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April 13, 2009

Daily roundup

Relics of faith

Shroud If you're not sure the Resurrection all those Christians celebrated this past weekend really took place, then how about a little proof--the genuine burial cloth that wrapped the body of Christ and still bears His image. Or perhaps not.

The Shroud of Turin is perhaps the most famous "relic" purporting to have a direct link to the events surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And its fame has as much to do with the questions of its authenticity.

The Wall Street Journal has an article online about the shroud--its history, its relevance, and the upcoming public exhibition. The author, Peter Manseau, writes of the controversy:

But maybe so much focus on explanation misses the point. Belief -- any belief, whether in God, the Resurrection, even the Force -- requires a partial abandonment of the rational. This does not mean that faith is irrational, only that it involves a recognition that there are some things that can be explained only through acknowledgment that proof is not always the highest good.

Or, as the writer of Hebrews put it, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

(Image © AP)

April 07, 2009

Daily roundup

They’re only words

Obama in Turkey That must have been what President Obama thought when he decided to renege on yet another campaign promise. Ironically, his campaign promise would have addressed just that line of thinking.  

In January, when he was still just a candidate for the presidency, Obama declared, "America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide." Fine sounding words. Trouble is, once he set foot in Turkey, the land where this genocide occurred nearly a century ago, Mr. Obama seemed to forget all about the atrocities that once stained the streets and countryside of that nation. 

Lest you think the label we use for an event that took place almost 100 years ago is trivial, modern-day Turkey is still waging this war of words. Journalists and novelists, among others, have been tried, imprisoned and even murdered for calling the systematic annihilation of Armenians a genocide. You can read more about the genocide and some of those who have been persecuted for using this term in an article I wrote for BreakPoint WorldView a few years ago.

It's too bad the man who represents the land of the free and the home of the brave couldn't find the words to denounce tyranny and cowardice. That's a campaign promise that deserved to be kept.

(Image © UPI/Pete Souza/White House)

April 06, 2009

Daily roundup

Hope amidst the Bones

Rwanda_slah This week's Newsweek features the Chairman of Prison Fellowship Rwanda, Bishop John Rucyahana, who returned to his Rwandan homeland after the genocide to help rebuild the broken nation. Ellis Cose documents some of his experiences in this week's piece:

When Rucyahana got back to Uganda in mid-July, he rented a minibus, hired a driver and took to the road with 10 other pastors. They crossed into Rwanda and made their way to Nyamata, near Kigali, the capital. The violence had died down but death was everywhere: "We saw mass graves; we saw dead bodies. In one home, we found 27 dead bodies. . . ."

Rucyahana had to act. Initially, he ran seminars, urging people to repent and rebuild. But that wasn't enough. So in 1996, he packed up his family and returned to the land of his birth to preach hope standing on "a pile of bones," as he puts it. One of his first tasks was to build a boarding school for orphans: "Having lost a million people, lots of babies were left behind." The school in Musanze, near the Volcanoes National Park, opened in 2001. It is now one of the best schools in the country. It is called Sonrise, which, Rucyahana explains, "means the Son of God rises into the misery, into our darkness."

I share part of Bishop John's story, and one of the stories of a student at the Sonrise School/Orphanage, in As We Forgive. To read his full memoir, take a look at his own The Bishop of Rwanda. I'm so glad that the wider world is being introduced to Bishop John, the recipient of BreakPoint's 2009 Wilberforce Award, and to the amazing things God has been doing in the aftermath of this tragedy.

By the way, on this day, 15 years ago, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane plummeted from the sky after being hit by a missile. It became the albatross around the neck of the Tutsi people when Hutu claimed that the RPF shot it down. The sudden streak of a missile and the fiery light of a falling plane were a diabolical kind of fireworks that night--evil's unseemly opening ceremonies to a hundred days of slaughter that would consume the country.

(Image © Newsweek)

April 01, 2009

Daily roundup

March 30, 2009

Daily roundup

Immunized against Idiocy

Check out this delightful refutation from the Clapham Institute of a new, and ridiculous, claim being made in a recent IBM ad -- that "math is the only language all human beings share."

Twitter and TMI

The Agony and the Ecstasy Continuing the Twitter conversation -- this is priceless:

Imagine the informational misery previous generations were spared because Twitter wasn't around yet.

Michelangelo: "Sistine Chapel ceiling larger than it looks; back is killing me."

Christopher Columbus: "No sign of land yet."

Robert Peary: "Man, it's cold up here."

(Image  © 20th Century Fox)

March 27, 2009

Daily roundup

March 26, 2009

Daily roundup

John Calvin, rock star

John-calvin Which theologian is setting the world on fire right now? According to TIME, it's the one celebrating his 500th birthday this year.

Calvinism is back, and not just musically. John Calvin's 16th century reply to medieval Catholicism's buy-your-way-out-of-purgatory excesses is Evangelicalism's latest success story, complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination's logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time's dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision.

Reggie Kidd analyzes this piece at Common Grounds Online (bringing in a quote from our own Catherine Larson). Meanwhile, Tim Challies reports on a recent "John Calvin Mini-Conference," going into greater depth about Calvinist theology.

(Image courtesy of Theology Forum)

March 25, 2009

Eve of Destruction: Pushing Daisies

This is undoubtedly the most famous political ad that hardly anyone ever saw. "Daisy" only aired once during the 1964 presidential campaign.

While it had next-to-no effect on the outcome of that election, it did capture the fears of several generations of Americans in an age when MAD was more than a magazine. If there had been an "Eve of Destruction" shtick 45 years ago, the prospect of thermonuclear war would have rated a "9" on the "Destruction" scale and at least a "6" on the "Eve" scale.

Twenty-seven years, three months and two weeks after "Daisy" aired, the Soviet Union was dissolved. With that, our worst fears of a flame deluge receded. Receded, not disappeared. The irony is that the end of the Cold War made it more, not less, likely that someone might actually set off a nuke in anger. Without the threat of mutually assured destruction, the thought of a "limited" nuclear exchange -- one that kills hundreds of thousands, even millions of people -- became conceivable again. Hopefully not likely, but conceivable.

Continue reading "Eve of Destruction: Pushing Daisies" »

March 24, 2009

The Roosevelts are back in the White House

Eleanor Speaking of gardens -- first Barack was FDR, now Michelle is Eleanor.

March 23, 2009

Daily roundup

March 20, 2009

Eve of Destruction: Plagues, or ’Pardon Me, but Your Buboes Are Showing’

Black_deathbrueghel In June of 1347, Joan, the favorite daughter of King Edward III of England, was arguably the happiest 15-year-old in Europe. Her father had arranged her marriage to Pedro of Castile. Her betrothed had sent her a troubadour to serenade her, and she was setting off for her wedding with a huge retinue of soldiers and ladies-in-waiting that included her own armada, one of whose ships carried nothing but her dresses.

Fifteen months later, Joan was dead. Like an estimated one-third of her fellow Europeans she was struck down by what John Kelly called, after the convention of the time, The Great Mortality.  

We know it as The Black Death. Whatever you call it, it was, in all likelihood, "the most devastating plague of all time," as the cover of Kelly's book puts it. The numbers, as best as can be reconstructed, are mind-boggling: between one-third and (in some parts) one-half of Europe dead. As many, if not more, dead from Northern China through the Middle East (the plague followed the Silk Road and the routes of Mongol conquest) and North Africa.

As devastating as its demographic impact was, the cultural impact of the Black Death, as chronicled by Kelly, Norman Cantor, and William H. MacNeill was almost as great. Among the victims of Yersinia pestis were political, social and religious verities, which isn't surprising. Once a society evolves much beyond a "big man" level, a kind of unspoken (sometimes spoken) covenant comes into play: in exchange for formal authority and the perks that go with it, the elites will protect hoi polloi from the Big Bads out there. Maybe not every time, but often enough to make life tolerable.

Catastrophes call the whole arrangement into question. People who have put up with a lot of . . . well, a lot are no longer as inclined to submit to authority -- any authority. 

As you probably know, that wasn't the last that mankind saw of bubonic plague: there were more localized European outbreaks for the next three centuries, most famously in seventeenth-century Britain. And the "Third Pandemic" in the latter half of the nineteenth century killed an estimated 12 million people in China and India alone.

Continue reading "Eve of Destruction: Plagues, or ’Pardon Me, but Your Buboes Are Showing’ " »

March 19, 2009

Eve of Destruction: Supervolcanoes, or ’Run, Yogi and Boo Boo, Run!’

Yogi Sometimes various scientific disciplines come together in an almost musical way to produce new knowledge that gives us yet another thing to be terrified of.

That's what happened when volcanologists and geneticists looking at very different sets of data both inferred that something really big happened approximately 75,000 years ago. 

For Dr. Michael Rampino and other earth scientists, it was ocean cores that pointed to a sudden 10-degree drop in ocean temperatures 75,000 years ago. As he told PBS' NOVA, "At the time I thought, 'There's something wrong here, this isn't normal. This isn't the way climate usually works.' It usually works on a much slower, more steady basis."

For population geneticists, it was DNA evidence of a population bottleneck about the same time. The evidence seemed to be pointing towards a catastrophic event that greatly reduced human population around the world: perhaps as much as 97-99 percent.

Put the two disciplines together and you get the Toba Catastrophe Theory.  

What is a "Toba"? Toba is (not was, is) a supervolcano on the island of Sumatra. All volcanoes are rated on something called the Volcanic Explosivity Index, or VEI. For our purposes, all you need to know is that the index runs from 0 to 8; Mt. St. Helens, which ejected approximately one cubic kilometer of material, rates a five; and the index is logarithmic, i.e., each whole number represents a 10-fold increase in material ejected. Thus, Mt. Pinatubo, a VEI 6, ejected 10 times more material than Mt. St. Helens. A VEI 7 would eject 100 times more and a VEI 8, a.k.a. a supervolcano, 1000 times more.

Continue reading "Eve of Destruction: Supervolcanoes, or ’Run, Yogi and Boo Boo, Run!’" »

March 17, 2009

Daily roundup

The United States of Me

Remember the classic elementary school short story about "The Man Without a Country?" Well, this guy took things a step further, claiming that he is his own country. I have a feeling the traffic court judge isn't going to accept that argument.

As my brother, who sent me the link, pointed out, this is what happens when we believe truth is relative.

March 13, 2009

Quote for the Day

Here's a little something for contemplation.

We do not need more material development, we need more spiritual development. We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we need more religion. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen.

— Calvin Coolidge

March 12, 2009

Climate Change: Is a CO2 Prohibition Law Right around the Corner?

Physicist William Happer has warned Senate members about jumping onto the Global Warming Crusade against CO2. He compares the current movement to the temperance movement of the early 1900s.    

Movements like these are not victimless. The temperance movement spawned organized crime, and Happer says that this current movement to reduce CO2 will most likely cause some other great injury. 

Happer also hits upon one of my main concerns about this movement: misusing words and ideas to gain power. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) report is, at times, downright dishonest. 

Happer writes of the report,

I could hardly believe my eyes. Both the little ice age and the Medieval Warm Period were gone, and the newly revised temperature of the world since the year 1000 had suddenly become absolutely flat until the last hundred years when it shot up like the blade on a hockey stick. This was far from an obscure detail, and the hockey stick was trumpeted around the world as evidence that the end was near. We now know that the hockey stick has nothing to do with reality but was the result of incorrect handling of proxy temperature records and incorrect statistical analysis. There really was a little ice age and there really was a medieval warm period that was as warm or warmer than today. I bring up the hockey stick as a particularly clear example that the IPCC summaries for policy makers are not dispassionate statements of the facts of climate change. . . . The whole hockey-stick episode reminds me of the motto of Orwell's Ministry of Information in the novel 1984: "He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future." The IPCC has made no serious attempt to model the natural variations of the earth's temperature in the past. Whatever caused these large past variations, it was not due to people burning coal and oil. If you can't model the past, where you know the answer pretty well, how can you model the future?

Due to bad science and a quest for power, I can pretty much say that our energy crisis and dependence upon enemies of our great nation will only get worse. 

Putting his money where his mouth was

A new book details a Victorian-era attempt at what we today might call "restorative justice," conducted by -- guess who?

Words, Words, Words, Nothing but Words

This is a follow-up on a discussion we started about the deleterious idea that one evolutionary biologist (EB) proposed to his fellow EBs. Because of unpleasant associations with the Intelligent Design group, this fellow wanted to eliminate the use of the word “design” to ensure that ideas about ID that don’t fit within the framework of his worldview would not be heard.

The "word" problem is much larger than the issue of biology and design. As Pointificator David says, "The...'abuse of language' is a problem that shows up everywhere. Whether done by ideological opponents, the government or 'Madison Avenue,' calculated manipulation via words is as reprehensible as it is common." David has a further point to make: "The careless use of language may actually cause more damage."

Words give meaning and purpose to our lives, but sadly, the words and their meanings that make a difference in the very way we live, like "freedom" and "dignity," have been slowly eroding as cultural sophists have been busy at work changing meanings of words. For instance, the word "truth" has been neutered to mean whatever you think it means. Christianity, from which we get our rights, has been vilified. The virtues (temperance, prudence, fortitude, justice, faith, hope, and love) have been eerily transposed into bad words. Other concepts like first principles and natural law are ideas that people simply don’t understand. 

I thought it might be prudent for all of us to start illustrating abuses of language abuses as we see them here at The Point.

In the meantime, here's an article about words that some say transcend the test of time. One of the most interesting parts of this article to me is that words about personhood have been around at least 30,000 years. 

March 11, 2009

Daily roundup

March 05, 2009

Daily roundup

Our American Heritage

Take a few moments to listen to listen to this short clip from Father Robert Sirico about our American heritage. Then, think about ways in which you can be part of passing down this legacy to the next generation.

March 04, 2009

Daily roundup

March 03, 2009

’Amazing Grace’: The musical

AmazingGrace Anyone who lives in the Philadelphia area might want to check out this production next month. The subject matter is hard to beat, and having seen J. Mark McVey as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, I can vouch for his immense talent. If anyone here is able to go, let us know what you think!

(Image courtesy of the Sellersville Theater)

March 02, 2009

Stand up, John!

1776 Over at Big Hollywood, the blogger known as "Stage Right" has a wonderful tribute to one of my favorite musicals ever, 1776, which turns forty this month. (You can see my enthusiasm all over the comments section over there -- and yes, I did say that William Daniels should have beat Marlon Brando for the Oscar the year that the show was made into a film. So sue me.) There's nothing quite like a show that can give you goosebumps as the Declaration of Independence is being signed. To read SR's delightful post, which includes plenty of video clips from both film and stage, click here.

If you plan to record, rent, or buy the movie, or listen to the cast album, note that the show contains profanity and vulgarity. It's a great educational experience, but not for the littlest ones.

(Image © Columbia Pictures Corporation)

February 27, 2009

Daily roundup

February 24, 2009

Daily roundup

February 23, 2009

As Bread That Is Baked

Polycarp On this day, 1854 years ago, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna who was linked to John the Apostle, was martyred.

I use the verb "martyred" because, as The Martyrdom of Polycarp tells us, it took some doing.  After being betrayed by his servant, Polycarp was brought before the proconsul who urged him to "swear by the Fortune (the guiding spirit) of the Emperor; repent and say 'Away with the Atheists.'" 

Not being an atheist, Polycarp simply said, "Away with the atheists." The increasingly irate proconsul told Polycarp to "swear and I will set you at liberty; reproach Christ." To which the elderly bishop replied, Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?

That's when things became interesting: After continued refusals to renounce his faith, Polycarp was sentenced to be burned. As he was tied to the stake, he prayed,

O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before thee, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast counted me worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before Thee as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as Thou, the ever-truthful God, hast fore-ordained, hast revealed beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.

Continue reading "As Bread That Is Baked" »

February 20, 2009

BreakPoint Worldview Magazine: Against the Flow

Ocean_river Growing up near the ocean, I learned early on about currents, the kind that can pull a child under and leave her choking on a mouthful of salt water. A childhood friend of mine misunderstood her parents once when they warned her about the undertow. She heard “under toad.” And the explanation of something which can pull you under and drag you off course fit her mental picture of a large underwater toad grabbing at her ankles. It frightened her from enjoying the ocean for years to come. Later on, when she realized her mistake, we used to laugh about the evil “under toad.” And though her mental picture changed, she never underestimated its strength.

When I got to college, one of my mentors used to often talk about Christian discipleship in terms of currents in a river. He would say that you learn quickly that staying still is actually moving backward. The only way to move against the flow is to paddle hard.

This month’s issue of BreakPoint Worldview Magazine reminds me just how much we need to paddle hard to live in alignment with God’s ways. Thankfully, we don’t paddle in our own strength. The Holy Spirit empowers us in this difficult counter-cultural journey. But paddle we must.

Continue reading "BreakPoint Worldview Magazine: Against the Flow" »

February 18, 2009

Daily roundup

Don’t know much about Columbanus

Disc-tm1 "Anyone who thinks sixth-century history just isn’t their thing hasn’t read up on Columbanus," writes Stephen Reed, in the introduction to his interview with T. M. Moore for the latest edition of the Discourse podcast. Find out what was so interesting and important about this Irish missionary by listening at this link.

(Image © BreakPoint)

February 17, 2009

Daily roundup

February 16, 2009

Daily roundup

Fighting for the Unborn: Lessons from Wilberforce

Wilberforce For every issue, it seems, there is always good news and bad news. For the pro-life movement, the good news is that the U.S. abortion rate has been falling for over a decade and now is at its lowest level since 1974. And the recent raft of life-affirming movies, like Juno, Bella, and Knocked Up, is an encouraging sign about public attitudes.

According to Pew Research, although a slight majority of Americans (54 percent) favor legalization, the vast majority (73 percent) believes that abortion is morally wrong in some, to nearly all, circumstances, with six out of 10 believing that the number of abortions should be reduced. Less than one-fourth consider abortion a non-moral issue. Given that contraception use held nearly steady during the past decade, the falling rate of abortion exhibits a growing uneasiness with the practice.

The bad news is that, even at the reduced rate, an abortion is performed once every 25 seconds, totaling 1.2 million per year. And, with a new administration that is the most abortion-friendly in history, the fight for the unborn just got harder. Continue reading.

How to learn the presidents

Washington Lincoln

Here's a fun and useful exercise for Presidents Day (and one I could use myself -- I always get muddled somewhere around Grover Cleveland).

I never would have thought of getting a presidential historian and an NSO conductor to help me learn the list -- little Genevieve must have had friends in high places. Then again, we happen to have some very bright minds following this humble blog. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Rolley Haggard had written an epic poem containing all 44 names, or that LeeQuod had come up with a simple yet sophisticated mathematical equation to serve as a mnemonic device. Of course, Jason Taylor can probably recite the list backwards and forwards with no memory aids at all!

February 12, 2009

Daily roundup

Celebrating Lincoln, who ’reduced’ slavery

Slavery Today we honor the memory of Abraham Lincoln, who worked tirelessly and successfully to reduce slavery. Under his leadership, Congress passed laws requiring more humane treatment of enslaved persons, proper slave health care, and preventing slave owners from separating slave familes. Lincoln is also remembered for his insistence that all slave children be taught to read and write.  

Under Lincoln's leadership, in a stunning show of bipartisanship, abolitionists joined with those who were pro-choice on slavery to find "common ground": Both sides agreed to offer government grants to poor, struggling farmers to hire free laborers instead of slave labor; both sides also agreed that no slave should be forced to work more than 12 hours per day, six days a week. Lincoln signed off on these efforts rather than fight for the total abolition of slavery because, as he famously said, determining the humanity of Africans was "above my pay grade."

"This much we know," Lincoln proclaimed. "There is no God who condones enslaving innocent Africans. Nevertheless, we must not impose our morality on slave-owners."

Lincoln also made good on his campaign promise to "reduce slavery" by signing an executive order that allowed for the funding for groups overseas committed to promoting slavery and capturing Africans. 

Through such compromises, a costly war was averted, and Americans were relieved of the endless, tiresome quarrelling over this divisive issue. Yes, there were a few hardcore holdouts who insisted that all slaves ought to be freed--they tried to run newspaper ads to this effect, but editors usually refused to print them, especially if they featured pictures of slaves in chains, looking miserable. After all, everybody knew the vast majority of slaves were well-treated. Abolitionists also continued to picket slave auctions, but moderates passed a "bubble zone" that forced abolitionist extremists from coming closer than 100 feet to auction sites. 

In time, the majority of Americans believed that the laws on slavery were "about right," and moved on to other, more important issues--such as abolishing the wearing of corsets, which were deemed unhealthy for women.  

Continue reading "Celebrating Lincoln, who ’reduced’ slavery" »

Interfaith relations: One step forward, two steps back

Williamson Renegade Catholic bishop Richard Williamson continues to give interviews that must make the Vatican shudder. Now he's evangelizing his anti-semitic views into Germany, homeland of Pope Benedict. In an interview with Der Spiegel, Williamson does it again. This time, he doesn't just use the Catholic church as a platform for showing his antagonism towards Jews; he paraphrases, out of context, St. Paul himself.  

DER SPIEGEL: Your position on Judaism is consistently anti-Semitic.

Williamson: St. Paul put it this way: The Jews are beloved for the sake of Our Father, but our enemies for the sake of the gospel.

It is at moments like this that I fully expect to hear that the interview was terminated by a lightning bolt zapping Bishop Williamson. For when a man is willing to enlist anyone and anything, including holy scripture, to justify his hatred, well, in West Virginia we say, "It's a short road that doesn't have a bend in it."

St. Paul certainly had his trials with his fellow Jews. Yet he always sought them out, often preaching in their synagogues, despite his chief mission being to evangelize the Gentiles. But the overarching message of St. Paul's message--to all--is clear. And he in no way denied it to the Jews, as he makes clear in Galatians 3:27-29.

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendant, heirs according to the promise.

For his day--and really even in ours--St. Paul was a radical for making such a statement, one that affirmed God's love and grace were obtainable regardless of religious background, gender, or societal status, if one had faith in Christ.

Bishop Williamson is another kind of radical, one who, unlike Paul, sticks his fingers in his ears when he starts to hear facts that conflict with his preconceived notions.

(Image © Reuters)

Lincoln and Darwin: The big 200

2_3_2009_header Today is the bicentennial of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. As I noted a while back, there are plenty of comparisons being made between the two because of their shared birthday. (Besides the Hitchens article I mentioned in the earlier post, see also here, here, here, and here -- and that's just a sample. And don't miss today's BreakPoint commentary, where Chuck Colson throws Mendelssohn, who turned 200 earlier this month, into the mix.)

On the other hand, over at tothesource, Dr. Benjamin Wiker (author of 10 Books That Screwed Up the World and co-author of A Meaningful World) has a thought-provoking piece that examines the contrasts, not between the two men themselves, but between their underlying philosophies and where those philosophies would lead:

But most important, both hated slavery. In the years just before and after the publication of his famous Origin of Species, Darwin was fervently reading the daily news accounts of the slave issue in America. When the Civil War broke out, he threw himself into cheering for the North. "Great God how I should like to see that greatest curse on Earth, Slavery, abolished!" He wanted the North to "proclaim a crusade" against it. He was, in fact, morally outraged at what he thought were Lincoln's half-way policies. . . .

But here we meet with a great irony. Charles Darwin, the man who hated slavery with a passion, put forth a theory of man that completely supported it. For Darwin, natural selection had to explain everything—everything including human beings. The problem in making man just another animal was that anything that was natural for an animal could be natural for man as well, including slavery.

Read more -- including what Wiker has to say about the warning given to Darwin by the son of the great abolitionist William Wilberforce.

(Image © tothesource)

February 11, 2009

The Red Envelope Campaign

Red Envelope Facebook users may have run across an advertisement for the Red Envelope Campaign (Facebook membership may be required to view the link), a way to let our new president hear our pro-life voices. It's a simple concept: just buy (or make out of construction paper) a red envelope, seal it up (yes, empty), address it to the president, and add this note on the back of the envelope: "This envelope represents one child who died in abortion. It is empty because that life was unable to offer anything to the world. Responsibility begins with conception."

You may wonder, "What good will this do?" No one but God can answer that, but the campaign reminds me of the "launcher" tactic used by William Wilberforce and others as they fought against slavery in the British Empire. It's a simple, peaceful way of drawing attention to an evil that needs to be changed. President Obama, as Chuck Colson noted in this BreakPoint commentary, is confused on this issue: he rightly believes that God does not support taking innocent life, yet he is staunchly pro-abortion.  

I bought a pack of 10 envelopes on Saturday and shared them with my Sunday school class members, who have asked for more. So, you might not only do this yourself, you may want to make it a project at your church. 

Here's the address so you don't have to look it up:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC  20500

February 10, 2009

Daily roundup

February 09, 2009

Useless beauty

Peacock3 I don't mean to horn in on Regis's territory, but my eye was caught by this article on "Darwin's Legacy" in the February issue of National Geographic magazine. I was especially intrigued by this passage on the fourth page:

If natural selection is survival of the fittest (a phrase coined by the philosopher Herbert Spencer, not by Darwin), then sexual selection is reproduction of the sexiest. It has the delightful effect of generating weapons, ornaments, songs, and colors, especially on male animals. Darwin believed that some such ornaments, such as stags' antlers, helped males fight each other for females; others, such as peacocks' tails, helped males "charm" (his word) females into mating. It was, in truth, an idea born of desperation, because useless beauty worried him as an apparent exception to the ruthlessly practical workings of natural selection. He wrote to the American botanist Asa Gray in April 1860 that "The sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!"

Of course, as it turned out, the "idea born of desperation" was correct. But I wonder, what does it say about a worldview when its founder finds the possibility of beauty with no clear function -- the possibility that something might simply be beautiful for no reason -- downright sickening?

Good reads for Black History Month

Steele A symposium at NRO suggests some thought-provoking books about the African-American experience. Click here to see their picks and the reasoning behind them.

(Image © HarperCollins)

February 06, 2009

Daily roundup

’The Real Scandal of Religion’

The Pope's recent decision to revoke the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, who has denied the Holocaust happened, has opened old wounds that never truly healed. As a result of the Pope's actions, Michael Gerson wrote this article that employs a sledgehammer against Christians who stood by, or even aided the killers, during two periods of mass murder, the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda.

Gerson writes, "It is difficult to understand how those who worship a man on a cross could help to drive the bloody nails themselves. But the record is clear. When religion is infected by racism, ideology or extreme nationalism, it can become a carrier of hatred instead of conscience. And when churches are concerned mainly for their institutional self-preservation, they often end up neck-deep in compromise or paralyzed by cowardice." 

It doesn't take much effort to come up with plenty of examples that back up his judgment. Nor does it take much thought to come up with examples that refute his judgment: there are many stories of Christians who did not stand idly by while the Nazis carried out their "final solution" or while the Hutus slaughtered the Tutsis. (Gerson mentions only one "rare" exception during the Holocaust, which suggests that he may be woefully ignorant of the story of the more than 10,000 rescuers who have been honored by Israel as "righteous Gentiles.")

What I found most convicting, however, was a comment voiced by a reader at the end of Gerson's article. The reader first cited a favorite passage from Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place and then added, "Those whose hearts have been transformed act like Christians.... Those whose hearts have not been transformed act like pagans." Exactly. 

None of us knows what catastrophic events history may bring to our door, but we're all called to act like Christians -- transformed people, Christ-like people -- regardless. Gerson's criticism stings, and it makes me want to immediately leap to defend my faith by trotting out a list of exceptions. However, I think it's far more important that I simply live out my faith here and now.

We can't change what happened in the past. We can, however, make certain that when future generations look back on our time, they have better proof of the power and beauty of Christianity and of Christ because of how we lived.