22 August 2006

Thanks For Nothing.

Gratitude is the engine of Christian living, the motive force of sanctification, and we find its source and summit in the Holy Eucharist, the "Great Thanksgiving." Gratitude is basic to being human is a world that is, as Hopkins says, "charged with the grandeur of God." Modern secularism's loss of any sense of the transcendant, much less the (scandalously) particular revelation of God's grace in Jesus Christ (or even the history of Israel) has left a gaping hole in the human psyche and a disjointed experience of the world. Put simply, there is no one to Whom to be grateful.
Ronald Aronson considers the loss of gratitude in the The Philosopher's Magazine:

"...Living without God today means facing life and death as no generation before us has done. It entails giving meaning to our lives not only in the absence of a supreme being, but now without the forces and trends that gave hope to the past several generations of secularists. We who live after progress, after Marxism, and after the Holocaust have stopped believing that the world is being transformed by reason and democracy. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the modern faith that human life is heading in a positive direction has been undone, giving way to the earlier religious faith it replaced, or to no faith at all. Alone as never before, in a universe scientifically better understood than ever, we find little in its almost-infinite vastness to guide us towards what our lives mean and how we should live them.

To answer these questions anew, agnostics, atheists and secularists must absorb the experience of the twentieth century and the issues of the twenty-first. We must face today's concerns about forces beyond our control and our own responsibility, shape a satisfying way of living in relation to what we can know and what we cannot know, affirm a secular basis formorality even while, especially in the United States, religion is being trumpeted as essential to living ethically, formulate new ways of coming to terms with death, and explore what hope can mean after the collapse of Enlightenment anticipations.

The first step of such a project concerns paradoxically, the issue of giving thanks. Gratitude, central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is virtually absent from our secular culture, except in relation to the “oughts” of individual interactions. But this deprives living without God of much of its coherence and meaning. My thesis is that there is much to be grateful for. Exploring this feeling and idea, so little noticed from a secular point of view, opens a new way of experiencing our relationship with forces and beings beyond our individual selves..."

Here's the whole thing. Via Arts & Letters Daily. Notice how his experience of natural beauty parallels C.S. Lewis' concept of "joy."

13 August 2006

On Vacation.

Back soon (too soon).

"What We're Dealing With."

A friend serving in the armed forces in Iraq sent the following email yesterday under the above subject heading:

Here’s an interesting story I thought I’d pass on. Ever since the Abu Ghareb prison abuse scandal, the coalition has been vigilant to address any claims of abuse by detainees quickly and effectively to avoid any similar scandals that could affect our ability prosecute this war. In this effort and detainee complaints are taken seriously…complaints against US, coalition and Iraqi Army forces are all considered very carefully.

Well recently a suicide bomber walked into an Iraqi police station (Iraqis who cooperate with the coalition are always targets of insurgents) with an explosive vest during shift change, the period when the maximum number of police are present. He made it into the building, gave the standard “Alla Ahkbar” (God is great is what it means I think) and gives a strong tug on his rip cord.

Only the vest doesn’t detonate. He is standing in a room with 40-50 Iraqi policemen who he most assuredly would have killed if his equipment would have worked pulling again and again, harder on his rip cord…uh oh.

After the beating that ensued, the would-be suicide bomber is delivered to the custody of US forces to be taken to a detention facility. On the way to the facility, the assailant asks to speak to a translator. Once they find a translator, he tells them he’d like to lodge a complaint as a result of his abuse at the hands of the Iraqi Police. His complaint was made and filed with the numerous others that human rights organizations cite regularly as evidence that the coalition is committing atrocities over here.

Just an interesting vignette I thought I’d pass on. This happened this past week.


08 August 2006

Religion, Politics & The Prophet.

Michael Cook, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, addressed leading journalists at the Pew Forum's biannual "Faith Angle" conference in May 2006. He explained "the merging of religion and politics in the life of Muhammad and how this legacy shapes the Muslim world today":

"...That’s one angle. For the other angle let me go back to what I was saying about Christianity becoming a bandwagon in the fourth century. Any world religion must have become a bandwagon at some stage in its history, or it wouldn’t be a world religion. But world religions vary with regard to the timing of the bandwagon effect. In the Christian case, you have to wait until the fourth century for the Christian bandwagon to start rolling. Before the fourth century, you have to be pretty concerned about your eternal salvation for it to make sense to become a Christian.

In the Muslim case, the timing is quite different. Once the prophet gets to Medina, once he establishes this state, there is already the beginning of a bandwagon. In other words, the bandwagon effect in Islam comes extremely early. What does this mean? It means three things. One is that the historical experiences of early Christianity and early Islam are completely different. In the Christian case, you have a religion that remains the religion of a persecuted minority for the best part of three centuries. All the basic shapes of the religion are already set before the bandwagon starts. By contrast, in the Islamic case, you have less than 12 years in which the Muslims are a persecuted minority in Mecca. From that point on, once they get to Medina, and the prophet starts building his state, the bandwagon is rolling.

If, as you listen to my stories of the prophet, you have the Gospels in mind, you must have a sense that these stories are very, very different. They not only relate different historical circumstances, but they are told to a different audience. The audience of the Gospels is people who are seriously concerned about their salvation. The audience of the stories I’ve told you -- well, the salvation-minded might be listening, too -- but these stories cater to the military and political elite of the Arab-Islamic Empire. They address people who are interested in military operations, who like to know about preemptive strikes and incidents of friendly fire. These stories are told for people extremely interested in politics, who are fascinated by the judgment calls required to keep a shaky coalition together.

I hope you see this difference, this interest in military and political affairs, which makes the life of Muhammad, as it is written, so different in texture from the life of Jesus, as it’s written in the Gospels. Think what it means that you have, at the present day, these two utterly different heritages, these two utterly different ways of approaching and describing the life of the founder of the religion. I think that helps explain both why Islamic fundamentalism has been such a relative success in recent decades, and why people coming from a Christian background find it incredibly hard to understand it

Very helpful. Here's the whole thing, including the Q&A.

07 August 2006

Morality Without God?

Edward Feser argues that outside the Judeo-Christian worldview, people become tools:

"...The idea that a human being per se has an inherent dignity began with the Jews. It is well-known that the ancient Israelites were unique in insisting that their God was not merely one tribal deity among others, but was the very Creator of the universe in whose image all men were made.

What is perhaps less widely realized is that this distinctive metaphysical conception of God served as the foundation of a distinctive moral outlook. For given that every human being reflects the image of God Himself, it follows that every human being has a worth that surpasses that of anything else in creation, and that every human being is, in this respect, of equal worth. Moreover, this God—being an omniscient Lawgiver—commands all men to act in a manner consistent with their unique status, and will hold those accountable who fail to do so. The Jewish conception of God has, accordingly, often been described as an “ethical monotheism”: No arid philosophical abstraction, it calls on men to change their behavior toward each other as well as their opinions about the nature of the divine.

Christianity inherited this universal moral interpretation of monotheism from the Jews and carried it further. So important are human beings in God's plan that God Himself condescended to become one of them in the person of Jesus Christ, suffered the indignity of death on the cross to pay the penalty for their sins, and was raised from the dead to guarantee for them the possibility of eternal life. These doctrines of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection elevated human dignity to the greatest conceivable limit, as evidenced by the manner in which the Church worked out their implications over the centuries..."

See also J. Budziszewski's essay, "The Second Tablet Project."

T.V. Diplomacy.

But they may be on to something. Wouldn't you give up your nuclear ambitions for advance screenings of the Sopranos? Parody from the Weekly Standard:

Click image to enlarge and enjoy.

04 August 2006

Coming Home.

"...They stood at the window between Gates 43 and 45 and watched as a full Marine honor guard marched up the tarmac, coming to attention between the plane and a silver military hearse. The unloading of their son’s coffin from the cargo hold was very slow, and every time someone inside the terminal noticed and stopped to stare, someone else noticed and did the same, and this kept happening until about 20 people stood in silence watching out the window...

Except for a handful of us standing frozen at a respectful distance from the window, the war and its carnage might as well have been on another planet. The disconnect between those who serve and those of us who are beneficiaries of their service has always felt great to me, but never greater than at that moment.

The mom and dad stepped away from the man in the T-shirt and to another window, still not touching, their movement synchronized by grief. They waited until the marine in charge came back up from the runway to escort them to a government vehicle. I went to my car and drove to work with no ambition for the day other than to be worthy."


Domestic Negotiations.

For the marriage counseling file, humor from McSweeney's:

Agreement on My Behavior When You Come Home From Work
I, your husband, agree to ask you how your day was when you come home from work. I also promise to not just "act interested" in what you have to say but to "be interested" in what you have to say.

While I will try my best to follow the guidelines of this agreement no matter how Dr. Phil–ish they may sound, you should be made aware that I still don't understand why "acting interested" is considered a necessary component of "being interested." Just because I sometimes don't look up from my computer when you're talking to me doesn't mean I'm not interested in whatever it is you're saying. I am. I am a lot. With that said, your timing is often terrible, like when I'm instant-messaging with J-Dawg, the co-manager of my fantasy-baseball team. We're in first place this season, so it's important we keep in constant communication, in case we need to make any changes to our club. So, yeah, I'll do the best I can, but if Bronson Arroyo strains his oblique muscle and goes on the 15-day DL, be prepared to save whatever it is you need to tell me until after J-Dawg and I have finished our business.

For your edification and possible use, all the signing statements are here.

Good Listening.

Great news - Mars Hill Audio, whose audio journal is only available by subscription (and well worth it) is now producing a free monthly podcast called "Audition":

Audition is the new podcast produced by MARS HILL AUDIO. Hosted by Ken Myers, this first issue includes an exclusive interview with theologian and bioethicist Nigel Cameron on how bioethical issues are discussed in public debate. It also features excerpts from interviews that can be heard on current and future issues of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal. Guests and topics include:

• Cultural historian Stephen McKnight on the religious beliefs of Sir Francis Bacon
• Biologist Tim Morris on why Creation and Redemption have to be seen as part of the same story
• Music historian Calvin Stapert on how Mozart's music conveys a sense of the goodness of Creation
• Orthodox theologian and master gardener Vigen Guroian on how the senses convey the transcendent
• Humanities professor Paul Valliere on why Orthodox thought on politics differs from that in the Western churches
• Law professor Russell Hittinger on the origins of the idea of "society" in Catholic social thought
• Historian Mark Noll on how Protestants flourished in America by not asking some important questions
• Journalist Stephen Miller on his book, Conversation: A History of a Declining Art.

New issues of Audition will be produced at the end of every month, and will contain material from the MARS HILL AUDIO archives, from forthcoming products, and unique interviews on timely cultural issues.


Paranoid Parenting?

Today on Opinion Journal from Kay Hymowitz:
"Some years ago my older daughter, then a senior in college, listened to me fret about rumors of drinking at the parties her ninth-grade sister was begging to go to. "They're so young to deal with this sort of thing," I worried. "Mom," she began in a knowing tone, "What do you think was going on when I went to parties in the ninth grade?"
I lingered for a moment over the disconnect between this young woman standing before me, a premed student, an Organization Kid who would sooner live on bread and water than turn in a late paper, and the image of her 14-year-old self chugging a Budweiser. Then, I struggled with two contradictory responses. First, discomfiture; I had been naïve, a mental status that we been-there-done-that boomer parents find pretty embarrassing. How could I have been so out of it? And second: relief. Thank God I didn't know. If I had, I would have had to transform my parenting approach from trust-but-verify (check-in phone calls to friends' parents, "so how did the movie end again?" sort of questions, etc.) to all-out war.

This incident and my response came to mind when I read recently about the burgeoning market in parental surveillance devices
Still, there's a lot more behind Big Mother and Father spyware than protecting children from the dangers of an anonymous and treacherous 21st-century world. The truth is that today's parents worry about their kids' most mundane activities in a way that would baffle the legendarily meddling mothers and fathers of the 1950s. They are practitioners of what British sociologist Frank Furedi calls "paranoid parenting."
This, after all, is the generation of parents that has made bike helmets and car seats a matter of state interest and has banned such perilous pastimes as tag and dodgeball from school playgrounds..."

"The Sine Qua None of Right Worship And Fruitful Ministry."

From "The Orthodox Imperative" by Avery Cardinal Dulles in the current issue of First Things (not yet available online):

"...By the close of the first century, the bishops of the apostolic Church, ordained in apostolic succession were recognized as custodians of the faith. In the second century, Ireneaus and Tertullian speak of the "canon of truth" or "the rule of faith." It comes down from the apostles and is decisive for settling disputes about the content of revelation...

...The history of early Christianity could be described with little exaggeration as a constant struggle against heresy. Bishops met in council after council to protect the true faith from being overridden by human opinions and speculations. The councils hammered out the great doctrines of the Trinity and Christology in oppostion to the heresies of the time...

...Christians of later centuries owe a great debt of gratitude to the vigilance of the Fathers and their heroic labors to preserve doctrinal purity in the Church. Purity of doctrine is the sine qua none of right worship and fruitful ministry...

In the past, Christians have held orthodoxy in high esteem, even while sometimes disagreeing about what doctrines are true and sound. But the case is quite different today. The idea of orthodoxy has become suspect, and many consider that it is bound up with an authoritarian and fundamentalist mentality unsuited to the modern age..."

Cardinal Dulles must have been a guest at some Episcopal clergy gatherings.

02 August 2006

A Safeguard For The Soul.

For the month of August, First Things has turned over the front page of its website to the members of its editorial board for blogging. On the editorial board are such luminaries as Charlotte Allen, Hadley Arkes, Stephen M. Barr, Ross Douthat, Robert P. George, Russell Hittinger, Michael Linton, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Wilfred M. McClay, Robert T. Miller, Michael Novak, Edward T. Oakes, S.J., Joseph Pearce, R.R. Reno, Wesley J. Smith, and Stephen H. Webb (brief biographies are here). Thus far, the conversation is mainly re Israel v. Hezballah and relevant Just War questions. However, there is also this quite wonderful liturgical resource (translation at the link):

Bene+dic, Domine, creaturam istam cerevisae, quam ex adipe frumenti producere dignatus es: ut sit remedium salutare humano generi: et praesta per invocationem nominis tui sancti, ut, quicumque ex ea biberint, sanitatem corporis, et animae tutelam percipiant. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen


01 August 2006

No Cigar.

The Anglican Communion Institute assesses the General Convention's response to the Windsor Report.
"...The General Convention has now met but the number of relevant resolutions, the complexity of their content and the processes by which they were finally agreed, and the obvious divisions that remain in response, have caused confusion as to the extent to which ECUSA at GC has done what was asked of it by the wider Communion..."
Read the whole thing. Via TitusOneNine.