This is no ordinary scandal, Peggy Noonan writes on her Wall Street Journal weblog Declarations, calling the IRS’s abuse of its power “the worst Washington scandal since Watergate.”
Something big has shifted. The standing of the administration has changed.
As always it comes down to trust. Do you trust the president’s answers when he’s pressed on an uncomfortable story? Do you trust his people to be sober and fair-minded as they go about their work? Do you trust the IRS and the Justice Department? You do not.
I’ve been wondering when, in the course of the president’s second term, the tide would turn against him. Lame ducks are vulnerable even to their friends, who have their own reasons for being critical — for reporters, for example, being critical makes finding the story that might make the front page or the nightly news much easier. You have a choice between loyalty to an ideological comrade who’s losing power day by day and the chance to advance your career which has a good many yeas to run, and it’s bye-bye comrade.
The IRS scandal brought this on rather sooner than I would have expected. Obama as per usual throws up in his hands in shock and horror and fusses and claims he’ll do something about it. It’s an Inspector Renault in the casino moment, and the president has had so many of these that even his supporters must begin to doubt how shocked, shocked! he actually is. As Noonan writes:
The president, as usual, acts as if all of this is totally unconnected to him. He’s shocked, it’s unacceptable, he’ll get to the bottom of it. He read about it in the papers, just like you.
But he is not unconnected, he is not a bystander. This is his administration. Those are his executive agencies. He runs the IRS and the Justice Department.
A president sets a mood, a tone. He establishes an atmosphere. If he is arrogant, arrogance spreads. If he is too partisan, too disrespecting of political adversaries, that spreads too. Presidents always undo themselves and then blame it on the third guy in the last row in the sleepy agency across town.
Those of us who remember Watergate (I was in junior high) will remember all the talk about “the arrogance of power” and the Actonion warnings about what happens to men who have it. The effect of Nixon’s personality and character on those who worked for him was endlessly analyzed and the argument made that the kind of man he was determined the kind of men who worked for him and what they did. People felt that a Nixon would naturally, if not inevitably, have an Erlichman and a Liddy under him.
And these were, though at the time partisan, good lessons. I don’t think I’ve yet heard anyone on the left use those words, or see in Obama’s character an encouragement to the arrogance of power in those who staff his administration, though the lessons are obviously as true now as they were then. And truer, if anything, the administration’s sense of entitlement and righteousness being something that weakens one’s resistance to temptations.
The temptations are built into the nature of political power. They’re the ordinary temptations fallen men experience, whether in sixth grade student government or the White House. (Or, we should be honest, in an editorial office.) Though I know what Noonan means by “no ordinary scandal,” and agree with her, the odds seem to be good that the current scandal is really quite ordinary — extraordinary in scale, of course, but boringly ordinary in nature.
Ruth Graham flags a funny problem in the essay that Matthew Cantirino shared yesterday: Originality has never been more valued in wedding ceremonies, and never harder to produce.
She and her fiance, “like just about every other betrothed couple in America . . . wanted our wedding to be ‘personal.’” But “the aesthetics of such a wedding . . . are practically set in stone: indie pop music, mason jars, white Christmas lights, wildflowers. And poetry.”
By the time of her wedding, she came to realize that there is no such thing as an entirely original wedding ceremony: “marriage means stepping into an ancient institution marked by hundreds of temporal particulars,” so your wedding’s dearth of originality is no shortcoming.
One blessing of getting married in the Catholic Church is this unoriginality. Besides sparing the bride and groom the burden of originality—writing their own vows, playing good but not overused music, finding meaningful yet not excessively obscure readings—the Catholic rite of marriage reminds the couple of a truth easily forgotten: Your wedding (like your marriage) is not only about you.
That the Rite of Marriage takes place the middle of the nuptial Mass, embedded between Scripture readings and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, is no mistake. It situates the marriage in what is, for Catholics, its broader context: its divine origin and graces, its connection to the community, its symbolism of the covenant between God and man.
But perhaps the most counter-cultural aspect of the ceremony (since, after all, most couples find some divine or transcendental meaning in marriage) is its mention of children. During the vows, couples are asked: “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” In saying yes, the bride and groom agree together to found a new Ecclesia domestica, the domestic Church that is the family. But even that new family is not a unit unto itself; it is part of a whole community, as the community’s presence at the wedding attests.
The nuptial Mass, then, is suffused with meaning, which deepens over time as the couple matures in their marriage, settles in a community, and (God-willing) has children. Personal weddings can be nice, but I’ll take this unoriginality any day.
Women of less means than Jolie are collectively throwing up our hands. How can we, the working poor, afford weeks of preventative therapy, surgery, and breast reconstruction to prevent breast cancer? Will our insurance cover this? Can cancer-free breasts be saved, or are they eventually bound to kill us?
The assisted suicide movement certainly isn’t alone in deploying euphemisms as a political tactic. We all have examples we can name. The “right to an abortion,” rarely used, would be accurate. The ubiquitous “right to choose” and that sound bite of all sound bites, “choice,” are inaccurate because their intent is to hide the subject of the decision.
Jonathan Rauch’s brief memoir, Denial: My Twenty-Five Years Without a Soul, published recently as a Kindle Single, describes how powerful it can be to find that your previous unnamable self has a place. For much of the story’s first half, Rauch tells about trying to interpret his same-sex attraction as “envy.” He would admire the muscles of his friends and tell himself that that admiration was his longing, as a bookish, skinny kid, to have the same kind of body. But as the story finishes, he realizes that was dissembling: “I had resisted imagining myself as a homosexual or even imagining that it might be possible for me to be a homosexual, because I had supposed that to be a homosexual is to lose any possibility of a normal life.”
Near the end of his narrative, Rauch says this:
And as I write these words, I have been married for going on three years. Married. The very word is a miracle to me. The young boy sitting on the piano bench structured his life, shaped his personality, twisted and then untwisted himself, around the certain knowledge that he could not love in a way which could lead to marriage; and so he grimly determined that he could not love at all. But he was wrong. He underestimated himself and he underestimated his countrymen even more. They and he have found a destination for his love. They and he have found, at last, a name for his soul. It is not monster or eunuch. Nor indeed homosexual. It is: husband.
“Opponents of gay marriage are now treated by the press in the same way queer-rights agitators were in the past: as strange, depraved creatures, whose repenting and surrender to mainstream values we await with bated breath,” writes Brendan O’Neill in Spiked! Which raises the question: “How do we account for this extraordinary consensus, for what is tellingly referred to as the ‘surrender’ to gay marriage by just about everyone in public life?”
And is it a good thing, evidence that we had a heated debate on a new civil right and the civil rightsy side won? I don’t think so. I don’t think we can even call this a ‘consensus’, since that would imply the voluntaristic coming together of different elements in concord. It’s better described as conformism, the slow but sure sacrifice of critical thinking and dissenting opinion under pressure to accept that which has been defined as a good by the upper echelons of society: gay marriage. Indeed, the gay-marriage campaign provides a case study in conformism, a searing insight into how soft authoritarianism and peer pressure are applied in the modern age to sideline and eventually do away with any view considered overly judgmental, outdated, discriminatory, ‘phobic’, or otherwise beyond the pale.
This “extraordinary consensus” or “conformity” was not achieved by gay rights activists changing public opinion, he argues, but by elites led by judges in particular. (Judges, he notes, are described by Harvard Law School professor Michael Klarman as a “distinctive subculture,” and a more liberal one, of the cultural elites.) O’Neill then reviews the mechanisms by which this conformism was achieved, including the effective use of social media as explained by Scientific American.
But, one thinks, all this elite pressure wouldn’t have worked even ten years ago, and certainly not twenty or thirty years ago. How could what then seemed a settled conviction about sexuality (or prejudice, if you wish) disappear so fast?
O’Neill has an answer, which seems to me correct. The non-elites proved susceptible to such pressures for a reason, he notes. “The fragility of society’s attachment to traditional marriage itself, to the virtue of commitment, has also been key to the formulation of the gay-marriage consensus. Indeed, it is the rubble upon which the gay-marriage edifice is built.” He continues:
If lawyers, politicians and our other assorted ‘betters’ have successfully kicked down the door of traditional marriage, it’s because the door was already hanging off its hinges, following years of cultural neglect. It is society’s reluctance to defend traditional views of commitment, and its relativistic refusal more broadly to discriminate between different lifestyle choices, that has fuelled the peculiar non-judgmental tyranny of the gay-marriage campaign, which judges harshly those who dare to judge how people live.
Through a combination of the weakness of belief in traditional marriage and the insidiousness of the campaign for gay marriage, we have ended up with something that reflects brilliantly John Stuart Mill’s description of how critical thinking can cave into the despotism of conformism, so that ‘peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct, are shunned equally with crimes, until by dint of not following their own nature, these [followers of conformism] have no nature to follow’.
That title is the motto of my university and the basis of a final exam question I asked the sophomores in my “Great Books” core course. The answers were interesting (in a disheartening way). The students “get” making a difference (a phrase added to our motto a little more than a decade ago, by a process that neither I nor–so far as I know–any other faculty were privy). Making a difference is celebrated in the popular culture, and “kids these days” have a relatively sophisticated understanding of what it means and how they can do it.
They also understand quite well making a living, something that is pounded into them on a variety of fronts.
But making a life? A few could explain it, but most essentially assimilated it to making a living. If you love your job (and it’s “meaningful”), you’re making a life. Most, in other words, seemed unaware of the possibility of a rich and deep life outside the workplace. That’s the disheartening part of the experience for me, since the “liberal” part of a liberal education is supposed to be precisely about that. (If I could found my own college and money were no object, its motto would be: “Majors are for drones.” As my daughter would say, “just kidding.”)
So, as professors do when they’re in the throes of grading and want some sympathy, I took to Facebook and posed the question about the motto to the alumni who have condescended to friend me. The results were gratifying. To a person, they got it and could articulate the difference between making a life and making a living. It helps, I suppose, that they have some experience–not just book learning–with both, and have recognized that much of what gives their lives meaning doesn’t take place at the office or (dare I say it?) in the classroom.
But I’d like to think that discussing Aristotle’s conception of moral virtue, reading Plato’s Republic (not to mention other “Great Books”), and pondering life’s big questions with fellow students and with me–how shall I say it?–made a difference.
Add this to Matthew Schmitz’s recent inventory of Pope Francis’ ability to convey spiritual concepts in pithy, almost meme-like phrases:
Pope Francis warned against “gentrification of the heart” as a consequence of comfortable living, and called on the faithful to “touch the flesh of Christ” by caring for the needy.
The pope’s words came in a homily during Mass in St. Peter’s Square May 12, when he canonized the first Colombian saint, as well as a Mexican nun and some 800 Italians martyred by Ottoman Turks in the 15th century.
Mexico’s St. Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala (1878-1963), the pope said, gave up a “comfortable life to follow the call of Jesus, taught people to love poverty, in order the more to love the poor and the sick.”
“How much damage does the comfortable life, well-being, do,” the pope added, looking up from his prepared text. “The gentrification of the heart paralyzes us.”
The implication that “gentrification” can be a mindset that carries with it a kind of temptation to bourgeois satisfaction and the seeking of creature comforts instead of a living, ever-new faith also makes this perhaps a bit more apt than another recent analogical stab at connecting Christ and contemporary urban culture.
In the March issue we published “Homosexual Marriage, Parenting, and Adoption,” written by Gilles Bernheim, Chief Rabbi of France. Or so we thought. It turns out that Rabbi Bernheim plagiarized some portions.
The current conservative broadcast media is not the answer—or at least not the answer to this particular problem. They inform the maybe one-third of the public that regularly consumes right-leaning media. Much of the time the conservative media put a conservative audience–friendly spin on stories that the mainstream media already cover.
Commonweal has a triple feature on Thomas Nagel’s much-discussed Mind and Cosmos with contributions from philosopher Gary Gutting, biologist Kenneth R. Miller, and physicist (and First Things advisory council member) Stephen M. Barr. Here’s an excerpt from Barr’s essay:
While Nagel rejects “psychophysical reductionism,” and believes mind to be as fundamental as matter, he rejects any form of mind-matter dualism. “Outright dualism,” he says, “would abandon the hope for an integrated explanation . . . and would imply that biology has no responsibility at all for the existence of minds.”
Instead, matter and mind must be seen as parts of “a single natural order that unifies everything on the basis of a set of common elements and principles.” In his view, the evidence “favors some form of neutral monism”—the idea that there is really just one basic stuff in nature, which has both physical and mental aspects.
Nagel may be right to reject dualism, but his reasons for doing so seem weak to me.
The article is only available to non-subscribers for three days.
the necessity and the importance of the presence of security forces to ensure order and stability, and for organizing the celebration of the Holy Fire at the Church of the Resurrection. Yet, it is not acceptable that under pretext of security and order, our clergy and people are indiscriminately and brutally beaten, and prevented from entering their churches, monasteries and convents. . . .
We deplore that every year, the police measures are becoming tougher, and we expect that these accidents will not be repeated and the police should be more sensitive and respectful if they seek to protect and serve.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin formally apologized to the leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church and that the police are investigating the incident “in coordination” with the Church. For more on this, see our earlier post.
Robert, one of the most important things about that excellent Charles Capps article you point us to is that it reminds us of the possibility of a stable compromise in the marriage debate. This need not be a war to the death where one side or the other gets everything it wants. Capps is showing the opportunity-seeking mindset we need to find a better way forward.
Capps argues that we should develop separate social institutions to handle two things which heretofore have both been handled by marriage: the social needs of the natural family, and the social needs of groups (whether in a sexual relationship or not) who cohabit and share assets. We seem to be entering a period of history where, in contrast to the previous period, significant numbers of people will cohabit and share assets without forming natural families. Mere justice, Capps argues, demands that we develop social institutions to serve the legitimate needs of these non-familial cohabiters (that’s my term, not Capps’; let’s call them NFCs for lack of something better).
I see three issues that will need to be tackled for this to become a viable way forward. One is that NFCs who are in a sexual relationship may have social needs different from those who are not. I’m not sure this problem is big enough to need to be addressed, but at the least we need to think about it. Sexuality has social consequences other than babies, and one traditional function of marriage has been to channel sexual behavior for legitimate social reasons other than childrearing. Capps argues that one reason redefining marriage to include gay couples fails to do justice to NFCs is that it doesn’t provide for the legitimate social needs of NFCs who are not in a sexual relationship; this is true, but developing a social institution that lumps all NFCs together may fail to provide for all of society’s necessary interests in channeling sexuality.
A bigger issue is what we call the proposed new social institution. The real value of Capps’ idea as a way forward is that it names reality in a new way to accommodate the changing needs of justice. But one of the key sticking points in the marriage debate is that advocates of gay marriage believe that gay people need marriage to participate in society on equal terms as first-class citizens. They don’t want a two-tier system where their unions are a “silver medal” for those who don’t choose the natural family. So this new name for the reality of NFCs cannot be something that suggests it’s a sort of secondary appendage to marriage.
This leads me to what is perhaps the most important issue: how natural families would be treated under the new system Capps is proposing. As I see it, his proposal is a lot more likely to be adopted if it handles all cohabiting and asset-sharing through one institution, which natural families and NFCs would all participate in on the same terms. Then marriage would be an additional institution which, legally, would exist solely to handle the unique needs of childrearing. Of course, outside the legal realm we would continue to view marriage more holistically, as a metaphysical union that expresses the love of Christ and his people; I’m only talking about changing what marriage involves legally. I would not see this as a “redefinition” of marriage, but as a constructive reform that brings our legal arrangements more fully into alignment with the reality of 1) which aspects of marriage must involve the law and which need not, and 2) which aspects of marriage involve the law in ways unique to marriage, as opposed to claims on the law that marriage shares in common with non-marital social needs.
Capps’ proposal may not be likely to resolve our marriage debate in the short term. But it may be the seed of an idea that could grow into a viable social compromise for our children’s time.
Recent news that Christians (including clergy and foreign diplomats) were attacked by Israeli police as they attempted to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the day before Orthodox Easter stands as a stark reminder of the difficulties Christians face in the Holy Land.
Israel is a land which three of the world’s major faiths claim as holy—no city more so than Jerusalem. Jewish believers hold the city sacred as the place where the Second Temple once stood, and indeed revere the Western Wall (a section of the original outer wall of the Temple grounds, dating from the first century A.D.) as one of the holiest sites in Judaism. Muslims have in Jerusalem the Dome of the Rock, a massive, golden mosque built on the ruins of the Second Temple. It commemorates the place where they believe Muhammad traveled with the angel Gabriel before ascending to heaven to meet with the prophets. Christians, of course, recognize Jerusalem as the place where Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. It is also the place of Jesus’ triumphant resurrection, the place where Christ rose bodily from the dead—the place of the empty tomb.
Given these competing faiths, it is inevitable that conflict should arise. In fact, a few months ago when I traveled to Israel with the Canadian Church Press, I visited the Western Wall only to learn the area had been the scene of violence earlier that morning. The Jerusalem Post reports that a number of Muslims gathered for afternoon prayer at the Temple Mount March 8 began throwing rocks at Israeli officers on the bridge which leads to the Western Wall plaza. The event ended with Israeli police entering the Muslim area, using stun grenades to disperse the rioters who were throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. When we arrived at the nearby Western Wall later in the day, a very large number of police officers were still on site.
That is often the way the rest of the world views disagreement in the Holy Land: as conflict between Jews and Muslims. Less often remembered are the Christians of Israel and Palestine. That’s perhaps not surprising, given that Christians make up such a small percentage of both countries. Just 152,000 Christians are permanent residents of Israel, about 2.1 percent of the entire population. In Palestine, 8 percent of the West Bank‘s total population and 0.7 percent of the Gaza Strip‘s are Christian—approximately 210,000 and 12,000 people respectively, based on current population figures.
Earlier this month, Christopher Warner at the Catholic World Reportinterviewed Archimandrite Robert Taft, S.J., a Byzantine Catholic priest and professor emeritus of Oriental Liturgy at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, about Catholic-Orthodox relations and the prospects for future unity:
CWR: Most Catholics probably envision future unity between the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church as a re-installment of one world Church organization with the pope of Rome at the top of the governing pyramid. A look at history shows that such a model never existed, so what could Orthodox-Catholic communion actually look like if it were achieved? A renewal of Eucharistic communion? The possibility of an eighth ecumenical council? A resolution for the dating of Pascha/Easter?
Taft: What it would look like is not a “reunion” with them “returning to Rome,” to which they never belonged anyway; nor us being incorporated by them, since we are all ancient apostolic “Sister Churches” with a valid episcopate and priesthood and the full panoply of sacraments needed to minister salvation to our respective faithful, as is proclaimed in the renewed Catholic ecclesiology since Vatican II and enshrined in numerous papal documents from Paul VI on, as well as in the wonderful Catechism of the Catholic Church. So we just need to restore our broken communion and the rest of the problems you mention can be addressed one by one and resolved by common accord.
. . .
CWR: How could the papal claims of Rome be modified in a way that would be both acceptable to the Orthodox Churches and faithful to the tradition of the Catholic Church? Do you think the jurisdiction issue really is a hang-up for the Orthodox since they also practice cross-jurisdiction throughout Western Europe, the Americas, Australia, and East Asia?
Taft: The new Catholic “Sister Churches” ecclesiology describes not only how the Catholic Church views the Orthodox Churches. It also represents a startling revolution in how the Catholic Church views itself: we are no longer the only kid on the block, the whole Church of Christ, but one Sister Church among others. Previously, the Catholic Church saw itself as the original one and only true Church of Christ from which all other Christians had separated for one reason or another in the course of history, and Catholics held, simplistically, that the solution to divided Christendom consisted in all other Christians returning to Rome’s maternal bosom.
Vatican II, with an assist from those Council Fathers with a less naïve Disney-World view of their own Church’s past, managed to put aside this historically ludicrous, self-centered, self-congratulatory perception of reality. In doing so they had a strong assist from the Council Fathers of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church whose concrete experience of the realities of the Christian East made them spokesmen and defenders of that reality.
In this context I would recommend the excellent new book by Robert Louis Wilken, The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press 2012). Professor Wilken, a convert to Catholicism who is a recognized expert on Early Christianity and its history and literature, shows that Early Christianity developed not out of some Roman cradle but as a federation of local Churches, Western and Eastern, each one under the authority of a chief hierarch who would come to be called Archbishop, Pope, Patriarch, or Catholicos, each with its own independent governing synod and polity, all of them initially in communion with one another until the vicissitudes of history led to lasting divisions.
In his column for today, George Weigel says that President Obama’s April 26 speech to Planned Parenthood contained “nothing short of blasphemy”:
President Obama concluded his remarks as follows: “Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you . . .”
And that is nothing short of blasphemy.
Too harsh? No. For in its discussion of this grave sin against the Second Commandment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 2148) teaches that “it is also blasphemous to make use of God’s name to . . . reduce people to servitude, to torture persons or to put them to death.” That is precisely what happens in Planned Parenthood abortuaries. And on that, the president of the United States called down the divine blessing.
Police in Jerusalem beat, choked and handcuffed an 85-year-old Coptic priest during a widely reported altercation in the Old City almost two weeks ago, which also involved several Egyptian diplomatic officials, a video revealed. . . .
The incident occurred on Saturday, May 4, the day before the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church’s observance of Easter. The head of the Coptic church in Ramallah, Father Arsanios, who lives in Jerusalem, was leading a group of visiting dignitaries to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City when he found himself being subdued by a group of policemen stationed to manage the holiday crowds. . . .
As that group tried to enter, Arsanios said, they were suddenly accosted by the police, who “threw one priest on the stairs and one of the officers stomped on him like a dog.”
“We didn’t do anything,” he added. “They pulled at me, beat me all over and when I was on the ground, put handcuffs on me.”
The six-minute video begins with Arsanios already in a physical struggle with the police, after which an officer puts him into a choke hold from behind and throws him to the ground as a crowd of police, residents and tourists look on. Arsanios briefly lost consciousness during the alternation [sic], was treated at a Jerusalem hospital and was subsequently released without serious injury.
We are, supposedly, an average of fourteen IQ points less smart than our Victorian ancestors, according to a study published in the journal Intelligence and reported in the Daily Telegraph. Our reaction times, which the reporter notes is “a reliable marker of general intelligence,” are longer than theirs. Apparently the decline would be greater did not better nutrition and schooling increase our average IQ compared with what it would have been if we were all fed and taught as the Victorians were.
The difference in reaction times is genetic, and the scientist who led the study draws from that the conclusion that
Our declining intelligence is most likely down to a “reverse” in the process of natural selection, he explained. The most intelligent people now have fewer children on average than in previous decades, while there are higher survival rates among people with less favourable genes.
“The pressures of modern life, a nine-to-five modern lifestyle, have created all these pressures against very smart people having break-even numbers of children,” he said.
In other words: smart people should have more children. Which is a lesson I’d endorse, though with the concern that many people who would say so would also say that less smart people (people with “less favourable genes”) should have fewer children simply because they’re not as smart as other people.
I don’t usually keep up with Mark Driscoll and his Mars Hill Church, but today I read a tweet that led me to this recent video from his Resurgence ministry.
In the video, Driscoll tells Christians that they need to learn from each other, rather than criticize each other. He’s speaking to Evangelicals. He claims that Evangelicalism has been “tribalized.” In order for these tribes to be effective they need to cooperate and learn from each other.
This talk of “tribe” is trendy thanks to guys like Seth Godin. Mark Driscoll has always been a trend follower.
He claims that the tribes of Evangelicalism manifest themselves through “magazines, publishing houses, blogs, social media, conferences, and schools.” These tribes are led by tribal chiefs. How do you know if you’re a tribal chief? Driscoll has four characteristics. 1. Tribal chiefs determine who’s in and who’s out. 2. Tribal chiefs have convening powers. 3. Tribal chiefs practice clumping. 4. Tribal chiefs endure a lot more criticism than average.
I don’t find any of these ideas particularly remarkable. It’s the idea that he’s left out which I find truly remarkable. He talks about magazines, publishing houses, blogs, social media, conferences, and schools, but he never mentions the church. What role does the church play in his “resurgence”?
Throughout the history of Christianity, the local congregation, often partnering with other local congregations, has been the primary vehicle for accomplishing the things that Driscoll wants done. He wants more people to hear about Jesus. Why would he ignore the biblical and historical instrument which delivers Christ’s gospel to the world? A blog and a Twitter account can’t do the work of the church in either its local or universal manifestations.
I also think his emphasis on “tribal chiefs” papers over another hole in his discussion. As I look at his four characteristics of a “tribal chief,” I am reminded of a different job title. It sounds like Driscoll is describing a pastor. Have pastors suddenly become irrelevant to Christianity? Obviously not because most of Driscoll’s name dropping concerns prominent pastors. But he’s marginalized the church, so its leader must be recast as “tribal leaders.”
I find this distasteful. The church is the body of Christ. From the church’s institution, the office of pastor has been of central importance. Christianity has its own traditions, language, and culture. Why would Driscoll jettison those things in favor of trendy jargon? Tribes and tribal chiefs. Sounds decidedly pagan to me.
Driscoll’s right. Evangelicalism needs a resurgence. But it needs a resurgence because its leaders embrace the ephemeral and neglect the depths of the church’s traditions and culture. In a world where pop culture has such a short lifecycle, people desire something with roots. Churches and their leaders need to offer something distinct.
I’ve criticized Driscoll quite a bit in this piece. I suppose that I’ve just solidified his position as a “tribal chief” by fulfilling his fourth characteristic for him. Let him have his tribe. I’m rooting for the church.
Somehow, five days a week—week in and week out—Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute, manages to post an illuminating and engaging essay on a significant issue in our public life. Yesterday it was Matthew Franck’s powerful reflection on abortionists in contemporary culture as “providers of necessities” (as Lincoln said of slave-sellers) who are at the same time “utterly despised.” Today it is a tightly argued piece by Charles Capps on meeting the practical needs of unmarried domestic partners (whether their relationship is platonic or otherwise) without “defining out of existence the only legal category whose purpose is precisely to integrate the kind of act that can result in conception with the kind of environment best suited for a child’s development.”
What holiday is this:
Before lunch, reap,
After lunch, weep,
And in the evening, leap?
- Belarusian riddle about Radonitsa
Today Slavic Orthodox throughout the world observe (in Russian) Radonitsa, the Day of Rejoicing. A sort of eastern “All Souls Day,” it is devoted to prayers for the departed, often before a meal consumed at the gravesite of a loved one (the photo above was taken in a Belarusian cemetery).
Among other things, Radonitsa marks the beginning of “marriage season,” as weddings may not be conducted during Great Lent, Holy Week, Pascha, or Bright Week.
Prayers for the dead are very important in the Orthodox tradition, and as such we have several days marked for them throughout the liturgical year. As Fr. Schmemann writes,
Praying for them we meet them in Christ who is Love and who, because He is Love, overcomes death which is the ultimate victory of separation and lovelessness. In Christ there is no difference between living and dead because all are alive in Him. . . . Loving Christ, we love all those who are in Him; loving those who are in Him, we love Christ: this is the law of the Church and the obvious rationale for her of prayer for the dead.
It is truly our love in Christ that keeps them alive because it keeps them “in Christ,” and how wrong, how hopelessly wrong, are those Western Christians who either reduce prayer for the dead to a juridical doctrine of “merits” and “compensations” or simply reject it as useless.
However, because of the great and central importance of the Feast of Feasts, memorial services for the dead are forbidden between Holy Thursday and Antipascha (the first Sunday after Pascha): “the first opportunity after Pascha to remember the dead is on the second Monday of Pascha. However, because in Orthodox countries a number of monasteries follow the custom of fasting on Mondays, the feast is often celebrated on Tuesday, so that all may partake of the paschal foods (which are intentionally non-fasting).”
Though it often gave scandal to the pious, religious holidays were drinking days. The close connection in Russian culture between religious observances and alcohol consumption is evident in a folk tale about a village drunkard who dies and seeks admission to heaven. St. Peter at first tries to send him away, but the drunkard retorts: “I drank and praised God with every swallow, but you denied Christ three times, and you are in heaven!” He similarly reduces to shame and silence St. Paul, Kings David and Solomon, Nicholas the Wonder-worker, and others, and had to be allowed a seat in heaven.
From Pascha til the Feast of the Ascension, we sing “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life”—sung sober or otherwise, it does seem fit to ring out over actual tombs.
Abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted yesterday of first degree murder of three babies, has agreed not to appeal a sentence of life in prison in return for the prosecution’s agreement not to seek the death penalty. Having publicly opposed the death penalty for Gosnell, I am entirely content with this way of bringing the appalling episode to a close. Are we through with Gosnell now? Can we “let him rot in prison,” as some have said and “just forget about him”? Not in my view.
For those of us who seek to be disciples of Jesus, our obligation is clear: It is to love Kermit Gosnell and pray for him. He will spend the remainder of his life in jail, as he certainly should—his punishment is just. But he remains a human being, made in the image and likeness of God. He is our (very wayward) brother. We are his fellow sinners. We must never suppose that it is beyond the power of the divine author of life to move his heart to repentance and conversion.
And let us redouble our efforts on behalf of the victims—mothers and babies alike—of the hundreds and even thousands of abortionists who will continue to ply Dr. Gosnell’s grisly trade. Let us pray not only for Gosnell, but for all who deal in death, even as we work tirelessly in the political and cultural spheres to fight the abortion power and care for pregnant women in need and their inestimably precious children.
A Philadelphia abortion doctor convicted of killing three babies who were born alive in his grimy clinic agreed Tuesday to give up his right to an appeal and faces life in prison but will be spared a death sentence.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, was convicted Monday of first-degree murder in the deaths of the babies who were delivered alive and killed with scissors. . . .
Prosecutors agreed to two life sentences without parole, and Gosnell was to be sentenced Wednesday in the death of the third baby, an involuntary manslaughter conviction in the death of a patient and hundreds of lesser counts.
Given Gosnell’s age, it was very unlikely a death sentence ever would have resulted in an execution. Yet the law is a teacher, and the decision to spare the death sentence is sure to be variously read either as an act of mercy or a denial of justice.