Thursday, September 30, 2004

Are all the world's terrorists Muslims?

Following the massacre by mostly Muslim terrorists in Beslan, Russia, that killed, at last count, 338 people, including at least 156 children, and wounded hundreds of others, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas wrote on September 8, 2004:
Abdulrahman al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya television in Dubai, wrote in a London Arabic newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, "Our terrorist sons are an end-product of our corrupted culture."

Under the headline "The Painful Truth: All the World Terrorists Are Muslims!," he wrote, "Most perpetrators of suicide operations in buses, schools and residential buildings around the world for the past 10 years have been Muslims." He also wrote that if Muslims want to change their image, they must "admit the scandalous facts," rather than disparage critics or justify terrorists' behavior.
Now it may be a bit extreme to suggest that all the world terrorists are Muslims. Yet the facts are disturbingly clear: most of world-class terrorism today appears in one form or another to be terrorism committed by Muslims, and all the reticence of Western governments and media officials to face this disturbing reality, as evidenced by their preference for words such as "militants" and "extremists" won't change the disturbing facts. Thomas suggests that "moderate" Islamic clerics should "defrock" and denounce other clerics who preach hate and the destruction of Christians, Jews, and all things Western, arguing that the appropriate place for "diversity" and "sensitivisity" training is not in the liberal Western countries but in those that harbor and train terrorists and export terrorism as a religious mandate and national policy. This may seem a trifle facile, of course, and much more needs to be said and done. But the voice of Abdulrahman al-Rashed is certainly one that needs to be heard at the table of nations.

Read more of Thomas' article here. For further reading, see below:

Serge Trifkovic, The Sword of the Prophet: History, Theology, Impact on the World (Regina Orthodox Press, 2002)
Dore Gold, Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism (Regnery Publishing, 2003)
Bernard Lewis, The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2004)
Daniel Pipes, Militant Islam Reaches America (W.W. Norton & Company, 2003)
Robert Spencer, Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics (Ascension Press, 2003)

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Michael Davies, R.I.P.

Michael Davies, one of the doyens of the Traditionalist Movement promoting the restoration of the Tridentine Mass, died on Saturday, Sept. 25th. Leo Darroch, Secretary of the International Federation Una Voce, a federation promoting the restoration of the traditional Latin Mass of which Davies himself was president for a number of years, reports:
It is with deep sorrow that I have to inform everyone of the death of Mr. Michael Davies, the President d'Honneur of the International Una Voce Federation. Michael suffered a heart attack at 9:20 p.m. on Saturday 25th September an died instantly.... Michael's family will be keeping me informed and I will send out information as I receive it.
Michael Davies, who was born in 1936, was brought up in Somerset, England, although of Welsh descent, and served as a regular soldier in the Somerset Light Infantry during the Malayan emergency, the Suez Crisis, and the EOKA campaign in Cyprus. He then taught in Catholic schools for thirty years until retiring in 1992 to take up writing full time. He has contributed articles to Catholic journals throughout the English-speaking world, and is the author of seventeen full length books and several dozen pamphlets relating to the Catholic Faith, some of them have been translated into a number of languages. His recent biographies of St. John Fisher and Cardinal Newman have been widely praised throughout the English-speaking world. Cranmer's Godly Order, his account of the Reformation in England is now in its sixth edition. He made regular visits to Rome for discussions with members of the Curia, including a number of prominent cardinals, and has lectured throughout the world in countries as far afield as the Philippines, India, and Nigeria.

As my son, Christopher reports, Traditionalist blogger "Restore the Church" has a brief look on the life of Michael Davies:
Davies was one of the grandfathers of the Traditionalist Movement, a brilliant, articulate, well-read, and lucid writer who did more than his fair share to present the world with a defense of Traditional Catholicism.

His list of published books and pamphlets include:
  • Cranmer's Godly Order
  • Pope John's Council
  • Pope Paul's New Mass
  • Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre (3 volumes)
  • The Order of Melchisedech
  • Partisans of Error
  • Religious Liberty and the Second Vatican Council
  • The Tridentine Mass
  • The Roman Rite Destroyed
  • St. Athanasius: Defender of the Faith
  • The Liturgical Revolution
  • Mass Facing the People
  • The Reign of Christ the King
  • Liturgical Shipwreck
  • Newman Against the Liberals
"I expect more posts will be forthcoming from both sides of the Catholic spectrum," observes Christopher. Indeed. Many of Davies' books that are still in print are available on at very reasonable prices (both new and used), as you can see below.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine;
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi;
Dona eis requiem sempiternam

Update 12/6/06
Liturgical views of the man who is now Pope:

"I have been profoundly touched by the news of the death of Michael Davies. I had the good fortune to meet him several times and I found him to be a man of deep faith and ready to embrace suffering. Ever since the Council he put all his engergy into the service of the faith and left us important publications especially on the sacred liturgy. Even though he suffered from the Church in many ways in his time, he always truly remained a man of the Church. He knew that the Lord founded His Church on the rock of Peter and that the faith can find its fullness and maturity only in union with the successor of Saint Peter. Therefore we can be confident that the Lord opened wide for him the gates of heaven. We commend his soul to the Lord's mercy." (Letter of tribute from former Cardinal Ratzinger among those sent by the Roman Curia to be read aloud at the Michael Davies' requiem)

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Juiced-Up John Kerry in "Fighting Mood"

Check out this political cartoon by my son, Christopher. You can get a pack of eight postcards with this print on it for only $6.99 at Christopher's Webshop.

Get the scoop on this sketch from Christopher's blog.

Welcome to the North Hall Society

One of my philosophy students, Eric Wallace, has resurrected the Lenoir-Rhyne College tradition of a discussion group among philosophy and theology students in the form of an interactive blog, the North Hall Society, named after the campus building (pictured above, now named Russell House) that traditionally housed the Religion and Philosophy Department. Such a society used to exist in the past under the name of Bonaventure Club, founded by the late Lutheran Bishop and former Professor of Theology at Lenoir-Rhyne College, the Rev. Michael C.D. McDaniel. St. Bonaventure was a good choice of names, it was thought, because he was both a philosopher and a theologian, and thus the club and discussion group named for him could comfortably accommodate both philosophy and theology students. Kudos to Eric (pictured left), then, for taking the initiative to start the North Hall Society. Visit the North Hall Society blog here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Luther's Bible translation

Today (Sept. 21, 2004) marks the 482nd anniversary of the publication of Martin Luther's German translation of the New Testament, which appeared on Sept. 21, 1522. Luther's subsequent translation of the Old Testament led to the appearance of the Luther Bible in 1534. A common assumption among Lutherans and other Protestants is that Luther (pictured right) was the Reformer, more than any other, who is to be credited with making the Bible available in the common language. Some may tip their hats to "pre-Reformation Protestants," such as John Wycliffe or John Huss; but nearly everyone seems to think we owe it to Luther, above anyone else, that we have the Bible today as an "open book" available to all. This assumption is so pervasive that it hardly bears repeating.

What is not generally known is that there were 18 Catholic translations of the whole Bible into German before Luther's translation saw the light of day. According to the 15-volume Catholic Encyclopedia, "these included five complete folio editions printed before 1477, nine from 1477 to 1522, and four in Low German, all prior to Luther's New Testament in 1522." (See for yourself: Click on the following link to the Catholic Encyclopedia and scroll down to "German versions.") There were also Catholic translations of the Bible into many other languages over the centuries well before the Protestant Reformation. In fact, the Latin Vulgate itself was a translation into the vernacular Latin tongue of the day: hence it was called "Vulgate" -- a reference to the "vulgar" (or common) tongue. Much of this is explored in detail by Henry G. Graham in Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church (pictured left).

It is also not generally known that Luther's celebrated translation of the Bible, famous for the formative influence it had on the German language, may not have been entirely original. The Swiss Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, is quoted as having declared to Luther:
"You are unjust in putting forth the boastful claim of dragging the Bible from beneath the dusty benches of the schools. You forget that we have gained a knowledge of the Scriptures through the translations of others. You are very well aware, with all your blustering, that previously to your time there existed a host of scholars who, in biblical knowledge and philological attainments, were incomparably your superiors." [Alzog. III, 49, quoted in Patrick F. O'Hare, The Facts about Luther (pictured right) (Rockford, IL: Thomas A. Nelson Publishers, Inc., 1987), p. 191]
Follow subsequent discussion on this thread here.

What makes a President a man's man?

Can you imagine Bill Clinton or John Kerry doing this? Look well to this species. It's a dying breed.

Paul Jetter relates this account of a young man's meeting with President Bush in the Oval Office:
"On our way out of the office we were to leave by the glass doors on the west side of the office. I was the last person in the exit line. As I shook his hand one final time...I then did something that surprised even me. I said to him, 'Mr. President, I know you are a busy man and your time is precious. I also know you to be a man of strong faith and have a favor to ask you.' As he shook my hand he looked me in the eye and said, 'Just name it.'

"I told him that my step-Mom was at that moment in a hospital having a tumor removed from her skull and it would mean a great deal to me if he would consider adding her to his prayers that day. He grabbed me by the arm and took me back toward his desk as he said, 'So that's it. I could tell that something is weighing heavy on your heart today. I could see it in your eyes. This explains it.' From the top drawer of his desk he retrieved a pen and a note card with his seal on it and asked, 'How do you spell her name?' He then jotted a note to her while discussing the importance of family and the strength of prayer.

"When he handed me the card, he asked about the surgery and the prognosis. I told him we were hoping that it is not a recurrence of an earlier cancer and that if it is they can get it all with this surgery. He said, 'If it's okay with you, we'll take care of the prayer right now. Would you pray with me?' I told him yes and he turned to the staff that remained in the office and hand motioned the folks to step back or leave. He said, 'Bruce and I would like some private time for a prayer.'

"As they left he turned back to me and took my hands in his. I was prepared to do a traditional prayer stance — standing with each other with heads bowed. Instead, he reached for my head with his right hand and pulling gently forward, he placed my head on his shoulder. With his left arm on my mid back, he pulled me to him in a prayerful embrace. He started to pray softly. I started to cry. He continued his prayer for Loretta and for God's perfect will to be done. I cried some more. My body shook a bit as I cried and he just held tighter. He closed by asking God's blessing on Loretta and the family during the coming months.

"I stepped away from our embrace, wiped my eyes, swiped at the tears I'd left on his shoulder, and looked into the eyes of our President. I thanked him as best I could and told him that me and my family would continue praying for he and his....He has a pile of incredible stuff on his plate each day — and yet he is tuned in so well to the here and now that he 'sensed' something heavy on my heart. He took time out of his life to care, to share, and to seek God's blessing for my family..."
(Gratia tibi, Christopher!)

Saturday, September 18, 2004

"This Rock is Up!"

One of the best Catholic apologetics magazines is now online! Jimmy Akin writes:
Catholic Answers has finally been able to achieve its long-standing goal of getting back issues of This Rock magazine (pictured left) online! As of now, the mazagines from January 2001 (less the last few issues) are all online HERE.

The remainder of the print run of This Rock, going all the way back to the first issue in January 1990, are expected to be online in two months.

After that, we'll continue to post new issues of the magazine, but lagged by about three months (unless you're a subscriber, in which case the plan is that you'll be able to log in and read the new issues immediately).
Courtesy of Christopher Blosser (Against the Grain, Sept. 16, 2004)

Believing is behaving

This from Barbara Kralis of the Jesus Through Mary Foundation:
Lex orandi est lex credendi, translated into English as "The law of prayers dictates the law of belief." In other words, the way you pray shows what you believe; what you exhibit externally reflects what you believe internally. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, "If you don't behave as you believe, you will end by believing as you behave."

Designing educational "outcomes"

Over the last couple of decades, bureaucrats in academic accrediting institutions have been hard at work endeavoring to make life harder for college and university professors. Or so it seems. On the face of it, all their new demands appear so innocuous: they simply want to make academic institutions more "accountable" by seeing that they deliver on their claims to educate. How? By means of "measurable outcomes." In other words, if a college claims to educate all of its students in basic algebra, then graduating seniors of that institution should be able to demonstrate basic proficiency in algebra. A measurable outcome. Nice and neat.

One problem is that outcomes aren't as "measurable" in some areas as they are in mathematics. In fact, whole idea of measurable outcomes seems to fit very well only those areas in which means and ends are clearly distinguishable, as in computer science, industrial arts, auto mechanics, and carpentry. All of these disciplines involve mastery of technical skills with clearly definable purposes or ends. But measuring outcomes becomes a lot more difficult in the classic liberal arts, which lack easily recognizable ends. What is the purpose of a liberal arts education? Of course, we say that it is to educate the whole person. In its mission statement, Lenoir-Rhyne College states that it is to "to liberate mind and spirit, clarify personal faith, foster physical wholeness, build a sense of community, and promote responsible leadership for service in the world." But then, how do you measure whether you have achieved that?

Lenoir-Rhyne College is currently undergoing its periodical reassessment of its core curriculum. In conjunction with this reassessment, the college Core Committee recently submitted a list of "Student Outcomes," which it proposed for the consideration of the faculty, in an attempt to meet the demands of our accrediting agency. What follows below is the list of twelve proposed "Student Outcomes," along with my own remarks and attempted amendments. One thing that becomes quickly apparently, I think, is how difficult the matter of assessing "outcomes" becomes when one confronts the kind of goals articulated in the Lenoir-Rhyne College mission statement.
Lenoir-Rhyne students/graduates will:

1. Demonstrate effective critical thinking skills, including logic, problem solving, and textual analysis and evaluation
[insert: "in the light of classic canons of truth, morality, and faith"].

[Comment: The term "evaluation" us ambiguous. On the one hand, the term may suggest "technical evaluation" (logical-grammatical correctness), in which case it would seem unnecessary to articulate a commitment to any system of values beyond the canons of logic and grammar as the standard for evaluation.

On the other hand, "evaluation" is related to the word "value" and can (and should, especially at a church-related school) also mean "normative evaluation," implying a specific commitment to classic canons of truth, morality, and faith. In this case, an indispensable component of this outcome, in my opinion, would include such things as the ability of students to effectively understand the utter intellectual indefensibility of the pedestrian and sophomoric relativism that pervades contemporary culture. This is one of the most elementary lessons of Plato's dialogues, and one that graduating students should be able to understand and prepared to defend.

It seems to me that an indispensable component of this outcome that not only complements the technical virtues of logical assessment, but is a mark of the well-formed mind, is the intellectual virtue of being able to distinguish between intelligence and stupidity, excellence and mediocrity, virtue and vice, wisdom and foolishness, as well as religious (perhaps Lutheran, in this case) orthodoxy and heterodoxy. This is not a matter of parochial heavy-handedness but of liberal sobriety: I am not a Lutheran, but I do not believe a Lutheran school should be graduating seniors, as we have, who don't know the difference between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr., let alone what Martin Luther taught.]

2. Understand the interdisciplinary nature of knowledge.

[Comment: I agree with the importance of this point, as long as it is not assumed, for example, that the disciplines of business, economics, sociology, or computer science have the competence to teach ethics, theology, history or poetry -- or vice versa. The apprehension of the fact that knowledge is interdisciplinary is largely the province of each student's own understanding and ability to synthesize -- not that of the special sciences and disciplines to impart directly through teaching. There are only a few disciplines whose general nature may allow for some meaningful discussion of this question -- philosophy above all, and to some degree theology, history, and possibly English.]

3. Develop a sense of vocation that encompasses responsibility to
[insert: "God,"] family, community, and professional discipline.

[What can "vocation" possibly mean apart from the One who calls us? Or do we wish to remove God from the maps of the world we present to our students? This would seem understandable if this were a school in the former censorship-ridden Soviet Union, but it makes little sense in the context of our church-related college, unless we wish to jettison that appellation and affiliation.]

4. Write and speak precisely and persuasively.

5. Demonstrate basic proficiency in a second language.

6. Demonstrate understanding of the fine arts and literature
[cross out ""fine arts and literature" and insert: "the humanities -- including history, philosophy, religion, ethics, literature, and the fine arts."]

7. Understand scientific reasoning
[insert: "including major historical and contemporary scientific theories and paradigms"].

[Comment: The insertion is meant to forestall the occasional presumption that "scientific reasoning" can be adequately understood apart from its historical development and culturally-embedded philosophical assumptions.]

8. Demonstrate basic quantitative skills.

9. Comprehend the impact of social systems on individual and collective decision-making.

10. Comprehend the content of the Christian faith and tradition.

[Comment: Which "Christian faith and tradition"? Lutheran? Catholic? Protestant? American? Liberal? Conservative? Or, if specification is not desired, as in C.S. Lewis' notion of "Mere Christianity," should this not be declared in some way, even so as to allow that particular interpretations of Christianity will reflect the particular perspectives of the course instructors?]

11. Understand a culture other than their own.

[Comment: Couldn't this be linked conveniently to #5 (proficiency in a second language)? Apart from such a specifying link, the meaning of "culture" would seem quite indefinite: What do we mean by "culture" here? -- Ancient Mesopotamian culture? French Muslim culture? Hmong culture in Hickory? American Bible Belt culture? The culture of that parish magazine of affluent, self-congratulatory liberal enlightenment, the New York Times?]

12. Comprehend the impact of personal wellness on the quality of life.

[Comment: "Wellness?" Whatever became of "health"? "Wellness" sounds so ... Oh, never mind!]

Thank you, Mr. Gibson.

Mr. Mel Gibson
Icon Productions
808 Wilshire Blvd., 4th Floor
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Dear Mr. Gibson,

Just a note to express my admiration and thanks for your willingness to lay so much on the line in your commitment to produce The Passion of the Christ. It has been gratifying to see how this film has defied all predictions of doom and failure to break box office records and prove your critics wrong. Still, it is even more gratifying to know that you would have stood by your magnum opus even if it had fallen stillborn from the editing room.

It has meant the world to me, as a college professor, to see a contemporary icon of manliness and courage such as you throw his whole heart and life into a production honoring Jesus Christ. I know you caught a lot of animosity and derision for this. But in a society that has been stripped of genuine heroes and saturated with postmodern anti-heroes, your example has been more than welcome. One of my great disappointments over the course of my academic career has been to see students trying to make their way in a world where Hollywood and Madison Avenue are telling them, at every turn, that the purpose of their lives is to be found in grasping at money, power, and pleasure. How far the world has fallen from a time in which people held aloft the virtues of voluntary poverty, obedience, and chastity. Young people were made, not for hedonism and selfishness, but for heroism and sacrifice. Deep in their hearts I think they know this. But there is little in their social environment, even in Church these days, to support such counter-intuitive insights. In such a milieu as this, your own life and example, as well as those of the icons you have brought to the screen, have been singularly exceptional; and for this I am most grateful.

On a personal note, I am also grateful for your stalwart resistance to contemporary trends in the Church. Here again, young people sense that little of any substance is to be found to sustain them in forms of religion inspired by current social trends, and you have pointed young people towards the oasis of Catholic tradition amidst the spiritual desert. For this, too, I express my gratitude.

Thanks, Mr. Gibson.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Words with a post-Christian mother

A young mother, a good friend, recently wrote to me expressing some concerns about her daughter and her education. The mother comes from a good evangelical Protestant family, in fact a missionary family in the Far East. But she has drifted away from the Christian moorings of her childhood and no more claims the identity of Christian, at least, as she says, "in a traditional sense." Here is part of our exchange, based on one earlier correspondence:

The Mother:
Thanks for your "soap box" spiel. It's always interesting. I particularly loved the MacLeish quote. I've heard so much about the Chronicles of Narnia (pictured left), from so many different people, I'm sure that's one we'll read with our daughter, J., when she's a little older. What you talk about encountering among your college students is very sobering. I'm sure, as you say, the disintegration of identity has a variety of sources. It sounds like you're also saying the images, metaphores and values that have been passed down to us culturally are no longer working. I'll buy that. Do you feel it would be best to try to reclaim them or that there is some sort of transformation process that we need to go through as a culture to create new ones?
When we say that the old metaphors are "no longer working," that
leads many people to one of two conclusions, both on the assumption that there was a problem with the old metaphors and/or how they were understood: (1) infuse the old ones with new meanings, or (2) replace them with new ones.

#1 is the answer of liberal Christianity, which wants to reinterpret the old metaphors, like crucifixion and resurrection, to mean something else than a blood sacrifice or literal bodily resurrection-- such as the importance of putting others first and of being hopeful and cheerful so as to be a bright light in the face of gloom and despair.

#2 is the answer of all those who endeavor to find an alternative to the nihilism that followed in the wake of the collapse of the meaning-confeering Christian meta-narrative. (a) Existentialists, for example, try to find meaning in bravely asserting the meaningfulness of personal choices in the face of a pointless existence that renders all of one's decisions absurd. (b) Postmodernism attempts something similar, replacing "truth" and "reality" with "constructs" that are elaborated in stories we tell ourselves, which hopefully can yield some sort of meaning. (c) The amorphous New Age movement postulates some sort of "higher consciousness" that it hopes will yield insight into thetrue meaning and nature of things.

My own view of the claim that the old metaphors are "no longer working," however is that of G.K. Chesterton (a Catholic convert who was a major influence on C.S. Lewis): "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."
The Mother:
One of the things that was sort of nerve-racking for my husband and me around the idea of putting J. in public schools was that neither of us had been through the system. I had 5th and 6th grade in Idaho and I know the quality of that education wasn't too great. Other than that, I was in private schools and he in the European system. We were concerned about the quality of the educational learning, but also about the socialization, the values, etc. You know we're not particularly religious in the traditional sense, but we do have ideas about values it's important to pass on to J., many of them (though perhaps not all) compatible with what might be called traditional values: a sense of right and wrong in how we treat people, a strong sense of community, an ecological awareness, a sense of personal responsibility, a sense of the spiritual dimension of life, the need to strive continually for growth, etc.
All the values you list here, of course, are residual values from the legacy of western Judeo-Christianity. This should not be in the least surprising, since, like most of us in the west, you have emerged from that tradition. In terms of historical developments, the trajectory that this movement has followed has passed through several phases: (1) traditional western Judeo-Christian theism; (2) Deism, which keeps the notion of a God out there, but jettisons the notion of any divine, miraculous intervention on the part of God in the affairs of human beings; hence, no revelation, no incarnation, no resurrection, no sin, and therefore no salvation; (3) naturalism, which does away with God and the supernatural altogether, so that there is no God, no miracles, nothing but impersonal evolution, a brief life full of unfulfillable aspirations, and then the eternal sleep of death; and (4) nihilism, which draws the brutally honest conclusion that if life has no divinely-imposed meaning to be humanly discovered, it is absurd and meaningless, and the only question really worth asking is why we bother to go on living (Albert Camus (pictured right): why do we not commit suicide). But of course that's hardly the message you want for J.

The question you have to seriously ask yourself, then, is: what can I give to J. that will sustain her and give her hope and meaning and purpose and fulfillment in the face of the brutal logic that leads from naturalism directly to nihilism? Does existentialism, or postmodernism or the New Age movement, or some sort of Eastern mysticism provide an answer?

It's a funny thing: I ask my students: If a little girl stumbles and hurts herself, isn't the natural inclination to run to her, help her up, dry her tears, and tell her that everything's going to be alright? Yet what is it that we really believe? If our beliefs are really those of naturalism or nihilism, wouldn't a more honest response be to tell the little girl: Listen, young lady. You think you have something to cry about? Let me give you something to really cry about: your life is absolutely pointless. Whether you are run over by an eighteen wheeler in the next hour or two, or whether you live to a ripe old age to see your grandchildren, you life will soon be forgotten after you rot in your grave. Um ... That doesn't quite seem like what I'd like to tell a little girl who's just hurt herself. But doesn't this suggest the absurdity of the secularized, naturalistic, nihilistic answer? What is the answer that will provide sustenance, then? Perhaps the one that Chesterton called "demanding." But for that to make sense, one will have to overcome a great deal of the brainwashing of contemporary culture.
The Mother:
... We are, of course, prepared to take primary responsibility in imparting those values to her, but didn't want to have the sense that we were working at cross purposes with what she's being exposed to at school. We don't really know people with older kids, but we'd watch jr. high and high school kids in the neighborhood and scratch our heads and think... they look so lost, so immature, so ungrounded, etc., and get kind of freaked out. I don't want to be over protective and I think a lot of constructive learning can happen by being exposed to a variety of things and then talking about how we differ and why, but of course we'd like to have the sense that what she's getting at school more or less reinforces what we're trying to teach her.
Perhaps that gives you an idea why we homeschooled our sons. Of course that's not for everybody. But we saw serious problems in everything from the public school pedagogy to the public school socialization. A lot of the pedagogy consisted of little more than monitoring problem students, so that the brighter ones fell through the cracks of neglect. A lot of the socialization consisted of peer-influences which tended to be almost entirely anti-intellectual, leading to cultural and historical illiteracy. Not every public school is the same, of course, but there are trends which are disturbing.
The Mother:
... And we hope that she's getting a solid education in the process. It will be a long road with many twists and turns, I'm sure, but at least at this early stage we seem to be off to a good start. And for that we are exceedingly grateful! Two nights ago there was a meeting for the parents in the Montessori program and we had a chance to hear quite a bit from her teacher about what she was doing with the kids in the classroom and how they learn independence and responsibility, how they get to exercise choice within a fairly focused structure, etc., and it was very encouraging. Last night was the first PTA meeting and I was struck by what a strong family-oriented community it was, all working to improve the quality of their children's education and how well they seemed to communicate with - and work with - the teachers and administrators. Both our good friends, M. and C. were there, and we realized we were tapping into a really strong, loving community. It's such a relief. Another little observation: most of the parents of these elementary age kids were "old" like us. Interesting. I'm sure there are some younger parents in the school, but I was surprised by how many were, shall we say, "mature". It made me feel like we're not so weird after all and also contibutes to a sense of solidity. I think it is a somewhat unique school ( we visited 7 and it was the only one we really liked), and I'm so pleased to have found it. We'll see how things evolve... I'm sure the challenges will get tougher as she gets older.
Well this sounds quite good, in certain respects. Again, in light of what I know about the Montessori program, this isn't surprising. Many of the things you mention here are indispensable for a child like J. to have in her young years, if she's to form a sound character and sustain an inquisitive intellect. Sooner or later, though, she (and you) will find yourself facing some larger questions that call for anwers. Responsibility is a good thing to learn. But is there anyone to whom I am ultimately responsible besides my parents, my teachers, or my husband or community? What if I reject the values -- or some of the values -- of my community? What if I find its values groundless?

Jean-Paul Sartre (pictured right) writes:
"Towards 1880, when the French professors eneavored to formulate a secular morality, they said something like this:-- God is a useless and costly hypothesis, so we will do without it. However, if we are to have morality, a society and a law-abiding world, it is essential that certain values should be taken seriously; they must have an a priori existence ascribed to them. It must be considered obligatory a priori to be honest, not to lie, not to beat one's wife, to bring up children and so forth; so we are going to do a little work on this subject, which weill enable us to show that these values exist all the same, inscribed in an intelligible heaven although, of course, there is no God. In other words -- and this is, I believe, the purport of all that we in France call radicalism -- othing will be changed if God does not exist; we shall re-discover the same norms of honesty, progress and humanity, and we shall have disposed of God as an out-fo-date hypothesis which will die away quietly of itself. The existentialist, on the contrary, finds it extremely embarassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that 'the good' exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men. Dostoevsky once wrote 'If God did not exist, everything would be permitted'; and that, for existentialism, is the starting point."(Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism)
Indeed, what will sustain us in the caustic, arid winds of that future? May God help us!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Rathergate ...

"Critics are calling the media scandal over the Jerry Killian forgeries "Rathergate." But to thousands of Vietnam veterans, the real Rathergate took place 16 years ago when Dan Rather (pictured left) successfully foisted a fraud onto the American people. Then, unlike now, there was no blogosphere to expose him.

"On June 2, 1988, CBS aired an hour-long special titled CBS Reports: The Wall Within, which CBS trumpeted as the "rebirth of the TV documentary." It purported to tell the true story of Vietnam through the eyes of six of the men who fought there. And what terrible stories they had to tell...."
Read more ... (Anne Morse, "The First Rathergate: The CBS anchor's precarious relationship with the truth," NRO, Sept. 15, 2004.)

You say it's your birthday . . .

Aragorn (pictured left), ranger and heir to the throne of Gondor in J.R.R. Tolkien's celebrated epic, Lord of the Rings, was born in the 2931st year of the Third Age (for details read Tolkien's Silmarillion). That puts him, surprisingly perhaps, around his 86th or 87th year during the events of the Fellowship of the Ring.

I was born under the Showa calendar in the reign of the Emperor Hirohito, who died in 1989 by our calendar. But I hardly ever remember my birthday until someone reminds me of it, as my dear wife did when she took me out to dinner the other day.

But then comes the fun: seeing which of the kids and other relatives remembers it. Of course, the answer is usually none. Not even my own dad. I finally called him up and asked him if he remembered that there was something special about this day ... no, not that it was the feast day for the Exaltation of the Cross; no, not that the sun came out in Iowa; no, not that he had Iowa sweet corn for dinner: DAD! Back in Chengdu, Szechuan, in China! "Oh, my goodness ... Why if I didn't completely forget!" ... Um, yeah, Dad. I thought so.

Nathan, our youngest, called up and talked for a long time, first with Amy, who told him: "You're not only the first to call, but so far you're the only one of the boys who's called." My heart glowed. When she finally gave me the phone, I talked with Nathan for about twenty minutes about this and that. Finally he got around to the reason for his call: "The main reason I called was to ask you whether we could stay with you we come up ..." "NATHAN! You mean you didn't call to wish me a happy birthday???" "You mean it's your birthday today?" ... Yeah. Another bubble burst.

Later I called Jamie to see if he remembered. Nope. His strengths lie in other areas, he said, like producing progeny to carry on my line. Okay ... no luck there.

In the middle of the night we were awakened by a call from Chris, who said that Shara had reminded him that it was my birthday. Um ... thanks, Shara! We had a good talk and a good laugh about the other calls.

Jon called me the next day to retroactively wish me that I had had a good birthday the day before. He was, he said, distracted from calling me the day before because Matt Yoder was back in town and he was chillin' with Matt that evening. Good ol' Matt.

Meiko, one of my sisters living in Seattle, did email me to wish me a happy birthday. She remembered.

But my own sons! And my own Dad! Sigh ... Oh, well, what does it matter, really? When, like Aragorn, born in the 2931st year of the Third Age, one has reached his 86th or 87th year, what does the passing of yet another year in earth time betoken, besides the obvious? Will we celebrate birthdays in the Undying Lands of the West, if , like Tolkien's Elrond (pictured right) we are immortal? What do you think?

Monday, September 13, 2004

In memoriam ...

Two links worth checking out in memory of what happend on September 11th, 2001, are

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Big Dawg (1988? - 2004): Rest in peace

"Big Dawg" was our family cat for over 14 years. He was probably at least two years old when we got him. He was probably part Mancoon, and was the largest domestic cat we've ever seen. He was given his name by son, Jonathan Blosser, in part because of "Big Dawg's" size. One day a UPS truck showed up at our door, and when the delivery man turned around and saw "Big Dawg," he practically dropped his package. He said he thought it was a Puma! Big Dawg was an exceptionally good-natured cat. An outdoor cat, he adjusted well to every move we made, and while Amy and I were in England, he stayed with her parents without ever leaving their open yard. When he was younger, he was once hit by a car and suffered several bad fractures. After a trip to the vet, I fed him liquid food with a turkey baster for three months until his jaw healed enough for him to eat solid food again. Once a friendly neighbor tried to adopt him and domesticate him as an indoor cat. But two weeks later he made his escape and returned home. He was clearly disgusted with all the wussy ribbons they tried tying around his head. Big Dawg was a tom cat's tom cat. He dominated his turf. Once when a black lab came loping brazenly into our yard, Big Dawg sprang from the deck onto the black lab's neck, dug in, and hung on until the terrified lab beat a hasty retreat. Big Dawg became a Godfatherly protector of Igor, a black kitten we adopted last spring. They became fast friends in recent months. Last Thursday (Sept. 9th, the feast day of St. Peter Claver) Big Dawg failed to show up for dinner. I found him lying peacefully alongside the stone garden wall in the grass under the shade of a Crape Myrtle. There was no sign of foul play. He may have died simply of a heart attack. He showed no signs of ill health in the days leading up to his death. He was getting old, and the spring had gone out of his step, but he could still hold his own when it came to defending his turf. No cat in its right mind would want to tangle with B-i-g D-a-w-g ... I can't help thinking that St. Francis, animal lover that he was, must have arranged a place in heaven for beloved pets. How could God have refused him? Big Dawg, beloved, faithful, loyal guardian of the Blosser family: requiescat in pace (rest in peace).

Friday, September 10, 2004

Logic and reason can't lead us to reject God

One of my students forwarded an email to me today from a student who stated that after a life-long sojourn as a Christian, he had come to reject the Christian faith. The original email officially announcing his apostasy was sent to a list of Christian friends and, predictably, appears to have created a small tempest in a teapot. In any case, since the apostate was also a former student of mine, and one with whom I continue to enjoy good ongoing conversations from time-to-time, I responded to his announcement as follows:
Heard the big news. Well, that's one heck of a way to get attention! I'm tempted to think you did it just as a gag to stir up the hornet's nest!!

So how does apostasy (rejecting the faith) feel? Liberating? Sad? I only ask because I'm sincerely curious. Does it bring a sense of freedom (like the Enlightenment supposed), or a sense of forboding (like Nietzsche expressed)?

I should qualify my definition of apostasy as "rejecting the faith." There's an ambiguity in the term "faith" that calls for comment: when one rejects the Christian faith (as a body of beliefs) one doesn't reject faith (as a subjective
disposition to believe in something). One simply withdraws his faith from Christianity and puts it in something else. The question, then, would be: where's yours now, or did you misplace it somewhere under the bed or in the closet?

People very rarely convert (or 'unconvert') for intellectual reasons, whatever they may say. Usually it's something else, even if there may be good 'reasons' one can muster. Hence, if it's true that "logic and reason can't lead us to God" [the title of your weblog] it's just as true that logic and reason aren't what really lead us to reject God either.

Thus, some unchurched people become Christians initially in order to "find themselves," or for community, or comfort. Likewise, some people raised in religious communities jettison their faith because they're having sex outside of marriage and don't like feeling guilty about it, or for some other convenient reason.

The causes of things we do are rarely the reasons we give for the things we do. The reasons are interesting to play around with, of course. We could line up our logical syllogisms one against the other and, I suppose, have some fun. But as Blaise Pascal (pictured left) abundantly knew, the human heart does not run on syllogisms. "The heard has its reasons," he wrote, "of which reason knows nothing."

So the only really interesting question at this point has nothing to do with arguments. It has to do with the reasons of the heart that animated your inner decision -- as you first toyed with, then more seriously considered, then made a commitment [Oh, yes! -- shades of Billy Graham (pictured right) and the "Hour of Decision"!] to reject the Christian faith.

Those reasons of the heart may not be something you can drag out into the light of day at this point, but if you think about the alternatives involved in Pascal's famous Wager, you may wish at least to consider the implications ...

Assume that Christianity is false. What does the Christian stand to lose who mistakenly spends his life believing that God exists, trying to love his neighbor, forgive people who do him ill, and sharing his faith with others? Not much.
He dies, pretty much just like you do, only with his last thought being the comfortable delusion that a loving God exists Who awaits him on the other side. Not bad, really.

Assume that Christianity is true. What does the apostate stand to lose who mistakenly rejects the Christian faith and spends the rest of his life banking on the assumption that there is "no heaven above us" and "no hell below us" (as John Lennon sang wistfully in his song, "Imagine")? Pretty much everything. He dies too, but then finds that he's still awake on the other side and being led straightaway to the Divine Tribunal where the dread words of Jesus (Mt 7:23) could await him: "Depart from me ... I never knew you ..." Not very good, really.

That's certainly not a very noble reason for clinging to a faith one doesn't believe in. But it would certainly be reason enough for me not to want to turn my back on the possibilies I might have overlooked somehow -- especially with those biblical warnings about how some maddening spiritual blindness could have been cast
over me by One who does not wish us well ... You know of whom I speak: One who makes Tolkien's Sauron (pictured right) seem like a friendly uncle ...

Dr. B.

Oliver North: "Bring it on, John"

"Of course, the president keeps telling people he would never question my service to our country. Instead, he watches as a Republican-funded attack group does just that. Well, if he wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: 'Bring it on.'" -- Sen. John Kerry
In an open letter to Sen. John Kerry, Oliver North (pictured left, testifying before the Senate in Washington, D.C., in 1987) writes:
Dear John,

As usual, you have it wrong. You don't have a beef with President George Bush about your war record. He's been exceedingly generous about your military service. Your complaint is with the 2.5 million of us who served honorably in a war that ended 29 years ago and which you, not the president, made the centerpiece of this campaign.

... The trouble you're having, John, isn't about your medals or coming home early or getting lost -- or even Richard Nixon. The issue is what you did to us when you came home, John.

When you got home, you co-founded Vietnam Veterans Against the War and wrote "The New Soldier," which denounced those of us who served -- and were still serving -- on the battlefields of a thankless war. Worst of all, John, you then accused me -- and all of us who served in Vietnam -- of committing terrible crimes and atrocities.
[John Kerry, above, testifying for "Vietnam Veterans Against the War" at the April 23, 1971, Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing]

... Your "antiwar" statements and activities were painful for those of us carrying the scars of Vietnam and trying to move on with our lives. And for those who were still there, it was even more hurtful. But those who suffered the most from what you said and did were the hundreds of American prisoners of war being held by Hanoi. Here's what some of them endured because of you, John:

Capt. James Warner had already spent four years in Vietnamese custody when he was handed a copy of your testimony by his captors. Warner says that for his captors, your statements "were proof I deserved to be punished." He wasn't released until March 14, 1973....

... One last thing, John. In 1988, Jane Fonda said: "I would like to say something ... to men who were in Vietnam, who I hurt, or whose pain I caused to deepen because of things that I said or did. I was trying to help end the killing and the war, but there were times when I was thoughtless and careless about it and I'm ... very sorry that I hurt them. And I want to apologize to them and their families."

Even Jane Fonda apologized. Will you, John?
(emphasis added)
Read more ... [Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, host of the Fox News Channel's War Stories and founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

"Refreshingly dowdy ... like women who dress up in [church] in England"

"Every time I go down to Washington [D.C.], it's a changed city," writes Peggy Noonan. "It's actually different from the more sleepy little town I knew in 1984. It is so much more sophisticated and cosmopolitan. The women dress so much better -- to my disappointment. One of the things that made Washington so distinctive was that it was refreshingly dowdy. It was like seeing the sort of women who dress up in [church] in England. That's how Washington women looked. I just loved that lovely dowdiness. Now they're chic and hip and rock." [Crisis magazine (Sept. 2004), p. 38. Visit]

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Protestant couple rethinks contraception

Sam Torode, Bethany Torode, and J. Budziszewski have authored a book, Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception (Eerdmans, 2002), which, according to Publishers Weekly, "packs some serious punches":
"Authors Sam and Bethany Torode argue that all married Christians, not just Roman Catholics, need to seriously examine the widespread usage of contraception, which they feel is against God's plan for creation. (Pregnancy is not a disease, they assert. Why vaccinate against it?) While supporting Natural Family Planning, which they define as informed abstinence, they also make a particularly uncompromising case for stay-at-home moms, which will probably irritate many readers. More controversially, they argue that a culture that worships sex without procreation will sacrifice its children through abortion, claiming that America's increasing permissiveness about legalizing contraception in the 1960s led inexorably to Roe v. Wade in the 1970s."


A recent essay entitled "Anglicans love that musty patristic smell ..." on the Pontificator weblog elicited this comment by William Tighe on the history of the term "Anglican":
The first use of the word "Anglicanism" according to the Oxford English Dictionary [OED] was around 1838, in a satirical reference to the Oxford Movement by the Rev'd Charles Kingsley, but shortly after it was used several times by J. H. Newman (the future Catholic cardinal) to characterize the via media between the Reformation and Rome than he and the other Tractarians held to constitute the rationale of the Church of England and its offshoots (which is ironic, in that it was Kingsley's later attack on the Catholic Newman as a liar that was to evoke the latter's Apologia Pro Vita Sua).

However, there was one earlier use of the word "Anglicanisme" to characterize the Church of England's theological stance that the OED overlooked. It occurs in the Catholic polemical (anti-protestant) work of one Thomas Harrab entitled Tessaradelphia, Or the Four Bretherne, the four being Catholicism, Lutheranism, Calvinism and "Anglicanisme." He characterized "Anglicanism" as a species of Protestantism having no one man as its author or teacher (unlike Calvinism or Lutheranism) but rather as resting upon and set forth by "the Prince and the Parliament." Insofar as Anglicanism has historically beeen characterized by Erastianism (whether Erastianism properly speaking, as in the "Established Church" of England, or "social Erastianism," as in (P)ECUSA [Protestant Episcopal Church USA] as "the Church of the Establishment") it seems an apt description.
(emphasis added)
(Gratia tibi for the notice, Mr. Sean Fagan)

Another reason I became a Catholic

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Monday, September 06, 2004

"Brace yourself: the months ahead will be momentous"

"We are not at the end of history, but rather at its new beginning. All the old truths -- conventional warfare, the Atlantic alliance, petroleum-based affluence, conventional political debate, etiquette, principled disagreement, and the old populist Democratic party are coming under question. And the only thing that is clear from what will follow is that it will all be loud, messy, full of surprises -- and occasionally quite scary.
Thus writes Victor Davis Hanson (pictured above) in his article, "Brace Yourself: The Months Ahead Will Be Momentous," in National Review Online (Sept. 2, 2004).
"If Bush wins in November, and I think he will, then there will be recriminations and fury of the like we have not seen since the Right imploded after 1964. For many of us lifelong Democrats, the very sight of Michael Moore perched next to Jimmy Carter at the convention in Boston says it all -- the sorry coming together of conspiratorial anti-Americanism and self-righteous appeasement.
Read more ...

Happy Labor Day! (Imagine a 6-hr work day!)

"Most of us are familiar with the story of the progressive shortening of the work day to the eight-hour standard that was achieved in the first half of the 20th century. But why stop at eight hours? In 1930 the Kellogg company in Michigan instituted the six-hour work day, and in 1933 the U.S. Senate passed a bill to provide for a 30-hour work week. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass the House of Representatives, and we pretty much have forgotten about it ever since....

"In his essay 'What's an Economy For?' David Korten, a former Stanford Business School Professor, points out that Americans are often told that we need to work as hard as we do because it's good for the economy. But, he responds, what is the economy for? Do we serve the economy or is it supposed to serve us? If we are destroying our families and our health for the sake of the economy, something would seem to be askew. As he says, 'the purpose of an economy is to help us live fully and well. We devote so much of our personal time ... to making money, we have forgotten how to live.'"
[emphasis added]
Thomas Stork, in "Possessed by Our Possessions" (Review of Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America, edited by John de Graaf) in New Oxford Review (September 2004). For further suggestions for pratical ways of taking back your time, visit Take Back Your Time Day at

Latest issue of New Oxford Review

The September 2004 issue of the New Oxford Review (NOR) contains a number of interesting items:
  • Scott Hahn replies to Edward O'Neill's earlier article critiquing Hahn.
  • NOR editor, Dale Vree, takes Mark Shea to task for his precipitously blogged remarks [now apparently taken off-line] responding to O'Neill's original article (which he later confessed to not having yet read) stating that O'Neill had "stabbed a brother in Christ" and that NOR is guilty of peddling "destructive bomb-throwing s---." Vree concludes his observations thus:
    "But we're content to let Mark Shea have the last word: His weblog is subtitled 'So That No Thought of Mine, No Matter How Stupid, Should Ever Go Unpublished Again!'"
  • Fr. Peter Stravinskas, the author of 32 books and more than 500 articles and founding Editor in 1987 of The Catholic Answer (TCA) has been fired by his publishers at Our Sunday Visitor (OSV). Apparently Stravinskas' bracing Catholic orthodoxy was too much for the bureaucrats at OSV. So what has Stravinskas done? He's started up his own magazine, essentially a remake of the old TCA, now called The Catholic Response. Subscriptions are $25 for the first year at The Catholic Response, 5401 S. 33rd St. Omaha, NE 68107.
  • A new periodical, St. Joseph Messenger, has been hailed as "the finest assortment of Catholic information for students that has come across my desk" by Fran Cotty, the Founder of the Kolbe Academy, a renowned provider of certified Catholic homeschool materials. Visit, or call 800-242-9954 or write to St. Joseph Messenger, P.O. Box 751143, Dayton, HO 45475-1143.
  • Andrew Messaros, a professor at Ave Maria College in Michigan, has written an article, "Tom Monaghan's Impending Educational Disaster," reporting on administrative troubles involving the fledgling Ave Maria University in Florida, its relations to Ave Maria College in Michigan, and the troubled role of Tom Monaghan's micromanagement through the Ave Maria Foundation, his philanthropic organization).
  • Thomas Stork, Contributing Editor of NOR and author of Christendom and the West, offers a well-worth-reading review of John de Graaf's new volume, Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America (pictured right).
  • Finally, Anne Barbeau Gardiner, Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College of the City University of New York, offers a fascinating analysis of the geography of Hell in Dante's Inferno, with special attention to the placement of homosexuals and sodomites, in "Why Does Dante Consider Sodomy Worse Than Homicide & Suicide?"

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Pius X: don't be deceived by empty words

"Do not allow yourselves to be deceived by the cunning statements of those who persistently claim to wish to be with the Church, to love the Church, to fight so that people do not leave Her...But judge them by their works. If they despise the shepherds of the Church and even the Pope, if they attempt all means of evading their authority in order to elude their directives and judgments..., then about which Church do these men mean to speak? Certainly not about that established on the foundations of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20)." [Pope St. Pius X: Allocution of May 10, 1909]

The blog Lidless Eye Inquisition of I. Shawn McElhinney, et. al, cites this quote with a view to "crackpots of the lunatic self-styled 'traditionalist' fringe who disingenuously pose as faithful Catholics." Doubtless that is a propos. But it would apply just as appropriately to those who despise the shepherds and popes of past generations and applaud only all that is "new" as over against the traditions of Trent, Pius V, and Pius X, as noted by Ratzinger, when he declared:
"It is only against this background of the effective denial of the authority of Trent, that the bitterness of the struggle against allowing the celebration of Mass according to the 1962 Missal, after the liturgical reform, can be understood. The possibility of so celebrating constitutes the most intolerable contradiction of the opinion of those who believe that the faith in the Eucharist formulated by Trent has lost its value."
(Read more on Ratzinger's views here.)

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Ancient Olympians followed Atkins diet, says scholar

Get the story from (Aug. 10, 2004).

"Well, that makes sense," comments Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin (pictured right): "If you cut the carbs you don't have blood sugar spikes and lows that will sap your strength during competition. After going on the diet I noticed how much energy I had in the hour following lunch now that I wasn't trying to shrug off a blood sugar low like those who ate carbs during lunch. Further, you'll need the protein to build the muscle to compete."

Besides, it's clearly worked for Jimmy, who proudly displays pictures of himself "before" (above right) and "after" (left and below, right) the Atkins effect in a blog post entitled, "The Incredible Shrinking Apologist." Jimmy, who currently works for Catholic Answers in San Diego, California, hails from the Lone Star state of Texas, as you can see from his get up in the lower-right photo. I can assure you that the persona it's not affected.