out when they bring Samsonite among the Philistines - sounds like the signature of a suicide bomber.

Center for Naturalism Round-up

Mega-blogger Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost put together a collection of blog postings about the new Center for Naturalism, which officially outs the point of view as a particular perspective rather than THE WAY THINGS ARE.

Apparently, the director of the new center took Carter to task for excessive harshness. Good point. However, he couched his plea for tolerance in a rhetoric of equivalent treatment for Jews, Muslims, etc. Again, the point is made. We've been looking for that sort of equality for a long time WITH NATURALISM in the public square.

Check out the collection here. Note: Carter includes comments from Reform Club.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

What's In An Aim?

Things are not always as they appear.

Cardinal Sin, the Phillipine prelate in the 1980s, was a good guy who helped to unseat Marcos and his kleptocratic government.

Cardinal Law, on the other hand, turned out to have been a bad guy, covering up in his Boston diocese for a number of abuser priests.

I guess it all depends on what's in your heart.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Great Paul Henning

Paul Henning, who died this week at the age of 92, was one of the most underrated comic writers of our time. Henning began working in Hollywood in 1950 as a writer for the excellent George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. A hallmark of that pioneering TV comedy series was its cheerful absurdity--it went further in that direction than any other TV show of the time except possibly The Jack Benny Program. George would talk directly to the camera, and Gracie would get the pair into the most insane escapades possible. Their dialogue together, with George patiently trying to make sense of Gracie's bizarre leaps of logic and ridiculous misunderstandings of simple language, is classic comedy. The show remains entertaining even when watched today.

During the rest of the 1950s, Henning went on to write for TV shows featuring Dennis Day, Ray Bolger, Bob Cummings, and Walter Brennan. He also wrote the script for one of the best early Andy Griffith Show episodes ("Crime-Free Mayberry," 1961) and those for two feature film satirical comedies, Lover Come Back and Bedtime Story.

However, the achievement for which he will be best—and justly—rememembered is the three 1960s sitcoms he created and produced: The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. These three programs tracked the change of the United States from a rural nation to an urban one, and they considered what was gained and lost, through zany comedy reminiscent of Robert Benchley and S. J. Perelman.

The concept of The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971) is well-known, of course, but what is perhaps insufficiently appreciated is the level of satire the show achieved. It is difficult to say which is more ridiculous: the naive folk culture of the Clampett family, or the insane greed and status consciousness of their Beverly Hills neighbors. No matter, for Henning was not using the show to score political points or twig social enemies; it is clear that he was just looking at the world around him and finding it immensely funny. Anyone watching the program will do so as well, if in possession of any kind of a sense of humor. The show is being rerun on TVLand at present, I believe, and is well worth watching.

Petticoat Junction (1962-1970, canceled, along with Henning's other shows, in a CBS purge of programs deemed as too rural and insufficiently swingin' for late-'60s younguns—even though all three shows were still pulling very high ratings), took place in the bucolic, small town of Hooterville, Kansas. Here the folk culture is the norm, and it is portrayed as charming but often stupid and insane, and the incursions of the modern world, and in particular modern culture, on the town make for some interesting social satire. The concept of the program was not nearly as strong as that of The Beverly Hillbillies, but it has the advantage of being rather more pleasant to watch, as the characters are not as disturbed as those of the earlier show.

The capstone of Henning's career, and his claim to greatness, is Green Acres (1965-1971). Telling the story of New York attorney Oliver Wendell Douglas, who moves his wealth- and status-conscious wife with him to live in blessed simplicity in Hooterville, Kansas, the program is, in my view, the funniest situation comedy on television ever. (Funniest show overall, in my opinion, was SCTV Comedy Network, for those who may be wondering.) I believe that Green Acres is currently running on TVLand. The first season is available on DVD.

Green Acres is simply pure comedy. Whatever was funny, went in, and whatever wasn't, didn't. From Fred Ziffel's sarcasm to Lisa's cluelessness to Oliver's stubbornness to Mr. Haney's greed to Hank Kimball's indecisiveness to Arnold Ziffel's unexpected genius and on and gloriously on, the show's effect was based on the comedy of humors, of characters whose differing personality types result in endless comic conflicts. Of course, much of this plays out in a highly satirical form that spoke not only to late-1960s culture but also has meaning today, but the finest thing about the show is that the satire is organic, arising directly from the characters and situations, not forced upon a structure that cannot handle it.

If you want to see the roots of Henning's humor in Green Acres and his other programs, look to Ben Jonson, Moliere, and the like. Henning is not nearly on their level, of course, but he compares favorably to second-tier comic geniuses such as Holberg. His kind of humor is always refreshing and delightful, and I dearly wish there were more comic writers like him working today.

From Darwin to Hitler

Studying religion and politics as I do, I've noticed that Christians are often tagged with the massive moral bill, so to speak, for the Holocaust. That ain't exactly fair. The recently released book, From Darwin to Hitler, helps explain why. I'm including the full review from Donal O'Mathuna:

Book Review: From Darwin to Hitler, Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany by Richard Weikart

Reviewed by Donal O'Mathuna:

Weikart has provided bioethicists with an excellent resource in From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). He summarizes the writings of many prominent German scientists, philosophers, and popularizers who wrote during the period between Darwin and Hitler. His book demonstrates a thorough understanding of the primary sources and clearly presents their perspectives on ethics, on human worth and the notion of those unfit to survive, and on the legitimacy of eliminating the unfit and inferior.

Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species set off a chain reaction that impacted just about every field of study. Although Darwin himself initially tried to avoid dealing with the human implications of evolution, he stated in his Autobiography that someone, like himself, who doesn’t believe in God or an afterlife, “can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best one” (quoted on p. 21).

A number of German thinkers, in particular Ernst Haeckel, were to seize on this idea and use it to develop an ethic they believed was based on science. This view was monistic, deterministic, and relativistic. Weikart shows how underlying many of these thinkers was a determination to reject the two dominant ethical systems of that time: Christianity and Kantian ethics. Foremost amongst the problems these thinkers had with Christianity was its claim to moral absolutes and its concern for the weak and vulnerable.

Their problem with the latter was how it contradicted the one moral absolute of social Darwinism. In spite of their adherence to relativism, Weikart demonstrates from the primary sources that evolutionary progress was the goal by which morality was to be evaluated. Decisions and policies that promoted survival of the fittest were thereby viewed as ethical. It was thus a relatively small move to promote the elimination of the ‘unfit.’

Weikart traces the development of these ideas over several decades until they impact the thinking of Adolf Hitler. He acknowledges the difficulty of specifically identifying the ideas that contributed to Hitler’s final ideology. However, a very discomforting conclusion of this development, is how it shows that Hitler’s conclusions were not primarily those of a madman. Rather, “they were mainstream ideas of respectable, leading thinkers in the German academic community” (p. 225).

This is what makes Weikart’s book an important contribution to bioethics. Many of the same beliefs of social Darwinism at the beginning of the twentieth century are once again being promoted today: that certain lives are not worth living, that human life needs to be unsanctified, that ethics is relative, and that science has all the answers. The same academic groundwork is being laid to justify technological developments like embryo grading, infanticide, and euthanasia. Those opposed to these developments can learn much from how the Nazi policies came to be proposed, accepted, and implemented. Richard Weikart has made the historical documents accessible in an engaging format. History shows how important it is for us to combat the current, similar trends.

Dónal P. O’Mathúna, Ph.D.Lecturer in EthicsDublin City University, Ireland

Sin City: While We Wait for Karnick

National Review film critic and Baylor University Dean of the Honors College Tom Hibbs has reviewed Sin City for NRO. Though I know Hibbs and have had the chance to talk film with him at a restaurant that absolutely refused to bring our check to the table, I remain loyal to the work of "the greatest living film critic in the English language," S.T. Karnick.

Nevertheless, Mr. Karnick has ceased to produce early release criticism, so we'll have to settle for some Hibbs-ian stylings about this black and white gorefest:

Although Tarantino gets a director’s credit for assisting on a certain segment of the film, the central vision — and full director’s credit — is Miller’s, with assistance from Robert Rodriguez. The devotion to Miller’s sacred text is apparent throughout, but the decision to use easily recognizable actors such as Elijah Wood, Benicio del Toro, Jessica Alba, and Bruce Willis gives Sin City the feel of a Tarantino satire on pop culture. The viewer cannot help but be distracted from Miller’s vision into thinking, “That’s Bruce Willis reprising his role from Die Hard or Pulp Fiction,” or muttering, “Wow, that’s Benicio del Toro whose skull has just been turned into a ‘pez dispenser,’” or wondering, “Is that actually Elijah Wood playing a rapist-cannibal in league with the local Catholic cardinal?”

Media talking heads have been bubbling about the timing of Sin City’s rise to the top of the charts on the very weekend during which Pope John Paul II died. A dramatic contrast to be sure, but beyond that it is not clear what the point of the media attention is. The timing was of course pure coincidence, unless we think the pope held on just to provide a counterpoint to decadent American film. Nor is such a contrast unprecedented. Just last year, The Passion was unseated from its number-one ranking by Kill Bill, Volume II. Sin City’s in-your-face mockery of religion locates the Catholic clergy and its sacramental system at the very heart of this corrupt world.

More on the Center for Naturalism!

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost went further than I did in pointing out the silliness of the Center for Naturalism's prescriptions for the good life. You can read his take here.

I've excerpted a brief portion of his remarks:

My favorite line from the article (referring to an article on the website) is this gem of self-delusional rationalization:

"That we are alive and sentient, with the capacity to form an understanding, however provisional, is the source of much amazement to the naturalist, since after all, none of what we consist of is sentient."

Think about what is being claimed: A human is indistinguishable from nature and comprised completely of physical matter; not one molecule in our bodies is sentient. Yet somehow when you combine all of these non-sentient molecules in the shape of a human being, a unique property magically arises.

What is amazing is not how this occurs but that people who claim to base their beliefs on scientifically-informed empiricism fall for such garden-variety mysticism.

I could literally go on for hours delving deeper into the unashamedly contradictory claims made by CFN. But for now I have to write a thank you note to Leitner and Dennett expressing my gratitude for their new venture. They have done more than any theist in exposing the absurdity of naturalism. All these years we’ve wasted our time on arguments and refutations when all we needed to do was have the naturalist explain what they truly believe.

Conservative Lecturers: Cheery Lemmings?

Both William Kristol and David Horowitz had pies thrown at them in universities over the past few days. Herewith my letter sent this morning to Mr. Kristol (I am a contributor to The Weekly Standard):

Dear Mr. K,


Here's hoping that all is well with you and yours....

....as we fervently deny experiencing any amusement at your getting pasted with the pastry.

Let's face it: academic waters are deep and roiling for a conservative, whether you row or wade. The good news is that this time they only got you with a pi, but who knows? Next time it could be an epsilon. And those are nasty. (I'm sure you recall the Wayne and Shuster routine with Flavius Maximus, the Roman Detective. When he gets the report about Julius Caesar that "Big Julie got stabbed", Flavius asks "Where did they get him?" "In the rotunda." "Ooh, that's painful.")

Still, unquestionably this is good for the Jews. In the past only Pat Buchanan and Ann Coulter had to pay the piper by being pied; finally Jews have broken through the Glass Pie Dish, first you and then Horowitz. The organizations who provide kosher certification are overjoyed, as Entenmann and other pie-makers are rewarded for their fealty to Jewish needs.

As a device to enhance communication, this is... er, nonpareil. Your bringing a Soupy Sales sensibility to the conservative movement does much to blunt the old-fuddy-duddy image that has been an albatross around its neck and an anchor on its ankle. The pathos of the patisserie shows us the path. Worker bees of the world, unite!

But I imagine you can live without that kind of cool. You probably feel like answering what Yogi Berra did when the Mayor of New York's wife said, "Yogi, you look cool in that suit." Ever the gentleman, Yogi answered: "You don't look so hot yourself."

The good news is that the Liberals have been reduced to this: an incoherent, half-baked argument. It's time to declare victory and have the makeup girl clean up the battlefield.

Warmly,

Jay

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Crazy Contradictions of Naturalism

Daniel Dennett, who once suggested religious persons might have to be kept in cages, and Brian Leiter, who writes tirelessly of the frightening Texas Taliban (which is all about people who send their children to fight the Taliban, but are somehow themselves Talibanesque), have come together in an advocacy group called The Center for Naturalism. Both are esteemed academicians, which gives an aspiring academician like me great pause.

What immediately struck me about the group is that it commits to the same bizarre reasoning employed by their forebear John Dewey. They tell us that we are the product of random forces and that there is no meaning to life, BUT then go on to make policy prescriptions for the good life! On the same page, Dewey could explain our meaningless rise from microbes and then go on to promote a just industrial order! What?!!!

Leiter and Dennett's group does the same thing. From their webpage:

Because it replaces traditional free will with a causal understanding of human development and behavior, naturalism has significant implications for social policy. For an overview, see the Policy page. The CFN’s policy areas include, but are not limited to:

Criminal justice – A naturalistic understanding of the causes of criminality helps undercut retributive attitudes favoring the
death penalty and punitive prison conditions, while building support for alternative sentencing and policies that address the conditions which generate crime and recidivism. Realizing that but for the luck of circumstances, any of us could standing in the criminal’s shoes, generates compassion for offenders as well as for victims. See Criminal Justice page and the Council on Crime and Causality initiative.

Social and economic inequality – Since on a naturalistic understanding, persons are not self-made, but owe their successes and failures to the conditions into which they were born and developed, major social and economic inequalities cannot be justified on the basis that individuals strongly deserve their status. CFN supports policies that will increase the material and psychological well-being of those who are unlucky in life, and that reduce the extreme disparities in income and opportunity so characteristic of our society. See for instance the
Progressive policy implications of naturalism.

For some reason I've yet to discern, the resort to meaningless ends in left-wing politics rather than nihilism. It doesn't make any sense and somewhere Bob Dole reminds us that he knows it, we know it, and the American people know it.

Sitting On Defense

Well, our California "colleagues" are getting some company from yours truly, who has been lobbing columns cross-country to the Sacramento Union. Today I use the Johnnie Cochran funeral as a springboard to ponder the role of the defense attorney in our society.

And here is a line that I cut for purposes of space and brevity, but I hated to drop: "Al Sharpton was there too, delivering an obsequious obsequy."

As I Was Saying

Herewith, a few responses (in italics) to Tlaloc, who offered thoughtful but utterly unpersuasive comments on my previous post "A Few Thoughts On Terri Schiavo" (March 30):

Tlaloc: I don't think you get to call it a "humble" opinion when you go ont [sic] to refer to the judges involved as morons.

That depends on how vacuous and worse one considers the judges' rulings to have been. As I said: I think Judge Greer deserves all the opprobrium he gets, I see little reason under the law to criticize the rulings of the higher Florida judges, and the federal judge who essentially ignored the law calling for a de novo review of Mrs. Schiavo's federal rights also is worthy of little respect.

Tlaloc: The potential conflict of interest is irrelevent since the court was being asked to make the decision rather than the guardian making it on his own. In effect for this one decision the court was the guardian.

It was the testimony of Mr. Schiavo and a couple of his relatives, years after the fact, that allowed Greer to make his finding of fact with respect to Mrs. Schiavo's wishes. For Greer to have ignored the conflict of interest and the testimony of other witnesses is inexcusable.

Tlaloc: Actually the Judge was remarkably insightful by refusing to allow a grotesque abuse of congressional power to be rewarded. The federal courts had no place in the matter. They said so repeatedly. When congress passed an incredibly badly thought out law to give the federal courts power over the case the Judge basically said "No, we still aren't touching it." As I've said before, thank god one branch of government is still actually doing it's job.

The federal courts have no place in the enforcement of federal law? Excuse me? Congress has the explicit power under the constitution to determine the jurisdiction of the federal courts, and the argument that Congress had no power to direct the federal courts to conduct a de novo review of Mrs. Schiavo's federal rights is preposterous.

Tlaloc: Jewish tradition is completely irrelevent.

Tlaloc certainly correct about the irrelevance of Jewish tradition in terms of the legal issues involved. But anyone reading my post ought to recognize easily that I had shifted from a legal/analytic argument to a normative (or moral) one.

Tlaloc: At a FACTUAL level everyone is dying, she was on life support according to Florida state law (which does include feeding tubes as life support), she did get therapy during the first three years at least.

Oh, please. "Everyone is dying." So: The government has the power to starve anyone who might or might not have made some ambiguous statement about not being kept on life support? Huh? Tlaloc may be correct about a feeding tube being defined as "life support" (I am not an attorney); but that riases more questions than it answers. Mrs. Schiavo apparently had never been given a swallowing test. Suppose she had passed one, and then was fed by hand: Would the spoon qualify as "life support?" What, precisely, is the analytic difference between a feeding tube and a spoon? Yes, she did get therapy for a few years, but not thereafter, despite Mr. Schiavo's testimony during the malpractice suit that the monetary damages payment would be used for her care. So much for the sanctity of marriage and for the reliability of Mr. Schiavo's statements with respect to his wife's wishes. All together now: Judge Greer is a moron.

Tlaloc: Now that's ironic given that republicans broke every promise they've ever made inorder [sic] to pander to their social conservative base. Bigger government, violating states rights, ignoring the "sanctity of marriage," and so on...

No doubt about it: Pandering is ubiquitous in politics; but I do not believe that to have been the driving force behind the efforts in Congress to direct the federal courts to conduct a de novo review of Schiavo's federal rights. (They were joined, after all, by a significant number of Democrats.) Bigger government? The Americans With Disabilities Act may be (well, is) unconstitutional; but it is the law, and for the death-with-dignity crowd to scream "States' Rights!" when Republicans invoke it is the height of hypocrisy. In any event, this is not "bigger government"; it is an attempt to prevent the states from violating an individual's federal rights. And that is why the "States' Rights!" argument is so facile; "State's Rights!" was the term used in the 1960s to denigrate civil rights legislation; does Tlaloc want to argue that states have the "right" to enforce Jim Crow? I rather doubt it. The implicit argument that a state has the "right" to starve a severely disabled individual to death is just appalling. And to apply a "sanctity of marriage" argument to the unique (or, perhaps not so unique) circumstances of the Schiavo case is, to be blunt, a joke. As I understand the facts, Mr. Schiavo never remembered the (apparently) offhand statements of his wife until years had passed. I will not take further space here with the sordid details of Mr. Schiavo's behavior.

Tlaloc: The Justice system proved itself to work rather well, it was congress, the president and the govenor of Florida who showed they were politicized and corrupt. The Judges consistently ruled according to the Law. Your disapproval and recourse to Jewish canon not withstanding that is their job.

Well, I guess we will have to agree to disagree. The judges' job is to enforce the law, and when they fail to do so other branches of government have every right and power to do so. After all, the courts are not supreme over the other branches, notwithstanding the apparent views of many. Mrs. Schiavo had rights under federal law that were not upheld, on the flimsy premise that her husband knew her wishes. At a more fundamental level, let us not mince words about the fundamental reality of the Schiavo case: A severely disabled woman was starved to death on the say-so of a husband with obvious conflicts of interest, and in the context of countervailing testimony from others without such conflicts. This is what the law demanded? Please....