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November 30, 2006

Skid Row Blues

In every city, there’s always that place you drive 10 blocks out of your way to avoid. In Los Angeles, that place stretches from Third to Seventh Street in Central City East, also known as “skid row.”

LA Times reporter Steve Lopez hit this American Third World last year, only to find himself oddly mesmerized by the squalor and hopelessness that define the streets roughly 10,000 people call “home.” He witnessed a 25-year-old drug addict he described as “young and old at the same time” squirm in agony hours before she died from an overdose. He interviewed a woman named T.J. who ran a brothel from a row of port-a-potties. And not too long after, he met an up-and-coming RN who rents a classy loft in a sky-rise overlooking the same streets where T.J. runs her “business.”

The story (and the irony) is always the same—squalor, addiction, and gentrification all thrown together in America’s melting pot of urban (for lack of a better word) “yuck.” It’s just worse on skid row.

After Mr. Lopez completed his five-part series, he followed up with an editorial and a command—“Now fix it.”

Frequently these exhortations fall on tired ears. We have volunteered countless times in our soup kitchens. We have tutored inner city children. We gone on missions trips to the ghetto. We HAVE tried to “fix it” and skid row still exists. What’s the point, after all?

But Christ’s call was not to grow weary in trying to fix every skid row, but to put our hand to contributing to a small part of the hope right around the corner. Let’s not grow weary in doing good, for one day there will be no more "skid row blues."


My father rightly takes me to task for forgetting C. S. Lewis's birthday yesterday, and writes, "A simple belated birthday greeting might be in order, I'm sure that the don will smile down on you." I would dearly love for that to happen, so a very happy belated birthday to you, dear sir.

Biblical education needed, stat!

Harvard's addition of a faith and reason requirement could not possibly be more timely, at least if House viewers are any indication. Consider the (admittedly unscientific) poll on Fox's homepage for the show, which asks, "Did you understand Wilson's last line in the [most recent] episode about the 'thirty pieces of silver'?"

The results are currently as follows:

"Yes, I recognized it right away": 17%
"I did after I looked it up": 19%
"No, what does it mean?": 60%

Let's not forget that House's audience might be expected to be at least a smidgen better at grasping literary allusions than, say, a bunch of teens vegging out in front of MTV's Jackass. In the same episode, for instance, Wilson quipped to Chase that Samuel Beckett had once considered calling his most famous play Waiting for House's Approval. If people who listen to this sort of thing week after week don't get one simple biblical reference, we're really in trouble.

It's not just that these people -- who are Web-literate enough at the least to look up a site on their favorite show and answer a poll -- know nothing about the Gospel, serious as that is. Without even a basic knowledge of the Bible, how can they understand Shakespeare, or Milton, or Dante, or Dickens, or medieval or renaissance art, or, in short, anything at all about Western culture? How can they have any idea at all of where they themselves came from?

Kudos to the House writers for their cultural literacy, and for encouraging it among their viewers, but with responses like that -- assuming that they're not the product of pranksters -- one starts to fear that it might really be too little, too late.

The Pain of the Unborn

Undoubtedly many of the great evils of our times have been committed because the cries of the victims were not heard by those who sat by, comfortably ignorant of the horrors around them. In England, during the years before that great Christian statesman, William Wilberforce, would lead the charge against the abomination of the slave trade, few citizens had any real understanding that the lump of sugar they dropped in their afternoon tea was made at the high price of human bondage. The screams of men and women branded or whipped on West Indies sugar plantations were not heard in the fashionable parlors of England.

Today, some 200 years later, there are still many victims whose agony our ears will never hear. Among them are the unborn.

While the unborn do not have a voice to scream, science tells us that by week 20 a child in the womb is capable of feeling pain. Dr. Sunny Anand, Director of the Pain Neurobiology Laboratory at Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute, testified before Congress: "The pain perceived by a fetus is possibly more intense than that perceived by term newborns or older children . . . . The highest density of pain receptors per square inch of skin in human development occurs in utero from 20 to 30 weeks gestation. During this period, the epidermis is still very thin, leaving nerve fibers closer to the surface of the skin than in older neonates and adults." To make matters worse, the biological mechanisms that inhibit the experience of pain do not begin to develop until weeks 30 to 32.

Yet ironically, an unborn child has less legal protection from feeling pain than commercial livestock. In a slaughterhouse, a method of slaughter is deemed legally humane only if, as the hundred-year-old law states, “all animals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical, or other means that is rapid and effective.” By contrast, D&E abortions, performed as late as 24 weeks, involve the dismemberment of the unborn child by a pair of sharp metal forceps. Instillation methods of abortion replace up to one cup of amniotic fluid with concentrated salt solution, which the unborn child inhales as the salt burns her skin. The child lives in this condition up to an hour.

Continue reading "The Pain of the Unborn" »

Warren and Obama redux

Kathryn Lopez, who's about as pro-life as they come, gives her take on the subject:

Yeah, Obama is bad on abortion. And yeah, Rick Warren is good on abortion. And, yes, abortion is a very important topic for civilization. But Rick Warren is trying to get people in the same room talking and working together to fight AIDs. Progress isn't going to happen if Rick Warren types have their own AIDs conferences and Bill Clinton types have their own AIDs conferences somewhere else and never get together and work together. . . .

She doesn't get into whether it's bad or good for this to happen in a church building or not. But if she did, given the content of this post, I'm guessing she'd say that it's a good thing for a church building to be used in helping the sick. Which, despite legitimate and serious concerns over life issues, is a point worth considering.

Re: And a bah humbug to you...

Like doctors, bureaucrats should take an oath to do no harm, but unfortunately, Gina, there is precedence for discouraging ministry, whether it be food or shelter, to the homeless by city and state officials.

Years ago, New York City would not allow Mother Teresa and her group of faithfuls to open a homeless shelter without an elevator. She walked away from the deal because the machinery was too expensive.

I have often wondered how many homeless men and women in NYC missed out on the warm embrace of Christ’s love due to that one harmful bureaucratic decision.

Another Strike against Humanity

An item came to my attention this week which has my stomach churning. There has been an increased in the number of zoos “exhibiting” humans. For instance, the Copenhagen Zoo had a human exhibit in 1996 and the London Zoo in 2005. Talk about slippery slopes, as loathsome as the first two were, Australia’s Adelaide Zoo exhibit will prove to be even worse.

We’re told the human subjects will be housed in an old orangutan dwelling “next to their fellow great apes,” and we’re told the people will be “treated like apes.” Along with veterinarian examinations and ape toys, zoo keepers will hide the inmates’ food. We have to be thankful for some small token of common sense because keepers are recognizing one human sensibility—modesty—so human subjects won’t be swing from the branches naked but will be wearing swimsuits. By golly, one wonders if the “subjects” will be provided with couches or mattresses, or if they’ll have to huddle together on concrete floors. Hopefully these “animals” will be provided with a port-o-potty too.

Tongue-in-cheek aside, I can foresee other exhibits coming to a zoo near us where humans -- could be Christians or some other detested group of people -- will be stripped of their freedom and put on display for other’s delight.

We’ve had plenty of experience with people trying to show us we’re nothing special, and it has always resulted in abject horror and death. The fact is, we are special, and no zoo exhibit will change that.

If you ever find yourself subjected to zoo time, remember that you’re created in the image of God, and despite bad ideas and actions, nobody can take that away.

Re: So Help Me God

That's a fair analysis of the issue, Roberto, though I think it largely serves to underscore the changing American culture that the debate represents. The points you bring up are the reasons that I suspect I will, however reluctantly, side with the conclusions of Volokh, Bainbridge, et al.

It's a frustrating discussion, both on the emotional level and the constitutional one. I shiver to think that a member of Congress will be seeking Allah's aid in governing the nation -- my nation. But I also know that I could not, in good conscience, place my hand upon another scripture to take an oath.

Prager resolves this by suggesting that Ellison should be disqualified from service if he can't swear upon the Bible. This is an equally troubling concept, rebuking not just the new congressman but also the district in Minnesota that chose him. And the Constitution indeed provides no compulsion for making the oath with a hand upon the Scripture, though I don't know that the religious-test clause answers the question so definitively.

Again, the issue hinges upon the distinction between collective beliefs and individual beliefs, which are increasingly diverse. While I have no dispute that compelling people to adhere to even a small piece of a faith doctrine is dangerous, not to mention futile, it is still true that the country will administer its laws and justice under a broad system of thought -- even if this is only implicit, and even if it ends up being a pluralistic mess of ideas.

Roberto, you seem to imply that enduring such a philosophical melting pot would be worth the price in order to protect religious freedom, including for Christians. You may be right.

RE: Sam Harris & Co.

I just had an email from To The Source that said Dinesh D'Souza is going to debate Sam Harris on Neil Cavuto's program today (Fox News). It will probably be worth watching.

The story behind the tabloid

A few weeks ago, we sadly noted the end of a Hollywood marriage most people expected to last. Since then, two marriages few expected to last have broken up. (See the cover of this week's issue of Us Weekly if you're in the dark.) The individuals involved are easy fodder for late night stand-up jokes, not to mention tabloid headlines. I'll admit my own reaction to the news echoed Iago, the parrot from Aladdin: "Oh, there's a big surprise! I think I'm going to have a heart attack and die of not surprise!" Both marriages seemed to start off on a note of farce, so perhaps the ending is not so surprising really.

Still, an editorial in a Baptist publication brings a sobering perspective to the issue:

Anyone who celebrates a divorce has abandoned a biblical worldview. Anyone who treats divorce as an entertaining spectacle has abandoned a biblical worldview. Anyone who overlooks the difficult struggles of children of divorce has abandoned a biblical worldview. Any culture in which such celebration, entertainment and neglect of children’s well-being occurs has abandoned a biblical worldview.

In any recognizable Christian perspective, divorce is understood as, at best, a rare, tragic concession to the consequences of human sin.

Well said. I'm one of the estimated 33 million adults in Gen X and Gen Y who are children of divorce. After years of pretending we didn't exist (because if we talk about divorce, that's the same as condoning it, right?), the church is finally listening to us and offering hope to a new generation of children whose homes are broken. Divorce is no laughing matter for kids, whether their parents are pastors or pop stars.

Re: So Help Me God

Travis, I guess it's my day to disagree with my friends and colleagues.

I agree with UCLA law professor Stephen Bainbridge when he writes that "Prager's argument strikes me as fundamentally misguided." For starters, there is no requirement that elected officials swear on any book, holy or otherwise, at all. The Constitution reads:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

That's all that is required by the Constitution itself and Prager's efforts to retroactively add additional requirements is precisely the kind of move that gives legs to expressions like "theocrats" and (I really hate this one) "Christianist," although, obviously, not in Prager's case.

More importantly,

[F]reedom of religious exercise is a core value of American civilization. Requiring someone to take an oath on the holy book of a faith he or she does not share violates that person's right to freely exercise their religion (not to mention constituting a government endorsement of that religion). Hence, for example, despite many movies to the contrary, courts generally do not require atheists to swear on the Bible or even to say "so help me god" before testifying.

While I'm also concerned about the "relativistic anarchy" you write about, the "foundation" you seek cannot be built or otherwise provided by compelling people to pay obeisance, however minor it may seem to us, to a religion or belief system they do not hold. What's more, as one commenter noted, what gave religious oaths their power was the belief that violating your oath was an offense against the God you invoked in your oath. How requiring people who don't believe in the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ to swear in His name and place their hand on His word provides a moral foundation for doing the people's business is beyond me.

Continue reading "Re: So Help Me God" »

Re: Truce & Who Cares?

There's kind of an amusing angle on this debate in which we see, either actually or by proxy, Christian conservatives and Christian liberals saying "Our atheists and agnostics are more generous than your atheists and agnostics."  At which point, I quite readily agree with Catherina: Who cares?

On the other hand, I'm not quite sure, Catherina, that you make the point that there is no difference between small government and paternalistic Big Government when it comes to "doing good." In the situation you discuss in your last paragraph, you have a governmental agency acting diplomatically to clear the way for a private organization to act. But it is still a private agency acting; we are still likely talking about a small government scenario here.

Nobody, even including much of "The Christian Right," seems to want to think that small government philosophy has any bearing on "doing what is right." And that misunderstanding is a real shame. When Big Government gets involved, we have to secularize the ministry. Of course, "secularizing the ministry" makes no sense, does it? Exactly. It is no longer ministry, but temporal help.

Now, temporal help is still a very good thing indeed, but ...

Continue reading "Re: Truce & Who Cares?" »

November 29, 2006

So Help Me [God]

Now that the first Muslim has been elected to Congress, Dennis Prager and Eugene Volokh have weighed in on the inevitable clash of worldviews that will accompany his swearing in. Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison intends to take his oath of office on the Quran, rather than the Bible, and his decision is bound to spark a difficult debate with no easy answers.

Prager argues that to allow Ellison to swear upon the Quran would be an affront to the American republic:

He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.

First, it is an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism -- my culture trumps America's culture. What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.

Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress. In your personal life, we will fight for your right to prefer any other book. We will even fight for your right to publish cartoons mocking our Bible. But, Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath.

Volokh counters, however:

This argument both mistakes the purpose of the oath, and misunderstands the Constitution. In fact, it calls for the violation of some of the Constitution’s multiculturalist provisions.

To begin with, the oath is a religious ritual, both in its origins and its use by the devout today. The oath invokes God as a witness to one’s promise, as a means of making the promise more weighty on the oathtaker’s conscience.

This is why, for instance, the Federal Rules of Evidence, dealing with the related subject of the courtroom oath, state, “Before testifying, every witness shall be required to declare that the witness will testify truthfully, by oath or affirmation administered in a form calculated to awaken the witness’ conscience and impress the witness’ mind with the duty to do so.” If you want the oath to be maximally effective, then it is indeed entirely true that “all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.” That book is the one that will most impress the oathtaker’s mind with the duty to comply with the oath.

Each writer makes a strong case here. But this is, perhaps, a more important and difficult discussion than either gives it credit for. It is one that could further shape, I think -- or at least reveal -- the state of America's understanding of God.

Continue reading "So Help Me [God]" »

And a bah humbug to you, Fairfax County

John Miller, Jonah Goldberg, and my former colleague Leslie Carbone post on a story that angered me when I read it in the Washington Post this morning. Just in time for the season of giving, a county that many Pointers live in or near is clamping down on all that lawless donating of home- or church-prepared meals to the homeless. It's okay if you eat Mom's cooking yourself, but unless her kitchen is county-approved (containing "a commercial-grade refrigerator, a three-compartment sink to wash, rinse and sanitize dishes and a separate hand-washing sink, among other requirements"), you don't dare give the extras to a hungry person. It may not meet the proper standards of cleanliness and so forth. So you'll just have to dump the food in the garbage so they can eat it out of there. Nice going, Fairfax.

Punishing Kim Jong-Il

Ipod_mini Oh, yeah, that'll teach him.

The Bush administration wants North Korea's attention, so like a scolding parent it's trying to make it tougher for that country's eccentric leader to buy iPods, plasma televisions and Segway electric scooters. The U.S. government's first-ever effort to use trade sanctions to personally aggravate a foreign president expressly targets items believed to be favored by Kim Jong Il or presented by him as gifts to the roughly 600 loyalist families who run the communist government.

Okay, you do that, and we'll do this -- Reminder, everyone: Protest this Saturday at your local Chinese embassy on behalf of human rights for North Korea.

Who Really Cares ... Who’s More Charitable?

On "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is," I have to agree with Roberto: It's not a matter of political ideology. And the argument, I believe, is moot. Charitableness is not -- or should not be -- a contest. We know what Jesus said about that (which is not to be confused with some well-known people, like Gates and Buffett -- Warren, not Jimmy! -- who can't help but be spotlighted by media for their giving). So if someone like Sowell lines up his arguments simply to come up at the end with, "Nyah, nyah! We're more charitable [read holier] than thou!" -- I'm left with, "Who really cares?" to borrow the title of Brooks's book. That is not the point.

But if you know me, you know I tire of the label game. And personally in my own situation, so-called "liberals" have been more helpful than most so-called "conservatives." But those who have been helpful have that common denominator Roberto mentioned: religion.

Point: Forget labels. Just get out there and do the good that you can. God uses everyone -- sometimes despite their lack of faith in Him.

But another thing concerned me too about the original post: the idea of the "right way" to be charitable. (And now, there are some supposedly "charitable" works that I don't think are the "good" I refer to above -- everyone remember the inner-city campaign to pay poor women to be sterilized?)

By the issue of the "right way" to help, I mean debate over the large-scale work of government vs. the work of smaller non-profits/NGOs and individuals. It's another issue where I think in some instances (like poverty relief), we can have a both/and situation, not an either/or one. After all, in relieving poverty in nations whose governments are corrupt, small NGOs can't put the pressure on rogue leaders that governments can -- and that pressure by governments, that oversight, also allows those small ministries an entrance into potentially hostile countries to help the hungry and sick. (I've read that the acronym for Bono's group, DATA, stand not only for "Debt, Aids, Trade Africa," but also "Democracy, Accountability, Transparency for Africa.") So if you don't think efforts like the ONE campaign are an answer you can support, then support the small ministry or non-profit on the ground. But I still say don't dismiss those large-scale, government-involved efforts.


Just a few points:

  • Believe me, no one was more offended than I at that Reason post when I found the link to it a few weeks ago (via NRO, where whoever posted it -- I think it was Kathryn Lopez -- was also deeply offended). But number one, Sanchez is a libertarian, and conservatism minus religion doesn't always equal libertarianism, so I don't think his post served as a useful illustration of anything related to this discussion -- or for that matter, anything at all except his own unrestrained darker impulses. And number two, we could play the "Look at what THAT naughty conservative/liberal (circle one) said on his site!" all day long without anyone coming out a winner or anything of value being accomplished.
  • Looking at the matter more broadly, Catherina wisely reminds me that "holier than thou"-type competitions generally don't do anyone any good either. She has an excellent point, so if I crowed a little too much over that Sowell piece, I ask your pardon, Roberto. You have to understand, though, that I've always been one who loathes stereotypes and delights in seeing them upended -- particularly, I confess, when they apply to me. When one has been informed for years that the end of one's political philosophy is to see the working poor living in cardboard boxes and unwed mothers thrown out into the streets to starve -- and I know you never have said and never would say such a thing, Roberto, but there are those, and I seem to keep running into them, who loudly and repeatedly have said just that -- then one does tend to feel just a mite gleeful when someone points out that it isn't true.

So that's where I was coming from, and I still maintain that that this study may be quite useful in overturning some unkind, harsh, and damaging generalizations. But around here it might do more harm than good if it gets us brawling, so again, I apologize for any of my own generalizations that were unkind and hurtful. Pot, meet kettle, eh?

Re: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Sorry, Gina, I'm not buying what Sowell is trying to sell. It makes some intuitive sense but is it what actually happens? I don't think so.

Arthur C. Brooks, the Syracuse professor on whose work Sowell's and Stossel's pieces are based, describes what he calls a "huge charity gap" between the religious and non-religious. Among his findings are that

  • On average, religious people are far more generous than secularists with their time and money. This is not just because of giving to churches—religious people are more generous than secularists towards explicitly non-religious charities as well. They are also more generous in informal ways, such as giving money to family members, and behaving honestly.
  • The American working poor are, relative to their income, some of the most generous people in America today.
  • Among Americans with above-average incomes who do not give charitably, a majority say that they ‘don’t have enough money.’ Meanwhile, the working poor in America give a larger percentage of their incomes to charity than any other income group, including the middle class and rich.

Taken together the pattern is that it's religiosity (or the lack thereof), not beliefs about the size and scope of government -- as Sowell and Stossel, who are both libertarian conservatives, are trying to argue -- that best predicts how generous people will be. While you are right about the thinking of some liberals (supporting government programs plus some pocket change equals "generosity"), there's little, if anything, in Brooks's numbers to suggest that conservatives qua conservatives (i.e., secular conservatives) as distinct from conservatives who are religious, are any more generous than their secular liberal counterparts.

Continue reading "Re: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is" »

’God Stories’

Clouds Recently, USA Today reported about a forthcoming book from Jennifer Skiff, a former CNN correspondent, that brings together her collection of "God stories." (H/T Thunderstruck.) Her website lists some sample stories and allows for you to submit your own. Stories range from the fantastical (strange voices, out-of-body experiences) to the more familiar (circumstances in life adding up to God's hand on it, upon hindsight).

Her own story?

God touched her life at age 32, when a doctor said she had a malignant tumor in her bone marrow. Upon getting the diagnosis, “I no longer had a will to live,” she remembers. But then she was “overwhelmed” with calls, visits, even encouraging notes from strangers. A week passed before DNA tests came back: benign.

“I felt as though the week had been for me to see all that I had, and to appreciate it and to move forward” with meaningful work and new personal projects, such as running an animal refuge center. “It was kind of like the thunderbolt, the slap in the face that said, ‘Get on with it! Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on with it!'

“That, for me, was confirmation that a divine power was working in my life.”

I'll admit I get skeptical when I hear stories about strange voices and apparitions -- not skeptical about God's existence, but rather about the veracity of the story. But the stories displaying the imago Dei, the evidence of God in people, are encouraging. If you've got a story to share, go over to www.godstories.com and submit it.


There are certain abstract nouns that automatically set off my bovine scat detector: spirituality, stewardship and tolerance chief among them. When I hear someone use these words I'm reminded of the line from The Princess Bride: "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." While spirituality, stewardship or tolerance are very good things, the words themselves are often the tools of control freaks, cultural vandals and con artists.

For a while, incarnational was on my endangered verbiage list. Fortunately, a change of religious habitat has enabled the word to make a satisfactory comeback.

No sooner had incarnational been de-listed than responsibility took its place. Nowadays, whenever I come across responsibility I hear "Danger, danger Will Robinson! Be careful where you place your shoes!!" in the background.

Case in point: a story in this morning's Washington Post entitled "As Iraq Deteriorates, Iraqis Get More Blame."

From troops on the ground to members of Congress, Americans increasingly blame the continuing violence and destruction in Iraq on the people most affected by it: the Iraqis.

Even Democrats who have criticized the Bush administration's conduct of the occupation say the people and government of Iraq are not doing enough to rebuild their society. The White House is putting pressure on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group have debated how much to blame Iraqis for not performing civic duties . . .

Americans and Iraqis are increasingly seeing the situation in different terms, said retired Army Col. Jeffrey D. McCausland, who recently returned from a visit to Iraq. "We're just talking past each other," he said, adding that Americans are psychologically edging toward the door that leads to disengagement. "We're arguing about 'cut and run' versus 'cut and jog.' "

To those of us old enough to remember Vietnam and the Columbian Mammoths we passed on our way to class, this all sounds familiar:

Continue reading "Words" »

Put your money where your mouth is

Thomas Sowell remarks on Arthur Brooks's new book Who Really Cares? about whether conservatives or liberals give more of their money, time, and talents to charitable causes:

People who identify themselves as conservatives donate money to charity more often than people who identify themselves as liberals. They donate more money and a higher percentage of their incomes.

It is not that conservatives have more money. Liberal families average 6 percent higher incomes than conservative families. . . .

Conservatives not only donate more money to charity than liberals do, conservatives volunteer more time as well. More conservatives than liberals also donate blood.

According to Professor Brooks: "If liberals and moderates gave blood at the same rate as conservatives, the blood supply of the United States would jump about 45 percent."

Professor Brooks admits that the facts he uncovered were the opposite of what he expected to find -- so much so that he went back and checked these facts again, to make sure there was no mistake.

A tip of the hat for the link to Roberto, who suggests that the reason for this trend is that, in general, conservatives tend to be more religious, and religious people give more. I agree, but I also think there's more to it than that.

Continue reading "Put your money where your mouth is" »

Sam Harris and Co.

I think Donald McLaughlin is privy to the "BreakPoint" schedule, because in his comments to my post yesterday notifying readers of Chuck's latest commentary (dear readers, to clarify, I'm the neutral messenger on such notifications -- direct criticisms toward the speaker of those commentaries), he talks about Sam Harris, author of Letter to a Christian Nation.

Well, today Chuck talks about Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and their latest books.

It doesn’t take a meteorologist to read the forecast. A quick glance at the New York Times’s bestseller list will do. High on the list is Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris. One reader describes the book as “a wonderful source of ammunition for those who, like me, hold to no religious doctrine.” Another reader jubilantly gushes, reading the book “was like sitting ring side, cheering the champion, yelling ‘Yes!’ at every jab.” The barrel of the gun and the sting of the fist, however, are aimed directly at Christians.

Further down the list of pugilistic bestsellers is Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, weighing in at 416 pages of hot air. Even Publishers Weekly rightly cautions readers, “For a scientist who criticizes religion for its intolerance, Dawkins has written a surprisingly intolerant book, full of scorn for religion and those who believe.”

And then Chuck talks about how Christians should respond:

The truth of the matter is that the ones heaping derision on Christians are probably the ones who most need our prayers. So, in the end, maybe the best way to prepare for this cold front is by fanning the coal of our own devotion to Christ through good works. If our lives are aflame with care for the least, the last, and the lost, the kind of thing we do here at Prison Fellowship, perhaps even the coldest hearts will thaw.

And don’t let this anti-Christian barrage intimidate you. Just keep making the case for a biblical worldview ever more winsomely.

Read the whole commentary and share your thoughts here. And note, yet again, the key word: winsomely.

November 28, 2006

Unlikely Collaborations

In a previous post, I excerpted an article by Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, about the left-right alliance to combat human cloning in California. The entire article, "Fellow Travelers," is now online, courtesy Travis McSherley, for your consideration.

No laughing matter

The print edition of the Washington Post leads into this review of Michael Crichton's novel Next, which tells the story of a young "transgenic" creature who is part human and part chimp, with the line "Michael Crichton monkeys around with gene therapy." Har! The actual review keeps up this tone, as reviewer Patrick Anderson seems disinclined to take the book too seriously:

As I read Michael Crichton's new techno-thriller, I kept thinking about those carnival midways I explored as a lad in Texas. You know, the kind where pitchmen stand outside tents and yell, "Step right up, folks, only 25 cents, come see the Fat Lady, come see Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy!" Crichton wants to warn us about the dangers of genetic engineering, but he's also a big-league novelist determined to sell the 2 million copies his publisher reportedly has ordered. He has therefore put forth this mishmash of a book that is part lecture, part satire and mostly freak show. . . .

Crichton's previous novel "State of Fear" ridiculed warnings about global warming and led many environmentalists to attack him. In this book he retaliates with a murky satire about a "Neanderthal gene" and evidence that "the Neanderthals were the first environmentalists." As the freak show continues, an artist creates "a transgenic rabbit called Alba that glowed green," cockroaches are sold as pets (by nutty environmentalists who say that "the real danger of global warming is that we may render so many insects extinct," dogs are created that never grow beyond puppies (they're called Perma-Puppies), and a scientist ponders a new gene that will make his girlfriend orgasmic.

I haven't read Next or any other Crichton novels, so I don't know to what extent Anderson is justified in disparaging its literary merits, or in claiming that the "freak show" elements outweigh the narrative and social commentary. But I do know that a lot of the "freak show" stuff isn't just a fantasy, and that whether Anderson sees the seriousness of it or not, it is indeed very, very serious.


My son and I took the Metro to the E Street Cinema in Washington last Friday to see Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story, a documentary about the kidnapping of at least 13 Japanese youth by the North Korean government, who took them in order to teach their spies how to speak fluent Japanese. The film follows the story of the youngest abductee of all, 13-year-old Megumi, a pretty child who liked badminton and singing in the school choir, who vanished on her way home from school in 1977. Her parents and brothers have spent almost 30 years trying to find out what happened to Megumi and--once they discovered she had been stolen by North Korean spies--trying to get her (and now, their granddaughter) back to Japan. The film contains interviews with parents of several of the missing children and, most intriguingly, a former spy for North Korea who is now living elsewhere (in considerable danger of assassination, as he cheerfully admits). I won't spoil the ending for those who are thinking of attending (but be warned, the link above leads to articles that give some things away); however, you will leave the theater wondering (again) why, exactly, the world puts up with so much evil from one dirtball regime. The film--which has received numerous awards--will remain at the E Street Cinema through Thursday evening.

Lord of the Rings

In my British Literature class today, I'm doing a lecture on J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, so my mind has been in Middle-Earth for the past several days as I've been working on the lesson. I once heard Professor Ralph Woods remark about a student of his who said, "Reading LOTR makes me feel clean." I love that line because I think it speaks to why the books (and now their excellent film adaptations) continue to have such an impact. They're books that are infused with Christian values, though there is nothing overtly religious in any of them. Yet they speak of self-sacrificing love, honor, courage, mercy, tenacity, endurance, friendship, and the willingness to fight against evil, and even die, so that others may live in peace and safety. It also speaks of hope. Tolkien understood the deadly nihilism of post-World War I culture, and he wrote the book to counter the rejection of traditional values and the cultural and personal pessimism that was so evident in his lifetime (and is so much worse in our own day).

So, fellow Tolkien fans, why do you love Lord of the Rings?

The Trouble with Altruism

Responding to my post yesterday about Harvard's decision to include a faith and reason requirement in the core curriculum, Donald McLaughlin pointed out a particular reason objectors believe religion has no place or at least a lower standing in academia:

In [The Blank Slate], Steven Pinker argues that our thoughts, beliefs and so forth really are little more than the result of the biochemical processes by which our minds operate. For Pinker, everything, including our thoughts are the end product of the blind, purposeless process of evolution. But that creates a real problem for Pinker. His belief that religious belief is irrational or his belief that science and reason produce truth is ITSELF the result of those same blind, purposeless evolutionary processes. Presumably Pinker 'believes' that his cognitve faculties, themselves the end products of those blind, purposeless evolutionary processes, have as one of their primary functions the production of true beliefs. But surely there is something amiss here: it is mere question begging to make that assumption independent of other confirming data.

At best, if Pinker were going to do the intellectually honest thing, he needs adopt a position of agnosticism towards his own belief; at worst outright rejection of it. Niether choice is very convenient, however, for his philosophical naturalism.

In today's BreakPoint commentary, Chuck addresses the problem altruism poses for evolution.

While Darwin himself never acknowledged the difficulty posed by altruism, his acolytes and disciples did. Their responses led to the creation of the discipline known variously as “evolutionary psychology” or “sociobiology.”

Whatever it’s called, the evolutionary “explanation” for altruism is basically the same: It’s really selfishness in disguise. When the son offers to give away half of his food, it’s not goodness—it’s a kind of enlightened self-interest. We do what we perceive as “good” for others so that they, in turn, might do the same for us and, thus, increase both of our chances for survival.

Of course, the transaction being described isn’t “altruism” at all; it’s called “cooperation.” It’s the stuff of zebras and baboons, both of which live in large groups for mutual protection and neither of which would knowingly sacrifice its life to save another’s.

But in the Darwinian scheme, true altruism “has no place in nature.” When you start from the assumption that our behavior is the product of “selfish genes,” then you must agree with the sociobiologist who wrote “scratch an ‘altruist’ and watch a hypocrite bleed.”

Little wonder that [David] Stove [in Darwinian Fairytales] called Darwinism, especially sociobiology, a “ridiculous slander on human beings.” Darwinism not only cannot account for what is most essentially human—that is, things like altruism and music—it insists on denigrating them, as well.

Read the rest of the commentary and share your thoughts here.

Re: All-time high for out-of-wedlock births

As one reader rightly implied, the damage that “no-fault” divorce has inflicted on marriage is not the only reason for the growing acceptance of out-of-wedlock births. NFD is but the first major legal consequence of the Sexual Revolution spawned by the ideals of Sigmund Freud and Margaret Sanger.

Believing that man’s greatest happiness was in sexual satisfaction, Freud argued that traditional morality created inhibitions that led to neuroses. Sanger felt similarly, calling the morality of self-denial “cruel,” and advocating a “salvation by sex.” According to Sanger, all that was needed to liberate us from the yoke of conscience and usher in the utopian age was open communication and birth control.

Fifty years later in 1972 (and three years after NFD), contraceptives for unmarried individuals were legalized. With marriage changed by NFD from a vow before God to a contract between two parties, the legalization of birth control resulted in three things: 1) greater acceptance of sex outside of marriage, 2) the notion that sex should be enjoyed without fear of consequence, and 3) an attitude about sex that emphasized recreation over procreation.

A year later, with Roe v. Wade, one of the consequences of unprotected sex (pregnancy) became likened to a disease of which the mother was entitled to be “cured.” Tragically, 40 million “cures” (and counting) have been produced within the sterile clinics of a billion dollar industry.

In the ensuing 30-plus years, these developments have ushered in not the utopia of Sanger, but a dystopia in which the out-of-wedlock birth rate is but one disturbing trend among burgeoning divorce rates, single parent homes, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases with all of the concomitant problems of abuse, poverty, and emotional trauma.

PETA, Protector of Camel Puppets

Camel This is hysterical (H/T Thunderstruck): Who's going after nativity scenes now? In this case, it's not the ACLU, the People for the American Way, or Barry Lynn.

The Rev. Jason Armstrong just wanted to display a "living nativity." Those ever vigilant souls at PETA sprang into action. I'll just let you read the rest.

Rev. Jason Armstrong was confused by an e-mail last week from PETA that admonished him for subjecting animals "to cruel treatment and danger" by forcing them into roles in the church's annual manger scene.

Jackie Vergerio, PETA's captive animals in entertainment specialist, said the confusion started with the church's choice of phrase on its Web site. PETA flagged Free Methodist's display as a "living nativity." To PETA, that means animals.

"We have some puppet camel things we put out," Armstrong said. "We have a cow hood thing that a person will wear that actually just looks spooky."

The volunteers stand beneath a bright electric star as Christmas music fills the frosty air.

I feel so much better knowing cow costumes everywhere are safe and sound, thanks to your local PETA.

November 27, 2006

An Unenviable Task

I dare say that I would not wish to be the one visiting Turkey this week with the world's ears glued to my every word, scouring it for potential offense. Whatever your religious stripes might be, you can't overlook the fact that the Pope's journey is a significant one on a very public world stage, and one that we would do well as Christians to pray over Christ is a stumbling block, after all, and we should not be surprised if there is some toe-stubbing in the days ahead. We should also not ignore the danger implicit in the Pope hazarding such a trip into territory where John Paul II met an angry gunman in 1981.

The land of Turkey is rich with heritage and religious symbolism. From Paul of Tarsus to Luke of Antioch to the Cappodoceans to John of Chrysostom to the churches in Ephesus and Antioch. This past Sunday at my church we read the story of God's call of Abraham. I couldn't help but recall that that story also begins in what is present-day Turkey in a little village called Haran.

The BBC also mentions the scheduled visit to Haghia Sophia in Constantinople which was for over 1000 years the largest church in Christendom. It was later converted to a mosque and today is a museum. Today the Christians in Turkey are a slim minority among the predominant Sunni Muslim population. I can't help but yearn for churches like those Paul planted to spread out again in these regions and for the name of Christ to be cherished there, for His name to be mouthed in faith on the lips of Turkey's children as they pray. Perhaps as you hear the news headlines this week, you can join me in praying that the light would once again shine in Turkey and in praying that God would grant grace and wisdom to Pope Benedict in his journey.

Religion in the Ivy League

Hands In today's "BreakPoint" commentary (you do subscribe, don't you? It's free!), Chuck talks about Harvard's decision to include a religion requirement in the core curriculum.

The faculty panel has issued a report calling for a “faith and reason” requirement at Harvard, concluding that some knowledge about religion is a necessary part of being educated. The panel noted that while “Harvard is no longer an institution with a religious mission . . . religion is a fact that Harvard’s graduates will [have to] confront in their lives.”

And confront it they will. We live in a world today in which religious forces are creating a titanic clash of civilizations, one which threatens the very existence of the free structures of the West. People cannot understand why it is that Islam wants to destroy us if we do not understand the teachings of Muhammad or the history of the 1,000-year-old conflict between Islam and the West.

Closer to home, how could we possibly understand the economic development of America without understanding the work ethic of the Protestant Reformation? How could we understand the abolition of the slave trade without knowing the story of William Wilberforce, the great Christian reformer—the film of whose life, titled Amazing Grace, will be released in February? How could anyone understand the roots of Western civilization without understanding the formative influence of Christianity, brilliantly documented in Rodney Stark’s book The Victory of Reason?

Shocker: Not all are pleased with the decision:

Predictably, there were those who objected to Harvard's "faith and reason" requirement. A Harvard Crimson editorial said that the requirement gives "religious ideas" a "preeminence incommensurate with their proper place in understanding the modern world." In other words, while religion is important, it's just not that important, so says the postmodernist.

Two other students disagree with the Crimson editorial, saying the committee's requirement is a token gesture, at best:

Continue reading "Religion in the Ivy League" »

Everybody wants to get into the act

Because we clearly don't have enough books calling for a halt to all that irrational religion out there, Christopher Hitchens now has one on the way. (Watch out for some bad language.)

He described his forthcoming book, God Is Not Great, as "a general case against religion." He says religions promote hatred, while demanding protection from hatred for themselves, usually in the form of censorship, to which he is intensely opposed in all its forms. . . .

Hitchens then goes on to make this highly rational statement:

"My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilization, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can't prove it, but you can't disprove it either. It happens to be my view, but it doesn't challenge any of the findings of Darwin or Huxley or Einstein or Hawking," he said.

This from the same man who later complains, "I get depressed by how easily people are satisfied, with so little argument." Yep, I think I see your point there, Mr. Hitchens.

Via Relapsed Catholic -- although, frustratingly, I've gone and lost the specific post. (Psst, Kathy -- how about an archives page? :-) )

Update: Kathy has been kind enough to provide the missing link, plus an extra one for good measure. Many thanks!

Betty Comden dies

Betty Comden, lyricist of my favorite movie, has died at the age of 89. Mark Steyn has a lovely tribute on his website.

I put to [producer George] Abbott the points I made above [about the Comden-Green musical On the Town] – ordinary situation, ostensibly regular boy-meets-girl love song but dramatically enlarged by the great geopolitical conflict in which they were caught up, their romance now freighted with uncertainty, etc. Mister Abbott, at the age of 106, brushed this aside.

“We didn’t think about that,” he said. “We thought, ‘What’s funny?’”

When so much of entertainment has been corrupted and degraded, to leave a legacy of moments that are simply funny -- and sweet and romantic and sometimes just plain beautiful -- seems to me no bad thing. R.I.P.

The ACLU and Choosing Life

Tennessee has become the 16th state to offer “Choose Life” specialty license plates. After losing their court case in opposition to the plates, and their bid for appeal, the ACLU said that their case wasn’t about abortion but about “ensur[ing] that our government does not engage in viewpoint discrimination” and “protect[ing] free speech rights for all Tennesseans.” (Emphasis added.)

“Viewpoint discrimination?” I’m confused—wasn’t this the same organization that filed suit in Dover, PA to silence the intelligent design “viewpoint” in public schools?

“Protect free speech?” My opting to spend 35 extra bucks on a tag containing a slogan is going to infringe on the speech of whom? Sadly, I doubt that my “Choose Life” plate will slow the sales of Planned Parenthood paraphernalia, including the “I Had an Abortion” tee-shirt and “Choice on Earth” greeting card.

RE: Warren and Obama

One of my comments seems to have gotten lost along the way, so I'm going to try again with a regular post and see what happens

I agree that there is room for all citizens -- whether Christian or not -- to work together for certain political and social causes that affect us all. We will find common ground with people of other faiths (even no faith) who would like to see abortion or cloning banned, or marriage remain an institution between one man and one woman, etc. These associations operate in the "kingdom of this world": they're part of our "duty to Caesar."  That's NOT what I was objecting to. But since I've obviously not done a very good job making my qualms about what Warren is doing clear, let me try again.

As Christians, we are called to minister to those who are sick, but our concern for those individuals doesn't stop with their physical well-being. Only WE have a message that speaks to their soul and to their need to trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Thus, Christians should be approaching the issue of AIDS in Africa as a Christian mission that speaks to the needs of both their bodies and their souls. After all, to paraphrase Jesus, what good does it do those suffering from AIDS to gain their mortal life and lose their immortal soul? We show up as Christians -- filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and in loving obedience to the Word -- to minister to those who suffer from AIDS with a clear message: "We're here because we love Jesus Christ, and because He loves you. We're here to offer you practical help, but also to offer you something far more valuable: we're here to tell you about the One who died for your sins and who makes it possible for you to become part of an eternal family simply by trusting in Him as your Savior." This keeps the reasons for what we do completely clear, in our minds and in the minds of those we minister to. It also means that the work, and its fruit, is 100% HIS. God gets all the glory.

I know this approach works. Years ago, I was part of a group that raised money to buy food for some people starving in southern Russia (they were predominately Buddhists). When the missionaries took food out to the villages, the villagers themselves said, "The Russian government doesn't help us, the Buddhists don't help us ... only Christians from America have cared enough to help us." This gave the missionaries an open door to talk about WHY there was such a difference, and many came to know Jesus as a result.

Not only do we need to keep our motives clear for those we minister to, we also need to keep them clear for those we minister WITH. This is the point behind that command that tells us we are to be careful who we enter into long-term associations with: what fellowship does light have with the darkness? None, since our motives for what we do (no matter how noble the cause) is compromised when we join with those who know nothing of Christ, with those who claim to be Christians but live in disobedience to His Word, and with those who know nothing of the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit. It's no longer a unique, Spirit-led expression of our love for Jesus Christ; it's just another good-works project that any human organization made up of spiritually dead people can emulate.

Continue reading "RE: Warren and Obama" »

Mutilated men are NOT women!

On a subject related to Chuck's recent BreakPoint commentary--the one with the gross title: I've never understood why feminists would stand still for the idea that a sexually mutilated man--that is, one who underwent "sex-change" surgery--was the equivelent of a woman. Shouldn't feminists be the first to remind us that woman are far more than--well, men with missing parts? In what sense are men women simply because they've 1) had outward signs of masculinity surgically removed and 2) put on a dress? Genetically, they are still 100 percent male.

There is no such thing as "sex-change surgery" (another instance of language being deliberately misused to deceive). Surgically mutilated men are not women: they're just mutilated men. Similarly, mutilated women are not men. They are, and will always remain, tragically mutilated women.

In a "The emperor has no clothes"  kind of way, children recognize this. They know perfectly well that the 6 ft. 3 "woman" clomping around in size-13 high heels is really a man--no matter what his teachers tell him during "teaching moments."

November 26, 2006

All-time high for out-of-wedlock births

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 4 in 10 children are born out-of-wedlock—this is an all-time-high representing an almost fourfold increase since the 1960s. What’s up with this increase? Morehouse School of Medicine’s Dr. Yolanda Wimberly opines, “I think [having a child without being married] is more acceptable in society.” Well, yeaahh!

What is left unsaid is how this statistic is related to our changing attitudes about marriage. As J. Budziszewski once observed, the traditional understanding marriage was “a mutual and binding promise before God between one man and one woman to enter into a procreative and unitive bond with each other, exclusively, for life.”

However with the introduction of “no fault” divorce in 1969, the “promise before God” became a “contract before the State,” enabling parties to negotiate terms and terminate agreements as they saw fit. With the legalization of abortion in 1973, the growing and caring for children through the “procreative bond” soon gave way to the “mutual satisfaction” of adults.

In time marriage morphed into “a mutual and binding contract before the State between one man and one woman to enter into a unitive bond with each other for as long as mutually satisfying.” By 2001 the U.S. divorce rate doubled, fracturing one out of every two families into households mostly headed by a single-parent mother with small children.

This devolution also exacerbated another social problem. The strong marriage ethos prior to the 1960’s, meant that most pregnant women were either married or got married. But by 1992 the number of children born outside of marriage jumped from 11% to 30%. And now that rate is 37%. The tragedy is that these children and their mothers have three times the normal risk of poverty and domestic abuse—all because we began fiddling with an institution as old as humanity itself.

Trashing an (ahem) "alleged" killer

Roberto, you make an excellent point about the cultural abyss at the end of this post, and ordinarily I'd agree with you outright.

But then we have this:

American consumers sent a very clear message last week to Rupert Murdoch and the rest of the media world: We have standards. They may be low and not terribly visible, but we do have them. . . .

Credit Rupert's reality check to -- surprise! -- a sudden bubbling up of taste, morality and ethics from an American viewing public whose more typical failure to exhibit these very things has been crucial to the success of News Corp., a conglomerate responsible for such fare as New York Post headlines, "The World's Scariest Police Chases" and "When Animals Attack." It's a luscious irony, but more importantly, it's a warning to the scores of marketers and media companies now trying to stay relevant by giving over more and more control to consumers. . . .

What "If I Did It" demonstrates is that there are lines -- at least as of press time -- that content can't cross. And they're drawn just short of publishing a weird, speculative book by an all-but-convicted killer and then promoting it with TV interviews during November sweeps.

Okay, so it's not much. But it's a start.

November 25, 2006

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Are you ready for some fun reading after this week's dismal news from various fronts like the Palestinians using human shields to protect terrorists, or rabid Darwinists' diatribes laid out in the New York Times?

The story, written by zoologist E. Norbert Smith, is about a pet octopus. It reminds me of James Herriot's books which I read as a teenager. I have to admit, I still love Herriot and sometimes for a laugh, I'll pick one up again to read. Herriot used a children's hymn refrain for his titles (see below). For those uninitiated to Herriot's world, he was a veterinarian and wrote stories about animals and people from his practice.

The hymn's words were written in 1848 by Cecil F. Alexander.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.


The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.


The purple headed mountains,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky.


The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.


The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
To gather every day.


He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.


November 23, 2006

Sage words

Difficult words to pray, but I think I'll make this an early "resolution" not just for the coming year, but many to come:

Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you yourself shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God.

-- Phillips Brooks

(courtesy "Verse and Voice of the Day," Sojourners)

Grace and gratitude

It's been said that the worst thing about being an atheist is when one feels thankful and has no one to thank. But as this article from Sally Quinn seems to indicate (at least to my ever-optimistic eyes), it may be just that feeling that begins the gradual process of prying open our hearts and minds to God again. Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving.

November 22, 2006


Roberto, you don't suppose those online voters were thinking of this, do you?

Calling Cesar Millan!

Someone is badly in need of a session with the Dog Whisperer.

He was going to pardon the National Thanksgiving Turkey anyway, but President Bush figured he really owed the bird this time. His dog had just scared the stuffing out of it.

Bush spared the turkey -- named ''Flyer'' in an online vote -- during a Rose Garden ceremony on Wednesday. The backup bird, ''Fryer,'' was also pardoned but nowhere to be seen on this raw day.

The president explained that his Scottish Terrier, Barney, got involved this year. The presidential dog typically gets his exercise by chasing a soccer ball around the Rose Garden.

''He came out a little early, as did Flyer,'' Bush said. ''And instead of chasing the soccer ball, he chased the bird. And it kind of made the turkey nervous. See, the turkey was nervous to begin with. Nobody's told him yet about the pardon I'm about to give him.''

Sure, the turkey gets to live but look at the picture: he's clearly been scarred by the experience. Flyer, I know how you feel.

Re: Warren and Obama

Diane, in response to your post regarding with whom Christians should work in order to bring about good in the world, and whether Obama has a place on the stage with Warren, I believe he does. But rather than going into all the reasons why, I'll 1) refer you to Katharine Eastvold's comments, which mirror my own views, and 2) quote from a recent article Jennifer Lahl of the Center for Bioethics and Culture wrote for the July/August 2006 issue of BreakPoint WorldView (all you readers have subscribed and gotten gift subscriptions for friends, family, and pastors, right?).

Lahl talks about the same issue—of Christians working with those who hold different viewpoints on other issues in order to bring about what is good and true in an agreed-upon issue: in her case, human cloning. And her reasons may answer your questions, Diane, on Obama and Warren (and World Vision and the Gates Foundation, etc., for that matter) working together to combat AIDS. Lahl writes, in part:

Like-minded people often talk only amongst themselves, and the minute they start hanging out with the “wrong side,” conservatives risk their motives, credibility, and authentic pro-life position being called into question. I live in California—and not in the conservative land of Orange County, but in the San Francisco Bay area. If I wanted to work only with conservatives, I would be a very lonely person.

Very early in the days of Proposition 71—California’s $3 billion taxpayer-funded cloned human embryo stem-cell initiative—it became crystal clear that, if we were going to stop Proposition 71, we would have to band together with anybody and everybody who was against cloning humans. The campaign to get Proposition 71 on the ballot and get the bill passed was a juggernaut, and we needed some serious coalition-building. . . .

And so our ragtag team of left and right, pro-choice and pro-life, feminists, environmentalists, and religious people came together. . . .

So what can pro-choice and pro-life women accomplish together? We can recognize our profound disagreements on the issue of abortion and a woman’s right to choose as it relates to her reproductive body. However, we can also see that there are many equally important and pressing issues facing women as they relate to biotechnology and research in which we must collaborate. The issue is not whether we are pro-life or pro-choice, but rather that we are pro-woman.

As women we recognize the abuses of unfettered Big Biotech, which seeks to enslave women’s bodies in their research. We have come together because “one woman’s life lost is too high of a price to pay”—the motto of our recent collaboration. We know of the abuses that happened in South Korea, where thousands of women’s eggs were needed to conduct fraudulent research. We are aware of the abuses of Eastern European women’s bodies as egg-trafficking continues, making poor women handmaidens to wealthy and affluent infertile couples. We are very concerned about the deaths of young women and the risks to which young women assent without being properly informed about the short- and long-term effects on their own health, safety, and reproductive future. In short, we can rally around and work together to protect this higher truth: the dignity and sanctity of women’s lives. [emphasis mine]

The whole article is a great apologetic for wide-reaching collaboration. It's not yet posted online at www.breakpoint.org, but I'll send it to you if you are interested.

When you're on the ground providing medicine, food, education, and clothing to a sick child or AIDS orphan or patient -- a work that tears away at the darkness -- the political/religious views of the teacher, doctor, nurse, or NGO-worker next to you do not negate their work of good. In fact, as a Christian, your work on the ground next to them is a great witness, when you share why you do what you do. After all, if you find out that the person doing the exact same practical work you're doing, or advocating for the exact same work of good you are (e.g., Warren and Obama), believes differently than you do, and you respond by putting up the wall, closing the door, breaking ties: What message does that send about the Church?

A Trendy Cause?

At the Washington Post yesterday, Anne Applebaum raises an interesting question as to why Darfur has captured the public's attention while, despite strong efforts by human-rights advocates, North Korea and Iran, for example, have not.

. . . it is not simple to explain why this particular grass-roots action has been so successful. After all, Darfur is not the only place in the world where there has been mass murder, even ethnic mass murder, on a large, historically familiar scale. The North Korean regime has for years run concentration camps, directly modeled on the camps of Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union. But though there is excellent documentation of Pyongyang's camps -- the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea even has satellite photographs on its Web site -- and though some religious and university groups have made an effort, the level of interest, and therefore perhaps of U.N. involvement, is much lower.

The same is true of arbitrary arrests in Iran, some of which have also targeted particular ethnic groups for intimidation or elimination. For that matter, Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons to murder tens of thousands of Kurds never caught the popular imagination, not before the war and not afterward.

She offers a possible explanation:

Continue reading "A Trendy Cause?" »

Keeping the Shalom

When we talk about restorative justice, which we do a lot at Prison Fellowship, one of the foundations of this idea is the concept of shalom. Crime, and sin in all its various forms, breaks shalom, a concept that was understood by the Hebrews as a state of harmony, completeness, and wholeness.

Too often today, our conception of the police force is one of reacting to major offenses. Thankfully, though, police officers historically have seen themselves as about more than just reacting to violence; they've seen themselves as preservers of the peace. As Chuck Colson writes in Justice that Restores, "In the U.S. at the turn of the last century it was the police who developed food and soup lines, built police stations with space where migrants could stay, referred beggars to charitable agencies, returned lost children to their homes, and patrolled the streets, preserving the good order of the community." Along these lines, I was pleased to see that the UK just honored several of its officers for just such outstanding contributions to promoting and preserving peace at the Police Review Gala Awards and the Office for Criminal Justice Reform’s Justice Awards. Here are some innovative examples of keeping the shalom from the Times Online:

Also nominated for an award is Mark Peer, a PC from Gloucestershire Constabulary, who took on antisocial behaviour by securing a £15,000 grant to build a skate park. The park drew young people away from their regular meeting place in a retail area and complaints from shopowners fell by more than 80 per cent.

An officer from Norfolk Police has been nominated for the Community Police Officer or the Year award for his efforts to forge better ties with Eastern European residents in Great Yarmouth. PC Gary Pettengell learnt Lithuanian in his spare time and set up a support group and a website to help the thousands of migrant workers who have moved into the area. Another nominee in the same category did the same for the Polish community in Wrexham, North Wales. PC Keith Sinclair also printed business cards in Polish bearing his mobile number so that residents could contact him.

PC Krys Urbaniak, of Greater Manchester Police, stopped young people in Swinton from damaging vehicles by interesting them in stock car racing and car maintenance....

No less innovative is a youth services team from Lincoln that set up six-a-side football matches on Friday evenings to steer teenagers away from alcohol and crime. The scheme promotes fair play on and off the pitch, with teams losing points in the league if their members are found to have created trouble. The disincentive to drop down the ladder means that there is a significant peer-induced pressure to remain on the straight and narrow.

Sounds like these folks would be in good company with William Wilberforce's contemporary Sir Robert Peel, the home secretary when the Metropolitan Police of London began in 1829. His Christian name, Bobby, is now used for police, a tribute to his high standards and ideals that the first job of the police was not fighting crime, but keeping the peace.

November 21, 2006

RE: Warren and Obama

Just to clarify, when I read that Rick Warren had asked Barak Obama to speak at Saddleback, I was not accusing Rick Warren of apostasy. Like millions of others, I have read and been through a church-wide study on The Purpose-Driven Life, and been edified by his insights, and I've never found anything theologically to take issue with. The only issue I had with the book is that it is "theology light" in the sense that it is aimed at educating immature Christians -- something that is badly needed in our Biblically challenged days, but something that must not be viewed as an end in itself. It's a good beginning for those whose knowledge of God's Word is lacking and whose spiritual journey is just beginning; but, to me, the real test of the book's "success" is the degree to which it encourages Christians to dig deeper spiritually.

Given my knowledge of PDL, the Obama invitation struck me as inconsistent with what I know about Warren. That's why I wondered what else might be behind the invitation. OK, I now know that this is a conference on AIDS that will include both secular and religious speakers. That, explanation, however, only makes me more curious: why is a Christian church hosting a "secular" anything? Why not call together other Christian groups that are addressing AIDS in Africa and believe that the Lord is powerful enough to deal with the issue without bringing in those with a merely secular point of view?

Yes, I know that is going to strike some of you as naive. I do mission work in Africa, so I'm well aware of the fact that any work we want to do there will have to go through Muslim governments and officials. That can't be helped. But what Warren is doing CAN be helped! We are called to minister in this fallen world; but we are also cautioned to maintain a certain degree of separation from sin and evil lest we compromise our faith ("What fellowship has light with darkness?" -- 2 Cor 6:14). Sorry, but Barak Obama's political stance on abortion and homosexual rights put him on the "dark" side. Thus, I can't shake the feeling that this is a really, really bad call on Warren's part.


I never watch The View (don't even know what channel it's on). But Mary Katharine Ham does and particularly didn't like what she saw recently. In short, Rosie O'Donnell accused Kelly Ripa of "homophobia" because when Clay Aiken clapped his hand over Ripa's mouth, she said, "I don't know where that hand's been, honey." If that's "homophobia," then I'm guilty of humanphobia, I suppose, because as anyone who knows me knows, I don't like being touched, period (not to the extent of Howie Mandel or Howard Hughes, of course). I would have said the same as Ripa: I don't know where that hand's been -- whether you didn't wash it after visiting the restroom, whether you wiped your nose with it, whether you touched some nasty food product I don't like. Just keep it off my face.

Ripa called Rosie and let her know she was (rightly) offended by the accusation.

Kelly promptly called into the show and let Rosie have it, saying her comments were "irresponsible" and "she should know better. Not everything is homophobic." Kelly said she was concerned about germs because it's cold-and-flu season, and miffed that her guest-host had made a pretty rude, condescending gesture toward her.

Watch the video Ham posted and judge for yourself. 

You Forgot Something

The December Atlantic Monthly has a list of the 100 most influential people in American history (subscription required) as determined by a panel of ten eminent historians.

As Ross Douthat acknowledges in his introduction, influence is a "nebulous concept" and any such ranking is not only, as he also acknowledges, "unscientific" but is also bound to be contentious.

Still, it's a very good list with one glaring exception: religion. Five religious figures made the top 100: Jonathan Edwards, Lyman Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe's father), Mormon leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and Mary Baker Eddy. Mary Baker Eddy? Are you freaking kidding me? No disrespect (okay, maybe a little) intended but Christian Science isn't exactly a growth stock in American religion. What's more, it never has been.

Judging by the Atlantic Monthly's list, the panel has never heard of the Second Great Awakening, or if they did, are unaware about its impact on American history. Ditto for revivalists like D.L. Moody in the latter part of the 19th century or Billy Graham in the 20th. Maybe none of these figures deserve a place ahead of George Eastman, Stephen Foster or Albert Einstein (an undoubted giant but he wasn't an American) but they belong on the list a lot more than Beecher or Eddy.

If they open the newspaper or watch the news, the panel can still see how men like Moody and Graham defined modern America and how the legacy has proven to be a lot more enduring than that of many of those on the list. Sounds like "influence" to me.

Robert Altman Dies

Altman M-A-S-H. Nashville. Gosford Park. A Prairie Home Companion. Those were just a few of Robert Altman's films over the years. According to this article, it seemed he was never one to pine for the approval of others. A few of his candid remarks:

"No other filmmaker has gotten a better shake than I have," Altman said while accepting the award. "I'm very fortunate in my career. I've never had to direct a film I didn't choose or develop. My love for filmmaking has given me an entree to the world and to the human condition." -- after receiving a lifetime achievement Oscar in 2006.

"This film is about death." -- on A Prairie Home Companion.

"Our mandate was bad taste. If anybody had a joke in the worst taste, it had a better chance of getting into the film, because nothing was in worse taste than that war [Vietnam] itself," Altman said. -- on M-A-S-H.

"They made millions and millions of dollars by bringing an Asian war into Americans' homes every Sunday night," Altman said in 2001. "I thought that was the worst taste." -- on the spinoff TV show M*A*S*H.

"Nobody would have thought to commit an atrocity like that unless they'd seen it in a movie," Altman said. -- criticism of Hollywood after September 11, 2001.

"I didn't make a big secret out of it, but I thought nobody would hire me again," he said after the ceremony. "You know, there's such a stigma about heart transplants, and there's a lot of us out there." -- on his heart transplant upon receiving an Oscar in 2006.