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March 22, 2007

In memoriam

Those of you who prayed for Cathy Seipp of the Cathy's World blog, she passed away yesterday afternoon. NRO has published tributes to her here, here, and here. (Note: Some of these contain some adult themes.) And as an example of the kind of boundary-crossing relationship that our culture would like you to believe is no longer possible, one of Cathy's friends from across the ideological divide, Susan Estrich, has a heartfelt tribute here. R.I.P.

(And speaking of prayer, you might take a moment this morning to pray for Elizabeth Edwards and her family.)

Update: Elizabeth and John Edwards have just confirmed the return of her cancer, now in the bone.

March 21, 2007

Part II, Suckled on Revenge

Alongwaygone For Ishmael Beah, a child soldier drilled in vengeance, the only thing powerful enough to overcome the brainwashing, the drugs, the power, and the violence of his years spent fighting in Sierra Leone was the power of forgiveness and unconditional love.

When UNICEF forces showed up one day and negotiated with his commander for the release of the children soldiers in his command, Ishmael and others found themselves suddenly transported to a rehabilitation camp. If you'd imagine that these children would be grateful for release and embrace these workers for their role in their redemption, you'd be wrong. It would take months for these minds so tightly coiled up on brown-brown (cocaine mixed with gun-powder), reflex violence, and a thirst for revenge to come unwound. Day after day these young kids would lash out at the workers and the other children in violence. Day after day the workers would respond with forgiveness and love for the children. (Warning--some graphically violent content follows.)

Continue reading "Part II, Suckled on Revenge" »

The Year of Darwin Dawns

According to this article, 2009 will be the year of Charles Darwin. In honor of his two hundredth birthday and the 150th anniversary of his revolutionary publication, Origin of Species, the U.K.'s Open University and the Royal Society will be organizing a global hands-on experience for all ages, called Evolution Megalab. What the organizers have in mind is this:

From Darwin’s birthday on February 12th to the Origin’s anniversary on November 24th there will be an unequalled spate of high-profile broadcasting and public events throughout the world. There will be public interest in every area of Darwin’s life, his science and his world. A central feature of Darwin’s genius was has ability to see evolutionary processes operating within commonplace observations of natural history. The aim of the Evolution Megalab is to show the public, of all ages from schoolchildren to grandparents, that thanks to Darwin’s illuminating insight, they too can see evolution at work in the natural world around them.

“They too can see evolution at work in the natural world around them?” But how are all these eager folk going to “see” something in a year’s time that takes untold millennia to accomplish? The organizers continue…

The most accessible example of the science arising from this perception of evolution is provided by research on banded snails in the genus Cepaea…[which] occur through many parts of the UK and continental Europe and in most populations display easily seen [variation] in shell colour and banding….We now also know that there are correlations with temperature and latitude that indicate that snail behaviour and shell morph are also locally adapted to climate, together with many patterns of geographic variation which have not yet successfully been explained in terms of natural selection…[We hope to] motivate the general public to participate and also illustrate the on-going nature of natural selection.

Continue reading "The Year of Darwin Dawns" »

Is Sympathy All In the Numbers?

Here’s an interesting look into the human response to suffering by John Allen Paulos, professor of mathematics and ABC News commentator.

Paulos says that psychologist Paul Slovic has completed a few studies on how people respond to the tragedy of a single person in comparison to that affecting a group of people. Slovic's findings show that people tend to demonstrate more interest in and sympathy with the plight of a single person than that of groups consisting of two or more.   

Paulos finishes his story with an excellent suggestion: “One inference from [Slovic’s] work is that for most people a compelling picture of an individual is worth a thousand statistics. The thought occurs that this might be an opportunity for some paparazzi to redeem themselves. Forget celebrities' rehab centers; go to Darfur's refugee camps.” 

Amen to that!   

With friends like these . . .

In co-authoring the new novel The Gospel According to Judas, the Rev. Francis J. Moloney, "a world-class biblical scholar and former theological adviser to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI," hoped to counter works like The Da Vinci Code and The God Delusion.

"Are we to stand by silently to allow the Gospel message of Jesus of Nazareth to be trivialized by [Dan] Brown and ridiculed by [Richard] Dawkins?" Moloney demanded, according to the Washington Post.

Terrific. Except that Moloney then seems to have gone right off and made up his own Gospel message of Jesus of Nazareth:

Moloney said most biblical scholars in fact believe that the early church "began to articulate stories that made Jesus's presence among us more akin to the presence of God to Israel" and don't believe literally in these miracles.

If that's Moloney's own belief -- and other passages from the Post article suggest it is -- then what in the world does he have against Dan Brown?

Wilberforce of the Gridiron?

Tonydungy General Pace isn't the only leader of late who has taken a stand for family values and morality. The Indianapolis Colts "general," Tony Dungy, has also attracted a bit of the spotlight for accepting an award from the Indiana Family Institute. And at the banquet last night, Coach apparently did not stray from his support for family and traditional marriage.

Colts coach Tony Dungy said he knows some people would prefer him to steer clear of the gay marriage debate, but he used a speech Tuesday night to clearly stake out his position.

Dungy told more than 700 people at the Indiana Family Institute's banquet that he agrees with that organization's position supporting a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

"I appreciate the stance they're taking, and I embrace that stance," Dungy said.

Dungy's comments came in the final three minutes of a wide-ranging, 20-minute speech that recounted stories from the Colts' Super Bowl run, related his interest in prison ministry and described how he wondered whether his firing in Tampa was God's signal for him to leave football and enter ministry. He also talked about his efforts to make the Colts more family-friendly by encouraging players to bring their kids to practice.

Continue reading "Wilberforce of the Gridiron?" »

Searching for the Theory of Everything

The Holy Grail of science is the Theory of Everything (TOE)—a creative and unifying principle from which all laws and phenomena follow, from the formation of stars to the emergence of intelligence and altruism. In effect, TOE is the scientific materialist’s substitute for God.

Over at the Harvard Crimson, staff writer Madeline Ross has a favorable review of a book by particle physicist-turned-Anglican-priest John Polkinghorne, called Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship. Ross writes of Polkinghorne’s conclusion:

Polkinghorne rejects the possibility of science providing a complete “Theory of Everything,” saying, “if [scientists] want to pursue the search for understanding through and through…they will have to be prepared to go beyond the limits of science itself in the search for the widest and deepest context of intelligibility. I think that this further quest, if openly pursued, will take the enquirer in the direction of religious belief.”

(Coincidentally, the same conclusion reached in the BreakPoint series "Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe," part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

Continue reading "Searching for the Theory of Everything" »

Presentado

When I was a kid, one of the worst things my grandmother could call us was "presentado." The word, which is Spanish for "presented," was what Puerto Ricans called children who were drawing undue attention to themselves.

I still worry about being presentado. So much I so that I feel uncomfortable pointing out that I have a new piece over at Boundless. I'm assured that it's okay, so there you have it.

In the piece, I discuss an entire class of people who have no concerns about being presentado: the MySpace and LiveJournal generation. For me,

When you consider how many of what we regard as fundamental American "rights," from collecting AK-47s to late-term abortions, are grounded in the "right to be left alone," the idea of a generation voluntarily surrendering that "right" seems incomprehensible, at least to someone whose doormat reads "come back with a warrant" as mine does.

( I really do have such a doormat. You can get one here.)

Continue reading "Presentado " »

March 20, 2007

Chalk One Up For The Good Guys, Baby

FoxNews (no story link yet) is reporting that Boy Scout Michael Auberry, missing in N.C. since Saturday, has been found.

Through a frustrating series of events, I find myself working at home today rather than at Corporate HQ. So, given the environment, I suppose it was a bit more natural to spontaneously shout "YES!!!!" out loud when the news came across the Internet. And, you know, that's fine; answered prayers of that fundamental importance deserve celebration.

Again, chalk one up for the good guys. Love that.

A Call to Urban Gardening

For the Greeks, it was the people. For the French, it was beauty. For the Americans, it was energy.

This week, WORLD magazine takes a look at what characterizes the place almost 3.3 billion of us call home--the city. The article points out that urbanization has lept from 13 percent in 1900 to more than 50 percent today. For Christians, this should mean something, as the article points out.

Wherever the streets, Christians know that they are on a pilgrimage, somewhere between the garden that was in Geneis and the garden-city laid out in Revelation.

For forward-looking Christians anticipating the New Jerusalem, the city is not simply a place to be rescued from urban disintegration but a place to be redeemed through "cultural gardening." In New York City, congregants of Redeemer Presbyterian Church have made it their mission to "renew the city socially, spiritually and culturally," while Christian artists in Paris host concerts and art exhibitions that express a biblical worldview.

Where have you seen Christ-centered "cultural gardening" modeled in your city?

Not Just in the UK

As Gina points out, Chuck's commentary today is about the threat to religious freedom in the UK if a homosexual rights law passes. Unfortunately, attacks on religious liberty--mostly Christian liberties--are taking place in Brazil, as well. A Zenit News Agency story yesterday noted that "so-called homophobia legislation" seeks to "criminalize anything considered a condemnation of homosexuality, including priests who speak against the practice in homilies."

Priests who violate this new law (if passed) would face a two- to five-year prison term. Seminary rectors who refuse admission to an open homosexual will face a three- to five-year prison term.

This law and others like it would, Zenit notes, provide a "legal frame for religious persecution."

It would indeed. Laws like these are not about protecting the rights of homosexual citizens--they're about demanding that Christ's followers either actively affirm the goodness of the homosexual lifestyle--or else. God help us.   

A Modern Nursery Rhyme

Polarbear Germany had a little polar bear, whose fur was white as snow.
Everywhere that der-zookeeper went the polar bear was sure to go.
Der-zookeeper fed it in the zoo one day, which was against the rules.
It made the activists yell and scream, to feed a cuddly cub at the zoo.

So they want to kill the cuddly polar bear for the crime of being raised by humans. Don't believe me... read it here. What's next? I think its time to re-write the lovable fairy tale The Jungle Book. This time Baloo will face a firing squad for having the audacity to raise the boy child. Ai yi yi...

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Suckled on Revenge

Childsoldier Yesterday I went to hear Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone, speak at the George Washington University's Gelman Library. If you've been in a Starbucks lately, you may have noticed his book sitting prominently in front of the check-out counter. This book is the second book Starbucks has sponsored in its Book Break series, a national book group, and the spotlight is bringing important attention to the issue of child soldiers around the world.

Beah's book is an unpretentious memoir about his adolescence in Sierra Leone. At twelve years old, Beah and his friends were on their way to another village to show off their rap and dance skills when their village was attacked by the rebel RFP forces. In the ensuing chaos, Ishmael and his brother, Junior, could not find their parents, and so a year of wandering, survival, terror and deprivation followed as they narrowly escaped recruitment by the RFP and the incinerating violence of civil war on all sides. After evading capture for nearly a year, hunger and desperation gave Ishmael and his friends little alternative but to join the government army, where the boys were given AK-47s and trained to seek revenge for their losses, to pillage, and to kill.

Daily they heard their commanding officer tell them: Visualize the enemy, the rebels who killed your parents, your family, and those who are responsible for everything that has happened to you. In their drills when they did not properly bayonet a banana tree, the officer reprimanded them by saying: "Is that how you stab someone who had killed your family? This is how I would do it." (WARNING: graphically violent material follows.)

Continue reading "Suckled on Revenge" »

Re: Perfidious Columbia Watch III

Roberto's post reminded me of this from Michael Novak at the Corner yesterday, in which Novak relays a story from an American working in communications in the troubled Diyala Province:

We’re working with four Iraqis to build and program an independent radio and television station. It’s a very cool project, as most radio and television is owned by the government, or by political parties, or mouthpieces of the mosques. This station is the first independent station, so these four brave Iraqis are broadcasting messages of peace, reconciliation and non sectarianism to most of Iraq. This makes them quite big targets as you can imagine, so they’ve literally moved into the radio station to live and work. If they leave the compound they’re dead and they know it.

It’s surprising how dedicated they are to this project considering the danger this puts them in. The station manager moved his wife and two kids into the radio station too. He said it’s not a matter of “if” they die doing this project, but “when”…..so he moved his family into the compound because they are all much safer here, and because (as he says) when the time comes, he wants them to all die together. Amazing and dedicated Iraqi patriots…and I’m lucky to know them.

Talk about inspiring. When someone desires freedom from tyranny (and guerrilla tyranny is still tyranny) for their nation or community such that they are willing to risk their very life, that is impressive. When doing so involves risking their entire family, and the risk is so acutely real that they actually think it likely that they will die … so much so that they take steps to ensure that they die together … well, I find that immensely inspiring.

Continue reading "Re: Perfidious Columbia Watch III" »

’Outlawing Conscience’

That's exactly what the British government is trying to do, Chuck Colson reports in this morning's BreakPoint commentary:

In London last month, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights recommended regulations that would make it illegal for private, religious schools to teach that homosexual conduct is immoral. The committee claimed the regulations are needed to combat discrimination against homosexuals. . . .

Luke Gormally, a fellow at London’s Linacre Centre, a Christian bioethics institute, put it this way: “The Committee could not be clearer in saying that they believe the freedom to live a practicing homosexual lifestyle trumps the freedom to live a religious lifestyle.”

The committee explicitly said that no exemption should be made for Christian schools. So, unbelievable though it sounds, Gormally notes, when it comes to sexual morality, the committee would make it illegal for Christian schools “to teach that Christianity and its principles are ‘objectively true.’” . . .

Now, the Blair government is attempting to rush the law through both houses of Parliament before opponents have time to organize. The vote will take place on Wednesday.

Read more.

Prayer request

Cathy Seipp, one of the bloggers listed on our blogroll, is in the final stages of lung cancer. Please take a moment this morning to pray for Cathy and for her daughter, Maia, a very bright and talented young woman in her own right.

(Via Kathryn Lopez and Mark Steyn at The Corner)

Perfidious Columbia Watch III

Well, it's more-or-less official: barring a change in policy, we are going to give those Iraqis who were stupid enough to trust us ye olde shaft. In this week's New Yorker, George Packer (The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq), who supported the original decision to go to war, tells the story of Perfidious Columbia's treatment of those "mostly young men and women who embraced America’s project so enthusiastically that they were prepared to risk their lives for it."

Packer recently went to Iraq looking for the answer to one question: "Were there contingency plans for Iraqis, and, if so, whom did they include, and would the Iraqis have to wait for a final American departure? Would any Iraqis be evacuated to the U.S.?"

Okay, two questions. The answer?

No one at the Embassy was willing to speak on the record about Iraqi staff, except an official spokesman, Lou Fintor, who read me a statement: “Like all residents of Baghdad, our local employees must attempt to maintain their daily routines despite the disruptions caused by terrorists, extremists, and criminals. The new Iraqi government is taking steps to improve the security situation and essential services in Baghdad. The Iraq security forces, in coördination with coalition forces, are now engaged in a wide-range effort to stabilize the security situation in Baghdad. . . . President Bush strongly reaffirmed our commitment to work with the government of Iraq to answer the needs of all Iraqis.”

For those who don't speak Gobbledygook, that means "no."

Continue reading "Perfidious Columbia Watch III" »

March 19, 2007

’Why the Rush?’

In today's BreakPoint commentary, Mark Earley weighs in on the HPV vaccine controversy:

State battles over Gardasil are, on one level, the latest battle over whose view of sexuality is going to prevail. The secular view is that, of course, kids will engage in sex, and the government’s job is to keep them from getting pregnant and contracting diseases. By contrast, the Judeo-Christian ethic teaches that sex ought to be reserved for marriage.

Read more.

A new twist on "I’m my own grandmother"

This weekend the New York Times had an article about the inheritance battle going on between the former partner of Olive Watson, granddaughter of IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, Sr., and the Watson estate. Seems that in 1991, Olive legally adopted Patricia Ann Spado (they are on year apart in age, and were at the time in a lesbian relationship) so that, according to court documents filed by Ms. Spado, she would qualify as an heir to Ms. Watson's estate. The partnership broke up less than a year after the adoption, and when Olive's mother died in 2004, her will left the family trust established by her husband, Thomas J. Watson, Jr., to be divided among their 18 grandchildren. Ms. Spado now claims that since Olive adopted her, she technically is the 19th grandchild and entitled to a portion of the estate.

Riddle of the day: If you adopt your lesbian partner, are you having incestuous intimate relations with your daughter, or is this just an updated verse to the C&W song "I am my own grandpa"?

March 16, 2007

Not an outcry but a celebration

Diane, I think you are right. The problem was not the fact that General Pace spoke out about his personal beliefs, but that his beliefs went contrary to those of radical homosexual activists and their friends in the MSM. Imagine if General Pace had announced that his personal belief was that homosexuals ought to be allowed to serve openly in the mililtary. If he had, we would not have witnessed an "outcry," but a celebration. He is not being attacked for discussing his personal beliefs, but for holding the "wrong" ones.

Too many commentators have said, incorrectly, that General Pace called homosexuality "immoral." He didn't. He called homosexual acts immoral. Big difference. The temptation to engage in sexual sin, whether it be fornication, adultery, child molestation, or homosexual behavior, is not immoral--it's how we deal with it.

A note on Gen. Pace’s ’apology’

I think what actually happened there, Diane, is that Pace apologized not for his beliefs, but for focusing on them in his statement instead of keeping the focus on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Which makes sense, I think.

RE: The Truth behind the ’Outcry’

When I first read Gen. Pace's comments, my thoughts were, "He's going to be crucified by the gay activists!" It didn't take long, as Anne notes, for the "outcry" to begin.

Actually, I found Gen. Pace refreshingly honest. I imagine most Americans would agree that the practice of homosexuality is immoral, but we've been too cowed by the radical gays to speak up lest we be labeled hateful homophobes. Sadly, Gen. Pace was forced to apologize for telling the Truth, and THAT is what should make Christians throughout this land shudder.

When I first went to Russia in the mid-1990s, I met Christians there who told me they had been praying for persecution to come to the church in America -- not because they hated us, but because they knew that such persecution would make us strong. My fear is that their prayer may be answered -- not in some far distant future, but within my lifetime. When I heard that Gen. Pace had apologized for speaking about his personal beliefs (the privatization of faith), I knew that what was once unthinkable -- the passage of laws outlawing Christianity in America -- had become more likely. The secularists are chipping away at our right to proclaim the Truth found in God's Word. Soon, they will make it a crime even to believe.

Wake up, Christians, and get on your knees to repent for our nation's sins. As has been said before, "If God doesn't judge America, He's going to owe Sodom and Gomorrah an apology!"

Hanging in the balance

Martha blogged here before about the GodMen movement. Last night's Nightline broadcast featured a story on the manly Christian phenomenon, and it was a very favorable piece. Led by laymen, GodMen seeks to restore a healthy sense of masculinity to Christian men. Arguing that Christianity has become feminized, one of the speakers featured in the accompanying Good Morning America segment humorously laments that a lot of the music in contemporary Christian services these days is a little like "prom songs to God." Our own Chuck Colson has the same beef.

A soundbite from the clip is what caught my attention, though. Speaking of Jesus, Paul Coughlin, one of the founders of GodMen, told reporter John Donovan that "the tender stuff doesn't work without the tough stuff."

His words are straightforward, but they carry an insight that we don't often see today. We hear a lot about God's love and mercy and forgiveness, and while these things are true of God, they are often used by us humans as an excuse to do whatever we feel like doing, hoping beyond all hope (and reason) that God will be indulgent and look the other way.

Which works great, until we're the one who has been wronged.

Continue reading "Hanging in the balance" »

A Biological Link to Homosexuality?

Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has both the religious right and cultural left in an uproar. In a recent commentary, Mohler ceded that sexual orientation could be partly caused by biological factors, upsetting religious conservatives who consider it solely a matter of choice. Mohler went on to say that “the biblical condemnation of all homosexual behaviors would not be compromised or mitigated in the least by such a discovery,” which angered gay activists.

On the surface it would appear that Dr. Mohler is holding conflicting viewpoints: namely, that something that is biologically determined is a sin. But look closely at what he said. He indicated that the behaviors, not the inclinations, are sinful. This is key, especially for those holding a biblical worldview.

Because of the Fall, it would not be surprising if some day researchers discovered genetic links to proclivities like anger, violence, alcoholism, and even same-sex orientation. At the same time, a genetic proclivity does not justify behavior. We should no more condone homosexual behavior for those with an inherited predisposition, than we should condone spousal abuse for those genetically inclined toward violence.

What further angered gay advocates was Mohler’s suggestion that if homosexuality could be “fixed” effectively in utero, he would be all for it. One activist saw an opportunity to wield the mighty “H” word. “What bothers me is the hypocrisy," Jennifer Chrisler said. "In one breath, they say the sanctity of an unborn life is unconditional, and in the next breath, it's OK to perform medical treatments on them because of their own moral convictions, not because there's anything wrong with the child."

Continue reading "A Biological Link to Homosexuality?" »

March 15, 2007

The Truth behind the ’Outcry’

The Washington Post informs us that Marine Gen. Peter Pace caused an "outcry" when he called homosexual behavior immoral (just as he did adulterous behavior, as Chuck notes on today's BreakPoint.) 

I spent years working as a newspaper journalist. Let me tell you, dear readers, what the Post means by an "outcry."

Reporters from the mainstream media, upon hearing the general's comment, race back to their desks and call up every gay activist they know; gay leaders (predictably) express outrage. Meanwhile, congressmen to whom gay activist groups have given campaign money start churning out press releases attacking the General's comments.

And hey, presto, we have an "outcry."

By the way, have you noticed how many of these types of stories contain similar background information? For instance, reporters almost invariably include statements regarding how many Arabic speakers, intelligence officers, medical personnel and "decorated soldiers" are among those discharged? (What? No homosexual cooks, clerks, guards, or grease monkeys? No homosexual sailor has ever been thrown into the brig for public drunkenness?) Reporters also regularly remind us of how many other countries allow open homosexuals to serve (countries that are not, as the U.S. is, responsible for basically the whole world). The similarities may be occuring because reporters are getting their information from the same gays-in-the-military advocacy groups, such as this one.

Continue reading "The Truth behind the ’Outcry’" »

Re: Money Well Spent

Actually, Gina, there is a Beethoven set. It's nowhere near as good a deal. Not only because it's "only" 40 discs instead of 155 but also because for the price, you could, with a little planning and help from your friends, do better.

Sticking to what the Brits call "bargain-price" releases, you could get the symphonies, performed by the Tonhalle Orchestra and conducted by David Zinman, for around $20.

The complete string quartets, performed by the Alban Berg Quartet, will set you back $29.

The  complete concertos, performed by the likes of Janos Starker, Steven Bishop Kovacevich and Bernard Haitink, can be had for about $25.

That leaves the solo piano music and some of the chamber music but also $55 to play with. And these performances are superior to what the box set offers.

It's ironic: we are living in a time when classical music sales, as a percentage of the market (maybe even in absolute terms) are at or near all-time lows. Yet, for the fan, there's never been a better time to collect the stuff. Prices are low and if you don't mind shopping online, the selection is great. The continued withdrawal of the big labels from the market has created room for small and boutique labels that make classic performances -- many dating back to the birth of the recording art -- available.

And because I'm silly, I think that there's still hope for a renewed appreciation of our cultural patrimony.

Continue reading "Re: Money Well Spent" »

Oops! (They did it again)

Help me understand why mandatory drug testing for teens is a bad idea, when mandating HPV vaccine for young girls, at taxpayers' expense, is a good idea.

Teen drug use is far more prevalent (over 45% of high school seniors reported using marijuana) than teen incidents of cervical cancer caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). And teen drug use has societal implications, like a whacked-out kid crashing a car into someone else's, stealing to get the money to buy drugs, or committing violent acts while under the influence. Cervical cancer primarily affects an individual, at a rate of 10,000 per 7.5 million women a year (and not all of those cases of cervical cancer are tied to HPV). It does not spread like, say, chicken pox or measles through merely being in the same room as someone else with it, but is contracted through the result of a personal choice to have sexual intercourse either with multiple partners or with someone who has had multiple partners.

I'm confused.

Point proven

In the Washington Post, Shankar Vedantam writes,

A wide body of psychological research shows that on any number of hot-button issues, people seem hard-wired to believe the worst about those who disagree with them. Most people can see the humor in such behavior when it doesn't involve things they care about: If you don't care about sports, for example, you roll your eyes when fans of one team question the principles and parentage of fans of a rival team.

"We are really bad about putting ourselves in other people's places and looking at the world the way they look at it," said Glenn D. Reeder, a social psychologist at Illinois State University who recently conducted a study into how supporters and critics of the Iraq war have come to believe entirely different narratives about the war -- and about each other. "We find it difficult to grant that other people come to their conclusions in good faith if they reach a conclusion that is different than ours," he said.

When Reeder and his colleagues asked pro-war and antiwar Americans how they would describe the other side's motives, the researchers found that the groups suffered from an identical bias: People described others who agreed with them as motivated by ethics and principle, but felt that the people who disagreed with them were motivated by narrow self-interest.

And then the commenters proceed to prove him right. Go take a look; it's quite amusing, to borrow Vedantam's own maligned word. But it should also make us think a little about our own perceptions and motivations, and in particular, whether or not we as Christians are remembering to extend Christ-like charity to our opponents.

(H/T CT Weblog)

Re: Money Well-Spent

Roberto -- make it Beethoven and I'll consider it. ;-)

Actually, truth be known, I just splurged on Johnny Cash. Check it out.

Money Well-Spent

A while back, Catherine asked how you would spend $100 to further the Kingdom of God. My belated answer is a donation to groups like World Vision and Compassion International. I strongly believe in what my church calls Corporal Works of Mercy:

  1. Feed the hungry
  2. Give drink to the thirsty
  3. Clothe the naked
  4. Shelter the homeless
  5. Visit the imprisoned
  6. Visit the sick
  7. Bury the dead

If, like me, you are blessed to have another $100 to spend, this is, hands down, the best way to spend it on yourself. For less than the price of stylish shoes, you can have 155 (!) CDs of the music of the greatest composer of them all: Johann Sebastian Bach.

While it's not his complete oeuvre, it's all the sacred cantatas -- sixty (!) discs worth -- the B-minor Mass, the Passions and much of the great organ music. It's the Goldberg Variations, the Brandenburgs, and too much more to list. (Amazon doesn't even try.)

Continue reading "Money Well-Spent" »

And you thought there was nothing to watch on TV

Barbara Nicolosi reports on positive developments for both the "TV writing Hall[s]." Barbara Hall was the creator of Joan of Arcadia; her sister Karen, whose blog I've quoted here in the past, wrote for M*A*S*H, Judging Amy, and many other shows. Both are devout Catholics with a strong understanding of what it means to incorporate one's faith with one's art. (Speaking of which, if you live in Florida, this presentation that Karen's doing on the subject in May sounds well worth attending.)

And both have shows in development. If all goes well -- never a guarantee in television -- both Vows and Demons will be on the air next season. Two shows from two women who have a firm grasp of both how to tell a good story, and the reality of the battle between good and evil. Both sound worth supporting -- if you're brave enough, that is. Personally, I can see myself having insomnia for the next twenty years if I watched Demons, but at least I can tell others to watch it. Perhaps those of you who are not spineless cowards a little bit timid like me can make up for my absence.

And perhaps you could also say a prayer for both Hall sisters. In a business like this, trying to do work like this, I'm sure they'll need it.

When You Care Enough to -- What?

Ecards Here are two recent stories that highlight the divergent views our culture has both on pre- and post-natal life and death and on the concept and consequences of "choice."

The after-abortion counseling talk center Exhale has just released a line of 6 e-cards to send to post-abortion women. Read the story here. The sentiments on the cards range from sympathy (note that it is sympathy for loss and the grief experienced as a result), to God's promise to be with us through "all of life's transitions." The five women who formed Exhale say in part the reason was to

create awareness that abortion, and having feelings afterward, is normal in the reproductive lives of women and girls.

Meanwhile, a New York Times article this week describes the support and encouragement perinatal hospice programs are providing to parents of children born with terminal illnesses. The article follows the story of the Kilibarda family whose daughter was born with a lethal genetic problem, Trisomy 18, a rare type of disorder that means there is something wrong with every cell in her body.

Most couples choose to have an abortion when they learn that the fetus has a fatal condition. But experts say about 20 to 40 percent of families given such diagnoses opt to carry the pregnancy to term, and an increasing number of them, like the Kilibardas, have turned to programs called perinatal hospice for help with the practical and spiritual questions that arise.

There are currently around 40 perinatal hospices in the country. According to the NYT,

The numbers are growing but small, said Jody Chrastek, Deeya’s director, because many health care workers do not know the program exists, and some doctors are hostile to families continuing the pregnancies. “Some have been told they’re wasting their time for a baby that would be dead anyway,” Ms. Kuebelbeck said. “Some have been told they’re wasting the doctor’s time.”

Continue reading "When You Care Enough to -- What?" »

Re: Barbarians R Us

Actually, this has nothing to do with anything that Anne wrote but the title reminded me of how much I enjoyed "Barbarians II," the recent History Channel sequel to -- what else? -- "Barbarians." Even though my ancestors, unlike those of some of my declasse friends (they know who they are), weren't barbarians, I'm a sucker for barbarians.

Having watched all eight installments, many more than once, I thought, "Why can't we combine this with the NFL Draft?" A "barbarian draft" is in order. Here are my top four picks rated on impact, staying power, high body counts and overall mayhem.

  1. Vikings. Their impact was both widespread and lasting. They rate high for mayhem, although the body count, compared to, say, the Mongols, is on the low side.
  2. Goths. They're the Roger Bannister of barbarianism: they sacked Rome first, an act which heretofore was deemed impossible and prompted the writing of City of God. They eventually conquered Spain and kept preserved parts of Roman civilization in the West for two centuries after the fall of Rome. Only so-so in the mayhem and body count department. (Their sacking of Rome was, as these things go, rather polite and restrained.) 
  3. Vandals. The name says it all. If the Goths weakened the western empire, the Vandals finished it off by depriving it of its economic base in North Africa and then sacking the capital. They get high scores for mayhem and body counts. That they were Arians who persecuted Orthodox Christians almost pulls them ahead of the Goths.   
  4. Mongols. Actually should probably be rated higher but I don't really consider them "barbarians."  Still, from nomadic herdsmen to controlling nearly half of the world's land mass within three generations is pretty impressive if you ask me. So they make the cut.   

At the bottom? Huns. A brief burst of mayhem and then, nothing. Lombards? I like the name and the bit about turning your enemies' skulls into drinking vessels. I may be underrating them. They could be a sleeper pick in later rounds. Saxons? Yeah, if you're entirely Britain-centric. But there's a reason they settled for raiding Britain: they couldn't cut it on the continent against the Big Boys. Franks? Well, I don't regard the people of Clovis and Charlemagne as barbarians -- call me silly.

Given my addiction to the History Channel and the Discovery Networks, I know I can come up with other draft lists: maniacal despots, Fascist subalterns, crazy cult leaders, etc. What I want to know is: what's your draft?

March 14, 2007

Article roundup

In case you haven't seen them yet, the following articles by Point bloggers are up at BreakPoint's main website:

"Worth Wedding For: Does America Have a 'Marriage Gap'?" by Anne Morse

"Vive la Différence!: How to Win the World without Losing Your Identity" by T. M. Moore

Barbarians ’R’ Us?

In her most recent column, Townhall writer Rebecca Hagelin notes that nobody celebrated the fact that the U.S. population hit the 300 million mark last October. Environmental extremists did their usual crabbing about how all those selfish babies consume far too many resources. But we should have celebrated our population growth, Hagelin says, because it is keeping America from slipping into a death spiral of decline, hopelessness, and despair--as Russia, France, and Britain are currently doing, among other countries.

Hagelin quotes Allan Carlson, founder of the World Congress of Families, who notes that declining populations will not be able to maintain a nation's infrastructure, run the factories, farms and armies, and pay taxes for essential social services. "A birth dearth provides far more challenges than a population explosion," Carlson says--so bring on the babies.

He and Hagelin are right as far as they go. But when one considers that more and more American babies of all races are being born out of wedlock--many into chaotic home lives--one wonders uneasily about how this population increase will affect us down the road. One thing we already know: Children born out of wedlock are far more likely to engage in destructive behavior, including crime. Before we celebrate having enough warm bodies to work on the farms, in the factories and in fast food restaurants, we ought to consider that, if trends hold, a great many of today's babies--including, perhaps, baby number 300,000,000--will be behind bars, not growing crops and flipping burgers.      

A Little Too Ironic, Don’t Ya Think?

Devil Oh Hollywood! There you go again. A friend of mine loaned me the DVD of The Devil Wears Prada and in a moment of weakness this weekend I watched it. There were a few witty and clever lines like when Andy (short for Andrea) asks if a certain black dress will fit her and the designer Nigel replies, "A little Crisco and some fishing wire and we'll be in business," or when a fashion-obsessed colleague named Emily says, "I'm one stomach flu away from my ideal weight." A couple of half-chuckles here and there, but overall, there was little more to this film than one would get from flipping through a fashion magazine.

It's little surprise then that I nearly pulled a muscle rolling my eyes at the climax of the film, where Andy's boyfriend Nate makes one of those oh-so-ludicrous Hollywood speeches. Nate is trying to help Andy see how she's changed since she started working for fashion icon Miranda Priestly. He says: "I wouldn't care if you were there pole-dancing all night, as long as you did it with a little integrity."

Now that's a stirring speech for you...

Shame on me, though, for expecting anything more.

Rapture Madness

Here's why I I'd rather read Harry Potter than Left Behind:

Real estate agent Dave Eschenbach is an active member of his church, but he feels uncomfortable around a sizable portion of U.S. Christians -- those who believe they could be transported to heaven at any moment.

Several years ago, Eschenbach had a boss who scheduled meetings around the rapture, the term for an event that around 20 percent of U.S. Christians believe is imminent.

"One day he announced to the employees that they probably wouldn't be there next week because of the rapture," Eschenbach said of his former boss. "His church had decided that the rapture would happen that week."

This is the real meaning of being so "heavenly"-minded that you're no earthly good.

Cyber Religion At Large

After visiting 15 temples over three exhausting days, at the urging of his bride's mother, Hindu Mahesh Mohanan had had enough.

"I thought it would be so much easier if I could just do it on the Internet," he told the Washington Post.

With a friend, he launched Saranam.com, a website that allows Hindus from around the world to purchase pujas, special prayers to gods for specific areas of concern--family, wealth, health, happiness, etc.

Saranam.com is a part of the booming trend in cyber religion. Between 1999 and 2004 the number of website dealing with religion jumped from 14 million to 200 million. And searches for "God" on Google now return about 396 million hits.

Even technology can't quench the eternity that is written on every man's heart. As Christians, we ought to be taking every cyber opportunity, as well as every face-to-face opportunity, to share the hope that is ours through Christ.

Accuracy Is Beside the Point

From Yahoo News:

A scholar looking into the factual basis of a popular but widely criticized documentary that claims to have located the tomb of Jesus said Tuesday that a crucial piece of evidence filmmakers used to support their claim is a mistake.

Stephen Pfann, a textual scholar and paleographer at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, said he has released a paper claiming the makers of "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" were mistaken when they identified an ancient ossuary from the cave as belonging to the New Testament's Mary Magdalene . . .

Despite widespread ridicule from scholars, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" drew more than 4 million viewers when it aired on the Discovery Channel on March 4. A companion book, "The Jesus Family Tomb," has rocketed to sixth place on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list . . .

The scholars who analyzed the Greek inscription on one of the ossuaries after its discovery read it as "Mariamene e Mara," meaning "Mary the teacher" or "Mary the master."

. . .

But having analyzed the inscription, Pfann published a detailed article on his university's Web site asserting that it doesn't read "Mariamene" at all.

Continue reading "Accuracy Is Beside the Point" »

Oops!

Hpvvaccine In his standup routines, Bill Cosby used to do a bit about how the very last thing you want to hear the surgeon say when you’re on the table is “Oops.” It’s unfortunate that, ever since the new HPV vaccine came out, all we seem to be hearing is “Oops.”

The latest round comes from Texas, where the House voted yesterday to overturn Gov. Rick Perry’s mandatory vaccination order. It’s to be hoped that this rebuke will send a message to the 20 or so other states, including my own state of Virginia, that are enacting or considering such a requirement, although they may already have been feeling the same heat of public pressure that caused Merck to back down from its nationwide lobbying campaign.

That would be the campaign during which, according to the Weekly Standard, “Gov. Perry's chief of staff met with key aides about Gardasil the same day its manufacturer donated money to Perry's campaign. That day, Merck's political action committee forked over $5,000 to Perry and $5,000 total to eight state lawmakers.”

Hard to believe that our lawmakers would sell out the health of young women and girls for political or financial gain? Consider this. Several years ago when I was working at the Family Research Council—yes, that very same organization now accused of wanting women to get cervical cancer—some of our staff members, along with members from other organizations like Focus on the Family and Independent Women’s Forum, lobbied hard for adding text to condom packages stating that HPV causes cancer and that condoms were not adequate protection. (Yes, despite all those “I didn’t know! Did you know? Goodness gracious, I must go tell everybody!” commercials that have been shoved down our throats over the past several months, the HPV-cancer link has been a matter of public record for years now.) We were told not only that these warnings were a terrible idea, but that we shouldn’t be spreading the news so loudly. Might discourage the kids from using condoms, you know.

But of course, that was before there was money to be made from filling the kids full of a brand-new vaccine, whose side effects and longevity haven’t yet been fully studied, for it.

(Special thanks to Mariam Bell and Anne Morse for their help with the research for this post.)

March 13, 2007

What’s ’Next’?

Next Melissa Kurtz over at Common Grounds Online has a good review of Michael Crichton's latest fictional romp into the world of genetic science. The book is called Next, and according to Kurtz, the strength in Crichton's work is that he pushes us to ponder the question inherent in the title. 

Re: Suicide on Campus

At the risk of seeming self-promoting, I wrote about this subject seven years ago (has it been that long?) for Boundless. While I look back on much that I have written and cringe and long for a flux capacitor so that I could erase all evidence of my uloste from the time-space continuum, I'm okay with this bit of evidence for my transitory existence.

[All] the talk of numbers and patterns still leaves us with the question: "Why do people, especially the young, take their own lives?" The most common factor is mental illness — in particular, "mood disorders" such as clinical depression and manic-depressive illness, also known as bi-polar disorder.

Clinical depression is a medical condition "which paralyzes all the otherwise vital forces that make us human ..." leaving us with a life that is "bloodless" and "painless." Manic-depressive illness adds the element of mania, which leaves people feeling exultant, grandiloquent, expansive and irritable. Contrary to what you may have heard, the holidays are not the peak time for suicide. Late spring and early summer are . . .

Making matters worse is that, unlike Hamlet, whose fear of God and knowledge that his life wasn’t his own — "conscience doth make cowards of us all" — stayed his hand, we have no such belief. On the contrary, we’ve embraced a personal autonomy that makes every individual the arbiter of life and death. We believe that our person is ours to do with as we please. States such as Oregon have even created a "right" to have a physician assist you in the act of killing yourself.

When you tell people that life isn’t worth living and, what’s more, it’s not sacred, is it a surprise when increasing numbers of them choose to end their life? The surprise would be if they didn’t.

Continue reading "Re: Suicide on Campus" »

Welcome

The Point has a brand-new blogger: Jason Bruce, who also serves as the program services specialist for BreakPoint. You can read more about Jason on our Contributor Bios page. Welcome aboard!

Giving a true ’Gift’

The_ultimate_gift The Ultimate Gift, mentioned here last month, is now out in theaters. Chuck Colson talks about the lesson of the film in today's BreakPoint commentary.

If leaving your legacy is something you think you might need to learn more about, I urge you to see this film and take your family—because the sad fact is that, even among Christians, there are far too many “Red Stevenses” out there: good people who, for one reason or another, neglect to give their kids a true understanding of faith and how to practice it in everyday life. Then we sit back and complain that the younger generation has no values. How can they if we did not pass them along?

Of course living a good life for our kids to see is important, but as the film shows, it’s not enough.

Read more.

Judging the Merciful

Here’s the scene: a notorious sinner is dragged into the middle of a group of religious people. Someone at the heart of the scene has mercy. Did the sinner go and sin no more after that? Was the sinner who was spared that day truly one of God’s children after that?

Perhaps if any of us were without sin, we might be eligible to cast the first stone or sit in the judgment seat. But we’re not. You’ve read such a story before, whether it be the adulterous woman caught in the act or a weaselly tax-collector like Zaccheus. You’ve seen Jesus forgive a traitor like Peter or a blood-thirsty Christ-hater like Paul. Why then does it so unsettle us when we see mercy in our own day to the most notorious of sinners? Is it because we’ve got so much of the prodigal’s older brother in us, that we just can’t stand the sight of grace? Does God's forgiveness still curdle our stomach like it did with Jonah, who just couldn't stand the sight of those nasty Ninevites receiving a second chance?

The question isn’t, “Was it for real?” The question is, “Who are we to judge?”

I wonder if we even have room in our worldview for a God whose mercy could extend this far. And trust me, I'm asking myself the very same question.

(You can read the full story at the New York Times link by clicking on the "Free Trial" button.)

 

Suicide on Campus

A recent Salon article discusses the legal problems that colleges and universities face when their students either commit or contemplate committing suicide. 

Despite the legal conundrum which college and parents or students face, there is a bigger question to contemplate: why do nine percent of college students contemplate suicide?

One big reason, I think, is that they’ve imbibed the modern notion that they are truly autonomous beings. In their aloneness they think they are their own creators who can choose—without consequence to anyone else—to end their life. Author David Novak shows how "radical" this “foundational autonomy” is. This modern radical notion of autonomy is antithetical to how we’re created. We were created to be in union with God, family, and community. 

God is truly the only autonomous Being. He created us and gave us the gift of life. To commit suicide is in essence to steal God’s property. Moreover, it also shows a lack of faith in God’s mercy, goodness, and trustworthiness.

We can never be happy until we place our trust in God, and truly believe that all the tears of suffering will be wiped away in the life to come. Trust in God is the only way to order a disordered life.   

What consensus?

Via Mona Charen at The Corner: Global warming researchers are not quite as monolithic a crowd as they've been portrayed, reports the New York Times.

But part of [Al Gore's] scientific audience is uneasy. In talks, articles and blog entries that have appeared since his film and accompanying book came out last year, these scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore’s central points are exaggerated and erroneous. They are alarmed, some say, at what they call his alarmism.

“I don’t want to pick on Al Gore,” Don J. Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, told hundreds of experts at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. “But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data.”

Mr. Gore, in an e-mail exchange about the critics, said his work made “the most important and salient points” about climate change, if not “some nuances and distinctions” scientists might want. “The degree of scientific consensus on global warming has never been stronger,” he said, adding, “I am trying to communicate the essence of it in the lay language that I understand.”

Although Mr. Gore is not a scientist, he does rely heavily on the authority of science in “An Inconvenient Truth,” which is why scientists are sensitive to its details and claims.

Criticisms of Mr. Gore have come not only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists like Dr. Easterbook, who told his peers that he had no political ax to grind.

Some here have made the point before, but it's worth making again: We should beware of claiming "science says this or that" unless we know that science is absolutely certain and in agreement, just as we would beware of making any other sweeping generalization.

Perfidious Columbia Watch II

In response to a previous post about the very real prospect of the U.S. abandoning those Iraqis who, at risk to their lives, helped American forces, a friend of mine, a Vietnam veteran, wrote that it reminded him of 1975.

Well, here's another trip down memory lane, Ron. Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Lisa Barron, who spent fourteen months in Iraq covering the war, tells the story of an Iraqi woman code-named "Jina Russell," who served as interpreter for the U.S. Army.

Because of all the horrors she has witnessed, Jina suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and continues to risk her life on a daily basis to help the U.S. government. As a result, both Shiite and Sunni extremists view her as a collaborator; she is in danger of being kidnapped or assassinated, and can never return to civilian life inside her own country. She is desperate to come to the United States to work, but cannot get a visa.

Washington's recent plan to allow 7,000 Iraqi refugees into the United States in the next year excludes Iraqis who are still inside their own country, no matter what they have sacrificed by cooperating with American troops. The only special visa program to resettle Iraqi military interpreters is grossly inadequate -- officials have capped it at 50 people a year, and there is already a waiting list of several years.

Things aren't expected to get any better any time soon -- "despite the $8 billion monthly price tag for the war, it plans to spend just $20 million in the coming year to shelter Iraqi refugees overseas and resettle them here." And, in a -- to use a word that increasingly applies to this war and the way we treat our erstwhile friends -- Kafkaesque turn, those Iraqis, like Jina, who helped us "are, in fact, at the bottom of the list of Iraqis who can hope to set foot on American soil any time soon."

I never thought that the Iraq war met the Jus ad bellum requirements of the Just War doctrine. As  then-Cardinal Ratzinger put it, the "concept of a 'preventive war' does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church." But I never imagined that our treatment of our friends would be so shabby as to make me wonder if the Jus in bello requirements were being violated. But after reading about what Barron calls the "blatant disregard" and "completely lack of accountability" towards these people, my imagination has been stretched in ways that I deeply resent but not nearly as much I resent the treatment of those whose only "crime" was to trust us.

No en Nuestro Nombre

Displaced But Not Misplaced

This past Sunday was a Global Day of Prayer for Burma. If you are not familiar with the injustice and suffering going on there, take a few minutes to read about it here.

As my friend Tom Walsh tells me, Burma is "ruled by a particuarly brutal regime which, in addition to thwarting democracy by keeping Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (the elected President) under arrest for almost 2 decades, has conducted a savage war against the country's ethnic minorities for decades. Millions are refugees living in vast camps or internally displaced persons fleeing through the forests. Because the country is so obscure & far away, the people of Burma do not get the attention they deserve from the world, so it's up to the church to love them."

Take a few minutes to pray for the people of Burma. The following poem by a Burmese refugee, Rev. Dr. Saw Simon, Principal of the Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School College, Mae La Refugee Camp, reminds me of their plight and reminds me that I too should see myself as a pilgrim passing through this world:

Continue reading "Displaced But Not Misplaced" »

March 12, 2007

Are We or Aren’t We?

Last week I quoted a piece posted in The Catholic Register titled "No Deal, Rudy," in which Mark O'Malley says Catholics voters should not support a pro-abortion presidential candidate even if he does promise to appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court. O'Malley also said the U.S. has "built the first abortion businesses in Afghanistan and Iraq, ever. Shamefully, our taxes paid to build and operate a Baghdad abortion clinic...And that happened under a pro-life president. What would a pro-abortion president do?"

O'Malley may have seen this bogus Washington Post piece (scroll all the way down) claiming that the U.S. is building abortion clinics in Iraq because so many U.S. servicemen rape Iraqi women in their spare time, with the approval of their superior officers.

As Joe Carter writes in our comment section, "Fortunately, the story is false. It appears to be an urban legend." And he emailed me: "After I read the whole thing I realized it was a fake news story created to make the military look bad. For propaganda it[']s rather sloppy. If I were going to create a lie like that I'd have attributed it to 'unnamed sources' and implied that the government was trying to keep it all a secret. Then, if anyone tried to verify it--and couldn't--it would seem even more plausible!"

The Catholic Register has, since last week, cut out the lines about the U.S. funding and building abortion clinics (perhaps someone tipped off the editors regarding the phony origins of this story) but the piece continues to claim the U.S. "brought the first abortion business to Afghanistan ever." (The original version of the story is reprinted here.) If this is true--and I wish the Register would provide documentation--it is, as I noted before, disturbing news.