Saturday, February 28

The Leftest-Leftist

Who is the most consistently liberal voice and the most reliable left-wing vote in the United States Senate? Is it Teddy Kennedy? Is it Madame Hillary? How about Barbara Boxer or Chuckie Schumer? Well, no. According to the National Journal's annual rankings, that dubious honor belongs to John Kerry. The scores are based on voting related to economic, social and foreign policy. It is the fourth time since 1985 that Kerry has been able to claim bragging rights the Leftest-Leftist-of-Them-All.

Peter Leithart's blog has a new home! The brilliant theologian, pastor, author, and educator has been posting his pastoral reflections, communion exhortations, and sermon notes on his blog for six months or so. Now, he has a much fuller site with a cross-referencing digital index and information on all his books--each of which really is a must-read. You'll want to bookmark this site for regular future reference.

Running with a Purpose

This morning I had a great run in the Fangtastic 5K race. Sponsored by the local NHL franchise here in Nashville, the Predators, the annual event drew more than 1000 runners. It was a cold but very fun jaunt through the hilly streets of downtown Nashville--along the river, past the farmers market, up capitol hill, down historic Second Avenue, and back along Broadway to the arena. I was able to meet my target time--beating my personal best by almost three minutes despite my knee surgery two months ago. Alas, I wasn't able to reach my other goal of placing in the top three in my age group. Oh well, it was a good dry run for the inauguration of the running team Servant Group International has put together in order to raise money for the Classical and Christian schools we have helped to plant in Northern Iraq. If you would like to be a part of this effort--either by running or by sponsoring runners or both, by all means contact Joanna at the King's Meadow office.

Old Testament Resources

Since I have been teaching through the Book of Revelation during the past year, the comment I most often hear is "I never knew how important the Old Testament was to understanding the New Testament. How can I better understand the Law and Prophets so that I can get to the meat of the Gospels and Epistles."

Thankfully, the are innumerable resources available today that can enable the average Christian to better grapple with the details of Scripture--in both the Old and New Testaments. I always recommend that folks start with these resources:

First, the books of Graeme Goldsworthy are very helpful. His Trilogy, now printed together in a single volume from Paternoster Press, includes Gospel and Kingdom, Gospel and Wisdom, and The Gospel in Revelation. His According to Plan (IVP) is also valuable as a good introduction to Biblical Theology.

Next, I cannot recommend the books of Peter Leithart more enthusiastically. His introduction to ecclesiology, The Kingdom and the Power (P&R) will change the way you read the Bible. But his introduction to the Old Testament, A House for My Name (Canon), is indispensible.

I have also gained a tremendous amount of help from The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses by Vern S. Poythress (P&R). Here you'll see the Gospel in the whole of the Old Testament Law with uncommon clarity.

Finally, I can't imagine trying to learn the basics of hermaneutics without James Jordan's Through New Eyes (Biblical Horizons). Like most of Jim's other books--from his brilliant Commentary on Judges to his exposition of the Genesis creation accounts, Creation in Six Days--this one will blow your mind and transform your paradigm for Bible reading, study, and interpretation. I have also found his Primeval Saints: Studies in the Patriarchs of Genesis vital in helping me understand the larger themes of the Old Covenant. By the time Canon published the book in paperback a couple of years ago, I had worn out the old manuscript copy I'd somehow obtained more than a decade ago--rereading it time and time again.

Learning how to read the Bible is a life-long process. But I think that you'll find these tools can make that process much more fruitful and enjoyable.

Wednesday, February 25

The Expulsive Power of a New Affection

Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847) was one of the most remarkable preachers the church has ever produced. In addition though, he was a tireless social reformer, educator, statesman, economist, theologian, author, publisher, entrapreneur, scientist, and missionary. In the difficult years just after the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, he preached the astonishing message, "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection." It had a surprisingly powerful Gospel impact then--first in the city of Glasgow, where Chalmers was pastor of the famed Tron Church, then throughout Scotland, and ultimately all around the world. It ought to still have that kind of impact. I have posted it on the hubbub page of the King's Meadow web site with the prayer that it would. Let the hubbub begin!

Thumbs Up

Roger Ebert,acknowleding his own religious and metaphysical doubts still gave the new Mel Gibson release, The Passion of Christ, four stars in his Chicago Sun-Times column yesterday. Citing Gibson's "awesome" directorial technique, actor James Caviezel's "heroic depiction" of Christ, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel's painterly "artist's eye," and John Debney's "powerful but unobtrusive" musical score. Ebert offered thoughtful and appreciative praise for the film.

Over the weekend, Ebert and his television co-host Richard Roeper gave The Passion "two thumbs up" According to Roeper, "Mel Gibson is a masterful storyteller, and this is the work of his lifetime."

Not all movie reviewers agree, of course. Several critics have weighed in condemning The Passion for its unrestrained violence or its supposed anti-Semitism. Indeed, according to a World Net Daily article some of the same reporters who regularly hail violent and perverse films that assail viewers taboos have suddenly found a heretofore hidden moral conscience in order to label Gibson's portrayal of the last twelve hours of Christ's life "an obscene and contemptable movie," "a compendium of tortures that would horrify the regulars at an S&M club," and "a sick exercise in physical abuse, engaged in for power." Where was that conscience when they were telling moviegoers that Kill Bill or Gladiator or Quills or Saving Private Ryan or American Pie as "must-see" epics?

Amazingly, the always over-the-top movie site Ain't It Cool bashed the contrarians saying that The Passion "is possibly one of the greatest films ever produced in the history of cinema." The normally hipper-than-thou reviewer concluded, "I can not possibly recommend this film higher. It is art, intensely brave cinema and astonishingly beautiful even in its brutality. I fully believe the film will become a classic. We haven't seen the likes of this one before."

Regardless, the critics have had their say. Now the box office will have its say. The Passion opens on more than 2,500 screens all across America today.

Who Killed Jesus?

Christians do not need Newsweek magazine, talking heads on cable TV, or even radio call in celebs to tell us. The Bible is clear enough: it was the Father who delivered up Christ as a sacrifice for all men. "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know--this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men" Acts 2:22-23 (ESV).

Tuesday, February 24

Biblical Epics: A Quick Reference Guide

Ever since the advent of the nineteenth century, fictional portrayals of the persecuted Church in Nero’s Rome have been a favored form of the Christian novel. Most have hardly been particularly noteworthy--indeed, a rather predictable formula made them all too facile. The plots were constructed in order to contrast the corrupt brilliance of Pagan Rome with the austere and pious life of the early Church. Most readers can recount such business by heart: the orgies, the arena, the glimpse of the bloated and sensual figure of the emperor and his perversely corrupted court, the delicate and beautiful Christian maiden with her hair let down her back, the ill-fated love affair between her and some swashbuckling, worldly-wise, well-placed Roman soldier, the soldier’s reluctant conversion just in the nick of time, the dim passageways and fleeting sanctuaries of the catacombs, the horrific conflagration of Nero’s fire, and the sad but heroic martyrdom of each of the protagonists in turn. Such pulp protocols seem to lie altogether outside the pale of literature, reserved entirely for the dogmatic propagandist. But there have been more than a few remarkable exceptions.

There were such early marvels as Zygmunt Krasinski’s tragedy, Irdion. It portrays a Greek rebel who tried to turn the Christian dissenters into revolutionaries. John Henry Newman’s Callista, captures the universality of the Christian message in a time of heaving uncertainty, Paul Bereille’s Emilie, Hermann Geiger’s Lydia, George Whyte-Melville’s The Gladiators, Renæ du Mesnil Marincourt’s Viva, Josef Kraszewski’s Caprea and Roma, and F.N. Farrar’s Darkness and Dawn all revolve around the lives, loves, and sacrifices of the early martyrs--each is considered a classic in its own right. Actæ by Alexandre Dumas and Salammbo by Gustave Flaubert, though hardly counted among their best-known works are undoubtedly among their best-written works--in large part because they were the passionate vehicles for their author’s own struggles regarding the Gospel.

In the United States, amidst a torrent of maudlin and sentimental tomes, a few works were able to emerge as genuinely edifying fictional narratives. Lew Wallace, a bitter Union general during the War between the States, began writing Ben Hur to disprove the claims of Christianity. But, much to his surprise, he himself was converted as he researched the period and developed the characters. The result was an invigorating paean to the faith. Lloyd Douglas likewise turned his experienced fictional hand to the days of the early Church. As a result, he not only produced two classics of the genre, The Big Fisherman and The Robe, he also reinvigorated his own flagging faith.

But as fine as each of these books is, all of them pale in comparison with the masterful Quo Vadis. The verdant prose, the substantive theology, and the masterful plotting of Henryk Sienkiewicz sets his work apart from all the others. As late as 1937, the French Larousse Encyclopedia asserted that the book was “one of the most extraordinary successes registered in the history of the book--both in terms of sales and in terms of literary merit.” The American literary critic Nathan Haskell Dole was hardly exaggerating when he commented, “It is said that if a person standing at the foot of Niagara merely touches the awful sheet of water with a finger, he is drawn irresistibly in; and so if a person begins this book, the torrential sweep of its immensity becomes instantly absorbing. It is one of the great books of our day.”

If you are planning to head out to see the new Mel Gibson film, The Passion of Christ, why not follow it up with a review of the Gospel narratives and then a bracing dose of Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis? I warrant, you will not be sorry.

Quo Vadis

Henryk Sienkiewicz was an international phenomenon a century ago--at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. He was trained in both law and medicine. He was a respected historian. He was a successful journalist. He was a widely sought-after critic and editor. He was an erudite lecturer. And in addition to all that, he was an amazingly prolific and wildly popular novelist--selling millions of copies of his almost fifty books in nearly three hundred editions in the United States alone.

He wowed the world with his grace, his learning, his courage, his depth of character, and his evocative story-telling. His writing includes some of the most memorable works of historical fiction ever penned--raking with the likes of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Samuel Johnson. Indeed, in 1905, Sienkiewicz (pronounced sane-KAY-vitch) saw his brilliant career capped when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
It was an unlikely destiny for a passionately ethnic novelist from the isolated, feudal, and agrarian Podlasie region of Poland to fulfill.

Born in 1846, he lived during one of the most tumultuous periods of Central European history. Ideological revolutions, utopian uprisings, base conspiracies, nationalistic movements, and imperialistic expansions wracked the continent in the decades between the fall of Napoleon and the rise of Hitler. Wars and rumors of wars shook the foundations of social order to an extraordinary degree. His own nation was cruelly and bitterly divided between the ambitions of the Prussian Kaiser and the Russian Czar. The proud cultural and national legacy of Poland was practically snuffed out altogether--all the distinctive aspects of the culture were outlawed and even the language was fiercely suppressed.

Sienkiewicz became a part of the underground movement to recover the Polish arts--music, poetry, journalism, history, and fiction. He used the backdrop of the social, cultural, and political chaos to reflect both the tragedy of his people and the ultimate hope that lay in their glorious tenacity. He was thus, a true traditionalist at a time when traditionalism had been thoroughly and systematically discredited the world over--the only notable exceptions being in the American South and the Dutch Netherlands. As a result, his distinctive voice rang out in stark contrast to the din of vogue conformity. Thus, his novels not only introduced the world to Poland, they offered a stern anti-revolutionary rebuke in the face of Modernity’s smothering political correctness.

His massive Trilogy, published between 1884 and 1887, tells the story of an ill-fated attempt to save his homeland from foreign domination during the previous century. With all the scope of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the depth of Martorell’s Tirant Lo Blanc, and the passion of Hugo’s Les Miserables, the novels are unquestionably a monumental achievement of prose mastery--regaling the essence of culture upon the canvas of an eminently readable adventure story. Happily, a remarkable new translation of the books by W.S. Kuniczak has been released by Hippocrene Books as With Fire and Sword, The Deluge, and Fire in the Steppe.

When they were first released in the United States, the books became instant best-sellers. They made Sienkiewicz a household name--so much so that Mark Twain could assert that he was the first serious, international writer to become an American literary celebrity.

Even so, the Trilogy did not achieve for him even a fraction of the acclaim that came his way with the publication of Quo Vadis in 1898. It was nothing short of a phenomenon. It was the first book the New York Times dubbed a “blockbuster,” and became the standard against which all future mega-best-sellers was judged.

The book was intended to be an epic retelling of the great fire of Rome in 64 AD. Its broad, Biblical sweep of events includes the machinations of Nero’s court, the rising tide of persecutions against the fledgling Christian community, the movements of the Germanic tribes along the Roman frontier--not surprisingly featuring the Polish Ligians--and the ministries of the Apostles Paul and Peter. According to an old Christian legend, Peter was fleeing the Emperor’s persecutions when he had a vision of Christ along the Appian Way. Awestruck, the Apostle addressed the Lord, asking, “Quo vadis?” or “Wither do you go?” Jesus answered him, To Rome, to be crucified anew, inasmuch as you have abandoned my sheep.” Fully comprehending the rebuke, Peter returned to the city to face his inevitable martyrdom.

In the hands of Sienkiewicz, the legend comes alive with bristling dialog, fully-dimensional characters, abiding faith, and informed political rage. His portrait of the Roman world and its ethos is dynamic--rivaling even Walter Pater’s Greco-Roman classics. His ability to emotionally identify with protagonists across the centuries is stunning. His to faithfulness to the straightforward Gospel message of the early church is inspiring. But his ability to relate the struggle of the first generation of believers against the juggernaut of Messianic Caesarism to the struggle of modern believers against the juggernaut of Messianic Statism is nothing less than brilliant.

The story is never compromised by a propagandistic message, nevertheless, Sienkiewicz’s message of anti-revolutionary, anti-ideological, and anti-modernist traditionalism sounds out, loud and clear. Indeed, the way Sienkiewicz weaves the historical narrative, the plot line, the character development, and the message of the Gospel, it is evident that he was working out of the same worldview context as his Dutch contemporaries, Groen van Prinsterer and Abraham Kuyper, as well as the later English Distributists and Southern Agrarians. For many readers, the transformation of that kind of confessional faith into vibrant art is a kind of revelation in itself--akin to discovering G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Thomas Chalmers, Caroline Gordon, or Walter Scott for the first time.

Not surprisingly then, Quo Vadis became a model for aspiring writers—both Hemingway and Faulkner argued that it was the finest historical novel ever written. It has been lauded by such widely varied authors as It has been lauded by such diverse writers as Mario Vargas Llosa, Andrew Nelson Lytle, James Michener, Shusako Endo, Allen Tate, David Morrell, Peter Ackroyd, Colin Thubron, and A.N. Wilson. In addition, four film versions of the story have been made in Hollywood, two more in France, one in Argentina, one in Peru, one in Brazil, and another one in Italy. The 1951 MGM big-budget production starring Peter Ustinov, Robert Taylor, and Deborah Kerr, is a confirmed classic--and is now available in video.

Sadly, the only English version of the book available throughout most of the twentieth century was the convoluted and archaic British translation of C.J. Hogarth. Thankfully, that has now been bracingly remedied with the brilliant new translation by W.S. Kuniczak. Published by Hippocrene, this new edition has restored the soaring prose, the dynamic pace, and the immediate accessibility of Sienkiewicz’s original.

Quo Vadis is the kind of classic work with which the ever growing Christian fiction market--consisting of both readers and writers--really ought to be nurtured. The sooner the better.

Sunday, February 22

States I've Visted

I stumbled across a very cool new blog tool. It can help you generate a map showing all the states that you have visited. Check it out.

Thursday, February 19

Not So Amusing

American teens take their prowess at the video console quite seriously. Indeed, one recent survey found that the average teenage boy in this nation spends as much as 28 hours a week killing, maiming, and destroying--as well as punching, shooting, and stabbing; flying, driving, and navigating; climbing, plumbing, and slogging--through their beloved video games.

And when they’re not playing their viciously gory video games, they’re watching murder and mayhem on television, or they’re tramping off to see more of the same in the movies, or they’re listening to loud, obscene music about destruction, devastation, and despair, or they’re surfing the internet’s virtual village of violence, sex, and perversion.

American households with teenage children watch an average of 59 hours of cable and network programming a week. Teens see an average of 67 full-length feature films every year--either in theaters or on video or DVD--more than one a week. They own an average of 42 musical compact disks, 16 game cartridges, and 7 computer games. More than 35 percent of all teens have their own television sets; more than 80 percent own radios; almost 76 percent possess cassette or compact disk players; and while only 39 percent own personal computers, more than 88 percent have access to the internet.

The can be little doubt: electronic mass media have become the dominating means of conveying and purveying modern culture among young people. Is that a good thing? Are we satisfied with the way this revolution in culture has transpired in our lifetimes?

Most of us would likely answer “no” in both cases. Indeed, more than 81 percent of all Americans in a recent poll admitted that they were “seriously concerned” or “uncomfortable” with the direction that modern entertainment has taken of late. Only 2 percent believe that media “should have the greatest influence on children’s values.” But 67 percent believe that it does--wielding even “greater influence than parents, teachers, coaches, or religious leaders.” The pioneering media analyst, Marshall McLuhan may not have been very far off the mark when he quipped, “Satan is a great electrical engineer.”

According to Neil Postman in his must-read manifesto, Amusing Ourselves to Death, there are two means by which the spirit of a great culture may be undermined--one, portrayed in George Orwell’s horrifying novel of oppression, 1984, the other in Aldous Huxley’s equally horrifying novel of debauchery, Brave New World, “In the first--the Orwellian--culture becomes a prison. In the second--the Huxleyan--culture becomes a burlesque. . . . In America, Orwell’s prophecies are of small relevance, but Huxley’s are well underway toward being realized. For America is engaged in the world’s most ambitious experiment to accommodate itself to the technological distractions made possible by the electric plug. This is an experiment that began slowly and modestly in the mid-nineteenth century and has now, in the latter half of the twentieth, reached a perverse maturity in America’s consuming love affair with mass media. As nowhere else in the world, Americans have moved far and fast in bringing to a close the age of the slow-moving printed word, and have granted to the media sovereignty over all their institutions. By ushering in the age of television, America has given the world the clearest available glimpse of the Huxleyan future.”

He continued saying, “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the altert to oppose tyranny failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. We must face the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”

Indeed, we must. It is not simply a clever slogan, we have actually begun the process of “amusing ourselves to death.”

TV Land

Television has become America’s drug of choice--a kind of “electronic valium.” And virtually everyone across this vast land is using it.

More than 98 percent of all households have at least one television set. In fact, more American households have televisions than have indoor plumbing. Not surprisingly, American children watch an inordinate amount of programming. Preschoolers watch an average of more than 27 hours each week--more than 4 hours per day. On school nights, American teens limit their television consumption to only about 3 hours per night. In contrast though, they spend about 54 minutes on homework, less than 16 minutes reading, about 14 minutes alone with their mothers, and less than 5 minutes with their fathers.
And what is it that we are all watching so obsessively?

Certainly, television offerings do not portray real life in any way. A survey of one week’s prime-time network and major cable channel offerings revealed a wide disparity between the lives of Americans and the world of television:

Of the 73 sex scenes shown that week, 31 were of unmarried heterosexual adults, 23 were adulterous, 4 were between married couples, 2 involved homosexual couples, 5 involved lesbian couples, and 8 involved unmarried, heterosexual teens.

Despite the fact that nearly half of all Americans attend church at least once a week, only four of the characters that week in primetime showed any evidence of religious belief. Only one of them appeared to be an orthodox Christian--and she was an angel.

More than half of the programs aired that week portrayed at least one violent act—there were a total of 47 murders, 88 assaults, and 23 accidental deaths. Graphic violence--meaning that blood, assault, or anguish was clearly portrayed--predominated in primetime that week with more than 209 occurrences.

The average American child watches 8,000 made for television murders and 100,000 acts of violence by the end of grade school. By the time the child has graduated from high school, that number will have doubled. The casual carnage is woven into supposedly real life situations with amazing alacrity. One survey found that situation comedies, cartoons, and family dramas were just as likely to feature violence as police procedurals, medical dramas, and period masques.

And this awful barrage is nothing new. While programming has certain gotten more explicit, more brazen, and more perverse in recent years, television has always been a bastion of mindless barbarism. As early as 1961, Newton Minow, at that time the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission assessed the offering of television in a scathing critique, “When television is bad, there is nothing worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet, or rating book to distract you--and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western badmen, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials--many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all boredom. True you will see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, try it.”

Eight years later, the Milton Eisenhower Commission reported, “We are deeply troubled by the television’s constant portrayal of violence in pandering to a public preoccupation with violence that television itself has helped to generate.”

In 1992, the National Commission on Children made a plea for a sane program of internal regulation and self-restraint in the television industry, “Pervasive images of crime, violence, and sexuality expose children and youth to situations and problems that often conflict with the common values of our society. Accordingly, we call upon the media, especially television, to discipline themselves so that they are a part of the solution to our society’s serious problems rather than a cause.”

Alas, the plea fell on deaf ears. With the proliferation of cable channel options, has come a proliferation of the very worst elements of broadcast entertainment from the past--plus, a vastly enlarged menu of offerings heretofore unimagined and unimaginable.

Wednesday, February 18

A Sad Song

The great Scottish literary historian, Thomas Carlyle, once said, “Sing me the songs of a generation and I’ll tell you the soul of the times.” Alas, we would have a hard time taking Carlyle up on his proposition. The fact is, much of our popular music is simply not singable. Not only is it often without recognizable tune, pitch, cadence, or tenor--and even without melody, harmony, or regular rhythm--it is also so profane that it is unrepeatable. Many rap and rock songs have gone far beyond the mere bounds of pornography to vile brutality, scatological filth, sadistic nihilism, blasphemous irreverence, and provocative decadence.

Pop music has almost always been sentimental, sappy, and insubstantial. In the forties it tended to be romantic. In the fifties it was silly. In the sixties it was psychedelic. In the seventies it was carnal. In the eighties it was sensual. But it the last decade and a half it became nightmarishly barbaric. With the advent of grunge rock, neo-punk, industrial rock, hip hop, goth rock, death metal, gangsta rap, rage rock, metal frenzy, rave rock, and speed metal, a new wave of wildly angry music--with minimal melody lines or hooks, harsh and distorted electronics, incessant syncopations, and vile lyrics--has swept on to center stage. While outrage over the Super Bowl halftime show focused on Janet and Justin's perverse little stunt, it should have taken note of the fact that the entire production was a brawling subversion of everything good and right and true.

Steeped in a hopeless worldview of suicide, occultism, sexual abuse, self-mutilation, brutal sadism, nefarious defecation, lascivious indulgence, and concupiscent excess a vast proportion of popular music today is depressing, dark, and deleterious. High volume, deliberately disgusting, and forthrightly offensive “shock jocks” profile the music and its irreverent lifestyle, its devil-may-care worldview, and its slovenly fashion sense in music videos and over FM radio stations.

I rather think that even Nietzsche would be shocked.

During one six week period a couple of years ago, the lyrics of the top twenty best-selling alternative rock, hip hop, and rap disks were examined. Researchers listened to every song on each of the disks. They found that 100 percent of the disks features songs that celebrated illicit sex or drug abuse. Almost 89 percent openly portrayed suicide as a viable option. About 77 percent mocked authority figures. Almost 61 percent profiled violent acts, including, murder, rape, and molestation. Nearly 42 percent advocated anarchy. And 28 percent denigrated traditional religion. One disk alone had 243 uses of the “f-word,” 121 explicit terms for male or female genitalia, 92 allusions to or descriptions of oral sex, 64 graphic descriptions of bodily elimination or discharge, 43 ethnic slurs, 24 allusions to assaulting or killing police officers, and 188 pronouncements of cursing, anathema, or damnation. Amazingly, since the study, things have gotten even worse.

According to Michael Bywater, “The music industry has somehow reduced humanity’s greatest achievement--a near universal language of pure transcendence—into a knuckle-dragging sub-pidgin of grunts and snarls, capable of fully expressing only the more pointless forms of violence and the more brutal forms of sex.”

A steady diet of that kind of music is likely to have a profound effect on anyone--but it especially impacts impressionable adolescents. And teens have more than a steady diet of it: between the seventh and twelfth grades, the average American teen listens to 10, 500 hours of rock music, just slightly less than the total number of hours spent in the classroom from kindergarten to graduation.

According to the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association, “Over the past decade the messages portrayed by certain types of rock music may well present a real threat to the physical health and well-being of especially vulnerable children and adolescents. Lyrics promoting drug and alcohol abuse, sexual exploitation, bigotry, and racism are combined with rythms and intensities that appeal to youth. Physicians should know about these potentially destructive themes.”

Indeed, we should all know about them.


“In politics, all that glitters is sold as gold.” Ogden Nash

“At a time when liberty is under attack, decency is under assault, the family is under siege, and life itself is threatened, the good will arise in truth; they will arise in truth with the very essence and substance of their lives; they will arise in truth though they face opposition by fierce subverters; they will arise in truth never shying from the Standard of truth, never shirking from the Author of truth.” Henry Laurens

“The greatest political storm flutters only a fringe of humanity.” G.K. Chesterton

“They say you may praise a fool till you make him useful: I don't know much about that, but I do know that if I get a bad knife I generally cut my finger, and a blunt axe is far more trouble than profit. A handsaw is a good thing--but not to shave with. A pig's tail will never make a good arrow; nor will his ear make a silk purse. You can't catch rabbits with drums or pigeons with plums. A good thing is not good out of its place.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“Some talk in quarto volumes and act in pamphlets.” John Pym

“Fifty years ago it would have seemed quite impossible in America that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose but simply for the satisfaction of his whims. The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless. It is time to defend, not so much human rights, as human obligations.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“Political advertising is the modern substitute for argument; its function is to make the worse appear the better.” George Santayana


It has been a little over a year since Federal District Judge William Young sentenced shoe bomber Richard C. Reid for his attempted suicide terrorist attack. Given the angry political rhetoric currently being bandied about in the Democratic primaries, Judge Young’s words are worth recalling:

“In the case of the United States v. Reid: Mr. Reid, hearken now to the sentence the Court imposes upon you. On counts 1, 5 and 6 the Court sentences you to life in prison in the custody of the United States Attorney General. On counts 2, 3, 4 and 7, the Court sentences you to 20 years in prison on each count, the sentence on each count to run consecutive with the other. That's 80 years. On count 8 the Court sentences you to the mandatory 30 years consecutive to the 80 years just imposed. The Court imposes upon you each of the eight counts a fine of $250,000 for the aggregate fine of $2 million. The Court accepts the government's recommendation with respect to restitution and orders restitution in the amount of $298.17 to Andre Bousquet and $5,784 to American Airlines. The Court imposes upon you the $800 special assessment. The Court imposes upon you five years supervised release simply because the law requires it. But the life sentences are real life sentences so I need go no further."

"This is the sentence that is provided for by our statutes. It is a fair and just sentence. It is a righteous sentence. Let me explain this to you. We are not afraid of any of your terrorist coconspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. There is all too much war talk here. And I say that to everyone with the utmost respect. Here in this court, where we deal with individuals as individuals, and care for individuals as individuals, as human beings we reach out for justice, you are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature."

"Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist. And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice."

"So war talk is way out of line in this court. You are a big fellow. But you are not that big. You're no warrior. I know warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders. In a very real sense Trooper Santiago had it right when you first were taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered where the press and where the TV crews were and he said you're no big deal. You're no big deal."

"What your counsel, what your able counsel and what the equally able United States attorneys have grappled with and what I have as honestly as I know how tried to grapple with, is why you did something so horrific. What was it that led you here to this courtroom today? I have listened respectfully to what you have to say. And I ask you to search your heart and ask yourself what sort of unfathomable hate led you to do what you are guilty and admit you are guilty of doing. And I have an answer for you. It may not satisfy you. But as I search this entire record it comes as close to understanding as I know. It seems to me you hate the one thing that is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, to come and go as we choose, and to believe or not believe as we individually choose."

"Here, in this society, the very winds carry freedom. They carry it everywhere from sea to shining sea. It is because we prize individual freedom so much that you are here in this beautiful courtroom. So that everyone can see, truly see that justice is administered fairly, individually, and discretely. It is for freedom's sake that your lawyers are striving so vigorously on your behalf and have filed appeals, will go on in their, their representation of you before other judges. We are about it. Because we all know that the way we treat you, Mr. Reid, is the measure of our own liberties. Make no mistake though. It is yet true that we will bear any burden, pay any price, to preserve our freedoms."

"Look around this courtroom. Mark it well. The world is not going to long remember what you or I say here. Day after tomorrow it will be forgotten. But this, however, will long endure. Here in this courtroom and courtrooms all across America, the American people will gather to see that justice, individual justice, justice, not war, individual justice is in fact being done."

"The very President of the United States through his officers will have to come into courtrooms and lay out evidence on which specific matters can be judged, and juries of citizens will gather to sit and judge that evidence democratically, to mold and shape and refine our sense of justice."

"See that flag Mr. Reid? That's the flag of the United States of America. That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flag stands for freedom. You know it always will."

Tuesday, February 17

Dangerous Delight

"Even the greatest of delights without the least of restrictions will quickly cease to satisfy. A pristine joy, like sex, made common and base is merely a defiled and repulsive thing." Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

"Sex is ruled by a peculiar version of supply and demand--our desire for it can only be spoiled by promiscuity." Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970)

"The moment sex ceases to be a servant it becomes a tyrant. There is something dangerous and disproportionate in its place in human nature, for whatever reason; and it does really need a special purification and dedication. The modern talk about sex being free like any other sense, about the body being beautiful like any tree or flower, is either a description of the Garden of Eden or a piece of thoroughly bad psychology, of which the world grew weary two thousand years ago." G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

"Every modern man is ultimately a hypocrite when it comes to sex. He feels the need for some element of purity on the part of his wife or lover--but then spends most of his efforts avoiding it himself." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

"The orgasm has replaced the cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment." C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

"Oh shame, where is thy blush?
If thou canst mutine in a matron’s bones,
To flaming youth, let virtue be as wax
And melt in her own fire. Proclaim no shame
When the compulsive ardor gives the charge,
Since for itself as actively doth burn,
And reason panders will."

William Shakespeare (c.1564-1616)

"There two basic facts about sex: it is very good and it is very dangerous." Margaret Thatcher (1925-)

"Purity is the beginning of all passion. Thus, faithful marriage is the only guarantee of unbridled sexual pleasure." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

"Every indicator of civility in society is undermined by sexual promiscuity--or what modern chroniclers often call “sexual liberation.” As it turns out, the age old traditions of faithfulness, honesty, purity, and integrity became traditions for a very good reason: they ensure that the good and true and beautiful remain good and true and beautiful. Thus, the modern erosion of sexual morality has literally opened a Pandora’s Box of social, cultural, and personal ills. Families have been devastated. Children have been defiled. Crime statistics have skyrocketed. The second and third order consequences of throwing off every sexual more or inhibition has unleashed a kind of cultural pandemonium that includes: vast increases in out-of-wedlock pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, AIDS, rape, and pornography. Abusive perversions abound. This is hardly freedom. The differences between right and wrong cannot be obscured any more than the differences between right and left." Tristan Gylberd (1954-)

Monday, February 16

Thinking About Repentance

I'm just back from a long trip up and down the West Coast. On the flight home earlier today I got to thinking about repentance. And as per usual, my thinking was very nearly as influenced by the pithy quips and epigrams I've gathered in my journal as by the Scriptures:

"Some men please themselves with a constant regularity of life, and decency of behavior. Some are punctual in attendance on public worship, and perhaps in the performance of private devotion. Such men are not hypocrites; the virtues which they practice arise from their principles. Their religion is sincere; what is reprehensible is, that it is partial. Repentance is their only recourse." Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

"We should learn to see things in a higher light. To do so, we must turn around to an altogether different direction." Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)

"The whole tendency of modern thought, one might say its whole moral impulse, is to keep the individual busy with endless induction—leaving little room for genuine change." Richard Weaver (1910-1963)

"With visions of redemption I walk against the crowd." Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944)

"Understanding is knowing what to do; wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is actually doing it. The three together are what we call repentance." Tristan Gylberd (1954-)

"Religion hath brought forth prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother—there is a danger, lest the enchantments of this world make them forget their errand into the wilderness: to build a city on a hill, an illumination for all the world." Cotton Mather (1663-1728)

"The streets of hell are paved with good intentions." Mark Twain (1835-1910)

"This is a practice as full of labor as a wise man’s art, for folly that he wisely shows is fit, but wise men, folly-fall’n, quite taint their wit." William Shakespeare (c. 1564-1616)

The Ultimate Tipping Point

How do fads suddenly sweep through an entire culture, becoming practically ubiquitous overnight? What makes one craze abruptly passé and gauche while another instantaneously becomes chic and trendy? How do epidemics spread from small, contained, and isolated segments of a population to infect an entire region or nation or continent? What accounts for sudden changes in cultural behaviors--an unexplained drop in the crime rate, an unexpected demand for a particular commodity, or an unprovoked shift in public opinion? How do fashions take hold of an entire segment of the global marketplace? What is it that makes a heretofore obscure writer or musician or artist or film-maker into a bestselling international celebrity? Can any of these phenomena be understood in merely mechanical processes? Is it possible to foresee and predict such trends? Or perhaps even more importantly, is it possible to create and control them?

These are the questions advertisers, demographers, and social anthropologists wrestle with constantly. They are the obsessions of entrepreneurs, politicians, and pollsters. They are the stock and trade of marketing consultants, strategic planners, and futurists. William Gibson builds the entire plot of his amazing novel, Pattern Recognition, just out in paperback, around this arcane discipline and the trend-spotters who exercise it.

According to journalist Malcolm Gladwell in his brilliant book, The Tipping Point, “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.” The mechanism that actually makes them spread is what he calls “the tipping point.” It is this illusory explanation, this unnoticed cause, this elusive mechanism that all those experts are searching for so desperately. It is that little trick, that small nudge, that opportune break, or that glorious epiphany that brings about momentous change.

The tipping point is what actually brings about breakthroughs, aha moments, and eureka developments. It is the catalyst. It is the fulcrum of innovation. It is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It is the beacon light of dawn. It is the transforming advancement that changes everything.

In that sense, repentance is the ultimate tipping point. It is the mechanism that puts genuine change into action in our lives and in our culture. It is what enables us to move beyond the past--and all of the mistakes of the past--and into the future with bright hopes and new dreams. Repentance is the fulcrum upon which true transformation turns.

Of course, none of us likes to admit it when we are wrong. We all have an automatic defense mechanism. Our guard immediately goes up whenever someone even hints at our mistakes, our foibles, our slights, our wrongdoing, or our sin. The process of admission, confession, correction, and repentance wounds our pride. It is among the most difficult things we ever have to do.

The problem is that we all have to do it. We all have to endure failure. We all face the prospect of humiliation at one time or another. It is simply not possible to hide our shortcomings from everyone, everywhere, every time. We make mistakes. We stumble. We sin. Every single one of us. Without exception. Without fail. We are, after all, only human.

As if to complicate things even further, in order for us to learn from our mistakes, we must first admit them. In order for us to move beyond failures, we must first face them. In order for us to set things right, we must first confess that things have actually gone wrong.

Thus, our reticence to openly confess our shortcomings becomes our primary obstacle to getting over our shortcomings. If we insist on protecting our pride from injury and embarrassment insures that we will only continue to injure and embarrass our pride.

Counselors and psychologists report that one of the greatest obstacles that must be overcome by people suffering from broken relationships, plaguing grief, dysfunctional homes, chronic fears, or paralyzing stress is simply the ability to admit their own faults, to confess their wrongs, and to repent of their mistakes. As James Ulrich, a renowned British psychologist, has said, “Since sin is the source of virtually all human ills, it is only when we directly deal with sin that we can hope to solve those ills in our hearts, in our homes, and in our communities.” Indeed, he claims that the greatest advances in mental, social, and national health come “when we can finally just come to the threshold of genuine repentance.” Thus, he says, “It is only then we can actually begin to hope for authentic change. It is only then that we can lay the groundwork for a new beginning. It is only then that the pieces are in place for us to have a fresh start. It is only then that our circumstances and situations are primed for a new day of happiness, prosperity, freedom, and delight.”

Repentance is indeed the ultimate tipping point.

Friday, February 6

Doing History

I am speaking this week at an annual history conference sponsored by the journal Credenda Agenda. This year's conference is mired in a bit of controversy--the brief and rather boring explanation for the controversy is simply that the local save-the-starving-third-world-lesbian-co-dependent-whales throng is astonished and offended that the speakers have failed to pay tribute to its revolutionary I-am-you-and-you-are-me-and-we-are-all-together-joo-joo-ga-joob ideology of political correctness. But all the hubbub aside, I've been thinking again about the task of doing history as a confessing Christian.

History, of course, is so rich and so resplendent that there is not a single date that does not offer great lessons in heroism or ignominy, brilliance or foolishness, inspiration or admonition. There is not a single date that does not point us toward the remarkable cultural and spiritual legacy of our Christian inheritance in Western Civilization. And there is not even a wrinkle in time that does not bear the obvious impress of God’s own good providence.

Alas, you could hardly tell that by looking at the average history textbook these days though. If history is, as Stephen Mansfield has quipped, “More than dates and dead people,” you would never know it based on most of the printed evidence.

There are very few things that modern historians can agree on. But when it comes to God there is sudden consensus. The long-held notion that history is His story is fiercely resisted in our day. The once dominant view that history is not merely the record of what happened in the past but that it is a kind of moral philosophy has been superceded by a kind of narrow structural assertions by a handful of pretentious experts.

But, history is full of the indecipherable mysteries of providence, and thus any attempt to reduce the process of its legends, epics, movements, heroes, and villains to a mere mechanical or material science is destined to be more than a little ridiculous--as the sad legacies of Marx, Toynbee, Wells, and Wilson have proven. Alas, now many credentialed Christian historians are following unquestioningly in their footsteps.

It is true that certain undeniably fixed milestones emerge--like the battles of Hastings and Waterloo, the regicides of Louis XVI and Charles I, the triumphs of Bismarck and Richlieu, and the tragedies of the Hapsburgs and Hoenstauffens--and you can, from them, build up certain vague rules regarding the onward march of civilization. But for the most part, the events of history have the habit of coming up out of nothing, like the little particles of ice which float to surface of the Seine at the beginning of a frost, or like the little oak trees that crop up everywhere like weeds in the broad fields of East Sussex. They arise silently and unpredictably.

And that surprises us. It is too easy for us to forget--or to try to ignore--the fact that the doings of man are on the knees of an inscrutable and sovereign God.

One of the most important and most neglected aspects of His story called history, is the fact that the story is not yet complete--and will not be until providence has run its resolute course. We can only truly comprehend the events of the past when we recognize them as part and parcel of the ethical out-working of God's plan for the present--and even for the future.

The irony of this is so large that it may be too large to be seen. Thus, the writing and rewriting of history is often, little more than the material preferences and prejudices of one age gazing into a distant mirror of another age.

Modern secular historians are especially prone to fall into this alluring trap. And so, they quixotically rail against the upstart evils of today by lambasting the tenured virtues of yesterday. They attempt to impose sanctions against some unacceptable form of behavior by instituting a kind of retroactive apartheid. It is the same odd impulse that induces certain politicians to attempt to cure the ills of Timbuktu by starting an agitation in Tulsa or to reform the administration of Montevideo by holding a referendum in Minneapolis.

Cultural paradoxes of that sort are clearly on the rise in our time despite the fact that they seem to be increasingly marked by an immobilizing hardening of the heart and a simultaneous softening of the head. The yammering hubbubs that the purveyors of politically-correct consensus-terrorism have raised--bemoaning in pious earnest tones the cultural realignment that followed on the heels of the establishment of the American City on a Hill--not only expose us to a kind of insulated hare krishna disregard for reality, but also make us vulnerable to the fierce tyrannies that petty prejudices inevitably engender.

Doing authentic Christian history not only enables us to recall many of the famous births, deaths, world events, and other notable anniversaries, but it provides us with tantalizing details of some of the most important lessons and profoundest inspirations that the long legacy of human civilization has to offer us as well. In other words, it practices that old discipline of moral philosophy without apology. As Henry Cabot Lodge asserted, “Nearly all the historical work worth doing at the present moment in the English language is the work of shoveling off heaps of rubbish inherited from the immediate past.”

This is precisely the kind of work that the great purveyors of Christian moral philosophy like Sir Walter Scott, G.K. Chesterton, and Hilaire Belloc did. Together, these men helped snap the spell of smothering modernity with a sane backward glance at the great Christian ecology that gave flower to the remarkable liberty, justice, and hope enjoyed by the democracies of the West.

Their aim was to preserve the practical lessons and profound legacies of Christendom without the petty prejudice of humanistic fashions or the parsimonious preference of Enlightenment innovations. They wanted to avoid the trap of noticing everything that went unnoticed in the past while failing to notice all that the past deemed notable. They shunned the kind of modern epic that today is shaped primarily by the banalities of sterile government schools or the fancies of empty theater scenes rather than the realities of historical profundity.

They believed that the best sort of history is always a series of lively adventure stories—and thus should be told without the cumbersome intrusion of arcane academic rhetoric or truck-loads of extraneous footnotes. History from that perspective is a romantic moral drama in a world gone impersonally scientific—and thus should be told with a measure of passion, unction, and verve.

The record of the ages is actually philosophy teaching by example—and because however social conditions may change, the great underlying qualities which make and save men and nations do not alter, it is the most important example of all. Because the past is ever present, giving shape and focus to all our lives, it is not what was, but whatever seems to have been, simply because the past, like the future, is part and parcel of the faith.

Thursday, February 5

Back to the Future

The future never happened. At least, it never happened the way prophets, pundits, and futurists of Revolutionary Modernity--and their ilk--said it would. Reality took an altogether different path--as you might well have expected it would have.

Nevertheless, we are quite familiar with what the future should have looked like according to their convoluted vision. From old science fiction reruns, tattered comic book collections, juvenile penny-dreadfuls, and yellowed pulp magazines, we are actually able to recognize the profile of their future--a future that never was.

A distant gleaming skyline soars up from the fruited plains through plump cumulous clouds to sleek zeppelin docks and mad neon spires. Roads of crystal unfold between the towers like an origami trick. They are crossed and recrossed by thousands of satiny silver vehicles like choreographed beads of running mercury. The air above the city crackles with remote radio-laser signals. It is simultaneously thick with ships: giant delta wing-liners, dragonfly-like gyro-copters, electro-magneto aerial cars, and vast hovering helium blimps. Searchlights sweep surreally across the horizon illuminating streamlined buildings ringed with bright radiator flanges.

Thronging the broad plazas of pristine marble below are the happy citizens of this jaunty utopia. Orderly and alert, their bright eyes are aglow with enthusiasm for their floodlit avenues, their shark-fin robots, their care-free conveniences, and their elysian prosperity. They all look wise and strong, striking a uniform pose of youthful health, energy, and cooperation.

It is a heroic world of fluted aluminum, slipstream chrome, lustrous lucite, burnished bronze, and the unfettered dreams of progress. Every scene, every nook and cranny, every high flung portal of this great technological trophy seems to generate eager bursts of raw industrial achievement. It is a marvelous world, fit for Flash Gordon, Tom Swift, Buck Rogers, and Dave Dashaway--humming with a kind of totalitarian optimism. It is a triumph of science like a triumph of will--imagined by Horatio Alger, Hugo Gernsbach, and H.G. Wells or perhaps Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Herman Goering. Its brave new world has been deliberately engineered to be very nearly perfect--or something frighteningly close to that.

But of course, it never happened.

Thankfully, that imagined future collapsed under the weight of its own fantastical illusions--and its coercive predilections. It is only remembered nostalgically as a kind of architecture of broken dreams. Today, its vast vision of a compulsory utopia is widely recognized as little more than an immaculate deception.

Aside from late night cable TV reruns, its relics survive only on the most disreputable fringes of our culture. We might find hints of it in a few depressing strips of the urban landscape beneath the crumbling layers of neglect and the dust of decrepitude. It might be seen along highways pock-marked with rocket-ship motif transient motels, alcoa-sheathed mattress wholesalers, and fifth-run drive-in movie theaters bedecked with gaudy geometric marquees. From the mad scientist deco-style of the Thirties to the stripped down ultra-pragmatism of the Fifties, the future that never quite happened was born of a pretentious spirit of modernism that is laughably passé today. Were it not so relentlessly tacky, perhaps it could even be considered quaint.

We might also find hints of the future that never happened in the institutionalized hallmarks of our relentlessly industrial age--from the do-it-all muti-national corporation to the solve-any-problem government bureaucracy, from the social engineering of our neighborhood public schools to the genetic engineering of our health maintenance organizations. The same defunct science fiction ideology that conjured up handy ray-guns, personal jet shoes, and atomic food pills also manufactured millennial dreams of a technologically edenic, worry-free society.

Only a handful of idealists remain who insist on entertaining such fabulous notions. And their days are numbered. Their eternally-idealistic organizations have become mere relics, inevitably passing into oblivion like the B-movies and the space operas from which they have sprung. They are twenty first century dinosaurs, doomed to extinction.

George Jetson and Fred Flintstone are the same person.

The utopian vision of the future that never happened was of course spawned by a peculiar and innovative worldview. It was a system of thought rooted in the superiority--even the supremacy--of science over every other discipline or concern. A fantastic world could be expected in the days just ahead because the sovereign prerogative of science would, no doubt, make short work of curing every cultural ill, correcting every irrational thought, and subverting every cantankerous disturbance. There was no obstacle too great, no objection too considerable, and no resistance too substantial to restrain the onward and upward march of the scientific evolution of human society.

That kind of unswerving confidence in the good providence of industry and technology gave its adherents a conceited algebraic certainty about their forecasts and predictions. As H.G. Wells, one of the leading lights of such sanguine futurism, asserted: “For some of us moderns, who have been touched with the spirit of science, prophesying is almost a habit of mind. Science is very largely analysis aimed at forecasting. The test of any scientific law is our verification of its anticipations. The scientific training develops the idea that whatever is going to happen is really here now--if only one could see it. And when one is taken by surprise, the tendency is not to say with the untrained man, ‘Now, who’d ha’ thought it?’ but ‘Now, what was it we overlooked?’ Everything that has ever existed or that will ever exist is here--for anyone who has eyes to see. But some of it demands eyes of superhuman penetration.”

For Wells, and all those who shared his Flash Gordon optimism, science was a kind of new secular predestination. It not only affirmed what could be, it confirmed what would be. And more, it discerned what should be.

Scientific experts were thus not only the caretakers of the future, they were the guardians of Truth. They were a kind of superhuman elite--not at all unlike Plato’s philosopher-kings--who ruled the untrained with a firm but beneficent hand in order to realize the high ideals of progress.

That meant that science had to necessarily be intermingled with ideology. It had to become an instrument of social transformation. It had to be harnessed with the idealism of the far-sighted elite. It had to wielded by the cognoscenti as a tool for the preordained task of human and cultural engineering. It had to be politicized.

Thus, in the early days of the twentieth century, science and millenarian politics were woven together into a crazy quilt of idealism, fanaticism, and ambition. It enabled a few powerful men and movements to believe the unbelievable, conceive the inconceivable, and imagine the unimaginable. According to philosopher Eric Voegelin, “This potent admixture of ideas and ideals became a kind of le dernier cri--the ideological craze of a new orthodoxy and the starry-eyed bludgeon of a new plutocracy.”

And until the foundations of that plutocracy crumbled under the weight of two world wars and a myriad of other twentieth century horrors, the future that never happened was sustained by it as the future that almost was.

Moscow History Conference

I am in Moscow, Idaho. It's not exactly the first place folks think of when they are planning a trip in February. But for the past nine years I have found myself here for an annual history conference that I do with my friends Steve Wilkins and Douglas Wilson. As you can tell from the sketch above, this year the conference focuses on the failures of Revolutionary Modernity. I will be speaking tonight on Marx, tomorrow on Nietzsche, and Saturday on Lenin--some of the most horrific monsters Western Civilization has ever produced. Not exactly fun stuff! But, important.

Monday, February 2


Today is Candlemas. It is an ancient Christian holiday memorializing the day when Mary took the baby Jesus to the temple and met Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:22-38).

According to Mosaic law a mother who had given birth to a man-child was to “remain in purification” for forty days. When that time was over the mother was to “bring to the temple a lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtle dove for a sin offering; if she was too poor to offer a lamb, she was to take two turtle doves or two pigeons; the priest then prayed for her and so she was cleansed. (Leviticus 12:2-8). Thus, forty days after the birth of Christ, Mary complied with this precept of the law, she redeemed her first-born from the temple (Numbers 18:15), and there was also blessed by the prayer of Simeon in the presence of Anna the prophetess.

Though he would have been circumcised on the eighth day--which is celebrated on the Church calendar as Epiphany--this fortieth day ceremony would have been the first solemn and public introduction of Christ into the Temple. Thus, early on, it was this day that was celebrated in the Church of Jerusalem. We find it attested in the first half of the fourth century by the pilgrim of Bordeaux, Egeria--though there is good evidence that it was a central part of the calendar of the Church as early as the third century and there are even some indications that it was celebrated as early as the second. At that time the feast in conjunction with St. Valentine's Day on February 14. It was solemnly kept by a procession to the basilica of the Resurrection and a public homily from the Luke narrative followed by communion.

In those days though, the feast had no proper name; it was simply called the fortieth day after Epiphany. By the fifth century however, the day had been moved back to February 2 to more appropriately mark the fortieth day after Christmas. It was celebrated by the lighting of candles to herald the lighting of the world by Christ’s appearance--thus, the name Candlemas.

Protesting Mel's Passion

Critics of Mel Gibson’s new film are planning a series of protests and lectures to coincide with its debut on Ash Wednesday, February 25. Gibson has insisted that The Passion of the Christ, does not malign Jews but the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, whose representatives saw a version the movie last week, said it does indeed contain destructive stereotypes about the Jewish role in Christ’s death--that in fact, the film does precisely what Jesus does in John 5: calling God’s covenant people to repent for their covenant unfaithfulness and unbelief. If The Passion of Christ actually accomplishes that feat, it is little wonder that unbelievers continue to be offended despite Mel's assurances; the offense of the cross is indeed quite off-putting; the offense of the cross drives us all to that dread place of dependence upon the mercy of Almighty God. And that is an affront to the innate sense of pride in all our graceless hearts.

Sunday, February 1

Halftime Outrage

The halftime show at the Super Bowl is always pretty wretched. Bad music. Bad dancing. Very carefully choreographed, colossally expensive immaturity for the lowest common denominator of our Cretan culture.

But the disgusting display in AOL’s star-studded lollapalooza in Super Bowl XXXVIII was little more than razzle-dazzle pornography. It was viciously defiling. It was awful. It was brazen. Vile. Lascivious. Craven. Offensive. Repugnant. It completely ruined the rest of the game--not that it was much of a game until the fourth quarter anyway.

CBS offered a rather meek corporate apology for the "unintentional" nudity in the show. So did the NFL. But that was only the half of it. How about the lyrics? How about the bumping, the grinding, and the S&M outfits? How about the whole disreputable mess? Did they not expect such low-brow hijinks when they booked the likes of PDiddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, Janet, and Justin to do the show in the first place?

All apologies aside, MTV, which produced the garish extravaganza, appeared to be completely unrepentant. Before the show even aired its web site promised "shocking" moments. And afterward it trumpeted it's triumph: "Janet Jackson got nasty." The network's site went on to crow, "Jaws across the country hit the carpet at exactly the same time. You know what we're talking about--Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake and a kinky finale that rocked the Super Bowl to its core." They even offered "highlight" photos with such captions as, "This pop duo worked harder than the football players!" Now that is something to brag about, isn't it?

So, there we all were. Nearly all of America watched. I watched. My wife and children watched. My students watched. Half of the rest of the world watched. I am heartsick. I am furious. Believe me, I've always been a sports fan, but I won't expose myself to such degradation in the future.

Oh yeah, the ads weren't funny either.