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September 21, 2007

Training up little barbarians

Chuck talks today about a Wall Street Journal column by Tony Woodlief, who believes many parents are inadvertently raising up little barbarians. In his own home--which includes four young sons--Woodlief says he and his wife have banished the word "fair," because children are prone to using it to manipulate their parents--children "who, like little human-rights lawyers, insist on fairness as an imperative." At his house, "parents are to be obeyed first, and politely questioned later. That seems oppressive to parents with the unconstrained worldview, who want to nurture Junior's sense of autonomy and broad-minded reasoning. It's awfully useful, however, when Junior is about to ride his bike into the path of an oncoming car. Obedience may be a dirty word in progessive schools and enlightened parenting circles, but it saves lives."

This assertion reminded me of something that took place many years ago, when my sons were about 2 and 4.

Our next-door neighbor had a 4-year old daughter, and we used to take the kids to the beach and to the park together. One afternoon when I was the one doing the driving, the sky darkened and rain began to pour down. I was at a busy intersection at rush hour, and could scarcely see ten feet ahead of the windshield. At the precise moment the light turned green, my neighbor's child--let's call her Lindsay--opened up her umbrella, blocking much of my view of traffic. I was afraid to move. "Lindsay," I said. "Close your umbrella." Lindsay--who was being raised by an "unrestrained vision" mother who, probably not coincidentally, had graduated from a teacher's college--immediately began to argue with me. As horns began to honk behind me, I cut her off: "Lindsay! Shut the umbrella RIGHT NOW!!" She was shocked into silence--and closed the umbrella.

I apologized to her annoyed mother, but I shouldn't have. Her daughter's disobedience--nurtured by her mother's desire to give Lindsay a strong "sense of autonomy"--had put us all in danger.

I haven't seen this family in some 15 years, but I hate to think of what kind of person Lindsay is today if her mother didn't change her approach to childrearing. If not--well, given what Lindsay was capable of at age 4, heaven help us.

Nearly 200 Californians Butchered This Month!

Appalling figures. Did they grab your attention? They sure grabbed mine.

Let me be forthright... I have a love-hate relationship with the media. Ok, more the latter than the former. In fact, sometimes I seriously wonder why so many people take the time to watch the 5 o'clock or 11 o'clock evening news... it's depressing and politically twisted! I'd rather end my day on a happier note.

At any rate, given my confessions you can probably understand why this article, "Eye of the Beholder" by well-known author Victor Hanson, tickled my fancy when I read it. I hope you find it entertaining as well. :-)

Menopause for the Good of the Species

If you are a mid-life woman going through “the change,” you can take comfort in those “hot flash” moments. Really.

New research indicates that menopause helps improve the survival of the young. How so? Debora MacKenzie of the New Scientist explains,

Data from Africa indicates that the menopause creates grandmothers without young children of their own that can improve the survival chances of their daughters' offspring…Human female reproductive functions stop around age 50, and start tapering off even earlier. In other mammals, female reproduction simply stops because of ageing, at a variety of ages. But in humans the shutdown is deliberate and early. And it is genetically controlled, meaning the genes responsible were selected by evolution. (Emphasis added.)

“Selected by evolution”? If my memory serves me, it’s only within the last century or so that life expectancy has extended beyond what is now considered mid-life. I also seem to recall that that extension was primarily the result of (intelligently designed!) advances in medical science, not random variation and natural selection.

Well, so much for another study whose sole purpose is to validate neo-Darwinism. To such studies, it seems there’s no end. Sigh.

Nothing Says I Love You Like...

...having your parents sue the obstetrician because you were born. Ouch! Unbelievable.

I wouldn't be surprised to see the child sue the parent. I think she'd have a better case for emotional damage.

The Point Radio: Not a Problem, But an Opportunity

First The Da Vinci Code and then the Lost Tomb of Jesus. What's next?...

Click play above to listen.

Have you turned a problem into an opportunity? Share it with us in the comments section.

September 20, 2007

Book Blogging: Chesterton’s difficult certainty

I've really been enjoying the Father Brown stories (and the book is now, ahem, overdue at the library).  I've been reading them in the evening, and they're perfect because they're not so long that you have to stay up all night reading to find out what happened. They're incredibly creative, and the writing is wonderful.

There's something fairly typical about them in the terms of cozy mysteries, which is that Father Brown seems disheveled and unsophisticated, no one expects anything of him, but of course he's the one who always brilliantly figures out exactly what happened. A bit like Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, I guess (though perhaps it's the other way around, since Chesterton came first).

One of the things that has struck me is Chesterton's certainty about his faith, which clearly comes through in the stories. Sometimes I think he writes in a way which would offend those outside the realm of faith.  For example, in the story "The Secret Garden," [spoiler alert] the detective Valentin, an atheist, commits murder (and then suicide) rather than see incredibly rich Brayne donate his millions to the church. It does not seem entirely realistic, almost like Chesterton is writing to make a point about the depths to which atheism will push one.

Or, in "The Sins of Prince Saradine," where the Prince asks Father Brown if he believes in doom, and Brown replies, "No, I believe in Doomsday."

Brown, and Chesterton, are nothing if not certain. But I think it's a certainty many modern readers would find difficult to swallow.

As an artist, and a Christian, there's a constant balance between speaking truth and speaking it in such a way as to make it approachable and appealing. (I guess this is nothing different than what our churches struggle with.) Of course, the first goal -- speaking truth -- can't be compromised. And I'm not saying that Chesterton isn't appealing, but I think our writing today is necessarily a little softer.

I'm full of questions about this -- thoughts anyone?

The Amazing Disappearing Act

There's a well-written editorial that came my way today from Warren Smith of the Charlotte World. In it he discusses how city-planners have encouraged the good folk of Charlotte, North Carolina to look to Portland, Oregon as a model for city-planning. Despite Portland's ability to draw what some label as the creative class, something is notably missing in this urban wonderland. That is the children. Warren quotes Timothy Egan from a recent piece in the New York Times, saying:

"'Crime is down. New homes and businesses are sprouting everywhere. But in what may be Portland's trendiest and fastest-growing neighborhood, the number of school-age children grew by only three between the census counts in 1990 and 2000, according to demographers at Portland State University,' he wrote.

"Egan then comes to a conclusion that Charlotte should heed:  'Portland is one of the nation's top draws for the kind of educated, self-starting urbanites that midsize cities are competing to attract. But as these cities are remodeled to match the tastes of people living well in neighborhoods that were nearly abandoned a generation ago, they are struggling to hold on to enough children to keep schools running and parks alive with young voices.'

"One of the main reasons for this childless Utopia is the price of housing.   According to Egan, San Francisco, with its Silicon Valley chic, is the very poster child of the New Economy to which Charlotte aspires.  But it has a median house price of about $700,000 - and the lowest percentage of people under 18 of any large city in the nation, 14.5 percent.  That compares to 25.7 percent nationwide, according to the 2000 census."

Read the full article here. Maybe Charlotte's mayor and our own should act with the foresight of this Russian mayor.

Stop the presses! Liberals are committing democracy!

I read this piece about Maryland's Court of Appeals tossing out a suit demanding that Maryland discard a law forbidding same-sex couples to marry--and cracked up:

"Plaintiffs vowed to take the fight over gay marriage in Maryland to the Legislature after the state's highest court threw out a suit challenging a law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman."

Did you catch that? The plaintiff are threating to commit democracy!!!! They are going to take this polarizing issue out of the hands of judges and take their case directly to the people!

Excuse me, but.....isn't this supposed to be the way laws are made? By--you know--lawmakers who represent the people and who are accountable to them on Election Day?

For decades, left-wing extremists wanting to impose their vision on American society have deliberately bypassed state legislatures, turning instead to the courts where sympathetic, activist liberal judges do their bidding. It didn't work this time--so they are now threatening to go over the heads of judges and try to convince Marylanders that legalizing same-sex "marriage" would be a good thing--despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Continue reading "Stop the presses! Liberals are committing democracy!" »

Travis, wasn’t that a song?

I never thought it was quite as hilarious as it was supposed to be, though.

When Adultery Goes Wrong

There are probably a lot of lessons in this story.

A young married couple from the central Bosnian town of Zenica decided to divorce after realizing they had cheated on each other with each other on the internet, media reported Wednesday....

"I was suddenly in love again. It was beautiful, I thought I finally found someone who understands me, and who is in a similar situation - in a bad marriage, like I am," said Sana.

Both Sweetie and the Prince of Joy believed they found new soulmates and potential partners for the rest of their lives, so they agreed on a date to finally meet each other.

They were shocked when they realized that they actually knew each other, having been married for several years.

Aside from presenting a case study of being caught in the snares of sin (and the obvious problem of infidelity), this bizarre incident seems to testify to how blinding and debillitating selfishness can be to a marriage. Without knowing anything else about the couple, we know that they found themselves compatible enough to fall in love -- twice. So they are apparently capable of romancing and respecting each other, even if they failed to do so for reasons that one imagines are ultimately trivial.

The whole thing is laughably absurd, and more than a little pathetic. But how many marriages could be saved if a husband could see his wife (and vice versa) through tender eyes and a soft heart, rather than with resentment and pent-up frustration? How many Christian marriages would be saved if a husband could truly see his wife with the eyes of Christ?

The Case of the Never-Ending Lawsuit: Pearson v. Chung

Chungs It's another sad moment for justice in America. A couple of months ago, I let readers know about the case of a dry cleaner temporarily misplacing a pair of "Judge" Roy Pearson's name-brand pants and his subsequent lawsuit.

Thankfully, with common sense Judge Judith Bartnoff ruled against Pearson and said he was to repay the Chungs the cost of the suit. 

But Pearson, of course, has appealed. So the never-ending lawsuit, or as I call it, "The Case of the Name-Brand Pants" is still in court. Unfortunately, the Chungs have been bullied so much that they recently sold their business. 

Let us say a prayer for the Chungs, but also let us remember to pray for Pearson.

Illuminating the Word

St_john_bible If you get a chance to see the St. John's Bible -- which is "made with medieval techniques, but uses the NRSV translation (including the Apocrypha) and incorporates contemporary allusions in the art and modern technology in the planning" -- up close, you should. I saw some reproductions at the bookstore at McLean Bible Church and they were breathtaking. You can view more of the images at the project's official website.

The Point Radio: Someone Is Watching Your House

Someone is watching your house, and they’re giving good commentary on the 10th commandment....

Click play above to listen.

How do you nurture a spirit of contentment in your own life? Here are five tips:

Continue reading "The Point Radio: Someone Is Watching Your House" »

September 19, 2007

Thought for the day

I found this quote by Robert Heinlein so intriguing I'm stealing borrowing it from Jonah Goldberg and an anonymous correspondent over at The Corner:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Well . . . I can change a diaper.

Re: Is it just me

I noticed it too, Gina. Although I think the theme may have more to do with parenting than with kids.

Is it just me . . .

. . . or we do seem to have a theme going on here today?

For Sale: Bride, $29,995... Age 14

Too pricey? Would $19,995 be more affordable? No matter what your financial state, there's sure to be a bride available for any eligible man out there, just browse through the options at Marry Our Daughter.com. You're likely to find exactly what you're looking for... and so young too!

Think it's a hoax? You'd be right. But the 60 million site visitors who browsed through the pages of eligible bachlorettes didn't know the truth until this past Sunday. Perhaps there's a market for American child brides. Who knew?!

The controversial site caused quite an uproar in the blog community. Yet the purpose of the site is remunerative: to call attention to a very real problem with state marriage laws. Indeed, as Newsweek and the NY Times pointed out, nothing about the child bride website is illegal. Shouldn't that disturb us?

Marriage law loopholes have been popping up in the news quite a bit lately: first with the enactment of Arkansas' blooper of a law back in August, and more recently with Colorado's sad tale of a child bride. And sadly these aren't the only two states with problematic laws.

Continue reading "For Sale: Bride, $29,995... Age 14" »

This is a surprise?

Jodie_foster The New Republic's Christopher Orr starts off his review of The Brave One as follows:

What in the world is wrong with Jodie Foster? For years, arguably decades, her career has seemed haunted by her turn as Iris Steensma in Taxi Driver, as if the fictional experience of playing a pubescent prostitute had left real-life psychic scars.

Hold it right there; I think Mr. Orr may have just answered his own question. Although it might be helpful to check in with Dakota Fanning a few years down the road for confirmation.

Faith without feelings

John Fischer on Mother Teresa:

We should not be surprised. Mother Teresa’s life and ministry was always a stark contrast to the prevailing Western culture that embraced her as its unlikely spiritual icon. So shouldn’t it also be true that in her recent spiritual autopsy, the torment of her soul would be uncovered? Apparently nowhere can we find a soft spot in this woman’s faith. In a world where feelings are the predominant measure of personal worth, Teresa learned to believe without them. . . .

Further investigation reveals a woman whose determination to believe in spite of what she felt carried her through the dark night of the soul in a night that never saw the dawn. Mother Teresa finally concluded that this emptiness was a part of her cross to bear. Jesus told Thomas, who doubted His resurrection until he saw, heard, and touched the risen Savior, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

I wonder, in light of the demands of our current pleasure-oriented culture, if this could also mean, “Blessed are those who believe without feeling?” If so, then Mother Teresa was truly the patron saint of faith without feelings.

Read more.

If children ruled the world

Kid_nation Tonight CBS unveils Kid Nation, in which "40 Kids have 40 days to build a brave new world without adults." The show's Web page breathlessly asks,

Will they stick it out? In the end, will these Kids prove to everyone, including their parents, they have the vision to build a better world than the pioneers who came before them? And just as importantly, will they come together as a cohesive unit, or will they abandon all responsibility and succumb to the childhood temptations that lead to round-the-clock chaos?

Seeing that "Kids" now get the courtesy capitalization that used to belong to God, my guess is that CBS is banking on the former, though it must be a little disconcerting to find out that your young visionaries have gotten into the bleach.

But I have a question of my own: Does no one read Lord of the Flies anymore?

Suing God?

Senator Ernie Chambers's attempt to sue God made me laugh. (Are we really sure, Regis, this isn’t another Onionesque joke?) 

Providentially, I’ve just starting skimming a forthcoming book by Thomas Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Root of Evangelizing Christianity in Colonial America, and found a very different response to natural disaster, in this case an earthquake. 

On Sunday evening, October 29, 1727, New Englanders experienced “a terrible earthquake…followed by a long series of aftershocks,” writes Kidd. This event brought home the urgency and immediacy of the need for salvation lest an inhabitant die and be judged by God and found wanting.   

Layman Jonathan Pearson of Lynn End, Massachusetts, said of his terror, “God has by the late amazing Earth-quake Layd open my neglect before me that I see no way to escape. But by fleeing to Christ for refuge. God in that hour Set all my Sins before me.  When I was Shaking over the pit looking every moment when the earth would open her mouth and Swallow me up and then must I have been miserable for ever & for ever.” 

Sadly, fear of destruction doesn’t necessarily have staying power because of our fallen nature. Reverend Thomas Prince later wrote, “There has since been great Reason to complain of our speedy Return to our former Sins.” In a different decade, but apropos of our fallen nature, another great minister, Jonathan Edwards, said of his own inclination toward sin, "[I] returned like a dog to his vomit, and went on the ways of sin."

If their society had been as whiny and litigious as ours, maybe Pearson, instead of repenting, might have thought to sue God too.

The Point Radio: $100 Challenge

What could you do with a hundred dollars to spread a biblical worldview?...

Click play above to listen.

See also Catherine Claire's related blog post, and add your own ideas in the comments here!

September 18, 2007

Happy birthday to us!

Birthdaycake Can you believe The Point is one year old today? It was September 18, 2006 when we first introduced ourselves to you. It's been a fruitful and often enjoyable year for us. From the Harry Potter debates to the Dickens Wars, from the Blasphemy Challenge to the "remains of Jesus," even from red to purple, we've had fun, done our best to serve our Lord, and, I think, managed to learn a few things. We hope you've had an equally good experience, and we're grateful for all you've contributed.

And while we're celebrating, we'd also like to say "Happy birthday" to the blogosphere as a whole -- it's turning 10 this December! Whether it's "a spurious megaphone" or an "answer [to] an unmet need," or both, it's never been less than an exciting and absorbing arena to work in, play in, and explore.

And now, in honor of these two birthdays, we're asking you for a present! Here (courtesy mostly of Allen Thornburgh) is a short list of questions that we'd love to get your answers to, whether you're a regular visitor or a first-timer or anything in between. Please post your answers in the comment section to help us make our second year even better than our first. And again, thanks for your contributions. We couldn't do what we do without you.

So, without further ado . . .

1. How long have you been coming to The Point?
2. Where did you first hear of The Point (BreakPoint radio or main website? Digg.com? Gospelshout? Friend/colleague? Other?)?
3. If you regularly read The Point, what is it that you appreciate about it the most?
4. If you could change one thing about The Point, what would it be?

Confessions of a Musical Schizophrenic

Okay, I have a confession--I have musical multiple personality disorder. Some days I indulge in those ever-nostalgic Bon Jovi hits. Other days, I fill my ride to work with the soft, yet often bland, tunes of whatever has popped up on the Christian contemporary charts. The next day, I repent, and try to elevate my listening habits to Chopin. Whatever my fancy of the day, I'm a shameless addict.

Here's what I'm discovering--it's all right. Whether it's The Fray, a Broadway show tune, or Dvorak's New World Symphony, my endless hunger for my headphones reflects, perhaps more perfectly than many recreational outlets, that music is a God thing--a divine creational signature that reminds us that C.S. Lewis was on to something when Aslan sang Narnia into being.

Something that should throw us to our knees in thankfulness to the Eternal Concertmaster, as Jeremy Begbie urges here:

The most basic response of the Christian toward music will be gratitude. This does not mean giving unqualified thanks for every bit of music we hear, but it will mean being thankful for the very possibility of music. It will mean regularly allowing a piece of music to stop us in our tracks and make us grateful that there is a world where music can occur, that there is a reality we call "matter" that oscillates and resonates, that there is sound, that there is rhythm built into the fabric of reality, that there is the miracle of the human body, which can receive and process sequences of tones. For from all this and through all this, the marvel of music is born. None of it had to come into being. But it has, for the glory of God and for our flourishing. Gaining a Christian mind on music means learning the glad habit of thanksgiving.

My Radiance, His Glory

"There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice." John Calvin

Radiance "As the hand is made for holding and the eye for seeing, thou has fashioned me for joy. Share with me the vision that shall find it everywhere: in the wild violet's beauty; in the lark's melody; in the face of a steadfast man; in a child's smile; in a mother's love; in the purity of Jesus." Gaelic prayer

"If we are silent about the joy that comes from knowing Jesus, the very stones will cry out! For we are an Easter people and 'Alleluia' is our song." Pope John Paul II

Think of any woman you have ever seen who was loved well and responded rightly to that love. She has a certain beauty about her, no matter how unconventional, and a light to her eyes. I think about Beatrice, the wife of the pastor of our sister church in Nyagatare, Rwanda. She truly radiates. It's no wonder. Her husband, Deo, loves her well. He calls her Darling. "Darling will be here in a minute," or "Darling was just telling me the same thing earlier." Her radiance says so much about the kind of man Deo is.

God rejoices over us with singing (Is. 62:5; Zeph. 3:17). He delights in us, His people. He cares for us. He has shown us the full extent of His love, not holding back anything (Phil. 2:8). Our countenance is a reflection of our bridegroom. Our radiance is His glory. And when we fail to be a joyful people, we are always saying something to the world about our Savior. God wants us to be a radiant bride (Eph 5:27; Is. 60:5; Ps. 34:5). Will you stop and reflect on how well cared for you are? Take a look around you at the color of a blade of grass like Calvin did, or at a child's smile as the prayer says, or at our resurrected Savior as Pope John Paul did. And rest in His love. If you are His, He rejoices over you; rejoice in Him too. And let your radiance be a reflection of His glory.

What Churches Need

Sadly, survey after survey and study after study confirm that Christians live like everyone else. We lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, and so on, and because of this Christians in America have largely, and rightfully, lost our positive influence. 

Mike Metzger from the Clapham Institute says what churches need more of are contrarian leaders. 

Legislator Sues God

Yes, you read that right; and remember, you read it first on The Point.

A Nebraska state senator, fed up with our litigious society, has filed suit against God. What damages is Senator Ernie Chambers claiming?

God has caused “fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects, and the like…resulting in the wide-spread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants including innocent babes, infants, children, the aged and infirm without mercy or distinction.”

For these and a host of other “harmful activities,” Senator Chambers seeks an injunction against God. I’d say the senator’s chances are on par with reversing the staggering trend of frivolous lawsuits in our country. But then again, we’re talking about the same branch of government that issued an injunction against God (at least in symbol and speech) in the public square.

The Point Radio: The New Atheism

Imagine it. Someone knocks on your door. It’s not a salesman or a Mormon. It’s an atheist. “Bad news,” he says, “you are evolved from ooze, your life has no meaning, and you’re on your own.” Sound far-fetched? Perhaps. But the truth is there’s a renewed anti-faith fervor today....

Click play above to listen.

See what Point bloggers are saying about the "new atheism":

Continue reading "The Point Radio: The New Atheism" »

September 17, 2007

Tarts on Parade

Kellybrando I didn't watch the Emmy Awards last night, but when I was online, I did flash through a photo album showing all the stars' gowns. And I wondered the same thing I've wondered in previous years. How is it that good-looking women with unlimited resources cannot manage to make themselves look more attractive? I saw perhaps three actresses who actually looked glamorously beautiful in their gowns.

I think the answer is that there is a limit to how far glamour will go in accomodating tawdriness. It doesn't matter how great a woman's figure (real or enhanced) is, if she's revealing too much (or too much for her age) she just looks kind of tarty--no matter how much money she's spent on her frock. For a glamorous look, women must employ a certain amount of modesty.

Today's tarts...er, actresses, ought to take a page out of Old Hollywood. In the thirties, forties, and fifties, stars knew how to look glamorous. They did not look like tarts, even if they acted like tarts in real life. I'm convinced this is why coffee table books and magazines featuring little besides pictures of long-dead stars still sell briskly. We are fascinated by their timeless glamour.

Blog-a-book: Criticize with grace


When atheist Sam Harris wrote his 2004 bestseller The End of Faith, a radical attack on religious belief in any form, he was prepared for strong rebuttals from Christians.

What may have surprised him was the vitriol in which many of the emails and letters were couched. The most hostile messages came from Christians (not Muslims or Hindus). "The truth is," he explained in the forward to his latest bestseller, Letter to a Christian Nation, "that many who claim to be transformed by God's love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism."

"How do I know this?" he asked rhetorically. "The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse." Indeed, Letter to a Christian Nation is his response to those vituperative critics and yet another weapon in the armory of people hostile to Christianity.

I'd love to write that passage off as just more anti-Christian bias from an intolerant elitist media. But I can't. Number one, I've seen too many similar letters and other writings from Christians. Number two, the above passage isn't from some prejudiced secular publication -- it's from Christianity Today.

Make sure you don't miss the point of this article. David Aikman is not saying here that Christians are never to criticize -- some things need criticism. What he's saying is that we are to criticize "with grace."

Which brings me to today's blog-a-book post. I was delighted to find a very old favorite in The Book of Uncommon Prayer, a poem by C. S. Lewis that's been on my bulletin board for many years. It contains a truth I struggle (and sometimes fail) to remember, a truth relevant to the Aikman article and to all of us Christians who play any part in the public arena. Here it is in its entirety:

Continue reading "Blog-a-book: Criticize with grace" »

Book guilt

Book_stack I have book guilt. Do you know what I mean? I write books, and my friends write books (which I get to read in various stages of publication) and I review books for several publications, and sometimes other writers request endorsements, so I read their books, and I have a long list of books I want to read and I generally have a stack of five or so by my bedside table. I have a running tab at the library. I have only just realized really that I will never actually be able to read everything I want to read (as Michael Douglas said, "Oh, mortality!") and that has me a little panicked. Sometimes I realize that reading is not always the same thing as living, and that shocks me.

Oh, and then I agree to read books and blog about them... and fail hopelessly.  More on Chesterton's Father Brown soon.

Why hate goodness?

That's a question that's been on my mind for a while now. Theodore Dalrymple, writer, former prison physician, and a man who has "spent a great deal of [his] life among the utmost ugliness, both physical and moral," takes up the question of why many people hate goodness in a fascinating article in the New English Review (hat tip to Wittingshire):

I found [another doctor's] example intimidating to me: not, of course, because of anything he said or did, but because I knew, indubitably and at once, that I should never be as good a man as he. My problem was ego: I wanted to make a mild stir in the world, and doing good for others was not enough for me, not that I was bad enough to wish them any harm (and in the event, I did my fair share of getting up in the middle of the night on their behalf). But the good of others could never be my sole motive, or entirely satisfying to me. I could never be wholly benevolent, as he was. And now I feel guilty that I, not as good a man as he, am somewhat better known than he. The judgement of the world is not infallible.

Oddly enough, I have something in common in the above respect with a man whom I do not in general find congenial, that is to say Michel Foucault. Foucault’s father was a surgeon of local renown, who gave the young Michel an example of practical compassion for others (namely, getting up in the middle of the night to save their lives) which he, Michel, knew that he would never be able to live up to because he did not care enough about their lives to do so. There was one recourse left to him, if as an egotist he was to equal or surpass his father, namely to adopt the Nietzschean position that such compassion as his father showed is really disguised weakness, contempt or drive for power, but not real compassion. Thus, everything is the opposite of what it seems, and progress, so called, is really regress, or at best sideways movement.   

Of course, long ago someone else already said much the same thing.

The Unpardonable Sin in Academia

What do William Dembski, Frank Beckwith, and Dr. Robert J. Marks have in common? All three have been victims of academic suppression not at Cornell, Stanford or MIT, but at Baylor University—the world’s largest institute of higher learning in the Baptist tradition.

In 2001, Baylor shut down the Michael Polanyi Center and removed Dr. William Dembski as its director because of the center’s focus on ID. Last year, Baylor tried to deny tenure to Frank Beckwith—a scholar who is recognized as a world class philosopher with a prodigious publication record and high teaching marks--for his views on ID.

And now the campus thought police have Robert Marks in their crosshairs. Marks is a Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor who chairs several national and international committees, has authored over 300 technical papers and three books, and has received numerous awards in the field of computational intelligence.

This past June Dr. Marks launched a website on the Baylor server called “Evolutionary Informatics Lab.” The purpose of the lab was to distinguish “the respective roles of internally generated and externally applied information in the performance of evolutionary systems.”

Although not an ID site per se, Evolutionary Informatics was ID-friendly, containing quotes by Michael Polanyi and links to publications of ID researchers like William Dembski. That was enough for a group of anonymous complainers to pressure the administration into purging the site from the Baylor system.

In sad irony, the science building where Dr. Marks works bears the words of Paul, "By Him all things are made; in Him all things are held together."

Continue reading "The Unpardonable Sin in Academia" »

The Point Radio: Short on Time, Short on Compassion

Summer’s over and now it begins: soccer practice, PTA meetings, church activities. Your schedule may be too full for compassion....

Click play above to listen.

Here are five questions to help you assess your own schedule:

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September 14, 2007

It’s Ramadan--Seize the Day!

Yesterday was the first day of Ramadan, and for many Muslims in America, it's the perfect time to distance themselves from the events of September 11th by helping a neighbor in need, sponsoring an orphan, or feeding day laborers. Read all about it here.

But Ramadan is not just for Muslims. It's the perfect opportunity for Christians to gather together to pray for their Muslim neighbors and those who ascribe to Islam all around the world. Every day during Ramadan, 30daysfire.net posts stories about and prayer requests for Muslims around the world.

Read today's story and consider how you can begin praying for the world of Islam.

Obama the Apostate?

Patrick Sookhdeo, whose writings Chuck discussed on Tuesday, makes an interesting point about why Barack Obama is so reluctant to acknowledge that he was born into a Muslim family, prayed at the local Mosque, attended Muslim schools as a child, participated in weekly religious classes to study the Koran, and was registered as a Muslim when he attended both Roman Catholic and public schools during his youth: The danger of violating Islamic apostasy laws.

Sookhdeo--himself a Muslim convert to Christianity--writes (type in "Obama" under "Keyword"):

In the last months, U.S. Senator and presidential hopeful Barak Obama has shunned public attention on his Muslim background, and repeatedly deflected questions about his family and childhood association with Islam....Meanwhile, reports about Obama's Muslim parentage and education have circulated in the news. ...Obama's spokespeople address the public's interest in more information about Obama's connection with Islam as if there was nothing to discuss, and no need of further exploration.   

After his press office first claimed that "Senator Obama has never been a Muslim [and] was not raised a Muslim," and calling contentions that he had been "malicious and irresponsible," Obama's spokespeople changed their tune in response to Sookdheo's reporting. They now claim that "Obama has never been a practicing Muslim," although as a child he had spent time in the neighborhood's Islamic center.

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The Fair Trade

Poster2 "What is your life worth?" asks director Lauralee Farrar in her innovative documentary film entitled The Fair Trade. When Tamara Johnston lost her fiance in a devastating accident, she makes a bargain with God: "Show me a life worth living or I'm out of here." Postponing suicide, she quits her job at Dreamworks to go in search of a meaningful life. Will she discover an answer to satisfy before time runs out? Watch the trailer and read more about the film.

(The film is currently in post-production and should be completed this October. Continue to check back for more information on when and where you can view this exciting new film.)

Who’s your hero?

As Mark Earley says in today's Point broadcast, a hero doesn't have to be someone spectacular. In our sin-sick world, desperate for examples of goodness, even someone who exhibits quiet, steady, everyday faithfulness and a consistent desire to help others can be a hero. Do you have an everyday hero in your life?

Michael Douglas on New Priorities

Douglas In Newsweek today, Michael Douglas takes a hard look at past mistakes and new priorities:

It's hard to balance work and family. I work in an industry that has a relatively short window of opportunity, extremely long hours and can take you away from home for months at a time. The rewards can be fantastic: fame, wealth, artistic gratification, never standing in line for a table at a restaurant. But the guilt of shortchanging your family can gnaw away at you.


I've reached an age when I start getting those questions—What do you want for your children? What do you see as your legacy? Oh, oh, mortality! I have good role models in my father and mother. Basically, you want to try to leave this earth having given more to it than having taken away. That makes you a good citizen of the planet. If I can pass this on from generation to generation, that's as close to immortality as I can hope to get.

(Photo courtesy of Newsweek)

Love and Marriage in ’Pride and Prejudice’

In my British Literature class this term, I'm having my students read a number of plays, poems, short stories, and novels about love and marriage. Most of them portray marriage very negatively simply because (as I tell my students) people who are happily married rarely write about it; it's those who find marriage a dismal experience who most often write stories to vent their anger and bitterness. I sometimes use stories of miserable marriages (such as Doris Lessing's "To Room 19") to teach from antithesis: in other words, if students want to guarantee a failed marriage, they only need to follow the terrible example of Susan and Matthew Rawlings. If they want to succeed, however, they can learn from the Rawlings' mistakes! However, I also like to include stories that offer a more positive view. 

One such work is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, a novel which -- in its own delightful way -- celebrates the triumph of true love over the pressures of money and class, despite multiple misunderstandings between the two main couples (Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy; Jane and Mr. Bingley). Elizabeth and Darcy, in particular, must honestly face their own faults in order to overcome the obstacles to their match. More importantly, their honesty, humility, and willingness to change are qualities which serve them well throughout their happily married life.

If you haven't read Austen's novel, head down to your local Barnes and-Noble, Borders, or Books-A-Million, or just use the Amazon link above, and pick up a copy. Or, pick up the recent theatrical version starring Keira Knightley. It's not as good as the BBC version with Colin Firth, but it's still worth watching -- especially if you only have a couple of hours to spare. 

The Point Radio: The Shape of a Hero

You know, you don’t have to rescue someone from a burning house to be a hero....

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If you know an everyday hero, leave us a comment below. Here are a few examples we've found:

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September 13, 2007

The Man in the Green Shirt

As you may have heard, the New England Patriots are in hot water because they were caught videotaping the New York Jets' defensive signals this past Sunday in violation of NFL rules.

According to ESPN

[NFL commissioner Roger] Goodell is considering severe sanctions, including the possibility of docking the Patriots "multiple draft picks" because it is the competitive violation in the wake of a stern warning to all teams since he became commissioner, the sources said. The Patriots have been suspected in previous incidents.

My admittedly limited sampling of media and fan reactions to the story all says something along these lines: "Sure, the Patriots cheated but this whole things is being blown out of proportion. After all, how much competitive advantage could the Patriots have gained by violating the rule?" As Aaron Schatz of the Football Prospectus told Bill Simmons of ESPN, the "strategic advantage" to be gained from breaking the rule in question is "minor." Thus, no big deal.

Schatz and company have it exactly backwards: the fact that the "strategic advantage is minor" makes the Patriots' offense worse, not better.

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Blog-a-book: Life out of death

Two_cities Under Kristine’s last post on A Tale of Two Cities, Elizabeth comments,

So is Dickens' point the sacrifice of others is required to bring life out of death? Will any love do this? Certainly Mr Carton's words might lead me to think Dickens was showing his actions were based on faith in gospel promises. Is there any record of what Dickens intended to convey by this novel? Is it more than a political statement? If you can answer these questions or point me in a direction to look for them, I would appreciate it.

Those are excellent questions, and I apologize for taking so long to get back to this topic.

When I look at the “big picture” of A Tale of Two Cities—which is a little easier to do than with most Dickens novels because of both its relative shortness and its structure—I see a certain cycle. The phrase “a vicious cycle,” in fact, might have been invented expressly to describe this story. A certain group of people are horribly oppressed for many years. They rise up and throw off their oppressors, and then they in turn become the oppressors.

It’s interesting to note that Dickens holds no one side in the conflict completely to blame; nor he does he consider either side completely free from blame. He sympathizes in turn with the poor being oppressed, and with the rich whom they later murder indiscriminately when they come to power. Despite the fact that his own childhood poverty and struggles (echoed in David Copperfield and other books) would never stop haunting him, and that his heart was consequently with the poor all his life, he refuses—unlike many other authors—to fall into the easy trap of justifying everything they do to avenge themselves on their tormentors.

(Spoilers after the jump)

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So Easy, Even an Australopithecine Can Get It

Over at Crunchy Con, Rod Dreher tells the sad  story of "six-year-old Hanna Mack, whose body was found hanging near her house the other day. . . . Her mother's live-in boyfriend has been arrested for possession of child pornography and has been named a suspect" in Hanna's murder.

After reminding himself about the presumption of innocence, Rod makes a point that can't be made too often because we never seem to learn this lesson:

[C]hildren who share a home with their mother and her live-in boyfriend are disproportionately subject to sexual and physical abuse. In some cases, sexual predators take advantage of lonely single mothers. In other cases, men with no biological or emotional connection to the child resent the child's demands on its mother's (that is, his sexual partner's) attention. Whatever the case, it's bad news when a mother with children takes in a man who has no interest in marrying her.

Dreher quotes at length from a 1998 Weekly Standard article by John Barnes, "The Boyfriend Problem," which is available in its entirety here. As Barnes writes,

Open virtually any big-city newspaper and you will find a depressingly large number of such stories. A young child, living with his mother in a cramped apartment, is beaten to within an inch of his life -- or, as in the cases cited above, meets death -- at the hands of Mom's boyfriend/ex-husband/live-in, often while Mom looks on.

What is remarkable about such cases, however, is that they draw almost no systematic attention (much less condemnation) from anyone in a position of authority. In a country that obsesses over the effect of secondhand smoke on its children, that worries incessantly about "at-risk" youngsters, and whose chief executive is wont to use children's welfare as a justification for virtually any policy prescription of the moment, this is a significant oversight.

Continue reading "So Easy, Even an Australopithecine Can Get It" »

RE: Journey of Forgiveness

Kris, thank you for those moving words. The notion of forgiveness as a journey was something we heard again and again in Rwanda from survivors and people who work waist-deep in the mucky business of peace-making. The co-chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Rwanda, Antoine Rutiyesere, talked to us about that process, not only on the individual level, but on a more macro-level as well. Here's what he said:

If you take a country that 13 years ago was entrenched in the worst ethnic massacre, genocide--1 million people or more died at the hands of their neighbors--and you come back 13 years after and you see people going to the same churches, going to the same markets, going together to the same schools and they are not fighting. They are not even killing each other.  . . . that level of peace is the first sign that reconciliation is in the process.

Why am I saying this? Because the first step to reconciliation is peaceful cohabitation. Because, it’s like when you have a broken bone. The first thing the doctor will do is diagnose the fracture. Then he puts the bones back together; then into a cast; and then you are stabilized for however long it takes for the bone to be together. So I think that’s what we are doing. 

Things are stable. It’s peaceful, but deep inside the healing is taking place slowly, slowly, one individual at a time. A healing there, a repentance there, a restitution there, a change of system there, so it’s a slow process. But looking at the achievement, I am very confident that we are doing a fine job. 

’Hope is the thing with feathers...’

Sophie "...that perches in the soul/And sings the tune--without the words/ And never stops at all." (Dickinson)

Sometimes, when you are 42, when you've lost a baby once before, still it keeps singing.

(Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail)

Journey of forgiveness

On the heels of Catherine's and Zoe's excellent posts on their recent trip to Rwanda exploring the topic of forgiveness in the wake of horror and tragedy, Reuters is reporting today that the Pennsylvania Amish community that lost five young schoolgirls and saw five others harmed at the hands of Charles Carl Roberts have made a gift to his widow almost a year after that awful day. A spokesman for the community said, "Many from Nickel Mines have pointed out that forgiveness is a journey, that you need help from your community of faith and from God...to make and hold on to a decision not to become a hostage to hostility."

Forgiveness as a journey is a powerful concept. It flies in the face of the common notion of forgiveness as a solitary act and seems to hit a little nearer the truth. When a grave wrong has been committed, the anger and bitterness are not instantly dispelled with a simple utterance of three words: "I forgive you." I imagine the families of these Amish girls must have faced many difficult days in the year since their children were terrorized, shot, and in some cases murdered. The birthdays of precious little girls who no longer walk this earth have passed by. A new school year has started, with other children walking off to school, lunchbox in hand, while five little girls are gone forever. The five girls who were shot and survived have had to heal from their physical wounds while nursing psychological scars we can only imagine. More than likely, mothers and fathers have been at children's bedsides in the middle of the night, comforting children who were there, who witnessed their classmates' demise. And in a community the likes of which most of us will never know this side of heaven, friends and neighbors mourn together with those who lost so much.

Each milestone that has passed, each night a child has had a terrible nightmare, each setback in recovery that the survivors have experienced has doubtless been a new opportunity for bitterness and anger to take hold in the peace-loving Amish community. Forgiveness was not a one-time act for them; it could not be. Instead, they had to "make and hold on to a decision not to become a hostage to hostility" and they have quietly and wonderfully demonstrated how to hold on to forgiveness and stay on the journey.

’Fuzzy Reading’

Over at NRO, Gilbert T. Sewall draws the connection between bad teaching methods and substandard reading materials in schools:

Last year, New York City parents objected to reading books put in their local school’s sixth-grade classroom library. They complained about Am I Blue?, a collection of stories about gay teenagers, and You Hear Me?, an anthology of poems written by teenage boys. You Hear Me? contained a ditty called I Hate School that included [excessive profanity].

The New York Daily News gave the event headlines, and the principal removed the books. But the incident only scratched the surface of a much broader problem nationwide. Public schools and students are being bombarded with texts of questionable quality, many of them coming from an unexpected source, the Columbia University Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

For many educators, not just in New York City but nationwide, the Project and its “process method” is a creed. It is a beacon to teachers all over the nation, drawing on a method that departs from traditional content and language skills. The system employs trendy content, stresses children’s own “voices,” and writing as a “process.”

I wrote a while back that I did some research into these teaching methods while working for Jennifer Marshall. (Which reminds me, I have an interview with Jennifer about her new book at the main site that I forgot to mention earlier.) It seemed, and seems, incredible to me that teachers could be persuaded to believe that "surround the children with books and talk all day long about how wonderful books are," as directly opposed to "teach them what the letters are and how they go together to make words," could be expected to create classrooms full of dedicated readers. But it's not at all incredible that such philosophies, used long enough, could lead to students who can't get any further in their reading than the kind of book described above, and teachers and librarians who think that's just fine.

Russia Declares Time off for Procreation

With a fertility rate of 1.39 births per woman (the replacement level is 2.1), Russia is doing some real out-of-the-box thinking to help pull its country out of a demographic death spiral. While other countries in population decline are offering tax credits for parents, expanded day-care facilities and other money incentives, Russia has declared September 12 a Day of Conception.

The hope is that by giving workers a day off for “bedroom activities,” Mother Russia will experience a baby boom nine months from now. We’ll check back next June on that fertility rate to see how patriotic those citizens are. Stay tuned.

The Point Radio: The Theology of the Couch Potato

With the new fall television line-up, you may be wondering what programs are the most faith-friendly....

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For more information, see the following resources:

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