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“Are You Kidding?”
Saturday, May 7, 2016, 9:16 AM

a8036ffe 0572 11e5  915100c Are You Kidding?In the current issue of Touchstone Richard Weikart has a review of Paul Kengor’s latest book, Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left has Sabotaged Family and Marriage.

Before reading this review this past week, I had an unsettling lunch with a friend who told me he looked forward to moving beyond the whole marriage redefinition nonsense (he called it “gay marriage”), now that both presumptive presidential nominees are all for it.  My friend said he’s against it, “of course, of course!” but enough already, huh? 

This is an optimistic man.  He loves talking about the vitality of American grit, and how our best days are still ahead of us.  He gets most angry talking about what he sees as the contained economic collapse of our miserable state of Illinois.  Everything bad in the country today is contained, in his eyes.  As I said, this is an optimistic man, and a depressing conversationalist.

I bring this up because Richard Weikart quotes from Mr. Kengor’s introduction where he writes:

Readers will wonder if I am looking to halt the redefinition and transformation, if am endeavoring to help change the mind of American culture on gay marriage with this book, to which I respond: Are you kidding?…Nothing short of a major religious revival will save [America].

That quote appears in the second paragraph of the review, and after reading it I set the magazine down on my breakfast table and turned to my computer to order Mr. Kengor’s book.  It’s weird what lifts my spirits these days.

The New York Times: Expect the World (and only the world)
Thursday, March 24, 2016, 10:39 AM

the new york times logo The New York Times: Expect the World (and only the world)Jochen Bittner is a political editor for the weekly German newspaper Die Zeit, and he has an editorial in today’s New York Times about the terror in Belgium.

Following a three paragraph introduction, Bittner says that “Everyone has his own solution, none of them good.”  He goes on to define as bad anything that weakens the centralized political power structure of the European Union.

Yes, there is a connection between Islam and terrorism, Bittner writes covering his political bases, but, he says, the real problem is that Europe’s Muslims continue to cling to their Korans instead of Brussels.

Official Europe has worked hard to move past nationalism, so that there is no German or French Dream. But there’s no European Dream, either, not yet. So new migrants have no spirit to tap into, as they do in the United States. Instead, some Muslims find it more attractive to give their loyalty to Allah, their fellow believers or the Islamic State.

I’m not sure what spirit he’s referring to in the United States, but I get the impression he’s not talking about the Holy Spirit.  Nonetheless, since I think what Islam says about Jesus is a lie, Bittner hasn’t lost me yet.  But as far as that European Dream goes, what’s his recommendation?  Bittner ends his editorial saying:

[Angela Merkel] should lead Europe past its outmoded data-protection concerns and push for coordination among security services. And she should make integration and opportunity a common value for everyone in Europe — a European dream that is more appealing to immigrants than any afterlife kingdom could possibly be.

So the solution is better surveillance systems and a more centralized military?  Oh that and a European dream more appealing than any afterlife kingdom could possibly be.  Thus spake The New York Times.

I’m reminded of something Ian Markham wrote some years ago: “You cannot assume a rationality and then argue there is no foundation to that rationality.  Either God and rationality go, or God and rationality stay.  Either Nietzsche or Aquinas, that is [Europe’s] choice.”

Fool for Christ
Wednesday, March 2, 2016, 11:48 AM
jockey Fool for Christ

NBA star Manute Bol mixes it up with his fellow jockeys.

I was caught off guard this weekend when a new Touchstone reader told me she was a little put off by the magazine, saying she found it “a little too negative.”  Too negative?!  It was Flannery O’Connor who advised us to “push back against the culture as hard as it pushes against you.  What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.  They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”  Well Touchstone pushes back.  

But my friend makes a good point.  When we stop and think about all we have to be thankful for, it’s astounding that we (not Touchstone) let ourselves sometimes slip into worry and even despair.

boxing Fool for Christ

Manute Bol goes up against William “The Refrigerator” Perry.

So as I was still mulling over my friend’s demand for something more uplifting, my mind went to a joyous story I stumbled across in the Wall Street Journal from some years back about the 7-foot, 7-inch Manute Bol, who played in the NBA from 1985-1995.  If you are wondering what the title of this post, and the pictures above are all about, you’ll have to read the story.  And after you finish the WSJ story, go to Manute Bol’s Wikipedia entry and read the section titled “Activism.”   I don’t know if I’ll ever hear the words “fool for Christ” again without thinking of Manute Bol.

The Sentimental Libertarianism of the “Little Jesus Who Would”
Friday, February 26, 2016, 3:26 PM

jesusislove The Sentimental Libertarianism of the Little Jesus Who WouldSix years ago, Touchstone magazine put its permanent hooks in me when it published Douglas Farrow’s The Audacity of the State.  Before reading that article, I was sympathetic with some of the libertarian movement, except with my troubling observation that none of the libertarians I knew went to church.  The Farrow article connected the dots for me, and I came to regard the Promethean sentimental libertarianism of John Stuart Mill as one of the modern American ideas most corrosive to the church today.

I say it’s the most corrosive because it is so firmly grounded in the thinking of both the American political Left and Right.  For the Left it’s the basis to celebrate men wearing dresses and having their prison insurance plan pay for their genital mutilation surgery, and for the Right it’s how Republican college students can be oh so au courant with the government redefinition of marriage, to take just two examples. 

This morning, I sat down at my local diner to read Robert Hart’s The Little Jesus Who Would in the March/April 2016 issue of Touchstone.  Hart never mentions Mill, but in the first paragraph you can see Jimmy Carter putting Mill’s harm principle to work. 

Robert Hart plumbs the depths of that annoying little phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” first popularized by Al Gore in the 2000 election.  Hart explains how the corrosive political sentimentalism of the phrase (along with “Jesus is Love”) has eaten away the once great tradition of the Episcopal Church USA. 

Hart shows the role that the awful art of dictionary tinkering has played in the erosion of marriage and family, with its larger goal of redefining Christ and the Holy Spirit into completely personal and malleable spiritual guides.

Hart’s article is both a revealing and bumpy ride (before even finishing the first page and a half, I twice dropped the magazine on the counter and shouted something un-Christian, but fortunately it’s a noisy little diner).  There are many uncomfortable truths laid out in each issue of Touchstone, but Robert Hart’s article is yet another example of why I can’t imagine life these days without it.

The True Beauty of St. Agnes of Rome
Thursday, January 21, 2016, 8:42 AM

I was recently reading Leo Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilych while waiting for a flight out of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Ivan is a dying government bureaucrat, who in his final days begins a conversation within his own soul:

“What is it you want?”

“I want to live and not to suffer,” his answer came back.

“To live? How?” his soul asked in return.

“Why to live as I used to—well and pleasantly,” Ivan responded.

And then, in his suffering, Ivan realizes that he never did live well and pleasantly.  In Ron Highfield’s God, Freedom, and Human Dignity: Embracing a God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centered Culture, Highfield discusses Ivan Ilych as a manifestation of Kierkegaard’s idea of worldliness:

…spiritually understood, they have no self, no self for whose sake they could venture everything, no self before God—however selfish they may be for all that.

While reading this passage I looked up and caught sight the following advertisement for a Baltimore plastic surgery clinic:

BWI 768x1024 The True Beauty of St. Agnes of Rome

My head filled with thoughts of Ivan Ilych, I just had to stop and stare for a couple minutes.  The attractive woman in the ad seems neither old nor young.  With her long hair she looks as if she could be a carry over from the rebellious youth culture of the 1960s, which today, having won their rebellion and indoctrinated those who came after them, now dominate our every waking moment.  Unlike Ivan who suffered actual physical pain, modern culture now sees even aging itself as unnecessary suffering and alienation from the true you.

The Holy Virgin Martyr Agnes of Rome was born about the year 291 AD, and possessed great beauty at a young age.   Many young men pursued her for her looks, including one son of a powerful city official who asked her to marry him.  But Agnes had taken a vow of chastity when she betrothed herself to Christ.  When Agnes rebuffed his offer of marriage, the young man decided to destroy Agnes.  He reported her as a Christian, after which she was stripped and thrown in a brothel, burned, and finally martyred by a stabbing to the throat.  She was thirteen years old.

When I took the picture above I hadn’t even noticed the name of the clinic on the right side of the ad, promising passersby that they could “look like you again” at the St. Agnes Plastic Surgery Institute

Today, January 21st, is the feast day of St. Agnes of Rome. Holy Virgin Martyr Agnes, pray for us.

Psychiatric Mob Rule
Tuesday, January 12, 2016, 1:51 PM

 Psychiatric Mob RuleThere’s a post over at Crisis magazine about a doctor whose research unwittingly threw him into the maelstrom of both LGBT and psychiatric mob rule.  This depressing tale has just about all the pieces of a three-act play in 1,600 words.

The Crisis post discusses the work of the late Dr. Robert Spitzer, who was instrumental in removing homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM.  But he also opposed the pressure put on clinicians not to counsel patients who were unhappy with their same-sex attractions.  He presented his research on the success of reparative therapy for willing patients, and you can imagine what happened next.

The post describes Dr. Spitzer as a compassionate, trusting man, and an atheist.  I don’t usually think of academic atheists as a naive bunch, but it is hard not to see Dr. Spitzer this way.  What atheism lacks, among other things, is firm ground to walk upon by which one can assert that he is going in the right direction.  Without that, one can’t really reason and is thrust into a world where right and wrong, and true and false, are matters left to things like feelings, fashion and psychiatric mob rule, as Dr. Spencer would come to learn.

In a letter to an ex-lesbian, Dr. Spitzer wrote: “I don’t need Scripture to know that certain behavior is harmful to self or others.”  Dr. Spitzer understood broad categories of good and bad by way of a cultural inheritance that is ultimately grounded in God’s word.  His detractors were out to destroy that inheritance and every aspect of it, which included Dr. Robert Spitzer.


President Obama quoted Jesus (again)
Thursday, January 7, 2016, 10:00 AM

In defending his latest executive orders on gun control, President Obama quoted Jesus (again) this week.  I imagine he has a great time doing that.

In 2004, little known IL state rep. Barack Obama (time flies, huh?) sat down for an exhaustive interview with Chicago Sun-Times religion reporter Cathleen Falsani to discuss his religious beliefs.  Among the points he made during that interview were the following: President Obama quoted Jesus (again)

  • Asked to define prayer, he said: “constantly asking myself questions about what I’m doing, why am I doing it.”
  • He described sin as being out of alignment with whatever he thinks is right, and he described proper spiritual alignment as “being true to myself.”
  • He said his spiritual guides in life are Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Fr. Michael Phleger.
  • Asked if he believed in heaven, President Obama responded with the question “Do I believe in the harps and clouds and wings?”
  • He said the 1st Amendment was meant to protect the federal government from the church.

In addition, he’s condemned the Bible because he said it suggests slavery “is okay” and because he said it advises believers to stone their own children.  

And perhaps most notoriously, he voted against the born-alive infant protection act, which sought to provide medical care for newborn babies that survived an attempted abortion. 

Oh, and last year Michelle Obama announced that the Obamas don’t attend church because Sundays are more for napping than church.

(Recently, someone suggested that all my axe grinding makes me a less than credible source our president’s professed faith.  I suggested he stop listening to me and listen in on what the president’s own political allies are saying.)

Of course none of this is a secret. And President Obama knows from polling that if you go to church every Sunday you’ve most likely placed yourself in the demographic he refers to as “the enemy.”  And he also knows you’re probably already in tune with much of what I recounted above. 

And so, when President Obama quoted Jesus, he knew how the faithful would likely receive it.  I suspect he imagines we’ll hear it in the same spirit with which Carly Fiorina received Donald Trump’s praise that she is a beautiful woman; this after having done an interview with Rolling Stone magazine where he said of Fiorina “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?”

And just like Donald Trump, I imagine President Obama has a great time doing it.

War on Christmas? Puh-lease.
Thursday, December 17, 2015, 10:01 AM

I’ve been away from TV news lately so I’m not sure if they’re celebrating the War on Christmas this year or not.  Oh I hope so.  It’s been two years since Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon of All Saints Church in Chicago waylaid one of our parishioners during the Adult Sunday School class for bringing up the war on Christmas.  “War on Christmas??” Fr. Pat shot back, “This is no war on Christmas…”

War on Chistmas War on Christmas?  Puh lease.

Bill O’Reilly and the War on Christmas

Someone in the congregation raised the topic in hope of coming away with some good fightin’ words, but Fr. Pat only gave him a wry smile and a “oh knock it off” look (a fairly common sight at All Saints during our Adult Sunday School). And then he said:

“So the shopping malls won’t let anyone say ‘Christmas.’  Oh big deal.  That’s no war on Christmas.  Herod killed every first born.  Now THAT was a war on Christmas!”

I’ve been waiting two years to use that on someone.  I picture myself at a bar.  A secular humanist sort looks up and sees Bill O’Reilly in a rant, and then rolls his eyes and says something like “Oh who cares?!” And then I start in, “No kidding!  This is no…” Please don’t tell me the war is over.

Photos with Santa Day
Friday, December 11, 2015, 10:32 AM

I love Christmas.  I even like Santa Claus, up to a point (as Lord Copper’s foreign editor Mr. Salter would say).  And man do I love my dog.  But this morning a local vet sent  out an Email blast of their “Photos With Santa” day:

Dog Santa 732x1024 Photos with Santa Day

Oh why not?  My sister lives for the annual day of dog humiliation also known as Halloween.  So why not get Santa in on the game?  But gracious, please say a prayer for the few who wanted to do something special for their dogs.

Helen Andrews, “Studies show…”
Friday, December 11, 2015, 7:31 AM

This morning I read for perhaps the third time since its publication last year, Helen Andrews’ Bloodless Moralism. Since first reading this article I have been unable to use the words “studies show” and other expressions of moral and civilizational uncertainty, without wanting to smack myself in the face and grovel in shame. Andrews writes:

It is one kind of madness to expect science to put a permanent end to war abroad and inequality at home, as the Progressives did, and another kind of madness to hope that science will someday find evidence suggesting that adultery is in fact wrong or drug addiction in fact undesirable.

It’s wrong to push an old man down the stairs, and if you need a study in order to affirm that, well then old men had best stay clear of you above the ground floor. That’s one issue anyway. Another is the professionalization of problems from which all these studies spring.

When professionals put such zest and seriousness into persuading people that they have a problem that can be solved, several things can go wrong. It may be that the targets of their attentions have a problem that cannot be solved. It may be that they do not have a problem at all. Or it may be that they do have a problem and it can be solved, but it would be better for them in the meantime to be able to appreciate, relish, draw from, or find the richness in their problem instead of simply deprecating it. The professionals’ response to each of these three possibilities ends in false hope, false despair, or false resentment for the sufferers, yet ever greater self-satisfaction for their would-be saviors.

Below is a picture of my great grandparents taken in Monroe County, Pennsylvania in 1894.  Would they have stood so proudly in front of their home with their horses had they been subjected to daily (if not hourly) reminders of the income inequality under which they lived? Also pictured are the first three of the twelve children they would eventually bring into this world, well before they could have considered the studies on sustainable family planning (let alone college tuition).

Millers large Helen Andrews, Studies show...

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