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February 20, 2007

What does Wilberforce have to say to us?

In this week of celebrating William Wilberforce and his legacy, Mark Earley's BreakPoint commentary today serves as a reminder not to get so caught up in the heroes of the past that we forget about our own responsibilities in the present. In fact, if we truly want to honor Wilberforce and others like him, our attitude should be quite the contrary:

In this Information Age, our problem today is not the kind of “invisibility” Wilberforce combated—people who care about human dignity can easily find out what they need to know. The trick is getting them to care in the first place.

It’s making our voices and concerns heard above what many call the “clutter” of the Information Age. When thousands of things, most of them worthless, compete for people’s attention, we need to help people focus on the right things. We need to remind them that there are things more deserving of their attention than who entered rehab and who fathered whose baby.

Just as Wilberforce became the conscience of his age, we must become the conscience of the Information Age. It will not make us popular, any more than Wilberforce’s persistence endeared him to his peers.

But if we do not try to get people to look at the larger world, then today’s victims of brutality might as well be invisible.

Over at CultureBeat, Jim Dahlman talks about how some churches have already started using the Wilberforce tributes "to get people to look at the larger world":

Continue reading "What does Wilberforce have to say to us?" »

Looks like Mr. Derbyshire may be toning down the contempt just a hair

I missed this earlier, but William F. Buckley and John Derbyshire are engaging in a little informal debate over evolution. Guess which one blows the other out of the water? (Hint: It's the one who doesn't confuse science with naturalistic philosophy.)

February 19, 2007

So where’s the surprise?

"Surprising Unity on Va. Hospital Bill," trumpets the headline in the Washington Post. And then the article explains that . . . conservatives in the Virginia legislature have no problem with allowing hospital patients to choose their own visitors.

If you ask me, I think we've been cheated out of our surprise.

Conservatives, it seems, were supposed to be all up in arms about this bill because it would let gays and lesbians visit their partners in the hospital. But the majority of conservatives are refusing to take the bait and are focusing on what's really at issue: the draconian policies that, in letting only family members visit, also block visits from friends, roommates, and significant others.

Actually, I think this bill is a positive development in more ways than one. It also helps place the focus of the same-sex marriage debate where it needs to be. Removing the old standby argument that "Gays aren't even allowed to visit their partners in the hospital!" will emphasize that we're not out to make life miserable for homosexuals; we're simply fighting against the redefining of marriage.

That's how I see it, anyway. How about you?

A shining example from the father of our country

Today . . . amid festivities celebrating [George Washington's] birthday, Maryland officials plan to unveil the original document -- worth $1.5 million -- after acquiring it in a private sale from a family in Maryland who had kept it all these years. It took two years to negotiate the deal and raise money for the speech, which experts consider the most significant Washington document to change hands in the past 50 years.

The document of which this Washington Post article speaks isn't considered such a big deal just because Washington wrote it. There's a deeper reason why people are so impressed by it:

The speech, scholars say, was a turning point in U.S. history. As the Revolutionary War was winding down, some wanted to make Washington king. Some whispered conspiracy, trying to seduce him with the trappings of power. But Washington renounced them all.

Leaders throughout the centuries have been aware of what power does to human character, even though it wasn't until relatively recently that Lord Acton came up with the formulation we know best. But far fewer -- and therefore all the more precious -- are examples of leaders who actually took that truth to heart and acted on it.

’Amazing Grace’ and ’Breach’: Integrity vs. Compartmentalization

Wilberforcefilm Earlier today, I mentioned how William Wilberforce understood that his professed Christianity had logical repercussions for how he lived his everyday life. He saw himself as a man not at liberty, but bound to fight for his persecuted brothers and sisters in bonds. Wilberforce is an exemplar of someone who understood that Christian convictions should shape the way we think about all of life. There was an integrity, or a wholeness, to his worldview and his actions.

Hanssen As the film Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce is released this week, we have a strange juxtaposition at the box office with the film Breach, about Robert Hanssen.

The film opens with Hanssen in church praying the Rosary; it closes with him asking for prayer. By all outward signs, Hannsen appeared to be a man of deep religious convictions. As a Washington Post review describes: "Hanssen would duck out of work early so he could attend antiabortion rallies, yet had no compunction about sending three young men to their deaths -- Russian double agents whose identities he sold to Moscow." But digging into Hanssen's secret life, we find a bifurcated man who on another occasion took a stripper with him to Hong Kong, "Yet to her surprise, Hanssen never attempted to have sex with her. He was, he told her, trying to bring her closer to God. He neglected, however, to inform his wife, Bonnie, of his missionary work."

These examples are but the tip of the iceberg of this enigmatic man. Some have called Breach an anti-religious film. And yet, at least from my limited reading of Hanssen's life, the film seems to tell the truth of a man who proclaimed religious beliefs and yet lived out a life that was at odds with his convictions. Perhaps, rather than dismiss this film as simply anti-religious, we should see this film as a cautionary tale of the dangers of failing to put orthopraxy (right action) with orthodoxy (right belief). We may never know for sure, but it seems to me biographer David A. Vise gets it right when he says about Hanssen, "He was a compartmentalizer. How else could he be married and a father and go to church every day and, at the same time, commit treason?"

Continue reading "’Amazing Grace’ and ’Breach’: Integrity vs. Compartmentalization" »

Wheelchairs and Snow Shovels

All right, I admit it. I'm a wimp when it comes to winter snow/ice storms. Last week's onslaught was no exception. Last Wednesday, after clearing off half my walkway, I rushed back inside to my couch, a cup of hot tea, and a good episode of "24."

Instead of allowing my housemates to slip and slide up the walkway on their way home from work (they didn't have a snow day), maybe I should have enlisted the help of Michael Young, a wheelchair-bound D.C. resident, who's been digging his neighbor's car out of the snow every winter for the past 20 years.

That reminds me of January's star: Wesley Autrey, a New York native who jumped onto the tracks to rescue a stranger from an oncoming train. Autrey and Young not only remind us that the world is not tired of humble heroes, but they challenge us to quit whining about the way things ought to be and get busy sticking our own shovels in the snow.

A Peculiar Mercy

Longford Between July 12, 1963 and October 6, 1965, Myra Hindley and Ian Brady killed at least five children between the ages of 10 and 17 in and around Saddleworth Moor in northern England. At the time of her conviction and incarceration in 1966, Hindley was the most hated woman, if not the most hated person, in England.

One of her few steadfast friends during her 36 years in prison (she died in 2002) was an unlikely one: Frank Pakenham, the 7th Earl of Longford. Longford, who was already considered an "eccentric" because of his concern for the rehabilitation of prisoners and his crusade against pornography, championed Hindley's cause. At great personal expense -- the press dubbed him "Lord Wrongford" -- he campaigned for her release and insisted that no one, not even the notorious Myra Hindley, was beyond reformation and redemption. Their story was made into a film, Longford, which debuted this past Saturday on HBO, starring Jim Broadbent and Samantha Morton

The title is fitting. Hindley's actions, however shocking, are sadly explicable: combine childhood abuse, the influence of a grade-A sociopath, and human evil and almost anything is possible. What's not as easy is why the 7th Earl of Longford, a member of the House of Lords would go far more than the second mile for someone like Hindley.

The answer comes in the first line we hear Longford speak in the film: "as a life-long Christian.” As a Christian, he was able to look beyond the surface. Literally. When he first meets Hindley, he doesn't recognize her because her hair color has changed since the trial. When she tells him that her changing hair color was seen as evidence of a lack of remorse, he replies, “I wasn't aware of a correlation between hair colour and contrition.”

Contrition, what a wonderful word. Towards the end of the film, Myra, who, to put it mildly, isn’t as steadfast as Longford, tells him that it would have been better for everyone if they had just hanged her (England abolished the death penalty while she was awaiting trial). After saying that life and death belong to God alone, Longford adds, "Besides, I would have never had the pleasure of your acquaintance." That's not sentimentality. That's grace.

Continue reading "A Peculiar Mercy" »

Wilberforce, Not at Liberty

Today on BreakPoint, Chuck talks about William Wilberforce, the Christian statesman whose biblical worldview led him to champion a movement to end the slave trade in England. This Friday marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of this great evil, and in recognition of this great achievement, Congressman Joseph Pitts introduced a resolution in the House last week to honor this anniversary. It also coincides with the release of the film Amazing Grace (this Friday) that we've been promoting for the past several months.

As I think about William Wilberforce, one of the most delicious little ironies is that even as Wilberforce fought to abolish the slave trade, he did not see himself as free. Let me explain. Wilberforce understood that his Christian convictions had logical repercussions. To say that he was a Christian meant that he could not turn a blind eye at the terrible injustice that was going on around him. When war broke out in France, and cries of liberty, fraternity and equality over the channel meant that Wilberforce's own campaign for human liberty and equality became suspect as revolutionary and perhaps seditious, Wilberforce did not back down. He wrote, "A man who fears God is not at liberty" to give up the fight.

In his book A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christianity, also known as Real Christianity, Wilberforce reminds his readers, "Christians are 'not their own' because ‘they were bought with a price’ (1 Cor. 6:19-20). They are not ‘to live unto themselves, but unto Him that died for them’ (2 Cor. 5:15)” (Real Christianity, 89).

Later, Wilberforce talks about the treason of a divided heart:

Yet I must say it: If the affections of the soul are not supremely fixed on God, and if our dominant desire and primary goal is not to possess God’s favor and to promote His glory—then we are traitors in revolt against our lawful Sovereign. All the objects of our devotion…are simply various expressions of disloyalty, without a rival. If we keep Him from His right, it will matter not by what competitor. The revolt may be more open or more secret. It may be the treason of deliberate choice or of careless levity. We may find employ in services more gross or more refined. But whether we are the slaves of avarice, sensuality, amusement, sloth, or the devotees of ambition, taste, or fashion, we alike estrange ourselves from the dominion of our rightful Sovereign” (Real Christianity, 98).

You see, William Wilberforce answered to a higher sovereign than King George III and so do we. We are not our own. If we are truly Christians our worldview has repercussions for how we think, believe, and act in every day life. To respond with less than total devotion is treason to our rightful King.

About Time!

If this were about a rock band, the headline might read "A Reunion Tour 473 Years in the Making!" Instead, we get "Churches back plan to unite under Pope." According to the Times of London,

Radical proposals to reunite Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the Pope are to be published this year, The Times has learnt.

The proposals have been agreed by senior bishops of both churches.

In a 42-page statement prepared by an international commission of both churches, Anglicans and Roman Catholics are urged to explore how they might reunite under the Pope.

What prompts these "radical proposals" is, of course, the fallout over "gay ordination and other liberal doctrines that have taken hold in parts of the Western Church." The document urges "Anglicans and Roman Catholics to explore together how the ministry of the Bishop of Rome might be offered and received in order to assist our Communions to grow towards full, ecclesial communion.”

In other words, let's forget the whole Acts of Supremacy thingy. In any case, with Catholicism "set to overtake Anglicanism as the predominant Christian denomination" in England and Wales "for the first time since the Reformation, thanks to immigration from Catholic countries," supremacy isn't what it used to be.

In his BBC series, A History of Britain, Simon Schama asks, "Whatever happened to Catholic Britain?" (As both he and Eamon Duffy agree, the English Reformation, much more than its continental counterparts, was imposed from above.) Thanks to the 137 or so active parishioners in places like New Hampshire, we may finally have our answer: it's been here all along waiting for you to get that Tudor silliness out of your system.

’Safety and faith are different things’

Terabithia The new film Bridge to Terabithia, by early estimates, earned $22.1 million this weekend to come in second place at the box office. What not everyone in attendance may have realized was that they were seeing the work of a Christian mind.

In this interview with Christianity Today, Terabithia author Katherine Paterson talks about the relationship between her faith and her work, with some ideas and twists you might not expect. Although I tend to err on the side of caution in recommending books for children -- and though some of the events in Terabithia probably would have reduced me to a sobbing mess as a child (or heck, even as an adult) -- I think Paterson makes some very good points here.

At the very least, her attitude is much more mature than that of all those tiresome "Yay! I got censored! I'm Prometheus and James Dean rolled into one!" types that we usually hear from.

February 16, 2007

Re: Upbeat? Moi?

Happykitty Ha! I knew it! I KNEW there was a Pollyanna in there somewhere.

Go with it, Roberto. Embrace the Dark Bright Side. Get on out there and hug a puppy. I'm putting your copy of Happy Kitty Bunny Pony in the mail as we speak.

Upbeat? Moi?

Upbeat

Based on your answers to the questionnaire, you most closely resemble survey respondents within the Upbeat typology group. This does not mean that you necessarily fit every group characteristic or agree with the group on all issues.

Upbeats represent 11 percent of the American public, and 13 percent of registered voters.

Basic Description
Upbeats express positive views about the economy, government and society. Satisfied with their own financial situation and the direction the nation is heading, these voters support George W. Bush’s leadership in economic matters more than on social or foreign policy issues. Combining highly favorable views of government with equally positive views of business and the marketplace, Upbeats believe that success is in people’s own hands, and that businesses make a positive contribution to society. This group also has a very favorable view of immigrants.

Defining Values
Very favorable views of government performance and responsiveness defines the group, along with similarly positive outlook on the role of business in society. While most support the war in Iraq, Upbeats have mixed views on foreign policy – but most favor preemptive military action against countries that threaten the U.S. Religious, but decidedly moderate in views about social and cultural issues.

Who They Are
Relatively young (26% are under 30) and well-educated, Upbeats are the second wealthiest group after Enterprisers (39% have household incomes of $75,000 or more). The highest proportion of Catholics (30%) and white mainline Protestants (28%) of all groups, although fewer than half (46%) attend church weekly. Mostly white (87%), suburban, and married, they are evenly split between men and women.

Lifestyle Notes
High rate of stock ownership (42%, 2nd after Enterprisers).

2004 Election
Bush 63%, Kerry 14%.

Party ID
56% Independent/No Preference, 39% Republican, 5% Democrat (73% Rep/LeanRep)

Media Use
Upbeats are second only to Liberals in citing the internet as their main news source (34% compared with 23% nationwide); 46% also cite newspapers. No more or less engaged in politics than the national average.

According to this test (via Daniel Larison) my political typology is "upbeat." That sound you hear in the background is everyone who knows me laughing at the idea of anyone or anything calling me "upbeat." (While I wouldn't describe myself as "gloomy" or "morose," I have a strong sense of the tragic and am a bit of a fatalist.)

Continue reading "Upbeat? Moi? " »

Spirituality -- American Style

Two authors of new books on spirituality are making the media rounds this month, and their definitions and views of "spirituality" and how to achieve spiritual maturity are polar opposites. I haven't read either book and am not endorsing either (though Richard John Neuhaus does endorse one, and Oprah endorses the other).

The Secret is a new book by Australian filmmaker Rhonda Byrne based on her movie, company, and "superstore" of the same name. The conglomerate promises to teach you how to use the "law of attraction" and to take three simple steps -- ask, believe, receive -- to get what you want out of life: money, fame, relationships, weight loss, etc. Oprah devoted an entire episode of her show to this "new spiritual self-help" program last week, and is now promoting a follow-up show to air next week.

Spiritual Progress: Becoming the Christian You Want to Be by Thomas D. Williams takes the view that true spiritual maturity comes only through following Christ's command to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. He likens the book to a guidebook or trail book -- reading it won't make you more spiritually mature, but daily putting into practice the principles discussed in the book, like developing a deep prayer life, practicing humility, cultivating the virtues, understanding true holiness, and exploring the Scriptures to understand who Jesus is and what it means to truly follow Him (and why it's important) will draw you closer to Christ and make you more like Him. Williams, by the way, is a Catholic priest who is dean of the theology school at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome (what a mouthful!).

Talk about a contrast of worldviews! Which one sounds more like a biblical view of spirituality/spiritual maturity? Which one sounds more like something our culture today craves (or thinks it does?)

Circumcision Creates Conflict in Kenya

To circumcise or not to circumcise. That is the question. At least for one Kenyan school, where circumcised students recently bullied their uncircumcised classmates. While circumcision is not a requirement for admittance to Kiriani High School, administrators realize it may mean segregating students based on this physical difference. Kiriani Principal Kithinji Ngaruthi said:

Just as you cannot keep your elder son who is circumcised with your younger son who is not, this also applies in the dormitory.

Thoughts?

RE: Guinea

Tony asked where he could get more information about the situation in Guinea. I suggest checking out the BBC website. I'm getting the occasional email from friends who have managed to get out, but the information is sparse, and the American news media doesn't seem interested at all. Tony, thanks for the inquiry. Just keep praying!

Americans Approve Of Infidelity ... NOT!

HarperCollins Author Lionel Shriver makes some interesting observations in her WSJ opinion piece called Old Faithful.

Most Americans these days agree that couples should stay together only so long as both parties love each other. That should you fall deeply and irretrievably in love with someone else, you owe it to yourself to follow your heart. That you shouldn't remain in an unhappy union purely for the sake of the children. Marriage, the thinking goes, should entail joy and mutual self-fulfillment.

Yet there's a hitch--so to speak. When characters in film or fiction act on these precepts, the audience usually disapproves. Why is that?

Ms. Shriver observes how Americans approve of infidelity when it applies to their own pursuit of happiness. But when one steps back and watches others follow their hearts and cheat on their spouses, it looks pretty ugly and audiences in cinema and literature don't go for it.

Shriver points out that writers are acutely aware of this phenomenon. So much so, that they have to "stack the deck" in order to get audiences to accept the infidelity. In other words, they make the spouse who gets cheated on a real toad ... like a heroin addict or a bum or a cheater himself.

Continue reading "Americans Approve Of Infidelity ... NOT!" »

Hey Playboy Soldier, Cry Me A River

The teaser (ahem) on the front of Fox News read "'Playboy' Sergeant Stripped From Ranks?"

OK, we get it, Fox. "Stripped." Ha ha.

Not that I can't see the banal cleverness of the headline, just as I can understand why Fox has been beating this story like a drummer on amphetamines for the last couple of weeks. At the end of the day, my beef isn't with Fox but with now-former Air Force Sgt. Manhart (I'm sure there's a name joke in there somewhere) who, golly, just can't see what the big deal is about a soldier posing nude for Playboy. In uniform, no less.

Let's be honest: If you don't get that, you don't belong in the military. Taking up arms in the military is not normal employment, OK? It is not a government work program. It is not AmeriCorps. It is about becoming and being a soldier. If "soldier" to you means living however you want to live, being "free to be me," selling your soul and flesh to whichever prince of Amsterdam-West pays the most, then you haven't the slightest idea what it means to be a soldier. And so you don't belong in the military.

Continue reading "Hey Playboy Soldier, Cry Me A River" »

No work makes Jack a poor boy

"No laws, however stringent, can make the idle industrious, the thriftless provident, or the drunken sober." ~ Samual Smiles

So true. But what about a law that allows the industrious to be gainfully employed?

The District of Columbia is pushing along a new piece of legislation that will allow ex-offenders the chance at a new life. And not a moment too soon. In a recent article, the Washington Post points out that:

As many as 3,000 former prisoners return to the District each year, many with a limited education, no job skills, frayed family relations and empty pockets. But what really keeps them down, many city leaders contend, is a society unwilling to give them a second chance.

Fortunately there seems to be some momentum building among employers for hiring ex-offenders, and there certainly is a need. Lack of employment is one of the principal barriers to re-entry for previous offenders who are ready for another chance at life. But when the door of opportunity is slammed shut, they might as well repack their bags for the slammer.

Although I am not personally an employer, I could see why one would hesitate to hire a convicted felon. But let's not forget, many of those on the street have paid their debt, and would like to find a way back into the good graces of the community. Shouldn't we offer them that chance?

Continue reading "No work makes Jack a poor boy" »

February 15, 2007

Love vs. Lust

Deadpoets Regarding the quotation from Dallas Willard, I'd like to point out that humans lust to exploit others in ways other than sexual. Recall to your minds the film Dead Poets Society, in which a boy's father, who no doubt loved him, loved his own driving ambition more. The son, a gifted actor, committed suicide when faced with his father's implacable plan for him to spend the next 10 years becoming a doctor instead.

This theme comes up often in literature, and I have seen this form of lust in real life: Parents who seem to have a twisted form of love for their children, in which they see their children as objects--even as what Jennifer Roback Morse refers to (in the sexual realm) as consumer objects. Love is rightly about promoting someone's good for that person's own sake. But some parents don't seem to be able to comrehend (or refuse to comprehend) that anything could be a higher good for the child than what they, the parents, desire for it--desire so much they are willing to go to the most brutal and manipulative lengths to achieve their twisted goals.

We see this phenomenon in the film Sense & Sensibility, in which Eleanor's young man, Edward, tells her, "My mother is determined to see me distinguished." "As what?" Eleanor asks. "Anything," he responds, "...as long as I drive a barouche and dine in the first circles." Edward refuses to go along, and is ultimately cut out of his mother's will.

A parent who believes himself to be promoting his child's good "for his own sake" is in reality treating that child as an object. The parent is, in effect, acting maliciously towards the concept of true love--just as sexual partners do when they put passion before the other's good.

Continue reading "Love vs. Lust" »

Louisville Slugger

Having expressed my sympathy for the late Ms. Smith, I'm left wondering about the fate of her five-month-old daughter Dannielynn.

I've given this some thought and this is what I would do if I were given Solomonic powers in the matter:

  1. I would order that whatever Smith's estate recovers from the estate of "octogenarian oil billionaire J. Howard Marshall" be put into a trust for Dannielynn that she cannot touch until she is 21.
  2. I would have Dannielynn adopted by a nice, preferably Christian, family whose identity is unknown to all the claimants and especially to the media. (As long as I were in charge, I would keep The Haitian from Heroes on retainer.) Finding such a family for a white baby born to an attractive mother shouldn't be the least bit difficult. The family would be allowed to withdraw from the trust necessary and reasonable amounts for the child's support.
  3. I would ask that all those claiming to be the child's father step forward with the possible exception of Smith's lawyer, Howard Stern (whom I also thought was the radio shock jock), who did seem to care for Smith. I would then ask Gary Sheffield, he of the amazing bat speed, to enter the courtroom and hand him a 32-ounce, thin-handled, autograph model Louisville Slugger. He would then whale on the various claimants' thighs just below their manhood until I said "stop."
  4. Then it would be the turn of the vultures of E!, People, US, etc. They would get it across the hands with a whiffle bat. You would be surprised at how much your hands can hurt without any bones broken.
  5. Finally, I would say, "Court adjourned," and go out for Chinese food. Administering justice works up an appetite.

How Thomas Hardy is connected with Anna Nicole Smith

(No, I'm pretty sure he wasn't the father of her baby either.)

Roberto, your post brought this article back to mind (look what you've done to me, Kristine! I'm slogging through articles about Thomas Hardy!) and prompted a question: Which causes more problems, the society where class structure is rigid and all but unbreakable, or the society where people are obsessed with rising to a higher class?

The particular passage that suggests the question is this:

The dominant social fact of the world into which Hardy was born was class, and it remained in many ways the dominant social fact of his entire life. In the Dorset of 1840, the year of his birth, the traditional structure of rural society was still largely intact. In Tomalin's words, this remote and backward county remained a place where "those who owned the land and those who worked it were hardly thought of as belonging to the same species." Hardy's family was poor, but they were not indigent, a distinction of enormous importance both to them and to him--as was every one of the infinitesimal gradations of the English class system, to everyone. . . .

Still, if the class system in Dorset remained largely untouched by modernity, it had begun to relax just enough to allow Hardy's formidably strong-willed mother to dream of a better life for her bright, sensitive, bookish son. It was she who insisted that he get an education. By sixteen, he was apprentice to an architect in the nearby town of Dorchester--and finding himself the target of a sermon back home in which the local vicar preached against the presumption of members of the lower orders who aspired to join the professions. It was a slight that Hardy never forgot, and he went on to make novel after novel out of the drama of thwarted ambition. The opportunity for self-improvement made Hardy's life possible, but the resistance that he encountered gave it its texture. His career, his art, his consciousness-- all are unthinkable outside the context of an entrenched class system that had begun to give ground, but only an inch at a time.

I realize I'm positing two pretty extreme examples here: the society that frowns on the boy who so much as dares to become an architect's apprentice, and the society that applauds the girl who will do anything, including sell her body, to become rich and famous. Still, it's food for thought.

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Vickie Lynn Hogan

Hegel says somewhere that that great historic facts and personages recur twice. He forgot to add: "Once as tragedy, and again as farce." Caussidiere for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the "Mountain" of 1848-51 for the "Mountain" of 1793-05, the Nephew for the Uncle. The identical caricature marks also the conditions under which the second edition of the eighteenth Brumaire is issued. -- Karl Marx, "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon"

The latest entry in the "come to think of it, I might be the father of Anna Nicole's baby" sweepstakes is her former bodyguard Alex Denk. Denk told the television show "Extras" that Smith "always told me she wanted to have kids with me." When asked if he might be the father of Smith's infant daughter, he said that "there's always a possibility."

At this point, it's probably easier to say who's definitely not the father: me and Allen Thornburgh. After that, who knows?

Sadly, Smith's death is proving to be every bit as chaotic as her short and tragic life. Still, we shouldn't be that hard on the late Vickie Lynn Hogan since, in a very real sense she lived (and died) for our sins.

Continue reading "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Vickie Lynn Hogan" »

Re: ’The abortion shuffle’

Looks like I'm a bit behind the times with my question about politics and abortion; The Line has already got a debate raging on the subject, which is worth reading.

Some of the comments lead me to suggest that before concluding that pro-life politicians have never done anything for the unborn, one might want to take a long hard look at this new study of what pro-life legislation has accomplished among one particularly needy and vulnerable group.

Happy birthday to a heroine

Via Amanda Witt at Wittingshire: Miep Gies, who helped to hide Anne Frank and her family and later saved Anne's diary, is 98 years old today. The quote that grabs me is the same one that grabbed Amanda:

Miep let me peruse the thousands of letters she had received from schoolchildren, all neatly catalogued in huge looseleaf binders, many asking the same thing: why did you risk your life? She does not really understand the question. “It was simple; I did not think about myself. I must do this to save the people, for my ‘Gewissen’ ... for my conscience.”

What a lesson for our me-first society, from someone who didn't just talk about her beliefs but put her life on the line for them every day for years. Even though she still feels the pain of the effort that wasn't enough -- "Miep Gies says there has not been a single day in the last six decades that she has not thought about 'what happened': how the noble scheme failed; how her friends, whom she tried so desperately to save, were murdered" -- what a legacy.

(Also, on a personal note, happy birthday to my sister, who gets to share her birthday with such a great person. You got Miep Gies and I got Jerry Lee Lewis. Sheesh.)

February 14, 2007

Love Is . . .

I'm currently reading Dallas Willard's book Renovation of the Heart. I like his definition of love, which seems like an appropriate thing to think about on Valentine's Day.

. . . what exactly is love? It is to will to good or "bene-volence." We love something or someone when we promote its good for its own sake. Love's contrary is malice, and its simple absence is indifference . . . Love is not the same thing as desire, for I may desire something without even wishing it well, much less willing its good. I might desire a chocolate ice cream cone, for example. But I do not wish it well; I wish to eat it. This is the difference between lust (mere desire) and love, as between a man and a woman. Desire and love are, of course, compatible when desire is ruled by love; but most people today would, unfortunately, not even know the difference between them. Hence, in our world, love constantly falls prey to lust. That is a major part of the deep sickness of contemporary life. By contrast, what characterizes the deepest essence of God is love -- that is, will to good. His very creation of the world is an expression of will to good, and it is then to be expected that his world would be found by him to be "very good" (Genesis 1:30). His love and goodwill toward humans is, therefore, not an "add on" to a nature that is fundamentally careless or even hostile. It is another expression -- one of the most important ones, of course -- of what he always and in every respect is. It is not hard for God to love, but it is impossible, given his nature, for him not to love.

Happy Valentine's Day, Dallas Willard! And thanks to you, from henceforth I shall say "I desire chocolate ice cream," since I do not wish it well; I wish to eat it!

Pray for Guinea

I haven't seen anything on the national news channels about what is currently happening in Guinea, West Africa, so I want to let readers know so they can pray. The president (one of the worst dictators in the world) has declared martial law, the borders have been closed, protesters are being slaughtered by the military, and all Americans have been advised to get out. Since my daughter and I do mission work in Guinea, we know many of the missionaries who are trapped in their homes (a curfew only allows people to be outside four hours a day, and they can't get to the borders by that time). Please pray for this nation, that God will use these terrible events to bring many to Christ as the hopelessness of their situation leads them to seek the only One who can give them a hope and a future. Thank you.

A novel way to spend Valentine’s Day

If you're not feeling so hot about the whole Valentine's Day thing this year (and let's face it, many people aren't), you could . . .

-- Be sorry for yourself and buy yourself lots of things to re-affirm your own value.

-- Give up on love altogether and go for the casual hookup.

-- Work yourself up into a lather over the iniquities of the flower and chocolate industries.

Or you could take Candice Watters's approach and try "the simple act of giving love" to those in your life you may be taking for granted the other 364 days of the year.

Good thinking, Candice.

Truth (and humanity) lose in Kansas

As just reported by MSNBC, the Kansas Board of Education overturned science guidelines that questioned the validity of Darwinian evolution. In addition, the Board defined science as restricted to naturalistic explanations. The rationale for their decision? Math teacher Jack Kreb offered, "[The revised] standards represent mainstream scientific consensus about both what science is and what evolution is."

(I seem to recall that scientific consensus once held the earth to be flat and the heavens to be filled with aether.)

The Board also removed statements linking evolutionary theory to human rights abuses of the 20th century, calling them "unfair."

Let's see. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote, "If nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior. Why? Because, in such a case her efforts, throughout hundreds and thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile."

This is the same man who led his country into the depravity of forced sterilization and selective breeding, and was responsible for history's bloodiest war with all the horrors of Dachau, Treblinka, and Auschwitz -- horrors that included the extermination of 12,000 persons a day in Auschwitz alone, where, in one room, one can still view the pile of 14,000 pounds of hair taken from women who went to their death in the gas chamber.

Unfair? I think not!

At risk in New Orleans

Cleaning up the Big Easy involves more than dumpsters and shovels. From a CNN blog:

Life in New Orleans has been tough enough since Hurricane Katrina decimated the city's infrastructure. But as the months wear on, many parents say they their biggest problem may not be the rebuilding, but the rising crime rate that potentially imperils their children.

They say the streets of the Big Easy seem more dangerous these days. Police have even begun random checkpoints where they stop all cars in an effort to clamp down on crime. What's also troubling though is that teens between the ages of 17-19 are a big part of that crime increase, according to Orleans Parish Court officials.

So parents have two concerns: 1) keeping their kids away from troublemakers and 2) keeping their kids out of trouble.

Those two tasks aren't easy for parents in urban areas during the best of times, and these are not the best of times in New Orleans. The church can help. A study of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program showed that the involvement of a mentor made a tremendous difference in the lives of at-risk children.

Prison Fellowship partners with local churches and organizations to help provide mentors for the children of prisoners, one of the most at-risk groups of children in our country. Whether you're in the New Orleans region or elsewhere in the country, think about how you might be a godly influence in the life of an at-risk child. As Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Friend of the Devil?

Some people's moral lives are really complicated. Take this correspondent to Cary Tennis's advice column at Salon:

Dear Cary,

On Christmas Eve, I ran out of good-for-the-planet, all-natural, nontoxic, not-tested-on-animals dishwasher detergent. I was getting ready to cook up a storm, and all the stores around here were closed (and would be closed for 36 more hours) except for the local minimart. Since it of course didn't sell any kind of hippie-friendly products, I just randomly grabbed a name-brand bottle and headed home.

Over the following days, I noticed something -- namely, that my dishes were getting clean. Really clean. Sparkling, like-new clean. The kind of clean that makes people send those effusive letters to soap companies. I had never really wondered why my silverware always had a dull look, or why each load of dishes always had items that needed further hand-washing -- until they didn't anymore . . .

Last week, the bottle ran out, and I switched back to my "preferred" brand -- a brand that I'd found after much searching to be the best of the "natural" products. Almost overnight, the dishwashing quality decreased tremendously . . .

My quandary is this: I try to live a good life in regard to the planet. I recycle and compost religiously, am vegan and try to cook with locally grown and organic ingredients, take public transportation and car-share instead of owning a car, and so on . . . However, at what point do I draw the line? How do I enjoy life and not walk around in a (vegan) hair shirt while still attempting to lessen my impact on the planet?

I suspected that this "letter" was a parody until I remembered that I was at Salon.com. I don't want to belittle the writer's obviously deeply felt concern for the environment, but reading this I was reminded of something Oscar Wilde said: "The problem with Socialism is that it takes up too many evenings."

A Code of Ethics for Science?

Medicine has its Hippocratic Oath and many professional disciplines have ethical codes of conduct; but science, and the life sciences in particular, have--well, nothing. Wake Forest bioethicist Dr. Nancy Jones says that needs to change. At a time when advances in cloning, stem cell research and genetic engineering have accelerated at a staggering rate, science is in desperate need of ethical guidance.

Dr. Jones’s main concern is that science is poised to re-define what it means to be human without any ethical guideposts. I share her concern.

What should such a code include? For starters, suggests Jones, it should contain the following preamble:

In granting the privilege of freedom of inquiry, society implicitly assumes that scientists act with integrity on behalf of the interests of all people. Scientists and the scientific community should accept the responsibility for the consequences of their work by guiding society in the developing of safeguards necessary to judiciously anticipate and minimize harm.

I commend Dr. Jones for her clarion call, but until the gatekeepers of science become untethered from methodological naturalism, I suspect that any standard will get snagged on those elusive concepts of “freedom,” “integrity,” "interests," “responsibility,” and “harm.”

February 13, 2007

’The abortion shuffle’

E. J. Dionne -- no pro-lifer he -- shares some thoughts worth considering about the state of the abortion debate in this country, and in political races in particular.

I don't mean to pick on four public servants who are certainly not alone in doing some version of the abortion shuffle. All of them may be thoroughly sincere in rethinking their old positions.

But there is something systematic about the willingness of politicians to adapt their views on abortion to suit the preferences of whatever electorate they are facing at any given time. The reason: Our political system has created strong incentives for candidates to be less than candid about what they really think.

To begin with, candidates are rarely willing to say outright what's true for so many of them: that they do not consider abortion the most important issue in politics and that it is not the reason they entered public life.

All good points. But what's worrying me a lot more is the idea, based on various statements and polls I've been reading lately -- this is just one example -- that the electorate, even the pro-life portion of the electorate, may be getting fed up with the debate and that they may no longer consider abortion the most important issue in politics.

Do you think this is true? Have you seen examples or statistics that make you think this might be true (or, on the other hand, not true)?

IFI appeal now online

If you've been following the lawsuit against the InnerChange Freedom Initiative in Iowa, and PF's appeal, you may want to listen to the audio of the oral arguments made today. Go to this link and follow the instructions there.

Re: The un-apology reaches new heights

Via the textured one, Amanda Marcotte has quit the Edwards campaign. She blamed her troubles on Titoist deviationism and other ideological impurity.

Actually, I don't care why she quit. In fact, like Rod, I'm kind of sorry to see her go.

You know, after having seen Amanda Marcotte's review of "The Children of Men," which went up a day or so ago on Pandagon, I'm starting to wonder if the crackpot blogger's continued presence on the Edwards campaign staff wouldn't be worth it for the literary pleasure it affords. Take a look at this Marcotte passage:

I’ve seen some feminist bloggers take on the movie Children of Men, but none so far from an explicitly feminist point of view, so I thought I’d take that on. I expressed anxieties earlier that a film that raised hysteria about underpopulation when we are in fact a world facing overpopulation might be reactionary, but upon seeing the movie last night, I have to state outright that I was utterly wrong. If nothing else, people who express anxieties about “underpopulation” in America and Europe are usually anti-immigration folks, and this film took an unabashed pro-immigrant stance, which I appreciated.

First, a note about the aesthetic value of the film—even if Children of Men were every bit as reactionary as the blurbs make it out to be, it would be a movie worth viewing.

Continue reading "Re: The un-apology reaches new heights" »

Re: Prison Rape, the Other ’Silent Scream’

You are so right, Allen. Prison rape is very much a taboo topic. Although rape is a horrific crime, the media has no qualms about reporting on the topic, but when it involves inmates, considered the scum of society, suddenly no one is interested. "They deserve what they get. Let's leave it at that." This speaks volumes of the de-humanized way we view those individuals within our justice system. But let's not forget that those individuals are people, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. It is true that many have committed heinous crimes, but allowing rape to occur within the walls of an institution promotes chaos.

For those interested, Justice Fellowship President Pat Nolan recently co-authored a fantastic piece on prison rape, which was published in the Notre Dame Journal of Legislation. You can read it here.

Also, the organization Stop Prisoner Rape has done some terrific work on the subject. Their website is chock full of information. Feel free to read additional stories of incarcerated rape victims there.

Prison Rape, the Other ’Silent Scream’

Ezra Klein has some good posts up (here, here and here) about prison rape, including some excerpts from Human Rights Watch's report on the problem. These personal accounts are wrenching. And what is most striking -- at least to me -- is the immediately obvious realization that these are stories we never hear. Why don't we hear them? After all, we seemingly hear about every other victimization, real and imagined, that befalls our society's poor souls.

We never hear these stories, because they are never told in the media, a reminder that the mainstream media is best at telling us things that we want to hear. The things we need to hear must generally be found elsewhere.

February 12, 2007

An Interview with Steve Smallman

My former pastor, Steve Smallman, was recently interviewed by Justin Taylor for his Between Two Worlds blog. In the interview, Steve discusses his new book Spiritual Birthline: Understanding How We Experience the New Birth (with a foreward by our very own Chuck Colson!).

Steve mentions in the interview that the first time he used the physical birthline drawing to explain spiritual birth was at a Prison Fellowship inmate discipleship seminar. Steve left McLean (VA) Presbyterian Church after 30 years of ministry to spend several years as Executive Director of World Harvest Mission. He left WHM in 2001 to pastor a church until last year, and now works with CityNet in Philadelphia. Check out his Birthline Ministries website!

Way to go, Steve!

"I Do" Behind Bars

With the increasing prominence of same-sex marriage, I wasn't surprised to come across this article today. I've been expecting something of this nature. Although the event took place in Canada, it certainly begs the question of what the position of the U.S. will be when an issue arises here... and it will. Soon.

Do you agree with Canada's actions?

How should the issue of same sex marriage be handled in prison?

How should we respond to growing numbers of same-sex relationships behind bars? They're there. I've seen them.

Can it be helped?

Let the Little Children Come, or Not?

Three years ago, I spent two months in and around Lima, Peru, on a missions adventure. Within my first 24 hours in the smog-covered city, I was confronted with street child after street child, trying to sell me cough drops or offering to shine my shoes (I was wearing sandals). A newcomer to the Third World, I couldn't brush aside the guilt I felt as I walked past them, ignoring their pleas. Finally, an especially pitiful little boy approached me, grubby paws outstretched, begging for "un sol." I couldn't stand it any longer. Instead of giving him a coin, I bought him an ice cream cone. As I sat there watching him scarf down the Peruvian treat, my heart broke.

He was just the beginning of my introduction to street children. Throughout the continuation of my summer, I met many more grubby little faces bearing beautiful soul-piercing brown eyes. Sometimes I bought them something, other times I didn't. But, it was a dilemma I couldn't avoid. After all, Christ says, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Last month, Lori Robertson of the Washington Post confronted this dilemma and asked readers to voice their opinions. As the responses indicated, street children pose many a moral dilemma. Giving to them may only be exacerbating the problem, even keeping them in danger. But ignoring them seems almost heartless. Is there a better way to "let the little children come"?

In your travels, how do you deal with this moral quandry?

Nesting Generations

USA Today ran a guest column last week about the trend of adult children moving back home. Authors John L. Graham and Sharon Graham Niederhaus write in their column "Back to the Nest" that it's actually a good thing for America. Why? Graham and Niederhaus believe this trend is enriching the family experience and will help meet the financial challenges that baby boomers and their families are experiencing. Our culture is shifting, they write, making way for more than one generation to live together.

I took a look at the most recent Census Bureau statistics on this subject. In 2001, the Census Bureau released data on its first study on multigenerational housing and found that in 2000 there were 3.9 million multigenerational households, or those with three or more generations of parents and children living together. These households accounted for only about 4 percent of all households in the United States.

Nevertheless, I think the idea of bringing families back together under the same roof generally is a good concept.

Our "me-centered" culture says we don't need family, we only need ourselves. We've grown accustomed to getting out on our own and abandoning the past for the new and unconquered. I do think children need to experience life and to learn to be responsible adults. But independence shouldn't be synonymous with near abandonment of one's family.

Clearly, multigenerational households aren't for everyone, but what a beautiful concept to embrace our families (faults and all) and to be intentional in growing through our life experiences together. Graham and Niederhaus say our culture is partly responsible for stunting the growth of multigenerational households. Our culture says the adult child who won't move out simply isn't interested in growing up, they write. To some degree, that notion is probably true...or at least is in danger of becoming true.

So, that's why for multigenerational households to succeed, they must have something more than the OK from doting parents. Multigenerational families need clear expectations...such as adult children contributing financially to the household. Otherwise, we will end up with families that are no longer too independent, but too dependent...and worse yet, adult children who really will never grow up.

Wilberforce, A Worldview of Hope

I've run across another new little book on Wilberforce called Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce by John Piper. You can actually read it online at the Desiring God website, and buy copies for a mere $5.49. This is a great resource to know about with the Amazing Grace film debut just two weeks away, and a week-long BreakPoint series on Wilberforce just a week away!

I haven't yet had time to read Piper's take on Wilberforce, but I did notice this excerpt from one of Wilberforce's letters in it:

My grand objection to the religious system still held by many who declare themselves orthodox Churchmen…is, that it tends to render Christianity so much a system of prohibitions rather than of privilege and hopes, and thus the injunction to rejoice, so strongly enforced in the New Testament, is practically neglected, and Religion is made to wear a forbidding and gloomy air and not one of peace and hope and joy.

I think that's a good reminder that our worldview is one of hope. It's especially meaningful when you consider these words were penned by someone who faced so many setbacks and disappointments in his life-long campaign to abolish the slave trade.

February 09, 2007

The un-apology reaches new heights

In case you haven’t been following the story of John Edwards and his dedication to his virulently anti-Catholic bloggers, you don’t have far to look: It’s all over the electronic media and the print media as well. Rod Dreher, in particular, has run some excellent commentaries on it.

There are any number of questions to be raised and points to be made about this—among them the question that one of Rod’s commenters asked: “IS there a polite society anymore?” (My own answer: I very much doubt it.)

But just now what I really want to know is this: How can you take seriously the word of someone who calls the Pope a dictator, Catholicism an “ancient mythology” “to justify your misogyny,” and pro-life Protestants a word that I can’t reprint here, and then swears she never meant to malign religion?

No wonder the half-baked apology has become the hottest celebrity trend. You can mumble a few insincere words, not change a thing about your beliefs, and expect everyone to fall for it.

Scrubs beats House to the Punch!

SPOILER AHEAD for House fans:

As Gina mentioned the other day, word on the street (or should I say TV show spoiler sites) is that an upcoming episode of House will include a scene reminiscent of a 1999 photograph of an in-utero surgery in which the fetus thrusts out a tiny hand and grabs the finger of the surgeon. You may recall our discussion of House debating life issues with a pregnant pro-life rape victim (he says terminate, she says murder; he says fetus, she says baby). In the upcoming episode, after witnessing the finger-grabbing moment, House has a semantical paradigm shift and starts saying "baby."

Oddly enough, last night's Scrubs episode snatched the scene from House, when Turk performs in-utero surgery on Jordan. And again, a cynical doctor refers to a baby and not a fetus as a result ("she's a girl!").

I find it interesting that while some Christians are so quick to chant the "They hate us! They really, really hate us!" mantra about the anti-Christian, anti-morals, anti-everything good and godly media elite and Hollywood, here are two TV shows on two different networks both acknowledging that what's in the womb is a life -- a child -- one show not even questioning the fact, the other willing to grapple with the issues from both sides, and both using this imagery and linguistic shift as a conversation launcher.

So Hurray for Hollywood! Let's acknowledge it when mainstream media gets it right!

That’s Just Ducky

The sensitivity police have struck again, this time, according to Newsday, at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, where five students were fired from their jobs as resident assistants. Their crime? Creating "a video . . . depicting ski-masked 'hostage-takers'' who kidnap the mascot of the students' residence hall--a rubber duck named Pete. The student actors spoke in "cartoonish Middle Eastern accents," and said the video--posted on both Google and YouTube--was intended in jest.

The video was, according to fellow Post student Frank Schlegel, "hysterical," and in no way racist. Unfortunately, America's self-appointed Muslim leaders from CAIR are singlularly lacking in a sense of humor. The student video, CAIR president Ibrahim Hooper ominously announced, is "something that needs to be addressed."

Another humor-impaired Muslim spokesman, Ghazi Khankan of the American Muslim Alliance, announced: "I think it's not a prank. . . . Campuses are for enlightenment and for teaching us to get along, to respect each other."

A couple of comments: First, ask yourself who would be offended by a video poking fun at terrorists. Terrorists themselves, maybe? CAIR (one cannot say often enough) has strong ties to Islamic terrorism, as documented here.

Second, we are rapidly approaching an era in which parodies and spoofs of all kinds will effectively be illegal on the nation's college campuses. Where, in future years, will we find writers for Saturday Night Live, Jay Leno, and David Letterman, if fun-poking is forbidden on the humor writer's training grounds? Where would humor writer and former BreakPoint writer Eric Metaxes be today if he'd not been allowed to be funny at Yale 20 years ago? Living unfunnily under the Brooklyn Bridge, that's where.

Continue reading "That’s Just Ducky" »

February 08, 2007

Lewisapalooza!

Catherine, look what you’ve started. :-) Actually, it's not your fault; through some mysterious process, articles on C. S. Lewis have been collecting on my desk and in my inbox for some time now. In the interest of trying to get a handle on my personal mess, I’m going to post them all at once. Enjoy at your leisure!

  • The Washington Post ran a really excellent review of The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III. Excellent, at least, until that obligatory moment, now so familiar to many of us, when the author daintily draws back her skirts for fear of contamination by the riff-raff:
    It's time to reclaim Lewis from the religious right, which has made of him an unlikely champion. The same audience would, perhaps, find it hard to square its adulation with his genuine curiosity about Hinduism, his love of The Iliad, his endorsement of Zoroastrianism as "one of the finest of the Pagan religions," and his eagerness to see more recognition for the Persian epic The Shahnameh. They might be more surprised that he supported his elder stepson's eventual entrance into a yeshiva. Lewis's religion was nuanced. He didn't believe in word-for-word inerrancy of the Bible, saying that too few "know by the smell. . . the difference in myth, in legend, and a bit of primitive reportage."

    In any case, Lewis's wry, erudite, often spiritually profound letters are too good to be co-opted.

    Query: How does one co-opt a person who believes most of the same things—even with nuances—as the co-opter?

    Oh, well—as I said, most of the review is excellent and deserves a read. And you can rest easy, Ms. Haven: Lewis made no secret of his beliefs, and most of his fans—conservative and otherwise—knew about pretty nearly everything you mention years ago. Did you know that Lewis’s other stepson, the one who shares his stepfather’s beliefs and co-produces the Narnia films, runs a pro-life ministry? No? That’s all right—guess maybe we all have a little something to learn from our fellow fans.

Continue reading "Lewisapalooza!" »

A Cabbie of Noble Character, Who Can Find?

According to a recent study, New York City is one of the friendliest cities in America. Don't believe it? Well, one New York City taxi driver is certainly giving New York city a good name. He returned thirty-one diamond rings he found in a bag left in his cab. Too bad I don't believe in cloning. We certainly need more of this man's character in our world today.

Time to watch the grass grow?

How about time to watch the cheese mold? As I sat this morning staring at this makeshift television, I pondered what the point of this website really was. Even stranger, the website supposedly has had 50,000 visitors since its initiation... 48 days ago. So why are people flocking to watch the cheese mold? Is it because such a website is a novelty? What do you think? Food for thought... provided by yours truly (pun provided free of charge).

Why Genetics Can’t Explain Consciousness

Steven Pinker is Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard and the author of The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate. Pinker recently published an article in Time magazine called "The Mystery of Consciousness."

The trajectory of modern neuroscience is to try to explain away outdated notions like belief in the soul and belief in God as products of blood flow in the brain. Pump up the dopamine and presto, you have a God moment … or so the current hypothesis goes.

Genetic determinists, like Pinker, reach a tension point in their worldview, however. If man is a genetically pre-determined stimulus-response machine, what does one make of morality?

Pinker takes a stab at this toward the end of the article.

Yet once we realize that our own consciousness is a product of our brains and that other people have brains like ours, a denial of other people's sentience becomes ludicrous. "Hath not a Jew eyes?" asked Shylock. Today the question is more pointed: Hath not a Jew--or an Arab, or an African, or a baby, or a dog--a cerebral cortex and a thalamus? The undeniable fact that we are all made of the same neural flesh makes it impossible to deny our common capacity to suffer.

Pinker's foundation for morality, therefore, is the fact that we all have a cerebral cortex and a thalamus … therefore, we are equal and we have a "common capacity to suffer."

Okay. But so what?

Continue reading "Why Genetics Can’t Explain Consciousness" »

Murder on the Moon?

Travelling to outer space doesn't make you sinless. Who knew?

Astronaut Lisa Nowak appeared in court yesterday for charges of attempted murder against a romantic rival. Nowak, who made her first flight on the shuttle Atlantis last summer, will likely spend the rest of her life in prison, if the charges are confirmed.

Psychiatrist Pat Santy criticized NASA for glorifying their astronauts:

The powers that be at Nasa [sic] have always known that astronauts are only human, but over the years they have managed to keep all the bad behaviour out of the spotlight and pretend that there is only the good. Somehow, I don't think they'll be able to pull that off this time around.

We see it in Hollywood, and now we see it at NASA--a system trying to rid its stars of original sin. Astronaut, actor, or accountant, depravity leaves its nasty stain on every human soul. No number of trips to Mars will change that.

It Won’t Work

USA Today ran a story Wednesday about how lawmakers in at least six states, including Texas and Tennessee, are attempting to broaden the death penalty to include child molesters who do not murder their victims. The paper quotes Rich Parsons, spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurt: "The hope is that these monsters will see that Texas is serious about protecting children."

Unfortunately, child molesters will see no such thing. First, if they face the death penalty for assaulting a child, what motivation will they have for not killing the children they molest--children who could become witnesses against them?

Second, lawmakers err in thinking the threat of the death penalty will motivate sexual predators from attacking children. Child molesters are driven to commit their crimes through their consumption of, and addiction to, hard-core pornography. As I wrote last year in National Review Online:

According to the National Coalition Against Pornography, no single characteristic of pedophilia is more pervasive than the obsession with child pornography. The vast majority of child molesters admit to the regular use of hard-core porn, and one study found that states with the highest consumption of pronography also have the highest rape rates. "Not everyone who reads porn acts out [against children], but everyone who acts out does read child pornography," Roben Rodriguez of the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children told USA Today.

Now, if lawmakers want to broaden the death penalty to include pornographers...