Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 12:00 PM
From our June/July issue, Glenn C. Arbery on Cory Doctorow and the theology of surveillance:
Surveillance adds the dimension of unsettling intentionality to the vulnerability to technology most people already feel. The problem is not only this power granted little by little to a system of connectivity that increasingly draws us into itself but also what it, as a metaphor for God, begins to do to the contemporary imagination.
Also today from the same issue, Carl R. Trueman laments the loss of tragedy:
Christian worship should immerse people in the reality of the tragedy of the human fall and of all subsequent human life. It should provide us with a language that allows us to praise the God of resurrection while lamenting the suffering and agony that is our lot in a world alienated from its creator.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 10:58 AM
An easy target but it may amuse some of you: Don’t Make Fun of Renowned Author Dan Brown. The critics (this is Brown thinking)
said his writing was clumsy, ungrammatical, repetitive and repetitive. They said it was full of unnecessary tautology. They said his prose was swamped in a sea of mixed metaphors. For some reason they found something funny in sentences such as “His eyes went white, like a shark about to attack.” They even say my books are packed with banal and superfluous description, thought the 5ft 9in man. He particularly hated it when they said his imagery was nonsensical. It made his insect eyes flash like a rocket.
See also The Eight Worst Sentences in Dan Brown’s Inferno. For example:
Chapter 5: Emerging from the darkness, a scene began to take shape . . . the interior of a cave . . . or a giant chamber of some sort. The floor of the cavern was water, like an underground lake.
A giant chamber – perhaps like a cave! And a giant cave with a watery floor – why, you’re right, that is like an underground lake. Uncannily so, in fact.
Chapter 6: As Langdon stared into his own weary eyes, he half wondered if he might at any moment wake up in his reading chair at home, clutching an empty martini glass and a copy of Dead Souls, only to remind himself that Bombay Sapphire and Gogol should never be mixed.
I have no idea what is going on here. I think it might be a joke of some sort. But we can be reassured that Dan Brown knows who Gogol is.
You may also enjoy Christopher Bailey’s Secret Sequel, an “Exclusive Look at Dan Brown’s Next Blockbuster Novel.” And this one of his (nothing to do with Dan Brown) is a classic: The Church of Moloch (Reformed).
Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 10:46 AM
In general I agree with Jon Shields (in his post below) about the absurdity of marking birth as the decisive moment when a child acquires moral worth under our laws. And I admired his powerful Weekly Standard article very much. But I want to make two comments by way of mild dissent on a couple of points.
First, as I note at Public Discourse today in “Kermit Gosnell and the Logic of ‘Pro-Choice,’” the most up-to-the-minute philosophers in bioethics are dispensing with any “sharp distinction,” as Jon puts it, between the unborn child and the one who has been born. The Journal of Medical Ethics has an entire symposium on infanticide in its latest issue, in which one can see scholars at prominent institutions reasoning (plausibly, alas) that if the unborn child can be licitly aborted, then “after-birth abortion” can be permitted as well.
Second, Jon is wrong about what Pennsylvania law says on late-term abortions. He writes below, “Had Gosnell killed his victims in the womb and complied with a few other minor requirements, he would have committed no crime under the laws of Pennsylvania or the United States.” In his original Standard article, Jon wrote:
Pennsylvania is one of nine states that require a second physician to concur with the “professional judgment” of an abortionist who wants to perform a third-trimester abortion. Gosnell failed to seek second opinions. One has to wonder: Is that failure really a capital crime? Gosnell ignored a procedural requirement of Pennsylvania law.
There’s a good deal more to the Pennsylvania late-term abortion law than that. As I explain at Public Discourse:
The Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act provides that unless a physician can establish that he “reasonably believes” an unborn child is younger than 24 weeks, or, if the child is older, he can establish that continuing the pregnancy will result in either the death of the mother or “the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function,” the physician cannot perform a late-term abortion.
If he knowingly commits a post-24 weeks abortion, based on such stringent life and health criteria, the doctor must certify his judgment about the threat in writing; acquire the concurrence of a second doctor in that judgment based on a “separate personal medical examination” of the woman; perform the abortion in a hospital; employ procedures designed to maximize the unborn child’s chances to survive; and have a second physician present, ready to consider any surviving child his primary patient.
The purpose of this Pennsylvania statute is, in substance, identical to that of the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (BAIPA), and state laws similar to the latter. Whereas BAIPA protects the right to life of the child who survives an abortion, the Pennsylvania act protects the child who could survive an abortion, making it criminal in most cases to abort the child and, where an abortion is permissible within narrow limits, requiring doctors to treat the child as a second patient who should be brought into the world alive and unharmed if possible.
Gosnell was convicted of twenty-one counts of illegal abortions under this statute, passed in the late 1980s when pro-life Democratic governor Robert Casey, Sr. was in office. The law is a direct challenge to the anything-goes abortion license established forty years ago in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton (as I also explain at PD). We’ll see if these convictions are upheld. If they are—as they should be—we could begin to see the unraveling of the regime of abortion on demand.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 9:00 AM
The One Thomas More: Liberated by Conscience
Louis W. Karlin, Library of Law and Liberty
Against the McCarthy-Witch Hunt Analogy
Philip Jenkins, RealClearReligion
The Polish Model
Gideon Rose & Radek Sikorski, Foreign Affairs
Learning to Love Heaven
Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington
Leadership by Deception
Robert John Araujo, S.J., Mirror of Justice
Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 5:00 AM
Dr. Kermit Gosnell was convicted yesterday by the long-suffering Philadelphia jury on three counts of first-degree murder for killing abortion survivors. Next week, jurors will consider whether Gosnell deserves the death penalty. While there are many good reasons to defend Gosnell’s life, pro-choice thinkers may actually have the strongest reasons to call for his death.
As I suggested recently in the Weekly Standard, Gosnell’s departures from the normal and legal practice of late-term abortion were arguably modest. Had Gosnell killed his victims in the womb and complied with a few other minor requirements, he would have committed no crime under the laws of Pennsylvania or the United States. From a prolife perspective, moreover, killing abortion survivors is not morally worse than killing fetuses in the womb. Thus, we should all reasonably wonder whether Gosnell’s departures from the legal practice of late-term abortion could bear the weight of the death penalty.
Nonetheless pro-choice thinkers may have the strongest reasons to demand Gosnell’s death under our current abortion regime. This is because pro-choice thinkers must disagree strongly with my premise that there is little difference between killing a 30-week old fetus in the womb and killing that same child moments after she has passes through her mother’s birth canal. At least, this is true of the many pro-choice disciples of philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson.
Thomson famously defended abortion through a clever thought experiment. She invites us to imagine that a Society of Music Lovers captures a prisoner who is then attached to the kidneys of a famous violinist. This prisoner is told that he must remain connected to the violinist for nine months, at which point the violinist will make a full recovery. Thomson, of course, concludes that just as one is not obliged to stay connected to the violinist, neither should mothers be required to support the lives of fetuses.
If the prisoner disconnects himself, however, he cannot then demand the death of the violinist. As Thomson put it: I have argued that you are not morally required to spend nine months in bed, sustaining the life of that violinist, but to say this is by no means to say that if, when you unplug yourself, there is a miracle and he survives, you then have a right to turn round and slit his throat. You may detach yourself even if this costs him his life; you have no right to be guaranteed his death.
From Thomson’s perspective the violinist does enjoy a right to life, just not a right to be sustained bodily by another human being. Thus, Thomson offers the only philosophical case for making a sharp distinction—one that could bear the weight of the death penalty—between killing fetuses in the womb and killing abortion survivors. Only Thomson’s case could possibly justify a regime that protects the practice of late-term abortion as a fundamental right, yet puts Gosnell to his death. This means that pro-choice advocates may have the strongest reasons to demand the death of our nation’s most infamous abortionist.
Monday, May 13, 2013, 7:11 PM
According to reports in the Arab media and Reuters, Saudi Arabia has convicted a Lebanese man of “evangelism” and sentenced him to six years in prison and 300 lashes. According to reports, the man, an Evangelical Christian, converted a Saudi woman in her 20s to Christianity and spirited her out of the country to Lebanon. The Saudi Gazette notes that the man had the woman’s personal belongings sent ahead of her to Lebanon, thus proving that “he had planned out the whole thing and premeditated the woman’s conversion to Christianity.” Not only conversion, but premeditated conversion! The case has been a cause celebre in Saudi Arabia, where proselytism is illegal and converting from Islam to another religion is a capital offense.
Monday, May 13, 2013, 5:37 PM
In today’s Gosnell coverage, some of the nation’s most prominent media outlets called Gosnell’s victims “fetuses.” The New York Times wrote that “the defense battled over whether the fetuses Dr. Gosnell was charged with killing were alive when they were removed from their mothers.”
Meanwhile the AP said with matter-of-fact ghoulishness, “That left the jury to weigh charges involving fetuses identified as Baby A, Baby C, Baby D and Baby E.”
These are straightforward medical inaccuracies (no human outside the womb can be called a fetus) that conceal a moral lie. To call a baby, born or unborn, a “fetus” is a way of distancing ourselves from its humanity by means of medical terminology. Once we start referring to unwanted children in the womb as “fetuses,” we pretty soon start speaking of them outside the womb that way, too.
That the Times and AP likely committed these solecisms unintentionally only reinforces how they reflect the logic of abortion rights, a logic that works whether we like it or not to undermine flimsy distinctions between born and unborn, baby and fetus.
Monday, May 13, 2013, 5:03 PM
Late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell has been convicted of first degree murder for killing babies after delivering them alive.
The trial now moves into the penalty phase, and we wait to hear whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty. But Dr. Gosnell is only the front man; and the real trial has only just begun. The defendant is the abortion license in America. The Gosnell episode highlights the irrationality of the regime of law put into place by the Supreme Court in 1973 and fiercely protected by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the polticians they and other “pro-choice” advocacy groups help send to Washington and the state capitols.
Something as morally arbitrary as a human being’s location—his or her being in or out of the womb—cannot determine whether killing him or her is an unconscionable act of premeditated homicide or the exercise of a fundamental liberty. Yet something like that is the prevailing state of American law under Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Its incoherence and indefensibility have been laid bare by the prosecution of Dr. Gosnell. Whatever now happens to him, it will no longer be possible to pretend that abortion and infanticide are radically different acts or practices.
If we are to condemn snipping the neck of a child delivered at, say, twenty-four or twenty-six weeks to kill him or her, how can we defend dismembering or poisoning a child in the womb at twenty-six, thirty, or even thirty-four weeks? And even more fundamentally, if we are bearers of inviolable dignity and a basic right to life in virtue of our humanity, and not in virtue of accidental qualities such as age, or size, or stage of development or condition of dependency—if, in other words, we believe in the fundamentalequality of human beings—how can a right to abortion (where “abortion” means performing an act whose purpose is to cause fetal death) be defended at all?
Monday, May 13, 2013, 3:46 PM
Kermit Gosnell has been found guilty on three counts of first-degree murder. Even if he receives the death sentence, Gosnell almost certainly will never face execution. As Charles Johnson of the Patriot News reported in September, Pennsylvania has one of the longest green miles in the country. Out of the thirty-four states that have the death penalty, Pennsylvania ranks thirty-second in performing executions—and this despite having the fourth largest number of death-row inmates.
One factor in Pennsylvania’s low conviction rate was Governor Robert Casey’s reluctance to sign execution warrants, leading to an effective eight-year respite for those facing execution. Another factor is the Third Circuit. As Ron Eisenberg, the head of appeals for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office told the Patriot News, “It’s absolutely true that more death penalty cases get reversed in Pennsylvania than in Texas, or Mississippi or Alabama. . . . But even most death penalty abolitionists wouldn’t say the courts are fairer in those states.”
In fact, since Pennsylvania reinstated the death penalty in 1976, there have been as many suicides on death row as their have been executions (three each). All of the men (and they were all men) put to death willingly gave up their right to appeal. Gosnell, then, is almost certain to die of natural causes.
Monday, May 13, 2013, 3:14 PM
The jury has found Kermit Gosnell guilty on three charges of first-degree murder of babies, according to reporter J. D. Mullane, and not guilty of a fourth murder charge. (Details on those murder charges here.) Judge Jeffrey Minehart had earlier dismissed three other first-degree murder charges against Gosnell.
Gosnell was also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of patient Karnamaya Mongar and convicted of numerous lesser charges, including multiple counts of violating Pennsylvania’s informed consent law and twenty-one counts of abortion of unborn babies over twenty-four weeks gestation.
The verdict follows ten days of deliberations and roughly six weeks of courtroom testimony about the more than two hundred criminal charges against him.
According to background information from LifeNews, Gosnell could face the death penalty, which prosecutors are pursuing
when a second jury is impaneled “to determine sentencing under the penalty phase of the trial.” Update: reports vary about whether the same jury will reconvene to decide the sentence or whether a new jury will be impaneled. Either way, the sentencing phase will begin next Tuesday, May 21.
At minimum, according to Fox News analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, Gosnell will receive three life sentences to jail. Robert George last month urged pro-lifers to request that Gosnell’s life be spared in the event of his conviction.
The courtroom today was packed, according to journalist Steve Volk, in contrast to the earlier stages of the trial when few media outlets sent reporters. Volk added that Gosnell heard the verdict passively, while one prosecutor reportedly sobbed.
Gosnell’s defense attorney, according to CNN, claimed in his closing argument that “none of the infants was killed; rather . . . they were already dead as a result of Gosnell administering the drug Digoxin, which can cause abortion.”
Co-defendant Eileen O’Neill, who worked with Gosnell, was found guilty of conspiracy and theft by deception but not guilty of five other charges. Prosecutors said she “deceived patients and insurance companies by pretending to be a licensed physician and billing for those services.”
NBC reports that the twelve jury members, seven women and five men, all “said they were either pro-choice or had no opinion” about abortion. Following the verdict, J. D. Mullane reports, Gosnell attorney Jack McMahon asked that all jurors be polled; each affirmed the verdict “in [a] strong voice.”
While the prosecution had more than fifty witnesses testify, Gosnell himself never took the stand during the arguments, and McMahon “did not call either fact or character witnesses for his client.” Afterwards McMahon told reporters, “We had a chance to put out our issues, and a jury has spoken, and we respect that verdict.”
During the trial McMahon had said to jurors, “abortion—as is any surgical procedure—isn’t pretty. It’s bloody. It’s real. But you have to transcend that.”
Lengthy coverage of the trial and courtroom arguments is available from the Associated Press here.
While pro-life activists can be grateful for the conviction of Kermit Gosnell, some abortion clinics with similarly disturbing records remain fully operational.
Monday, May 13, 2013, 12:00 PM
William Doino Jr. recalls Søren Kierkegaard’s Christian faith:
If Kierkegaard’s Christianity creates dilemmas for the secular, it has proven equally vexing for his fellow believers. Kierkegaard was scandalized by the state of Christianity in his day, especially as expressed by the official Lutheran Church of Denmark.
Also today, Mark D. Tooley on Christian leaders and immigration reform:
These church leaders who are prioritizing their churches’ teaching about marriage ought to be commended. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission laudably said he would not support legislation with the same-sex recognition.
Monday, May 13, 2013, 11:33 AM
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking at the University of Chicago this Saturday:
Ginsburg, one of the most liberal members of the nation’s high court, spoke Saturday at the University of Chicago Law School. Ever since the decision, she said, momentum has been on abortion opponents’ side, fueling a state-by-state campaign that has placed more restrictions on abortion.
“That was my concern, that the court had given opponents of access to abortion a target to aim at relentlessly,” she told a crowd of students. “… My criticism of Roe is that it seemed to have stopped the momentum that was on the side of change.” . . .
A more restrained judgment would have sent a message while allowing momentum to build at a time when a number of states were expanding abortion rights, she said. She added that it might also have denied opponents the argument that abortion rights resulted from an undemocratic process in the decision by “unelected old men.”
Jon A. Shields, writing in the January 2013 issue of First Things:
Roe v. Wade did far more than create a constitutional right to abortion—it crippled the pro-choice and energized the pro-life movement, creating one of the largest campaigns of moral suasion in American history. Even while nationalizing abortion politics, the Supreme Court’s decision also localized and personalized the issue by pushing it almost entirely out of legislatures, giving an unexpected opening to the pro-life movement to affect the culture, and in turn the wider political debate, in ways no one expected.
Before Roe, the pro-choice movement was truly a movement: It organized letter-writing campaigns, subverted restrictive abortion laws through underground networks of clergy and doctors, and eagerly sought opportunities to debate pro-life advocates. After Roe, obviated by its near-total victory, the movement almost collapsed. It has never fully recovered its former strength and energy.
Monday, May 13, 2013, 11:05 AM
For Pope Francis, “the devil is not a myth, but a real person.” In one of his morning homilies, reports Sandro Magister, Francis said:
“With his death and resurrection, Jesus has ransomed us from the power of the world, from the power of the devil, from the power of the prince of this world. The origin of the hatred is this: we are saved and that prince of the world, who does not want us to be saved, hates us and gives rise to the persecution that from the earliest times of Jesus continues until today.
“One must react to the devil — the pope says — as did Jesus, who “replied with the word of God. With the prince of this world one cannot dialogue. Dialogue is necessary among us, it is necessary for peace, it is an attitude that we must have among ourselves in order to hear each other, to understand each other. And it must always be maintained. Dialogue is born from charity, from love. But with that prince one cannot dialogue; one can only respond with the word of God that defends us.”
This is not something theologians and pastors, at least those in the developed world, tend to say, outside very conservative Protestant circles. Many readers will, I suspect, share with me the instinctive wish that Francis wouldn’t talk like that. Everything we’ve learned outside church has trained us to feel that talk of a personal devil is the point at which religion crosses into fruitloopery, like snake-handling. We believe in the supernatural, but do not feel entirely comfortable with talk of certain elements of the invisible world traditionally believed.
But belief in the devil and his legions is part of the Christian revelation, and an important part at that. As C. S. Lewis noted in his sermon Learning in War-Time:
I spoke just now of fiddling while Rome burns. But to a Christian the true tragedy of Nero must be not that he fiddles while the city was on fire but that he fiddles on the brink of hell. You must forgive me for the crude monosyllable. I know that many wiser and better Christians than I in these days do not like to mention heaven and hell even in a pulpit. I know, too, that nearly all the references to this subject in the New Testament come from a single source. But then that source is Our Lord Himself. People will tell you it is St. Paul, but that is untrue. These overwhelming doctrines are dominical. They are not really removable from the teaching of Christ or of His Church. If we do not believe them, our presence in this church is great tomfoolery. If we do, we must sometime overcome our spiritual prudery and mention them.
And as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
391 Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”
392 Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: “You will be like God.” The devil “has sinned from the beginning”; he is “a liar and the father of lies.”
If this is true, it is something we should know not just for our eternal destinations but for happiness in this world. Something you can’t see, like the HIV virus, wants the worst for you, and as would one exposed to the virus, you should take prophylactic measures. What you don’t know can hurt you.
Sandro Magister’s article includes a helpful article from a recent issue of L’Obbservatore Romano on How the Scripture Speaks of the Devil. Here is a useful short summary of Catholic teaching.
Update: Lewis was talking specifically about Hell, a friend points out. I was thinking of his insistence that “crude monosyllable” — like “Hell” but also “Devil” or “Satan” — are biblical and not something we can avoid if we want to speak the same language as Scripture (and the Church), and that the gospels speaks rather clearly of Satan and the devils in a way equally impossible to blow off as a kind of optional extra not relevant to the whole message. I should have made this clear.
Monday, May 13, 2013, 11:00 AM
Yosel Tiefenbrun is a rabbi of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement and an apprentice tailor at Maurice Sedwell, the distinguished Savile Row house operated by Andrew Ramroop (himself a somewhat unusual figure on the Row). Tiefenbrun’s unique combination of classic style and hasidic Judaism (he eschews the traditional simple black-and-white wear of hasidic men) is starting to draw notice:
Tiefenbrun is careful to note that his clothing choices are his alone and not emblematic of any Chabad-specific trend.
“It’s not like it’s a Chabad thing, it’s me,” Tiefenbrun insisted. “I love art. I love quality clothing.”
With its sprawling global network of emissaries working to inspire religious observance among secular Jews, it’s perhaps little surprise that Chabadniks are practically alone within the hasidic world in pushing the boundaries, if gently, of their community’s dress codes.
“One can make the case Chabad, more than any other hasidic group, is in direct contact with the non-hasidic world, so they have a real good feel for that world outside,” Heilman said. “They have learned how to recruit there.”
Sacho said there is little interest in his stylish kapotas from members of other hasidic communities. Chabad men are selling “a product called Judaism” to the wider world, he said, and that tradition impacts their choice of clothes.
“People will listen and appreciate you more if you dress well and look presentable,” he said.
Within the confines of the hasidic community, however, it’s often a different story. Young customers come in looking for one thing, but then their mother arrives and “chews my ear off,” Sacho said.
But still, Sacho insists the style-conscious community is growing in the Chabad world and someday kapotas like his will be the norm.
“There are quite a few of us,” Sacho said. “All my clients are younger. It’s the future.”
Tiefenbrun can be found, naturally enough, on Tumblr.
Monday, May 13, 2013, 10:26 AM
Legion of Christ priest Fr. Thomas Williams has requested dispensation from his ministry in order to look after his son and his son’s mother, writes John Connor, the Legion of Christ’s assistant for apostolate for the North America Territory:
Roughly a year ago, I heard the news that our brother Legionary Fr Thomas Williams LC fathered a child a number of years ago. As a result, Fr Thomas discontinued his public ministry and took a year for prayer and penance to discern his future course in the light of God’s plan.
Fr Thomas, after much prayerful reflection and discernment, has written to the Holy Father to request dispensation from the obligations of his ministry.
Such decisions are not easy. We all balance success and failure, joy and sorrow in our lives. None of us escapes sin and the need to ask forgiveness.
I have known Fr Thomas well for the better part of a decade. I have appreciated and enjoyed his friendship, his wisdom and counsel and I deeply respect his decision about his future. After recently finishing spiritual exercises he wrote me saying “I came to the serene conviction that what God expects of me now is to devote myself to caring for my child and his mother. By responsibly and lovingly accepting the consequences of my actions, I will continue to serve God and his Church. I know I should be with my son and try to be the kind of father he needs.”
I have complete confidence that Fr Thomas will continue to be a valuable instrument in God’s plan and positively influence many, many people for the good of Christ’s Kingdom. I hope all of you will join me in praying for the success of Fr Thomas in his new life.
More from the AP. Fr. Thomas Berg wrote last year in our pages about the Legion’s “scandal of stalled reform.”
Monday, May 13, 2013, 10:15 AM
Roughly a year ago, I wrote about the Davidson College Board of Trustees’ reconsideration of its requirement that the College’s president be a Presbyterian. Well, the board has reaffirmed its requirement, explaining that “the Reformed Tradition values considered to have shaped the college’s principles and practices” drives commitment to the college’s “values of free inquiry, service and leadership, honor and integrity, humility, and diversity.”
Whatever might be the case for the Board of Trustees, whose statement acknowledges internal disagreement about these matters, students and faculty seem vociferously opposed to the decision to maintain this connection to the college’s denominational heritage. Students are typically present-minded (that’s the nice way of putting it). As far as they’re concerned, they are the college, and they don’t have much sense that they’re part of an institution whose identity persists over time (and whose character should change, if at all, only through a respectful consideration of that heritage). They came to Davidson because of its academic reputation, and that really seems to be all that matters to them.
The most respectable articulation of faculty opposition is offered by Douglas F. Ottati:
The Reformed tradition “wants to support a college of liberal arts and sciences that will further what is called ‘true religion’ in the tradition,” he said. That tradition “encourages people to engage in free inquiry. This is a tradition that thinks when you are studying the world, you are studying God’s world.” This world view “wants to invite people to practice and reflect on their commitments — religious and non-religious,” he said. . . .
Ottati said that it’s true that there are colleges of strong academic quality that require everyone to sign a statement of faith or share a specific set of beliefs. And he said that many colleges founded in a tradition of faith have decided to “just relinquish it.”
He said he believes there is much to be gained by “a middle road in which you try to embody this tradition, but at the same time you are not going to be exclusionary.”
Davidson will be true to its heritage, he said, if it ends the religious test, but simply states that it expects good candidates for president to understand, appreciate and support the college’s religious roots and values. Many such people are not Presbyterian, he said.
It’s true, he said, that some people fear a shift would result in a loss of religious identity. But Ottati stressed that the religious identity of Davidson is an inclusive one, and that the board is diverging from that religious tradition. “If we have an exclusionary requirement we’re going to end up undercutting some of these most deeply held traditions,” he said. “If the only way to save a tradition is to kill it, that’s not a happy circumstance.”
Perhaps this middle ground is tenable, but I doubt it. First of all, it seems insensitive to the fact that almost all the pressure on a college like Davidson is secularizing. To retain any connection with a religious heritage at all requires a great deal of effort, pulling hard against the prevailing winds. Second, while I agree that studying the world as God’s world is a good place to begin a consideration of the life of the mind in a religious context, there’s a temptation to hold your understanding of God hostage to what you think you learn about the world. I’d be more comfortable if there were an equal emphasis in his articulation of the tradition on God’s Word.
I guess that’s why we should be glad that there are trustees.
Monday, May 13, 2013, 9:30 AM
A few weeks ago, I wrote about some of the controversies plaguing Southern Baptist colleges. In one of these controversies the administration of Louisiana College dismissed three religion professors, in spite of the fact that they all affirmed the school’s statement of faith. Kevin McFadden was one of the professors who lost his job. This past weekend he wrote a helpful piece in which he advises Christians dealing with theological disagreements.
He directs his advice specifically to Southern Baptists, but his three main points can help all denominations dealing with theological controversy.
1. We need to recognize that some doctrines are more important than others.
2. We need to hold to our confessions.
3. We need to be people of integrity.
I think this last point is key, and Christians neglect it too often. We can’t follow points one and two if we’re not following point three. McFadden identifies a real problem within the SBC with this passage.
The problem at Louisiana College is a remarkable lack of integrity among the leadership of the college and the leadership of Louisiana Baptist Convention. And I think this lack of integrity is rooted in something deeper I have observed in the Southern Baptist Convention—a culture of flattery and glad-handing and even outright lying for the sake of personal or political gain. I love the Southern Baptist heart for evangelism and revival. But revival needs to start at home. We need to pray that God would grant us repentance of sin and faith in his Son, that he would pour out his Spirit and give us integrity. And we need to beware of the spread of the hypocrisy that is in our midst (see Luke 12:1–3).
Many Christian denominations have been racked with controversy lately. McFadden reminds us that it doesn’t have to be this way. Ecclesiastical politics divides us more often than doctrinal purity. McFadden encourages us to something better.
Read his entire article here.
Monday, May 13, 2013, 9:00 AM
Monday, May 13, 2013, 8:58 AM
On October 31, 2017, the Protestant Reformation will turn 500. How ought one commemorate such an epochal, complex, and influential historical development? While the date is still a while off, I have been thinking about the question a lot lately. In part, because my colleague Mark Noll at Notre Dame and I received a grant a year ago to host a conference around this question. (It will take place this November on the campus of Gordon College; if interested, click here.) Also, I will soon be leading a study trip to sites of the Reformation in the former East Germany, during which time I will meet with some German colleagues considering 2017.
To be sure, the question has many possible angles: social, cultural, political, economic, and, of course, theological. But where does one even begin to answer a question on the theological significance of the Reformation? There are certainly as many answers as there are denominations within Protestantism. And this is to say nothing of the lingering divide between Protestants and Catholics over the Reformation’s meaning.
Thinking more intently about these divisions, however, might not be a bad place to begin. Several years ago I came across the then Lutheran theologian Jaroslav Pelikan’s notion that the Reformation is best remembered as a “tragic necessity.” Pelikan elaborated:
The tragedy of the Reformation consists in the loss by both sides of the some of the very things each claimed to be defending against the other; its final outcome was not what Rome or the reformers had wanted. Yet the necessity of the Reformation consists in the loyalty of the reformers to the best and highest in Roman Catholic Christianity and their obligation to summon Rome back to it. Partisans on both sides have difficulty acknowledging the Reformation was indeed a tragic necessity. Roman Catholics agree that it was tragic, because it separated many millions from the true church; but they cannot see that it was really necessary. Protestants agree that it was necessary, because the Roman church was so corrupt; but they cannot see that it was such a tragedy after all. . . . [Whatever the case] an honest assessment of the Reformation belongs to any . . . effort at meeting the present situation between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.
Let me suggest that, as the Reformation quincentennial approaches, Catholics ought to try to think about why so many, then and now, felt the necessity of the Reformation. Conversely, Protestants ought to consider why Catholics, then and now, have perceived it as tragic. That might not answer all questions, mend all divisions. But it might not be a bad place to start.
But, esteemed reader, let me close with a question: how do you think the Reformation ought to be commemorated in 2017?
Crosspost at the Anxious Bench.
Saturday, May 11, 2013, 2:16 PM
Something seems off here . . .
Friday, May 10, 2013, 5:13 PM
The chief prosecutor in Peter Leithart’s recently concluded heresy trial stunned many by converting to Roman Catholicism shortly after bringing his prosecution. Now some are citing his conversion as reason to declare a mistrial:
Three Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) recently approved an overture requesting the General Assembly to assume original jurisdiction over TE Peter Leithart, a teaching elder member of Pacific Northwest Presbytery.
Calvary Presbytery approved the overture at its April 25, 2013 meeting, and Gulf Coast and Mississippi Valley Presbyteries approved the overture at their respective meetings on May 7, 2013. The vote at all of the meetings was unanimous or at least without audible dissent. . . .
In June 2011, Pacific Northwest Presbytery held a trial, and the Presbytery found TE Leithart not guilty of the five charges. In November 2011, one month after the Presbytery met and adopted the judgments on the five charges, a complaint was filed against the actions of Pacific Northwest Presbytery. In April, 2012 the Presbytery denied the complaint at which point the complaint was carried to the SJC. . . .
The three Presbyteries voted to approve the overture asking the PCA General Assembly to, “Assume original jurisdiction and direct the Standing Judicial Commission to hear ‘Pacific Northwest Presbytery vs. Peter Leithart,’ because PNWP has ‘refused to act’ per the provision found in BCO 34-1, by not declaring a mistrial in this case because of its chief prosecutor’s conflict of interest, stemming from his transition into membership of the Roman Catholic church.”
The controversy centers on Leithart’s views on baptism, which he recently restated here.
Friday, May 10, 2013, 4:28 PM
From R.R. Reno’s “Public Square” in the May issue of First Things. Support First Things by subscribing here.
First Things has been updated for the iPad. It has the same elegant style as the print magazine, but we’ve changed the formatting in significant ways to make the articles more readable for electronic subscribers, and easier to navigate. You can buy individual issues or sign up for regular monthly delivery. Check it out in Apple’s iTunes store, or on our website (which I hope you’ve made your homepage).
We can thank Austin Stone for the iPad update. He steps into a new role at First Things, that of e-publisher responsible for “pushing out” our content on “multiple platforms.” (That’s a sentence I never imagined myself writing.) First Things remains committed to old-fashioned print. That’s my preferred way to read serious articles and essays. But we also want to give our electronic readers formats as easy and pleasurable to read as the crisp, clean pages of America’s finest journal of religion and public life.
While welcoming Austin Stone to the team, I’d also like to acknowledge the departure of Joe Carter, our former web editor. He is now senior editor of the Acton Institute and an editor at the Gospel Coalition. Joe is an important voice among religious conservatives, and a man whose faith, integrity, and intelligence I admire a great deal. In his five years with the magazine, Joe was an adept tech guy, an insightful writer for our website, a faithful Christian, and a good friend. Thanks, Joe.
Friday, May 10, 2013, 2:43 PM
Timothy Flanders, writing about the twentieth-century movement toward unity between the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches (who split over Christological disagreements after the Council of Chalcedon in 451), says that Protestant models of ecumenism paved the way:
It was within the WCC that two visionaries from each church met and began to collaborate—Nikos Nissiotis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Paul Verghese of the Malankara Indian Orthodox Church (later Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios of Delhi). This work with the WCC helped galvanize the Orthodox to meet together at Rhodes in 1961—and also invite the Miaphysites. In 1963, when the WCC Faith & Order Commission met, Swiss Reformed Protestant Lukas Vischer began working closely with Nissiotis and Verghese to eventually organize the first formal Orthodox-Miaphysite consultation in 1964, in which the bulk of the division was overcome in matter of days.
Virtually as soon as the two church families managed to come into contrastive dialogue with each other in this century, it was realize that physis . . . was being used in different ways in our different churches.
In matter of days a division and misunderstanding that had lasted nearly fifteen hundred years—almost sixty generations!—was viewed in an entirely new and promising way, almost resolved then and there. And this was due in large part to the encouragement, sponsorship, and support of Protestant Christians through the WCC. Moreover, can not the Protestant openness to diversity in doctrine (no doubt to a fault at other times) be seen as a strength in the midst of intransigent myopia holding tenaciously to old prejudices? Indeed, this very cooperation with Protestants has helped the Orthodox rediscover their own tradition more fully. A more mature understanding of the Church canons, for instance, has been brought to bear on mainstream Orthodox theology.
Orthodox Christians have often been divided on the WCC, many seeing it with suspicion and hostility. The Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC was created in 1998 in an attempt to assuage Orthodox concerns about ecclesiology, social and ethical issues, interconfessional prayer, and the WCC’s structure and decision-making process. Nearly all Orthodox Churches remain WCC members today.
Friday, May 10, 2013, 12:00 PM
Peter J. Leithart explores the problem with family values:
Traditionally, marriage and family in turn opened out to the community. As Wendell Berry says, “Lovers must not, like usurers, live for themselves alone. They must finally turn from their gaze at one another back toward the community.” Even today, married couples “say their vows to the community as much as to one another.”
Friday, May 10, 2013, 11:19 AM
« Newer Posts
Like many, I have been following the debate between R. R. Reno and Robert Miller about conservatism and the alleged triumph of capitalism. As I follow their debate, in the back of my mind is a phrase I heard soon after Pope Francis was elected: the Pope gets his “oxygen” from the slums:
In Argentina, they say that if you want to understand the priestly soul of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, then you have to know the villas miserias, literally “villas of misery,” meaning the slums in Buenos Aires where the poorest of the poor are found.
According to Fr. Juan Isasmendi, who lives and works in one of the villas, this is where the future Pope Francis filled his lungs with the “oxygen” he needed to think about what the church ought to be.
Where do we get our oxygen? When Reno says there needs to be a moral, principled, non-utilitarian case for capitalism, I hear it as a variation on the question of what we’re breathing. What animates our arguments? In part, it’s a question about motives. And I think Reno is right to worry about the oxygen in our culture.
From a recent issue of the New Yorker [April 29], comparing journalism about the Great Depression with reporting about our own Great Recession today:
Marxism, for writers in the nineteen-thirties, gave the ruins of the Great Depression a certain glamour. In reporting on the mill town of Lawrence, Massachusetts, Wilson believed that he was getting closer to the heart of history: the workers and their default leaders weren’t marginal losers – they were the prophets of the future. But, for a media culture without such political commitments, this second depression has interest chiefly through the filter of élite experience. The American jitters belong to the likes of Hank Paulson, Richard Fuld, Angelo Mozilo, and Timothy Geithner. Some have suffered damaged reputations; a few have seen their net worth drop; none have had to hunt for food in garbage cans.
Christians generally aren’t Marxists and ought not to be in the glamour business, but I think we can take the point: Our media culture today does not draw its oxygen from the poor. That should worry us, because even if Christians are a dissenting minority, we live in this culture and our imaginations are formed by it.
As we follow the debate between Reno and Miller, I think it matters why we’re interested in capitalism. It matters who we love, what we’re trying to conserve, who we know, and who are friends are. Where do we get our oxygen?
— Older Posts »