Thursday, March 24, 2005

PVS & Eye Tracking: Schiavo, apparently, can track objects with her eyes, which suggests her diagnosis of PVS is more complicated than media accounts have suggested (recall as well Terri's husband won't let her have MRI testing done even though it can detect the brain lesions associated with PVS):

Eye tracking and Emotional responses are the most common ways of determining whether a patient is responding, and therefore no longer in a vegetative state. The first sign of a patient emerging from PVS is the localizing of the eyes on a visual stimulus. This can be observed because persons in a vegetative state are unable to track moving objects or fixate their vision on an object, and as a patient recovers they regain this ability. This type of a response if most often detected by family members or caregivers that have worked directly with the patient. Eye tracking is not necessarily enough to show that a person is recovering from PVS because patients may not show any other evidence of other meaningful response to the environment.

More difficulties with eye tracking may come into play because of the possibility of other neurological or ophthalmological damage that may prevent a patient from tracking stimuli. This means that a patient may actually have a degree of recovery that will be missed because it cannot be detected through eye tracking.
Emotional response is also difficult to determine because a response must be directly related to specific stimulus. This can be difficult because patients in PVS can scream, cry, grunt or have other actions associated with emotional responses, which are not done in response to stimuli. Therefore significant testing must be done to determine that emotional responses are not being done randomly, but are performed as responses.

A patient recovering from PVS usually recovers in a progressive manner where they move into a post vegetative state. Some patients have recovered significantly. Individuals with relatively short periods of time in PVS have been able to regain nearly normal physical and mental capabilities. There has also been documentation of individuals recovering from periods of PVS lasting over a year who have been able to regain the ability to think, communicate and recover a fair level of physical independence (move without a wheelchair, and feed themselves) (CRA 54).

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Schiavo's Brain: Here's something I hadn't read in the other news reports about Terri Schiavo's condidtion. According to Charles Krauthammer (who is a medical doctor):
The crucial issue in deciding whether one would want to intervene to keep her alive is whether there is, as one bioethicist put it to me, "anyone home." Her parents, who see her often, believe that there is. The husband maintains that there is no one home. (But then again he has another home, making his judgment somewhat suspect.) The husband has not allowed a lot of medical testing in the past few years.

I have tried to find out what her neurological condition actually is. But the evidence is sketchy, old and conflicting. The Florida court found that most of her cerebral cortex is gone. But "most" does not mean all. There may be some cortex functioning. The severely retarded or brain-damaged can have some consciousness. And we do not go around euthanizing the minimally conscious in the back wards of mental hospitals on the grounds that their lives are not worth living.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Trickle-Down Politics: A while back I wrote about my sort of apolitical approach to politics. Here's Father Neuhaus making a similar point about C.S. Lewis:
The phrase "public square" evokes images of the political arena with its partisan games and intense debates over public policy. Lewis did occasionally, very occasionally, address what are ordinarily called political issues. One thinks of his reflections on the Second World War, on pacifism and belligerency, on laws regarding obscenity, and on the nature of criminal punishment. But, for the most part, Lewis is understandably viewed as a determinedly apolitical, even private, man. Indeed, in many ways he took his stand, and encouraged others to take their stand, over against politics—especially politics as dominated by the machinations of the modern State. He was on the side of reason, myth, splendor, and virtue, in the hope that such vital elements of life might "still trickle down to irrigate the dust–bowl of modern economic Statecraft." This might be called the C. S. Lewis trickle–down theory of politics.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

California Gay Marriage Decision: Here's a link to California Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer's 27-page decision explaining why marriage is a fundamental right that cannot be denied to same-sex couples. The ruling is the fourth court opinion in favor of marriage equality in the last year. Meanwhile, movements to ban gay marriage by state constitutional amendment continue in Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Wisconsin, and elsewhere (for a roundup see here and here).
The Latter Days: A NY Times article about the church shootings in Wisconsin last week observes:

The church's "pre-millennial" view of history, which asserts that humankind is moving inexorably toward the "end times," when the world will go through a series of cataclysms before the second coming of Christ, is not uncommon among evangelicals. Dr. Meredith preached in a recent sermon broadcast internationally that the apocalypse was close, warning members to pay off credit-card debt and hoard savings in preparation for the United States' coming financial collapse.

Hmm. I don't know about you, but if the end is really that close, the last thing I'm going to be worrying about is my credit card debt. Then again, perhaps this explains the motivation behind the tough new bankruptcy reform bill currently making its way through Congress.

(Hat tip: Evangelical Outpost.)
Why Holy Matrimony, Part II: Last week I wrote a post explaining why I consider the church’s opposition to gay marriage to be a much more serious matter than the state’s (see here). But this raises a second question which I did not address there: why, despite my submission to the authority of the church in matters of faith and morals, I not only reject the church’s teaching on homosexuality, but feel free to act in opposition to it?

Like many theological questions, this is not the sort of question that can be answered in a few paragraphs. But in my own thinking about the issue, one thing I've found especially helpful has been the realization that doctrinal change has been a constant feature of church history from the beginning (see, e.g., the evolution in the church’s stance toward the continuing validity of Jewish law as recounted in Acts 15 and Galatians 2). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, "even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made fully explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries” (No. 66).

Of course, the mere fact that doctrine develops over time does not mean that any given proposed change is legitimate. How, then, do we know what is corruption and what is authentic?

Father Richard John Neuhaus suggests an answer to this quetion that offers both Catholics and Protestants much to ponder:

"Recall Cardinal Newman’s reflection on the development of doctrine, a reflection that has been incorporated by magisterial teaching. He suggested seven marks of authentic development: authentic development preserves the Church’s apostolic form; it reflects continuity of principles in testing the unknown by the known; it demonstrates the power to assimilate what is true, even in what is posited against it; it follows a logical sequence; it anticipates future developments; it conserves past developments; and, throughout, it claims and demonstrates the vigor of teaching authority.

And thus it is, said St. Vincent of Lerins in the fifth century, that in authentic development of doctrine nothing presents itself in the Church’s old age that was not latent in her youth. Such was the truth discovered by Augustine, a truth ‘ever ancient, ever new.’”

This last point expresses well the task that gay and lesbian Christians must be prepared to accept as we come to the church asking it to bless our unions. In short, we must be willing to show our brothers and sisters why, despite the fact that gay marriage appears to be and indeed is a novum or new thing, it nonetheless represents an authentic development of doctrine that affirms and even underscores the church's ancient understanding of what marriage is and what it is for.

This is an issue that I have already discussed here, here, and here. But next week I will offer a third installment in this series that will attempt to bring these arguments together in a more systematic way.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Light Blogging: It's going to be a busy week in law school, so blogging will be light the next few days.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Boys Will Do Boys: At least according to a number of members. Consider this pearl of wisdom:

Since sex is between two consenting adults and everyone's standards of moral obligation are different, we do not have the right to tell someone who is HIV+ or HIV- what they are allowed to do behind closed doors. We can give information and listen to people's needs. From there an answer and lasting solution will come to this problem that has plagued our community for so many years.

Ah yes. That most venerable of heresies, gnosticism, rears its ugly head again, still claiming after all these centuries that knowledge alone is sufficient to solve every problem. The only trouble is that experience suggests a rather more complicated explanation of human behavior is in order, one that neither denies the existence of the human will (i.e., one that concedes we can change our behavior) but that also does not fall into the trap of presuming we sin out of ignorance.

Consider the AIDS epidemic among American gay men. Most of us know what HIV is, how it is transmitted, and what steps (abstinence, monogamy, use of condoms) can be taken to reduce its spread. In short, we have been given knowledge about the disease, and most of us have received it. Yet still the (largely self-inflicted) plague continues. All of which would seem to confirm the psychological--if not the soteriological--truth of St. Paul's confession to the Roman church:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Rom. 7:15).

Paul's answer to this dilemma, of course, was to turn for help to the One who created us:

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you... (Rom. 8:7-9a)

But then this answer to the problem of HIV is not likely to be taken seriously by those who think knowledge or gnosis is the answer to everything. After all, Paul's approach would require people to get down on their knees for some purpose other than indulging sexual "needs." And this, in turn, would involve making a moral judgment against promiscuity, a definite no-no in this age of moral relativism--even, it would appear, when the only alternative is quite literally death.
Christian Blackmail?: Stupidity is no sin, but the Christian tradition has long held that sloth--mental as well as physical--is. The thought came to mind as I read this defense of blackmail offered by libertarian blogger Vox Popoli:

Exposing the sins of an unrepentant individual to others, far from being a wrongful act, is actually required of the church member in good standing. Since such exposure is a virtuous act under Biblical principles, it cannot and should not be viewed as something negative, much less as the basis for a crime.

Where to begin. First note that no scripture references are cited to support this rather unconventional conclusion. In fact, the New Testament denounces both the spirit of busibodiness that leads some to expose the sins of others as well as the greed that actually motivates those who engage in blackmail. This does not mean there is no time or place for "exposing the sins" of others, of course, but the underlying motive is never to be either financial gain or exposure for the sake of exposure. Consider, for instance, this passage from the Sermon on the Mount:

"Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

Notice the two main concerns of Jesus here. First, we are to focus on our own short-comings. Second, we are to turn our focus onto the sins of others only after we have first removed our own sins and then only for the purpose of helping our brother to see clearly (i.e., to help him "sin no more," as in the story of Jesus stopping the attempted stoning of the woman caught in adultery; see John 8 & especially v. 7: "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." ).

Then there is the general framework for handling disputes among believers set forth in Matthew 18:

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."

Notice that disputes are to be worked out in private if at all possible. If that fails, then a small number of others may be brought in to help reach a resolution. Only if that step fails is the entire church to be brought in, and then the remedy is to cut ties with the person, not to cause scandal or financial harm through blackmail.
Spanish Muslims Take a Stand: CNN is reporting that the Islamic Commission of Spain has issued a fatwa stating that, according to the Koran, "the terrorist acts of Osama bin Laden and his organization al Qaeda ... are totally banned and must be roundly condemned as part of Islam." The clerics also accuse bin Laden of "abandoning his religion and urged others of their faith to denounce the al Qaeda leader...."
Today's New International Version: Zondervan's revised, gender-inclusive version of the best-selling NIV Bible is out now (see here for background on the controversy and here for the new text). Following are some famous verses as rendered in the KJV, RSV, NIV, and TNIV:

(1) Gen. 1:27:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.... (KJV)

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.... (RSV)

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.... (NIV)

So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them.... (TNIV)

(2) Psalm 23

(a) v. 3:

"He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness..." (KJV)

"...he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness..." (RSV)

"he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness..." (NIV)

"he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths...." (TNIV)

v. 4:

"the valley of the shadow of death" (KJV)

[same] (RSV)

[same] (NIV)

"the darkest valley" (TNIV)

Note from Strong's: "from 'tsel' (6738) and 'maveth' (4194); shade of death, i.e. the grave (figuratively, calamity):--shadow of death."

(3) 1 John 2:9ff:

9 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. 10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. 11 But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. (KJV)

9 He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still.... (RSV)

9Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.... (NIV)

9 Those who claim to be in the light but hate a fellow believer are still in the darkness. 10 Those who love their fellow believers live in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But those who hate a fellow believer are in the darkness and walk around in the darkness; they do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. (TNIV)
Christian Arabs: Here's an article that gives an update about last month's slaying of the New Jersey Coptic family as well as the rise in persecution of Arab Christians in the Middle East. The jist of the U.S. murder story is that "New Jersey police say they have no proof it was religious murder and are still considering robbery among the motives, although Armanious was far from rich and family jewelry was found untouched in the house." Meanwhile, the killings apparently followed a "Koranic prescription for ritual execution."

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Divide, Conquer, Abort:

A Maine legislator has introduced a bill that “would make it illegal in Maine to abort a fetus that is known to have the ‘gay gene.’ Anticipating a future day when scientists might clearly identify such a gene, Rep. Brian Duprey claims he introduced the bill to prevent women from ending pregnancies based on their fetus' projected sexual orientation.”

Duprey says he got the idea for the law one afternoon as he was listening to Rush Limbaugh. But many gays in Maine don’t exactly appreciate the help. "This bill is a feeble attempt to drive a wedge between groups and individuals who have worked together to protect and defend a woman's right to choose and eliminate bias based on sexual orientation," says Betsy Smith, the executive director of EqualityMaine.

Notice how Smith focuses on Duprey’s motives while completely sidestepping the delicate but important question of what should be done when a woman’s decision to abort her fetus is based on bias against homosexuals. Would Smith really have no problem with such a choice? Or would she not at some point have to admit that abortion, contra the implicit claims of the pro-choice lobby, is not quite the equivalent of an appendectomy?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Hating the 'Sinner': "It's just a wonderful way to show the contrast between the truth of God and the abomination of sin,” says the Rev. Fred Phelps of the invitation from the Indiana Equal Rights Coalition to speak next week at a forum on gay rights being held at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Phelps, of course, is the (self-ordained) minister who runs the God Hates Fags website and made national headlines when he picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard. The purpose of the invitation, I guess, is to be nice to him and see whether in return he will stop hating us or at least leave us alone. Or perhaps the invitation is meant only to show how ignorant homophobia really is.

Whatever the purpose, Phelps says he plans to picket six area churches that he claims are tolerant of gay rights, prompting this response from one of the targeted ministers:

"One cannot hate in the name of God," said the Rev. Phil Emerson of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church.

"My great heartbreak is unchurched people in Fort Wayne will read this story and will say that's what it means to be Christian or that's what it means to be godly. There's nothing of God about this group, and I'm sorry they associate themselves with any Christian names."
Antisemitism & Civilization: Blogger Eugene Volokh makes an interesting point about antisemitism:

The most powerful country in the world, America, is one of the ones that has been most open to Jews. Look at the most anti-Semitic countries in recent history: Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the Arab world. Right up there at the forefront of civilization and power, aren't they? Is it all the workings of The Conspiracy? Or is it just that the sorts of idiots who hate Jews do other idiotic things, too?

But there are other reasons why the most successful nations also tend to be the most open to the Jewish people in their midst. Tom Cahill does an excellent job of explaining the reasons in his book The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels. Here's a short excerpt that focuses on how our western understanding of history as a story with a beginning, middle, and end (or telos) is in large part a Jewish invention given to the world via the Bible:

The Jews started it all—and by ‘it’ I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and gentile, believer and atheist, tick...For better or worse, the role of the West in humanity’s history is singular. Because of this, the role of the Jews, the inventors of Western culture, is also singular: there is simply no one else remotely like them; theirs is a unique vocation. Indeed, as we shall see, the very idea of vocation, of a personal destiny, is a Jewish idea....

The assumptions that early man made about the world were, in all their essentials, little different from the assumptions that later and more sophistocated societies, like Greece and India, would make in a more elaborate manner. As Henri-Charles Puech says of Greek thought...: ‘No event is unique, nothing is enacted but once...; every event has been enacted, is enacted, and will be enacted perpetually; the same individuals have appeared, appear, and will appear at every turn of the circle.’

The Jews were the first people to break out of this circle, to find a new way of thinking and experiencing, a new way of understanding and feeling the world, so much so that it may be said with some justice that theirs is the only new idea that human beings have ever had.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

50 Ways to Leave Your Partner: Tom Chatt of UpWord writes: "For lesbians and gay men, there's a handful of ways to legalize our relationships, and then there must be 50 ways to leave them: one for each state. When Vermont civil unions first arrived on the scene, many non-residents flocked to Vermont for the chance to legally affirm their relationships. As was inevitable, some of them didn't last, and the participants then sought to have their unions terminated in the courts of their home states. The courts have been mixed in their response to requests to dissolve civil unions."

You can read the whole post here to find out what, exactly, the courts have done.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Why Holy Matrimony?: Here's an excerpt from G.K. Chesterton's excellent book Orthodoxy that came to mind the other day as I tried to explain to a friend why the church's opposition to gay marriage bothers me so much more than the state's even though the latter prevents us from obtaining tangible legal rights. The basic reason is that, to me, legal rights are a far different (and lesser) good than are the benefits of the grace which (I believe) God dispenses to us through the sacrament of holy matrimony.

But that only raises the prior question of why I should place so much faith in the church, a question which, I think, Chesterton addresses better than just about any other writer. He begins by noting that it is rather like asking someone why he prefers civilization to savagery:

"'Why, there is that bookcase . . . and the coals in the coal-scuttle . . . and pianos . . . and policemen.' The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible...."

Chesterton explains that the same point holds true when a person tries to "defend" his faith, and continues that, in his view, the question boils down to not just finding the gods, but rather the real chief of the gods--i.e., God. He continues:

"I have another far more solid and central ground for submitting to it as a faith, instead of merely picking up hints from it as a scheme. And that is this: that the Christian Church in its practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one. It not only certainly taught me yesterday, but will almost certainly teach me to-morrow.... Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture to-morrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song.

"The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare to-morrow at breakfast. He is always expecting to see some truth that he has never seen before. There is one only other parallel to this position; and that is the parallel of the life in which we all began. When your father told you, walking about the garden, that bees stung or that roses smelt sweet, you did not talk of taking the best out of his philosophy. When the bees stung you, you did not call it an entertaining coincidence. When the rose smelt sweet you did not say 'My father is a rude, barbaric symbol, enshrining (perhaps unconsciously) the deep delicate truths that flowers smell.' No: you believed your father, because you had found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing that really knew more than you; a thing that would tell you truth to-morrow, as well as to-day.

"And if this was true of your father, it was even truer of your mother; at least it was true of mine, to whom this book is dedicated. Now, when society is in a rather futile fuss about the subjection of women, will no one say how much every man owes to the tyranny and privilege of women, to the fact that they alone rule education until education becomes futile: for a boy is only sent to be taught at school when it is too late to teach him anything. The real thing has been done already, and thank God it is nearly always done by women....

"For I remember with certainty this fixed psychological fact; that the very time when I was most under a woman's authority, I was most full of flame and adventure. Exactly because when my mother said that ants bit they did bite, and because snow did come in winter (as she said); therefore the whole world was to me a fairyland of wonderful fulfilments, and it was like living in some Hebraic age, when prophecy after prophecy came true. I went out as a child into the garden, and it was a terrible place to me, precisely because I had a clue to it: if I had held no clue it would not have been terrible, but tame. A mere unmeaning wilderness is not even impressive.

"But the garden of childhood was fascinating, exactly because everything had a fixed meaning which could be found out in its turn. Inch by inch I might discover what was the object of the ugly shape called a rake; or form some shadowy conjecture as to why my parents kept a cat. So, since I have accepted Christendom as a mother and not merely as a chance example, I have found Europe and the world once more like the little garden where I stared at the symbolic shapes of cat and rake; I look at everything with the old elvish ignorance and expectancy. This or that rite or doctrine may look as ugly and extraordinary as a rake; but I have found by experience that such things end somehow in grass and flowers....

"This, therefore, is, in conclusion, my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing. All other philosophies say the things that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true. Alone of all creeds it is convincing where it is not attractive; it turns out to be right, like my father in the garden.

"Theosophists for instance will preach an obviously attractive idea like re-incarnation; but if we wait for its logical results, they are spiritual superciliousness and the cruelty of caste. For if a man is a beggar by his own pre-natal sins, people will tend to despise the beggar. But Christianity preaches an obviously unattractive idea, such as original sin; but when we wait for its results, they are pathos and brotherhood, and a thunder of laughter and pity; for only with original sin we can at once pity the beggar and distrust the king. Men of science offer us health, an obvious benefit; it is only afterwards that we discover that by health, they mean bodily slavery and spiritual tedium.

"Orthodoxy makes us jump by the sudden brink of hell; it is only afterwards that we realise that jumping was an athletic exercise highly beneficial to our health. It is only afterwards that we realise that this danger is the root of all drama and romance...."

Friday, March 04, 2005

Daily Life Update: It occurs to me that, despite the description of this blog above, I write very little about daily life. So, in case any one's interested, here goes.

The boyfriend is away this weekend visiting friends, and I'll be leaving tomorrow for North Carolina to visit my family. It should be a great time. I'm especially looking forward to seeing my long ex-girlfriend, who is now married and had her first child (a daughter) in January.

This means I won't be blogging much over the next few days. But I'll be back by the middle of next week, no doubt with plenty more to write about.
HRC To Name Abortion-Rights Advocate As Head?: If you care at all about who the next executive director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) will be, check out this post from Steve Miller on IndeGayForum. The rumor is that HRC may name Joe Solmonese, the current head of a group dedicated to electing abortion-rights Democratics to Congress. Sounds to me like an excellent way to conflate what are very separate issues and, in the process, further undermine our cause in the eyes of Republicans. As Miller puts it:

Selecting an abortion advocate identified exclusively with electing Democrats would ensure that, going forward, HRC continues to have zero clout lobbying the party that actually controls the presidency and Congress....

Oh well. If can't beat 'em, you can always thumb your nose at up 'em. Meanwhile, states red and blue continue the work of banning gay marriage.
Big Apple Big on Gay Marriage: According to this poll, at least, which found that a majority of NYC voters support granting same-sex couples the right to marry.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Ten Commandments--religious symbol or Hollywood plot?: Here's a good report of how the oral arguments in McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky went on Wednesday. I don't have much to add, but I will note (1) that I've never really understood why the ACLU is so afraid of Moses, and (2) that most of the Ten Commandment displays that can be seen in town squares and courthouses across the country date back only to the 1950s and 60s.

This last fact is interesting because, it turns out, thousands of them--including a Texas display that is also being challenged--were put there by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which in turn received funding from the director Cecil B. DeMille, who at the time just happened to be promoting his movie "The Ten Commandments."

Only in America, as they say.
Another Gay Bashing: This time in Chapel Hill, NC, near where I used to live before I came to D.C. for law school. The attack occurred last Friday around 2 a.m.:

"Out of nowhere I just hear 'Fag' and all sorts of derogatory comments made towards me," Stockwell, 21, said. "At first I didn't realize they were yelling at me."

The six men, all about 20, chased Stockwell down, then broke his nose and knocked him out.

"They just punched me in the face," Stockwell recalled. "I did fight back. I'm not the only one hurting in town tonight."

Good for him.
The Resurrection of the Dead: A while back I criticized John Ray of Scripture Blog for lapsing into an anachronism when he claimed that Christians envision the afterlife to be “purely spiritual.” Here's what the Cambridge-trained historian E.P. Sanders of Duke University says of the resurrection in his excellent book The Historical Figure of Jesus.

After noting that Paul speaks of the resurrection in terms of the "spiritual body" and that Luke seems to suggest something similar (e.g., by reporting the resurrected Jesus as saying : "a ghost has not flesh and bones as you see that i have", 24:40), Sanders comments:

"In Paul's view [Jesus] had been transformed, changed from a 'physical' or a 'natural' body to a 'spiritual body'. Luke thought that he had flesh and could eat, but also that he had been changed. He was not obviously recognizable to people who saw him, and he could appear and disappear.

"Both authors were trying to describe--Paul at first hand, Luke at second or third hand--an experience that does not fit a known category [i.e., neither a resuscitated corpse nor a ghost or phantasm]. What they deny is much clearer than what they affirm."

As, indeed, it always is when people are attempting to explain something that has never happened before.
Lutherans Debate Homosexuality: "Seventeen scholars from 12 campuses have released a strong statement against a proposal that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America officially maintain its stance against same-sex ceremonies and gay clergy while tolerating dissent from that policy," the S.F. Gate reports. "The protesters say that the measure, put forward by a task force in January, threatens the church's unity and its 'historical, biblical and confessional teachings and practice.'"
The Politics of Satan, Part 2: A few years back, Father Richard John Neuhaus of FIRST THINGS had this to say of his failed bid for Congress in the early 1970s:

I've never seen anyone look incredulous, but I suspect some are, when I say that I've thanked God almost every day—well, almost every week—that I lost. Only weeks into the campaign, which was going frighteningly well, I knew that this was not where I belonged. Politics, and especially Washington politics, has for many years seemed to me oppressively dehumanizing, verging on the demonic. It's the all-pervasive corruption of self-importance.
Award-Winning Hopelessness: Thomas Hibbs has written a smart, intelligent critique of Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby. Money quote:

In Million Dollar Baby, Frankie (Eastwood as the aging boxing coach) attends daily Mass and has ongoing discussions with his parish priest. He berates the priest with puzzles about the doctrines of the trinity and the Immaculate Conception. But Frankie has no genuine interest in the answers to the questions. They are, as the priest suspects, trivia questions designed to trump and frustrate him.

Frankie's faith is a husk, void of vitality. In fact, even the priest's understanding of faith is shallow, a perversion of the church as a community of sinners redeemed by divine grace into a meeting place for the hopelessly unforgiven. The priest himself articulates the distortion, when he tells Frankie that the only individuals who attend Mass as often as Frankie does are those "who can't forgive themselves." That would make priests, who celebrate Mass daily, precisely what Nietzsche thought they were, masochists consumed by self-hatred.

You can read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Gays Reading Maps: If I were the president of Harvard, I wouldn't dare link to this story about a new study which shows that gender differences affect gays and lesbians in surprising ways. But since I don't have to answer to under-sexed feminist humanities professors, here goes.

The study suggests, among other things, that gay men have "mosaic minds" which combine certain features of both men and women:

Gay men employ the same strategies for navigating as women - using landmarks to find their way around . . . . But they also use the strategies typically used by straight men, such as using compass directions and distances. In contrast, gay women read maps just like straight women, reveals the study of 80 heterosexual and homosexual men and women.

Sounds about right to me. Not only do I read maps and use landmarks, but I don't mind listening to either Madonna or Eminem while I do it. All of which raises the question: Are gay men superior to their less mosaic-minded peers? It's probably too early to say conclusively one way or the other. Still, the next time you get lost, you just might want to stop and ask one of us for directions. Just don't ask me as I tend to get lost pretty easily.

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.)
E!'s 'Michael Jackson Trial': Here's Tom Shales of the Washington Post on E!'s new show reenacting the trial's daily proceedings: "The makeup job on the faux King of Pop is pretty good, but he really suggests the Michael Jackson of two or three noses ago."

The Politics of Satan: Before I started this blog, I debated whether or not to write about politics. It didn’t take me long to decide that I didn’t want to—or at least not very often. And the reason why is because, except for mundane things like collecting the trash and making the trains run on time, I simply don’t expect much from the government.

I know, I know: Sometimes politics does touch on issues whose importance to our everyday lives should not be underestimated. The pro-democracy demonstrations going on right now in Lebanon are a perfect example of a story that truly is newsworthy. But most of what we read about in the papers or see on television is neither new nor worthy of our attention. For instance, is the fact that life expectancy has increased under the Bush presidency—as it undoubtedly has under almost virtually every administration since George Washington’s—really the politcal "news" that some have claimed it out to be? And even if the claim is meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek, isn't it suggestive of the poison of partisan politics, which encourages us to see everything in terms of us-versus-them?

I think so. I also think that, all in all, the relative unimportance of American politics to daily life is a good thing. It would be very hard to maintain the sort of vigilance that our American experiment in democracy requires if every day we had to worry about whether a fundamental change was afoot.

But there’s something else about American politics that bothers me, something that has to do with the tendency of both politicians and pundits to speak in a tone that sounds suspiciously similar to the voice of that dread spirit who tempted Christ so long ago in the wilderness:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Begone, Satan! for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" (Matt. 4:11)
I like to think that my own disinterest in political “news” sends a similar message to those devils who continue to promise us the world in exchange for our adulation. But, alas, this is probably hoping too much. Still, it’s a message that our political leaders could stand to hear. So let’s all do our favorite politicians a favor and write them a letter telling them just how unimportant they really are.

Who knows? Perhaps this news will give them the courage they need to reach the sort of sober-minded, well-considered compromises that our fractured country so desperately needs right now. At the very least, it might give them reason to doubt whether their latest plan to "save" us is really necessary. And that, it seems to me, would be a very good thing indeed.
Gay Marriage Watch: "I don't care what Fred Phelps, George W. Bush or Rick Santorum say about marriage being only between a man and a woman," says blogger Andy of The Last Debate, "I'm in love. I'm going to marry my iPod."
Scalia’s Sting Part 2: Here’s more from Scalia’s dissent in Roper v. Simmons (see below for background information):
As petitioner points out, the American Psychological Association (APA), which claims in this case that scientific evidence shows persons under 18 lack the ability to take moral responsibility for their decisions, has previously taken precisely the opposite position before this very Court. In its brief in Hodgson v. Minnesota, . . . the APA found a rich body of research showing that juveniles are mature enough to decide whether to obtain an abortion without parental involvement.
Ouch. That's got to hurt. Meanwhile, the LA Times has a balanced report on the decision, including this description of the case's underlying facts:
In 1993, [then 17-year-old Christopher Simmons] and two younger accomplices broke into a neighbor's home, intending to burglarize it. When the neighbor, Shirley Crook, awoke and recognized him, Simmons tied her up, put duct tape over her eyes and mouth, put her in the back of a minivan and threw her off a railroad bridge south of St. Louis. She drowned in the waters below. Simmons bragged about the crime at his high school and soon was arrested....
A Very Lutheran Serial Killer?: Reports that Dennis Rader—the suburban family man and Cub Scout leader accused of leading a double life as the BTK serial killer—was also active in his Lutheran church have already caused some Christians to express shock. But maybe it’s not so surprising after all. The idea that a Christian is simul iustus et peccator—at the same time justified by faith and a sinner—lies at the heart of Martin Luther's theology. It would also seem to be at least one way of comprehending the horrible deeds of Rader, not to mention all the (hopefully less gruesome) sins which the rest of us commit every day.
Idol Watch: "You weren't annoying in the slightest," Simon Cowell told American Idol hopeful Mikalah Gordon last night, "because you weren't talking." Ouch.

By far the best performance of the week, however, was that of 29-year-old rocker Bo Bice, whose stirring and suprisingly authentic rendition of "Whipping Post" Monday night was a welcome change from the safe, boring performances of the other contestants.

Here's my prediction of who'll get booted this week:

(1) Janay Castine (cute, but not that great of a singer, and an even worse performer);

(2) Vonzell Solomon (likable, but an "overcooked performance," as Simon put it);

(3) Constantine Maroulis (the uninspired, off-key rendition of "Hard to Handle" was even harder to listen to); and

(4) Nikko Smith (surely I couldn't have been the only one whose response to his version of "Let's Get It On" was the thought: "not unless you've got a lot of money").
Scalia's Sting: The Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roper v. Simmons yesterday, ruling 5 to 4 that it is unconstitutional to sentence anyone to death for a crime he or she committed under the age of 18.

In concluding that the death penalty for minors is "cruel and unusual punishment" within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment, the court cited a "national consensus" against the practice—a claim that sent the increasingly acerbic Justice Scalia into a tizzy from which even the Amish weren't left unscathed:

Consulting States that bar the death penalty concerning the necessity of making an exception to the penalty for offenders under 18 is rather like including old-order Amishmen in a consumer-preference poll on the electric car. Of course they don’t like it, but that sheds no light whatever on the point at issue. That 12 States favor no executions says something about consensus against the death penalty, but nothing, absolutely nothing, about consensus that offenders under 18 deserve special immunity from such a penalty.

In repealing the death penalty, those 12 States considered none of the factors that the Court puts forth as determinative of the issue before us today—lower culpability of the young, inherent recklessness, lack of capacity for considered judgment, etc. What might be relevant, perhaps, is how many of those States permit 16- and 17-year old offenders to be treated as adults with respect to noncapital offenses. (They all do; indeed, some even require that juveniles as young as 14 be tried as adults if they are charged with murder.) The attempt by the Court to turn its remarkable minority consensus into a faux majority by counting Amishmen is an act of nomological desperation.

Scalia makes a fine point as a matter of constitutional law. But in articulating it he also calls attention to why, despite his deeply-held Roman Catholic faith, those who mistake him for a pawn of the Pope are simply wrong. The charge may hold water when it comes to anything that has to do with homosexuality (see, e.g., Scalia's derisive discussion of the "so-called homosexual agenda" in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas). But when it comes to capital punishment, at least, Scalia seems all-to-willing to flaunt the teachings of John Paul II, whose 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) explained:

On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God's plan for man and society...

If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person....

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Gay Bashing in Santa Fe: Here's a sad reminder of what far too many gay men in America continue to suffer for no reason other than their sexuality.
The Twilight of Atheism: The Oxford University theologian Alister McGrath notes that atheism, once hailed as new, exciting, and liberating, has lately fallen on hard times:
With time, it turned out to have just as many frauds, psychopaths, and careerists as religion does. Many have now concluded that these personality types are endemic to all human groups, rather than being the peculiar preserve of religious folks. With Stalin and Madalyn Murray O'Hair, atheism seems to have ended up mimicking the vices of the Spanish Inquisition and the worst televangelists, respectively.
You can read the whole thing here.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Best Oscar Lines: Some (silly, idiotic, killjoy) Christian groups had protested the selection of Chris Rock to host the Oscars, but it’s hard to imagine any other mainstream comedian making this sort of joke: "Nobody wanted to make 'Passion of the Christ,' man. Come on. They made six 'Police Academies' and can't make one 'Passion of the Christ.'"

It was the best line of the night. But the award for second best line has to go to Robin Williams, who observed: "SquarePants is not gay. Tight pants, maybe. SpongeBob Hot Pants, you go girl. What about Donald Duck? Little sailor top, no pants. Hello?" ... "Bugs Bunny? In more dresses than J. Edgar Hoover at Mardi Gras. Hello?"

Telling the Truth:

Sometime during the early twentieth century, American Protestants had a revelation that was nicely summed up in various slogans like, "Deeds, not creeds," and "Doctrine divides, service unites." It was, as one might delicately put it, a nice thought. For centuries Protestant churches had become increasingly fractured over seemingly minor points of doctrine. But as the Epistle of James had observed: "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead" (2:26). Why, then, shouldn't Protestants--and, indeed, all Christians--focus on those works that alone make our faith living rather than those dogmas that divided us?

And then came the Great War; Stalin's purges; Hitler's Holocaust; Mao's 'Revolution.' Millions and millions perished, and, with the advent of the Cold War and the nuclear age, it seemed likely that many millions more might die. For the first time in human history, human beings had learned how to wipe out entire cities and render whole regions of the earth unihabitable. Slowly, gradually, it dawned on many that the deeds-not-creeds approach to Christianity had a fatal flaw in that it tended to obscure the close nexus between the content of faith and the nature of what one will deem to be a good work.

Take lying. Most of us agree that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. Indeed, most of us believe this for reasons that don't seem to depend on Christian doctrine ("Oh what a web we weave..."). But the devil is in the details, and in actual everyday life it is the details of circumstance that work together to make lying so tempting.

Say you've made a commitment to meet a friend for dinner. When the day comes, however, you find yourself busier than you'd anticipated. You're having a hard day, as we all say, and you realize it would be ever so much easier to simply cancel the date and reschedule for another time. But you fear that doing so might send the wrong message that you don't value the friendship. And so, rather than risk a misunderstanding, you make up a "white lie." You tell your friend something has come up and, in a way, it has: you're much more tired than you thought you'd be when you first scheduled the date. Going through with the plans now, you tell yourself, would defeat the whole purpose for which they were made.

It all seems so harmless and easy. But is it? Paul Griffiths of the University of Illinois, Chicago, doesn't think so. In his book Lying: An Augustinian Theology of Duplicity, Griffiths sets forth and defends St. Augustine’s notoriously rigorous position on lying. For Augustine, he explains, to lie is to speak contra mentem, against the mind. It is to say one thing while thinking another. This “duplicitous” use of language is the evil proper to lying because it contradicts the very being of creatures made in the image of the Triune God—the God whose identity is revealed in the Word spoken by the power of the Spirit in the man Jesus Christ.

One reviewer puts it this way: "contemplating the legitimacy of duplicity is tantamount to contemplating the dissolution of Christian theology: it is entertaining the possibility that words might legitimately conceal rather than reveal identity." But this is a thought that Christians cannot entertain. "For I have not spoken on my own authority," Jesus says of his life and work in the Gospel of John; "the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me" (John 12:49-50).

It is this very same pattern of faithfully hearing and faithfully speaking that Christians are called to imitate when, through Christ, we come to participate in the Triune life of God. But we do not imitate Christ--much less become one with him as he is one with the Father (cf. John 17:22)--when our words to one another are not faithful reflections of who we are. Nor do we build the community of trust that God seeks for us. When we tell "white lies," we not only fail to tell the truth about ourselves, we make it impossible for others to place the sort of faith in us that genuine friendship requires.

Hence the reason why it is better to simply tell your friend the truth when you cancel a dinner date rather than make up an excuse. Your friend may not always understand why you can't keep your word, but chances are they won't be your friend for long if they're not even given the opportunity to try.
Fair-Weathered Homophobes: The Economist has an excellect editorial urging the U.S. to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military. Money quote:
According to a recent poll of enlisted men, more than half thought gays should be allowed in the armed forces. In the current time of overstretch, even the older, more conservative, officer class seems to be changing heart. The number of gay discharges rose steadily till 2001, when America went to war in Afghanistan; since then the annual figure has halved. As for the idea that the ban reflects American mores, polls suggest that at least 64% of Americans would allow gay soldiers.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Anglican Schism?: This strikes me as bad news: "Anglican leaders struggling to resolve explosive differences over homosexuality have asked the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to temporarily withdraw from a key council of their global communion because of the election of a gay bishop in the United States and the blessing of same-sex unions there and in Canada."

On the other hand, as much as I am a supporter of gay marriage in the church, the ecclesiology of the Anglican Communion is such that the local provinces cannot expect to go it alone on important issues such as these and not be forced to answer to the whole communion. Still, as I wrote here, this does not explain why the other provinces seem to care so much more about gay marriage than such basic issues of doctrine as the divinity of Christ.

Update: More on the suspension of the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion's international council here and here.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

'Naked in the Pulpit': I thought the same thing: what's the address of that church? But, alas, it's just an article about how one minister's preaching became "an act of intimacy in the pulpit." Oh well. Maybe some day.
Class Rings: "It used to be if you saw a ring on someone's finger, you knew exactly where they went to school. It used to be more of a unity thing," says Joanne Butts, a representative for the class ring company National Quality Products.

But those days are long gone. As the Post reports:

With hundreds of options -- symbols for everything from rock music to calf roping to paintball -- a ring can be all about the student and only incidentally about the school.

Oddly, though, the percentage of graduates who purshace class rings has fallen from one-half in the 1960s to one-third now. Yet more evidence, I suppose, of how our American love affair with personal autonomy and hyperindividualism at first changes tradition to improve it, but ends up only killing it.
Righting the Religious Wrong: "Listening to the rhetoric coming from the religious right, one would think every person of faith in Wisconsin feels terribly threatened by the prospect of same-gender marriage," Rev. Bob Voss of Lake Edge Lutheran Church writes in an opinion piece. "This is far from the truth. Christians of all dominations across Wisconsin, and members of other faiths, are appalled by the current drive to change the Wisconsin constitution to permanently outlaw not only marriage, but any official recognition of same-gender partnerships."

Meanwhile, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams urges those on both sides of the debate over homosexuality within the Anglican Communion to calm their push for "immediate resolution." In other words, let the Spirit be the Spirit, and don't try to put a timetable on its work of guiding the Church into the truth.

Sounds like good advice to me.
Blame the Buddha!: The thought came to mind as I read the interview with Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist nun and best-selling author, that is posted today on Belief Net. In it Chödrön discusses her discovery of Buddhism, explains how pain can be a great spiritual teacher, and then dispenses these words of wisdom:

We need to let the story line [of our problems] go and have an immediate experience of what's actually happening, without blaming ourselves or anyone else. This is an important message for Westerners, because we get hooked on a story about a problem.

In Tibetan Buddhism this hooked feeling is called shenpa [Listen to an audio clip about shenpa.] It's an urge, a knee-jerk response that we keep repeating over and over again. We lose our balance and intelligence. But you can notice when it happens. You can acknowledge it. You can catch yourself. You can do something different, choose a fresh alternative. Because if you do what you've always done, you're never going to get unhooked.

What's so interesting about this statement is the suggestion that westerners resort to self-blame when things go wrong while easterners do not. My own brief study of medieval Japanese history in college, however, would lead me to believe that one could just as fairly argue that the reverse is true. The well-known Japanese practices of seppuku and hara-kiri, for instance, condone suicide as not only an appropriate response to personal shame, but one that, in certain circumstances, is the only honorable thing to do.

How, I wonder, does Chödrön square this with her suggestion that in Buddhist cultures people don't fall into the trap of "get[ting] hooked on a story about a problem"? Surely suicide is not the sort of "fresh alternative" for dealing with one's sense of shame that she would recommend.

Again, my understanding of Buddhism is limited. But I suspect that the Japanese glorification of suicide cannot be understood apart from the Buddhist emphasis on personal enlightenment as opposed to the communal practices of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation which lie at the heart of Christian salvation. This difference, it seems to me, goes a long way toward explaining why the church, unlike Buddhist culture, has traditionally condemned suicide as the gravest of sins.

Lending further support to this claim is the fact that, even today, Japan continues to suffer from one of the highest suicide rates in the world. It's a problem, moreover, that appears to be growing worse with the advent of internet-based suicide pacts. As one Japanese author who has written a best-selling handbook on suicide recently told the BBC:
'There's nothing bad about suicide. We have no religion or laws here in Japan telling us otherwise. As for group suicides - before the internet people would write letters, or make phone calls... it's always been part of our culture.'
It's a shame Chödrön did not discuss any of this in her interview. I would have been genuinely interested in learning what light, if any, western Buddhists might be able to shed on this very important subject.

The Resurrection of the Dead:

Here's an interesting blog that offers a "friendly view of the Bible from an atheist."

From what I can tell, it's an accurate description. I must take exception, however, with one thing that John Ray, the site's blogger, wrote:

Do Christians believe that Heaven is a place where there are physical bodies with bosoms -- physical bodies that even lean on one-another for support and fellowship? No? Quite to the contrary, Christians believe that to be the OPPOSITE of the truth. They believe that Heaven is in fact a spirit realm.

Whether or not this is emperically true, it certainly is not true from the standpoint of orthodox Christian dogma. There is a "spirit realm," I suppose, but it's important to realize that this, too, is part of God's creation, for God himself does not exist in any "realm." He is, so to speak, beyond "realms." Put another way, God simply is. Thus the divine name, YHWH, can be translated as "I am" in all tenses of the verb.

But the story is more complicated than that. When the orthodox speak of Heaven, we may mean where God is, but, unfortunately, that gets us back to the idea of "realms" and must be understood as a not entirely accurate way of speaking about God. Alternatively, we may mean where Christ--who has assumed human flesh--is, and where the dead either are or will be when the heavens and the earth pass away and the new heavens and the new earth are come.

But what place is this? The short of it is that no orthodox theologian has ever dared to say. Yet this does not mean we don't know some things about this "place." The key doctrine here is the doctrine of the Incarnation, which holds that Christ was, is, and will always now be both fully God and fully human. In short, we believe that Christ came in the "flesh," that on Easter morning he was raised in the flesh, that he then ascended into "heaven" in the flesh, that he continues to bear flesh as he "sits" at the right hand of the Father, that he now becomes present to us in the flesh through the Eucharistic feast, and that one day he will return to earth in the flesh, judge the quick and the dead (who also will be raised in the flesh), and establish his kingdom (which will be a physical as well).

Thus the flesh, the physical, and the body are very much at the core of what Christians believe about "heaven." It's not for nothing, we believe, that God created us in the flesh; he did so because this is the way or mode of being in which he intends us to live.

On the other hand, this idea is complicated by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 15, where Paul speaks about "spiritual bodies" and "the perishable put[ting] on the imperishable." But even here we do not shed our bodies; nor are they "translated" into the imperishable. Instead they "put on" something else (the "spiritual" or "imperishable"), which suggests that they become something more than they are now, not something less.

One analogy that comes to mind is the difference between a photograph and a living person: both bear similarities to one another, and both are "physical." But the living person is far more physical than the photograph--e.g., 3 dimensions rather than 2-- not less. In the same way, we believe that the imperishable flesh or the spiritual body will be far more physcial than the perishable bodies we now have, but that they will also bear similarities to one another just as photographs of people "look" like the people pictured in them.

Passionate Cyncism?:

It was Jesus who said that the children of this world are wiser than the children of light, a point that seems to be borne out by this post from blogger Michael Gallaugher of Christian Convervative.

At one point, for instance, he complains that Hollywood continues to church out movies like Sideways ($58 million) and Million Dollar Baby ($54 million) rather than producing more blockbusters like the Passion of the Christ ($370 million gross). Then, in the very next sentence, he writes: "But they don’t care. Their view of the world is so cynical it transcends money."

Huh? Isn't it the cynical who care about nothing of the art of storytelling and therefore make movies based solely on the bottom line?

No doubt people are cynical in many different ways, and for many different reasons. But I don't think it either conservative or Christian to suggest that naked materialism would somehow be a preferrable mode of cynicism.

Update: Gallaugher says that I mischaracterize his point. Apparently, he was appealing to the bottom line to suggest that Hollywood has an inherent anit-Christian bias--something that, no doubt, is true. But in this I suspect that Christians are not entirely without blame. I wonder, for instance, how many Christian writers there are who (1) actually write decent scripts that (2) dramatize faith rather simply moralize or push theology?

I have no idea what the answer to this question is. But it does seem like something that ought to be investigated before we start casting stones. But, alas, in this century as in the first, the latter option seems to be ever so much simpler.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Pope on Gay Marriage:

"It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man," Pope John Paul says in a newly published book.

I'm not quite sure yet what to make of this. In fact, I'm not entirely convinced that the Pope, in his current condition, really wrote this book. Nevertheless, blogger Tom Chatt of Upword has a well-considered post on the subject here.

Superman Is a Penis:

At least according to this website -- though that's not the word they use.

(Hat tip: Sharks With Lasers.)

'Beasts of Satan':

"They are murderers," says Lina Marino, mother of Chiara Marino, whose daughter was murdered during a Satanic ritural performed by members of heavy metal band. "It's not fair."

She was referring to the sentences received by the killers. For killing three people--including one person whom they buried alive--the "mastermind" was sentenced to 30 years in prison, while the second received just 16 years. A third was cleared because of his "secondary" role in the murders; the remaining members of the cult are set for trial later this year.

According to CNN, "Prosecutors asked for relatively light prison terms because the suspects cooperated with the investigation and expressed remorse."

The reference to how the killers made things easy for the authorities sort of gives new meaning to the saying, "No harm, no foul," doesn't it? Well, at least they were sorry.

Meanwhile, a Vatican-linked university recently opened a two-month course on exorcism to combat the growing popularity of satanism in Italy. If you're interested in applying to the program but aren't quite sure what to put in your admission essay, Father Giulio Savoldi, Milan's chief exorcist for the past 20 years, explains what they're looking for:
I would include the supernatural force - the presence of God - and then suggest that the man picked to do this kind of work be wise and that he should know how to gather strength not just from within himself but from God.
Indeed. As this article explains:

Widely accepted signs of possession - some of which were depicted in the 1973 movie, "The Exorcist" - include speaking in unknown tongues and demonstrating physical force beyond one's natural capacity. In 1999, when the Vatican issued its first new guidelines since 1614 for driving out devils, it urged priests to take modern psychiatry into account in deciding who should be exorcised.

The updated exorcism rite, contained in a red, leather-bound book, was a reflection of Pope John Paul II's efforts to convince the skeptical that the devil is very much in the world. At the time, he gave a series of homilies denouncing the devil as a "cosmic liar and murderer."

Whiny Little Brat:

That's my take on columnist Mike Adams, but you be the judge:
In 2001, I was jogging on campus when I passed a group of feminists marching in the annual “Take back the night” event. After they marched by me shaking their fists and screaming, I first experienced [erectile dysfunction]. They certainly took back that night!
I'm all for good conservative writing, but there's a difference between writing that is satirical and writing that is just plain bitter. It's called wit. There's also a difference in ends: satire seeks to expose, and hence eliminate, stupidity or ignorance. Mere scorn, on the other hand, seeks only to attack for the sake of attacking.

Europe's New 'Faith':

CS Monitor has a must-read article about the growing "religion gap" between the U.S. and EU. Among other things, the article notes that just 21 percent of Europeans say that religion is very important to them compared to 59 percent in the U.S.

Others, however, insist that the story isn't quite this simple. According to Rocco Buttiglione, the Italian politician whose ambition to become the European commissioner for justice was thwarted last year by the European Parliament, which objected to his description of homosexuality as a sin:
"The new soft totalitarianism that is advancing on the left wants to have a state religion. It is an atheist, nihilistic religion - but it is a religion that is obligatory for all."
The article notes that the new European religion may be contributing to a potentially even more momentous change on the continent: rapidly falling birthrates which, combined with Islamic immigration, portend a radically different Europe in the coming decades. As Mary Noll Venables explains in Books and Culture:

If you ask the average European woman of child-bearing age how many children she would like to have, you are unlikely to receive the answer "2.1." That number, however, is crucial for European bureaucrats. When women on average bear less
than 2.1 children, as has happened in most European countries over the last several decades, the country can no longer reproduce itself and must rely on immigration to keep its population stable and its social system healthy....

[Suddenly] private choices about having babies have worked their way into public debate.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The iGod:

Technology has given us a universe entirely for ourselves — where the serendipity of meeting a new stranger, hearing a piece of music we would never choose for ourselves or an opinion that might force us to change our mind about something are all effectively banished.

So writes Andrew Sullivan in his latest column for the Sunday Times. And yet it's not just culture that's been affected by the advent of what Sullivan calls the iWorld; it's the "cult" around which culture exists as well.

An untold number of Christian groups, for instance, have created virtual "iChuches" where a person can read devotionals, take Bible studies, hear a sermon, join an online community, and even take a quiz that will tell you whether you've been saved and, if not, how to do it--all without ever actually meeting another human being in person.

So far, I haven't come across a site that promises to baptize or celebrate the Eucharist via the internet. It also bears point out that, at this point, it would be premature to suggest that the iChurch is anywhere close to being ascendant in the religious world. Still, this does not mean that Christians shouldn't be more wary than perhaps we are about substituting the internet or television for the weekly ekklesia ("gathering") that, for 20 centuries, has been the definitive practice of the Christian faith.

Our God may well be the God of the Internet; but he is not an iGod, and he did not create us to live in isolation from one another--least of all in our spiritual lives. The promise of Satan--that a self unencumbered by the bonds of community will flourish and find happiness--is a lie. Just ask those who've spent time in solitary confinement. They will tell you that the self is the smallest and loneliest prison of all. The real wonder is why so many of us who don't have to bear such a punishment nonetheless choose to do so.

But it's not just ourselves we need to worry about. Proponents of other faiths are also busy setting up virtual religious communities, including some who stand ready to exploit the loneliness of those who seem to have no ties to any real community at all. The recent Satanic ritual slayings discussed here, for instance, highlight a growing problem in the secular, atomized cultural landscape of western Europe:

Beyond the violence, Italian officials are concerned about young people who develop personal forms of Satanism, outside the sects closely monitored by police. They often learn about the devil through the Internet.

"It's a more spontaneous and hidden phenomenon, a problem of loneliness and isolation, a problem of emptiness, that is fulfilled by the values of Satanism," said Carlo Climati.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Interview With a Vampire:

Christianity Today has an interview with Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, who is the leader of one of the most controversial Islamist groups in the U.K.

Here’s an excerpt characteristic of the Sheikh's obfuscating take on terrorism:

What about the hostage-taking and massacre of schoolchildren in Beslan, Russia, in September 2004?

As stated, there is no restriction on place (it could even occur in Mecca)—so schools are legitimate targets of jihad, but it is up to local mujahedeen [those who engage in jihad] to decide the best strategy.

Killing women and children never was and never will be part of the jihad in Islam, whether that be the women or children of the Muslims or non-Muslims. So if Chechen mujahedeen killed women and children in Beslan, I would condemn it. The children of non-Muslims, such as those at Beslan, who die in such circumstances go to Paradise.

Notice the use of the word “if.” Perhaps someone should let the good Sheikh know that there is no doubt the “mujahedeen” killed children in Belsan. At least 156 of them, and maybe many more.

Here’s a website where you can learn more about what happened during the attack and what can be done for the surviving children, many of whom are disfigured, cannot walk, see, or hear, and continue to suffer severe psychological stress.

The Simpsons:

I guess it was only a matter of time, but gay marriage has finally come to Springfield.

Bush on 'Kicking' Gays:

In private conversations with George Bush secretly taped by an old friend before the 2000 election, the future president explains that he had no plans to "to kick gays, because I'm a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?"

Too bad Karl Rove never got that memo.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Free Speech or Bad Manners?:

Charges against the "Philadelphia Four" were dropped last week. The four Christian protestors had been arrested for refusing to obey police orders that they stop disrupting a gay pride parade by, among other things, reciting anti-gay Bible verses on a bullhorn. The judge ruled that such peaceful expressive activities are fully protected by the First Amendment and cannot form the basis of a criminal prosecution.

All in all, this is a good result for Christians, gays, and gay Christians. The fact is that we are in the midst of an important cultural debate about the place of homosexuals in American society and the Church. Silencing those on the wrong side of this debate would not only be the wrong thing to do from a constitutional standpoint, but it might actually hinder our ability to win genuine support for our cause.

Still, the judge’s decision leaves unanswered a much more basic question: Do the Christians who would disrupt the peaceful celebrations of gays and lesbians really think they are called by God to do this? Yes, the Bible says that sodomy is a sin. But Jewish law also mandates an ethic of hospitality that would seem to run counter to this sort of "free speech":

Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Ex. 22:21)
The logic of this command is really no different than the do-unto-others ethic of Christ, and it would seem to counsel against resorting to the sort of "speech" the Philadelphia Four engaged in. During the incident, which happened in October, several of them were calling out, "Sodomists repent. You're going to hell," a police officer testified.

At some point, those who would justify these kinds of spiritual threats by appealing to the First Amendment must also ask whether they would want gays and lesbians to demonstrate in front of their churches, disrupt their services and celebrations, and attack their faith using similarly incendiary rhetoric.

Would these Christian really find such tactics to be an acceptable exercise of “free speech”? Or would they simply find it to be what any good mother would call it: bad manners?

So Much for Courtship:

This is lifted from a comment written by Brendan on gaypatriot:


Have you ever checked out the "personals" section at Craigslist? They have all sorts of dating categories (men seeking women, women seeking women, etc.), but only one category carries the following disclaimer:

1. I am at least 18 years old.
2. I understand men seeking men may include explicitly sexual content.
3. I am not bothered by explicitly sexual content.
4. By clicking on the men seeking men link below, I will have released and discharged the providers, owners and creators of this site from any and all liability which may arise from my use of the site.


Kinda gives the impression that gay men are obsessed with lewd talk, meaningless hookups, and pleaures of the flesh.

So much for "courtship."

Friday, February 18, 2005

Global Consciousness & the Incarnation:

"It's earth-shattering stuff," says Dr. Roger Nelson, whose Global Consciousness Project--orginally hosted at Princeton University and now joined by researchers around the world--aims to detect whether all of humanity shares a single subconscious mind.

You can read the entire article here. The short of it is that a growing number of carefully designed experiments have suggested that the human mind possesses powers which no known laws of science can (yet?) explain.

For instance, Random Event Generators (called Eggs) are machines that generate random numbers which, according to the law of chances, should generate equal numbers of ones and zeros. A researcher in the 1970s decided to investigate whether the power of human thought alone could interfere in some way with the machine's usual readings:

He hauled strangers off the street and asked them to concentrate their minds on his number generator. In effect, he was asking them to try to make it flip more heads than tails. It was a preposterous idea at the time. The results, however, were stunning and have never been satisfactorily explained.

Again and again, entirely ordinary people proved that their minds could influence the machine and produce significant fluctuations on the graph, 'forcing it' to produce unequal numbers of 'heads' or 'tails'.

During the 1990s, Dr. Nelson decided to set up 40 Eggs around the world and hook them up to his lab at Princeton. Then, on Sept. 6, 1997, something odd happened: "the graph shot upwards, recording a sudden and massive shift in the number sequence as his machines around the world started reporting huge deviations from the norm."

That was the same day that an estimated one billion people worldwide watched the funeral of Princess Diana on television. The most amazing finding, however, occurred the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when similar fluctuations began to occur four hours before the terrorist attacks. The same thing happened last December 24 hours, only this time the fluctuations began 24 hours before the earthquake that generated the tsunami occurred.

Dr. Nelson admits he has no idea what, exactly, these findings suggest about either the human mind or time (i.e., whether time runs backward as well as forward). But he does draw this conclusion:
We're taught to be individualistic monsters. We're driven by society to separate ourselves from each other. That's not right. We may be connected together far more intimately than we realise.
What Dr. Nelson does not mention--and what, without implying any disrespect for the work of Dr. Nelson, must be pointed out--is that there are already a number of people who believe exactly this, and have for some time now. They're called Christians.

Writing during the Second World War--a time when it was hard for anyone to have faith in the proposition that human beings aren't monsters--C.S. Lewis explained the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation this way:

The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man--a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone....

The result of this was that you now had one man who really was what all men were intended to be: one man in whom the created life, derived from his Mother, allowed itself to be completely and perfectly turned into his begotten life...Thus in one instance humanity had, so to speak, arrive: had passed into the life of Christ.

Lewis goes on to explain how Christian theology links this event--the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ--to all other events in human history:

[Human beings] look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then, we are so made that we can only see the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of this father as well...

If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would not look like a lot of separate things dotted about. It would look like one single growing thing--rather like a very complicated tree. Every individiual would appear connected with every other. And not only that. Individuals are not really separate from God any more than from one another. Every man, woman, and child all over the world is feeling and breathing at this moment only because God, so to speak, is "keeping him going."

From that point [of the Incarnation] the effect spreads through all mankind. It makes a difference to people who lived before Christ as well as to people who lived after Him. It makes a difference to people who have never heard of him....

What, then, is the difference which He has made to the whole human mass? It is just this; that the business of becoming a son of God, of being turned from a created thing into a begotten thing, of passing over from the temporary biological life into timeless "spiritual" life, has been done for us. Humanity is already "saved" in principle. We individuals have to appropriate that salvation. But the really tough work--the bit we could not have done for ourselves--has been done for us...

If we will only lay ourselves open to the one Man in whom it was fully present, and who, in spite of being God, is also a real man, He will do it in us and for us

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Polygamy Challenge Fails:

From Deseret News:

With a handful of court rulings over the past century upholding the constitutionality of Utah's ban on polygamy, those who choose to contest the prohibition face "an insurmountable hurdle," a federal judge said Wednesday.

With that, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart dismissed a lawsuit brought last year by three Utahns — a married couple and the man's would-be second wife — challenging the state's bigamy law and seeking a court order directing the issuance of a marriage license for the man and second woman.


The Supreme Court's ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, he said, cannot be read to require the state to give "formal recognition to a public relationship of a polygamous marriage."

"Contrary to plaintiffs' assertion, the laws in question here do not preclude their private sexual conduct," the order says. "They do preclude the state of Utah from recognizing the marriage . . . as a valid marriage under the laws of the state of Utah."

Gay Irresponsibility:

Some veteran gay activists are proposing radical new HIV-prevention strategies to combat unprotected sex among some sexually active gay men, including confronting these men directly in sex parties and chat rooms. Charles Kaiser, a noted gay author, explained it this way to the New York Times:

A person who is HIV-positive has no more right to unprotected intercourse than he has the right to put a bullet through another person's head.

But Bob Hattoy, an AIDS activist and former Clinton administration official, disagrees:

Three things led us to this point: A shameful lack of government-funded prevention and education, complacency brought on by the new meds, and the destructive power of crystal meth addiction.

Notice that Hattoy blames everyone and everything -- including the life-saving drugs which government agencies and pharmaceutical companies have spent billions of dollars developing -- except those gay men (up to 40%, according to a NYC study) who refuse to grow up and live sexually responsible lives.

I was a crystal meth addict a few years back. I was going out and doing horrible things and acting out at bathhouses. It placed me on a downward spiral. I was only able to forgive myself after I got clean and sober. It really brought out the dark side.

Let me see if I got this right: Hattoy reached a point where he regularly did "horrible things," and his response has been to forgive himself? What about asking forgiveness from all the people whose lives he endangered? And what about good old-fashioned repentance, as in to feel genuine reproach, regret, and remorse for one's actions?

We have to address this together as a community rather than blaming individuals. People who are addicted are out of their minds. It is certainly warranted to talk about addiction and sex in places like bathhouses and sex sites. But condemnation is not the answer.

Well, yes, we do have to address this as a community. No one disputes that. What we are disputing is how to best do this when the community in question is comprised of so many irresponsible adults who, long past the age at which drug and sexual experimentation can be chalked off to youthful ignorance, continue to engage in risky behavior that is now creating a very real--and very public--health threat.

As Gay Patriot West observes:

[T]oo many gay men have become so 'obsessed with sex' that everything else becomes secondary, not only the health and lives of others, but their own health and lives as well. For all too many, the quest for the best sex eclipses all other things--and becomes the be-all and the end-all of their gay identity. And the meaning of their entire lives.

Given the circumstances, what's wrong with a little blame? To blame, after all, means nothing more than "to find fault with" and "to hold responsible." Is this really too much to ask of grownups? Or do Hattoy and those who would excuse gay irresponsibility genuinely think gay men are too feeble-minded and weak-willed to be held accountable for their actions? And if so, why? Would this not run counter to all the arguments we are now making in favor of gay marriage?