Thursday, October 28

How Bout Them BoSox?

There is an awful lot to love about New England--it is beautiful; it is historic; it has fabulous food (I could handle some clam chowder or a lobster roll or a boiled dinner even now). I have a number of dear friends in New England; some of the best vacations Karen and I have ever taken were in New England; I've been a lifelong Celtics fan; and I'll choose New England skiing over Colorado skiing any day. I wouldn't even mind if the Pats broke the thirty-plus-year-old record of the Dolphins this year by running the table in the AFC on the way to another Lombardi trophy (certainly my woeful Titans are not going to be in the picture). So for all those reasons, I am thrilled that the hunt for an all-red October ended with the BoSox on top. The old Bambino Monkey is finally off the back of the Sox Nation.

But, here is my caveat: I am really hoping that I am not watching some sort of a cosmic and universal trend here--New Englanders winning it all in each and every one of the highest stakes games around. Surely, a World Series and a fist full of Super Bowls should be enough, don't you think? Let's stop short of a sweep and put somebody else in the White House! OK? Deal?

The Government We Deserve

I try to follow all the polling data across the country. I usually check three or four sites at least twice a day. This is partly because I am a political hound. But it is also because I know how important the presidential election is this year--for the future our national security, for the future of the federal judiciary, for the future of the pro-life movement, for the future of Social Security, and for the future of substantive education in our nation.

I keep looking for a breakthrough. I keep looking for good news. Alas, nothing of the sort appears to be in sight. Indeed, right now the polls really scare me. This whole election really scares me. I guess that is because I am afraid we will actually get the government we deserve. And if that happens, then we are really going to be hip deep in the Big Muddy!

From now until Election Day, I am going to pray, "Lord, have mercy. Have mercy and do not give us what we deserve."

Tuesday, October 26

Election Night Coverage

To catch election night coverage with a distinctly Christian perspective, be sure to listen to the Moody Broadcasting Network. I will co-host in the Chicago studios with Open Line veteran, Wayne Shepherd, and guests including Jim Dobson, Jim Kennedy, Stephen Mansfield, James Robison, and many others. In addition, this Friday morning, Open Line will do a special preview of this incredibly important election.

In the Middle Tennessee area, the local Moody affiliate is WFCM broadcasting from both 91.7 FM and 710 AM.

The Ole Double Whammy

After nearly 30 years of marriage, I have to confess I am still pretty clueless. All that Venus-Mars stuff has left me pretty much perpetually bumfuddled. My friend Ken Pierpont captured the essence of this in a great little vignette at his Stonebridge site. I've never done exactly this--but something just like it about, oh let's say, a dozen times. And to the same effect:

I noticed one day--I suppose my children pointed it out to me--a special quality that gummy bears have. If you lick them and throw them they will stick to almost anything. If you lick them and throw them you can stick them to the ceiling. You can throw them at a car and they will stick to the car. We discovered this one day out in traffic. I was sitting at the traffic light and I noticed an attractive woman pulled up behind me. I had a little difficulty keeping from noticing her. She was very attractive and I had the distinct feeling that she noticed me. In fact I’m sure she was looking steadily at me. Immediately a thought came to my mind. I thought, “It would sure me fun to jump out of the car and do something memorable.” That is when I remembered the special qualities of a gummy bear. I just happened to have a generous supply of them. I grabbed a handful of gummy bears and jumped out of the car. I ran back to the car behind me and quickly fired four or five gummies into her windshield. To my shock I saw something in my peripheral vision. My sons had also jumped from the care armed with their own gummies and they fired away at the pretty woman’s car too.

We jumped back into the car and sped away leaving the pretty woman stunned and motionless behind the wheel. The boys thought it was great fun but later at home when I ran into their mother she let me know immediately that she was not amused. She said most of all when we all jumped out of the car and threw gummy bears at her car she was just embarrassed for us.

It’s not as easy as it used to be to impress a beautiful woman and gain her admiration. When you try sometimes they are just amused and not impressed. Sometimes they are filled with pity not the respect you hoped to gain. Sometimes instead of admiration they’re just embarrassed for you.

I was speaking recently at a home school conference. I told the gummy bear story and I got a big laugh from all the people. After my talk I forgot all about it. But my audience remembered. Three of the young people in particular. They happened to know where I live and where I keep my car. This became very obvious the next day. My cell phone rang. It was my son, Chuck.

“Dad, have you seen your Volvo today?”

“No, what’s wrong.”

“You have to come and see it yourself. Someone has plastered it with at least 300 gummy bears.”

Thursday, October 21

Election Talk

Last night I did an election preparation talk at our church. The aim was to provide a Biblical perspective of the citizenship task and to make specific application to the issues and candidates currently before American voters. The audio (sans the PowerPoint visuals) is available for download on our web site.

Tuesday, October 19

Kerry Technically Excommunicated!

Win or lose come November, John Kerry has already lost something far more important than the election. Marc Balestrieri, Director of the Roman Catholic ministry, De Fide, recently filed a formal case at the Vatican for heresy against Kerry for the Senator's enthusiastic support of abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. This week Mr. Balestrieri revealed that he has received a ruling from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, affirming that any and all Catholic politicians who persist in supporting the right to abortion are "automatically excommunicated."

Mr. Balestrieri said the response was written by the Reverend Fr. Basil Cole, a Canon Law theologian, who was delegated by the Undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Very Rev. Fr. Augustine di Noia, to formally respond. "I went to Rome in person to submit two critical questions to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith," said Balestrieri. "The first: Whether or not the church's teaching condemning any direct abortion is a dogma of Divine and Catholic Faith, with the denial or doubt of that dogma constituting heresy. The second: Whether or not the church's teaching condemning every right to abortion is a dogma of Divine and Catholic Faith, with the opposite error to that dogma heresy." In a four-page letter now posted at, Fr. Cole responded "Affirmative" on both counts. So, the polls in November may not be the most important test Mr. Kerry faces this fall after all.

There was some "good news" for the Kerry camp however: PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat endorsed the Democrats' nominee for president! Ain't life grand? Rebuked by the church, lauded by the terrorists!

Tariff Devotionals? Hmm!

Anyone who knows me or follows my work will readily testify that I remain somewhat adverse to self-promotion. Even when a new book comes out, I am generally pretty reluctant to do much more than mention its existence. But, with a very important election coming up, I thought I might just have to violate protocol--just this once.

Two things: first of all, I will be co-anchoring the election night coverage on the nationwide Moody Broadcasting Network with my good friend Wayne Shepherd. So you might want to do what I do for Titans games: turn the volume all the way down on the TV and listen to the radio--that way you can see what is happening but you won't have to endure the innane chatter of the national barking-heads. Second, my friend and frequent book correspondent, Ben House, has written a thoughtful, if overly kind, review of my book on the Electoral College for I'm reprinting it here--in what appears to be a shameless act of self-aggrandizement. In fact, I get no royalties on this book whatsoever, so it really is a kind of public service announcement. At least, that is what I keep telling myself! I guess you'll have to decide for yourself:

American political history is quite dull. Consider the effect of trying to present American political history in a Medieval Era setting:

"Was he a rightful heir or a usurper? That question had convulsed the realm for some time. In his bitterly contested battle for the crown, he had bested Crown Prince Albert with what was a near-run victory, a victory allegedly affected by some wrongdoing and treachery. Aided by his brother, a duke, who worked behind the scenes, the contender claimed victory and the crown on quite flimsy and questionable grounds. Only the interference of the bishops secured his claim. But that claim too was tenuous, being that only the five of the nine bishops who had received their sinecures from his father and his clan consented."

"The reigning monarch, King William, grimaced over losing his throne. He had taken the throne from the usurper’s father less than a decade before. King William’s short reign was a time of prosperity for the kingdom, although the king himself was more taken with his own immoral escapades than with wise rule. His queen, Queen Hillary, more a political consort and co-ruler than wife, especially desired continuing their reign and plotted for an eventual regaining of the imperial throne."

"But the moment had arrived. Again the question was whether this was the coming of the true king or intrigues of a usurper. With his entourage, his personal guard and his now aging father, the heir apparent, George, approached the castle. King William and Prince Albert stood awaiting him, still flanked by the army at their command. The dukes and lords gathered expectantly to watch the confrontation. Without either sword or shield, George boldly strode into the castle, shared a cup of coffee with William and Albert, and then they all peacefully proceeded to the inauguration."

Isn’t American political history dull? This account is of the American Presidential election of 2000. Almost any other country, almost any other time-period, almost any other bid for power, and you would have had civil wars, kidnappings, stealthy assassination by poisoning, palace intrigue, a military coup, a foreign invasion, or something neat. Shakespeare could have written a tragedy or Sir Walter Scott could have penned a great romance about the event. Historians could have written histories that read like mysteries. Mystery writers could have written fiction that read like history. But the American political system is unbelievably dull. (Do you remember Al Gore having former Secretary of State Warren Christopher as his spokesman? Talk about dull!) With hanging chads and pregnant chads being the prime suspects, not even the fictional talents of a John Grisham or a Dan Rather could make this American story anything but dull.

Buttressing this dull political system is an antiquated, almost Medieval, reactionary, pre-Civil War, 18th century concoction of a committee called the Electoral College. It is of this institution that George Grant has written his latest book, with the ever-so uncatchy title The Importance of the Electoral College (San Antonio: Vision Forum Ministries, 2004).

In spite of having written exciting works about such figures as Theodore Roosevelt (Carry a Big Stick) and of such current and relevant issues as the dangers of Islam (Blood of the Moon), Dr. Grant now has given us a book on the Electoral College. What’s next, Dr. Grant, morning devotionals on tariff issues? And yet it is the dullness of the subject, the supposed obsolescence of the system, and the nature of the critics and the criticisms that make this issue and this book so important.

In a few weeks, the Electoral College will come into play with what promises to be another close election. The Electoral College, not the will of the majority or even plurality of voters, put George Bush in the White House four years ago. The Electoral College will determine whether Laura Bush needs to run down to the trash bins of local stores and pick up boxes to start packing.

Back in 2000, the claim of Mr. Gore and his supporters was that they won over a million more votes nationwide than Bush and were the rightful intended recipients of more votes in Florida. The will of the people was somehow thwarted, so the Gore supporters claim. Still the issue revolved not around the millions of votes cast, but the 270 electoral votes. Was this a travesty of democracy? “Bush won 29 states to Gore’s 21. Bush won 2,436 counties but Gore received majorities in only 676. Bush won regions covering approximately 2,432,456 square miles of the nation while Gore won in 575,184.” (p. 43) A Gore Presidency would have largely represented only a few densely populated clusters along the coasts as opposed to Bush’s broader appeal.

Of course, it is easy to defend the Electoral College when my candidate wins. Before the 2000 election, I feared a Bush popular victory with a Gore electoral victory. (Another sign of my canny political prognostications.) The question still remains, is this the best system? After all, a candidate could win the White House by winning the 11 most populous states by one vote each even if he lost the other 39 states and the District of Columbia by 99% margins.

Dr. Grant provides three major lines of reasoning in supporting the Electoral College. First, the system works. Even with at least 14 of the 43 Presidents being elected without a popular majority, the system has worked in providing an adequate means of determining a winner in Presidential races. Even in cases, such as 1800, 1824, and 1876, when the system was subjected to questionable political tampering, it was not the Electoral College that was the issue. Rather, there were political forces at work outside the system that created the tensions. In such elections as those of 1888 and 2000, when the candidates receiving the most votes were denied the electoral prize, the winning candidates represented a greater cross section of the entire country.

A second line of reasoning in defending the Electoral College is that it represents many minority groups in the nation. Black Americans comprise only 13% of the electorate, but they comprise “25% of Alabama’s electoral vote, 27% of Georgia’s 13 votes, 31% of Louisiana’s 9 votes” (p. 20). Less than 4% of the population are farmers; 100% of the population eats. Farm issues crop up in several states. So Presidential candidates don straw hats and hold up ears of corn and tour dairy barns. Sparsely populated, but often geographically large, states have a say so in the election. Thus, Vice President Cheney’s home state of Wyoming with its 3 electoral votes offset the left coast mob-opolis of California with its walloping 54 votes in the 2000 election. The abolition of the Electoral College would mean that all of us who are not with 50 miles of an ocean front beach would not only be denied easy access to the wind and the waves, but would have almost no say in who leads the nation.

Grant’s third line of reasoning is the stability of the republic based on both the wisdom and the anti-revolutionary gravitas of the Founding Fathers. Alexander Hamilton, in The Federalist Papers, and others were quite pleased with the federal system of governing and the federal nature of electing the chief magistrates contained in the Constitution. As usual with George Grant books, this work contains a host of brilliant quotations gleaned from sources obscure and scattered. These quotes strengthen the case for the Electoral College and affirm the genius of the system.

Is it flawless and without any need of reform? No, and this book suggests some methods to give greater flexibility to the system. For example, two states--Nebraska and Maine--already award electoral votes on the basis of congressional districts. If more or all states did this--Colorado will vote to approve such a method this year--it would arguably improve and yet preserve the essential system.

This is a most necessary and important little book. Our ultimate hope for the nation is not found in the Electoral College, but a vital means of conserving the best of this nation is found in it. Let us hope we can preserve the dull political system of America.

Friday, October 15

Scary Kerry's Hometown Snub

According to Rush Limbaugh, the nation's media outlets have been at the service of the Kerry campaign throughout the current election season to a degree that has even surprised him. The truth of this was emphasized to me last week when the New York Times, Washington Post, CBS, ABC, and CNN all featured stories on Texas newspapers that had endorsed Kerry. But somehow they neglected to mention all the New England papers that had endorsed Bush--chief among them John Kerry's hometown paper, the Lowell Sun.

But then, you could hardly have expected anyone to mention that little inconvenient fact--especially since the influential Massachusetts daily offered such ringing paise for the president while reserving only stern rebuke for its native son:

It's about national security. That's the key issue on the minds of Americans planning to vote in the Nov. 2 presidential election. They must decide whether Republican President George W. Bush or Sen. John F. Kerry, a Democrat, can provide the leadership to safeguard America from foreign terrorism. Americans aren't fools. They know that without safe cities and towns, America will lose its greatness. Our cherished freedoms and sacred liberties will be diminished, along with our opportunities for economic prosperity and our basic pursuit of happiness. Our children and their children will live vastly different lives if we fail to guarantee a future free of turmoil. Islamic extremists, both here and abroad, have one purpose: To destroy America and halt the spread of democracy and religious tolerance around the globe. They'd like to be plotting in our streets right now. They'd like to be sowing murder and mayhem with suicide bombers and hostage-takings, and spreading fear in the heartland and everywhere else. They'd like to be wearing us down and bringing our nation to its knees.

Since the devastating terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, one American leader has maintained an unbending resolve to protect our homeland and interest against Islamic savages and those foreign governments appeasing them.

That leader is President Bush.

While out-of-touch U.S. politicians and world leaders have attacked President Bush's tactics, they can't question his steely commitment to keep America safe. In the ashes of ground zero, where nearly 3,000 innocent Americans perished, President Bush vowed to find the perpetrators, in domestic cells and distant lands, and bring them to justice. He said he will do all that is humanly possible and necessary to make certain that terrorists never strike again on U.S. soil.

Can anyone deny that President Bush has not delivered? America the terrorists' No. 1 target has recovered from its tragic wounds and rebounded. It remains safe to this day. What might a lesser leader have done, faced with the daunting task of deciding America's course against withering, partisan attacks from Democrats, media propagandists, disingenuous U.N. officials and disloyal White House operatives selling their souls for profit during a time of war?

A lesser leader might have caved in. President Bush has stood his ground.

In this year's election, the question isn't whether we are safer now than we were four years ago. We already know the answer. Sure we are and that's because of President Bush. The critical question is: Four years from now, will America be safer than it is today?

In our book, Americans have to place their trust in President Bush. He's proven to be as sturdy as a mighty oak when it comes to saying what he means, meaning what he says and acting decisively. When it comes to the war on terror, President Bush means to keep our military strong and our country secure.

John Kerry, on the other hand, has all the attributes of the shape of water when it comes to telling us what he believes and what he'd do for America. Like incoming and outgoing tides, Kerry is content to go with the flow. In a dangerous world infested with sharks, Kerry would be chum at America's expense.

We in Massachusetts know John Kerry. He got his first taste of politics 32 years ago in the cities and towns of Greater Lowell.

In his 20 years in the U.S. Senate, Kerry, a Navy war hero, hasn't risen above the rank of seaman for his uninspiring legislative record. He's been inconsistent on major issues. First he's for the 1991 Persian Gulf War, then he opposes it. First he's for the war in Iraq, then he's against it. First he's for a strong U.S. defense, then he votes against military weapons programs. First he's for the U.S. Patriot Act, then he opposes it.

Kerry's solution to stop terrorism? He'd go to the U.N. and build a consensus. How naive. France's Jacques Chirac, Germany's Gerhard Schroeder, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and other Iraq oil-for-food scam artists don't want America to succeed. They want us brought down to their level. And more and more, Kerry sounds just like them. In a recent campaign speech, Kerry said America was in the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

No doubt John Kerry sincerely wants to serve his country, but we believe he's the wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Americans should think back three years ago to the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center. There among the mist lay the images and memories of fallen firefighters, police, a Catholic chaplain and ordinary working citizens moms, dads, sons, daughters.

President Bush, through heartfelt tears, told us never to forget the twisted carnage and the massacre of the innocents. Yet some of us are forgetting. President Bush told us the attacks must never happen again. Yet some of us are wavering because of the brave sacrifice of soldiers that our nation's security demands.

Well, President Bush hasn't forgotten. Nor has he lost the courage and conviction to do what is right for America. We know if there is one thing the enemy fears above all else, it is that George Bush's iron will is stronger than his iron won't.

The Sun proudly endorses the re-election of President George W. Bush.

Wednesday, October 13

Just a Friendly Reminder

"We must beware of reducing society to the state or the state to society. For the state to take over the tasks of society and of the family is outside its jurisdiction and competency." Abraham Kuyper

"Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost." John Adams

"One man with courage makes a majority." Andrew Jackson

"We do not need to get good laws to restrain bad people. We need to get good people to restrain bad laws." G.K. Chesterton

"Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely expressed for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent busybodies." C.S. Lewis

"A Liberal is a Conservative who hasn’t been mugged yet." Frank Rizzo

"A Conservative is a Liberal with a daughter in high school." Gary Bauer

"A Liberal is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." Adlai Stevenson

"A Liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel." Robert Frost

"A Liberal is someone who wanders into other people’s dreams never to find his way out again." Umberto Eco

"In government, the sin of pride manifests itself in the recurring delusion that things are under control." George Will

Monday, October 11

Cracking the Code

If the DaVinci Code brouhaha still has you in a lather, sit back, relax, and let Ben House, my friend and literary marvel, guide you toward a bit of sanity:

In Greek mythology, the nine Muses are sisters. In our world, the arts are related, often reflecting each other and reinforcing the same themes. In each art, the images, the leitmotifs, the common shades and hues are found in each sister art. So symphonies and operas build off of literary themes. Paintings and sculptures portray heroes and scenes of poetry and fiction. Philosophy is portrayed in music and art, and likewise, it grows out of music and art. Literature, it has been said, is history without footnotes, and it can even be said that literature is theology without Bible verse references.

The idea of creating the plot of a novel around the message of a painting is quite profound. In art, a part of reality is enlarged and distorted to give a greater sense of a transcendent truth. Thus The Iliad, in one sense a story of the Trojan War, cuts into the 10th year of that war and highlights Achilles’ inner and outward struggle over honor and mortality, with few details about the events of the war. Even photography can achieve this effect. Think for example of the picture of young John Kennedy, Jr. saluting his father’s coffin in November of 1963. That picture conveyed the pain, the loss of innocence, and the rebounding courage of the whole nation at that moment.

Each work of art has a theme, a greater message, or if you wish, a code. The idea of a code or deeper meaning behind the surface is always fascinating. For this reason, spy novels and movies are fun, conspiracy theories are attractive, and apocalyptic Bible studies and novel series attract even the most impious of souls. When locusts are really Soviet helicopters, the imaginative possibilities are endless. Surface messages can be quite dull or uninspiring, but a secret code changes the landscape.

There is a great work of literature that is based on a theme or code contained in a work of art, that is, a painting. This literary work has had an incredible attraction for its readers. The implications of the story are incredible and world changing. The painting in the novel is of the most important religious figure in all of history—the Lord Jesus Christ. And while the painting itself is brilliantly done, exhibiting great talent in the Renaissance artist who conceived it, its deeper message exceeds the visual work of art.

This message has been interpreted in a way that would change the world by changing the whole central message of Christianity.

Enough of this curtain raising one inch at a time to tantalize the audience. The painting is “The Dead Christ” or “Christ’s Body in the Tomb” by Hans Holbein the Younger. The novel that is built around this painting is The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky, published in 1868.

Dostoevsky had read about the painting in a book called Letters of a Russian Traveler by Nikolai Karamzin. Karamzin said that in the painting “one does not see anything of God. As a dead man he is portrayed quite naturally.”

Wanting to see the painting, Dostoevsky and his wife went to the museum where it was on display. Dostoevsky stood on a chair to see the painting, which is about six feet long and ten inches high. His wife, Anna Grigorievna, left this account of the experience: "On the way to Geneva we stopped for a day in Basel, with the purpose of seeing a painting in the museum there that my husband had heard about from someone. This painting, from the brush of Hans Holbein, portrays Jesus Christ, who has suffered inhuman torture, has been taken down from the cross and given over to corruption. His swollen face is covered with bloody wounds, and he looks terrible. The painting made an overwhelming impression on my husband, and he stood before it as if dumbstruck…When I returned some fifteen or twenty minutes later, I found my husband still standing in front of the painting as if riveted to it. There was in his agitated face that expression as of fright which I had seen more than once in the first moments of an epileptic fit. I quietly took him under the arm, brought him to another room, and sat him down on a bench, expecting a fit to come at any moment."

This painting provides the central message of Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot. In the novel, one of the characters owns a copy of the painting, which leads to a discussion of it in the novel. This painting captures the central theme of that novel. Richard Pevear writes, “The question it (the painting) poses over the whole novel: what if Christ was only a man? What if he suffered, died, and was left a bruised, lifeless corpse, as Holbein shows? It is, in other words, the question of the Resurrection.”

In the late 19th century, liberal theologians in Europe and American began coming to the same conclusion about Christ as the Unitarians and Deists of the earlier part of the century. The great pronouncements of the councils of Nicea and Chalcedon were buried under the new Enlightenment of the German higher critics. The secular, Science-appeasing, Darwinian, naturalistic world-view readjusted theological studies so as to exclude the deity and resurrection of Christ. The good man and great teacher Jesus was dead and buried, and on the third day, his disciples, having psychologically worked through their grief, resurrected the spirit of Jesus. Or at least, that is what the new theologians thought they discovered.

The sunny optimistic theological suicide of the West was not quite so palatable to one whose spiritual journey was like that of Dostoevsky. In his personal life, he had faced death, standing before a firing squad awaiting execution where he was suddenly pardoned and exiled to Siberia. The political and social landscape of Russia and its climate with its harshness upon the body and soul left one to choose either Nihilism—with heavy vodka drinking for sacraments—or Christianity. Spared the idealism of the Enlightenment, the materialistic successes of the Industrial Revolution, and even the sunny clime of both Europe and America, the Russian intelligentsia were more prone to see the spiritual dimensions of the issues of the day. (In America, the experience of living in the defeated South enabled Robert Louis Dabney to see issues with a similar prophetic clarity.) With this background it mind, one can see why a vivid image of the horribly broken and bruised body of Jesus Christ brought Dostoevsky to a greater realization of Christ’s death and to a greater sense of the necessity of the resurrection. For Dostoevsky, the reality of Christ’s manhood and very real death brought on his near epileptic reaction. His experience must have been similar to that of the disciples.

In this novel, the main character, the Idiot, is Prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin. Prince Myshkin returns from a mental asylum and seeks to find a place in St. Petersburg society. A wide-ranging host of characters—males and females, young and old, the weak and the strong, the well born and the more common, people of society and people of baser reputation—come to know Prince Myshkin. Dostoevsky’s characters, like those of Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrimage, represent a wide and universal range of human predicaments. For various reasons, all are strangely drawn to Prince Myshkin, and they desire his advice, his company, and his approval. But all regard him with amused detachment, with cynicism, and with disbelief. He is, in short, in all of their opinions and pronouncements, an idiot. His naïve answers to their questions, his gullibility, his lack of social inhibitions, and his all-too-frank honesty all confirm their conviction that Prince Myshkin still belongs in the asylum.

By the end of the novel, most of the characters’ lives are just as hollow or warped as at the beginning. Those whose lives are changed are actually worse off. Ippolit, a terminally ill atheist, is neither healed of his disease or his cynical hatred of life. The beautiful, but tragically flawed Nastaya is not lifted up from scandal, but is killed by her emotionally unstable lover Rogozhin. No acquaintance of Prince Myshkin is redeemed; no one in his circle of friends is lifted up from their petty and empty lives. The idiot is removed from the supposedly sane world and taken back to the asylum.

Just like the Prince of Peace, Prince Myshkin has a royal title that is questioned. Just like Jesus, he came among his own and they knew him not. Just like the Master Teacher, he instructed them in a better way, but they rejected it. But unlike Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Prince Myshkin was a good man and nothing more. He could not redeem or rescue anyone. As a truly good man, he was better off in an asylum for the insane than in the sane world. Likewise, Jesus Christ as a truly good man and nothing more would have done this insane world no good.

The powerful image of Holbein’s painting, like the powerful presentation of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, reveal the true code of reality of this world. As Paul stated it in I Corinthians 15, if Christ did not rise from the dead, then our faith and our lives are futile. If Jesus Christ were nothing more than a good man, then we are better off having Him in an insane asylum or in a tomb than having Him deceive us about this hopeless plight.

Lots of readers have pored over the best selling The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Like Dostoevsky’s classic, this piece of fiction revolves around a greater message contained in a piece of art, Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” The secret code of the painting reveals that Jesus was married and had a child, and hence 2000 years of Christology is flawed. These “truths” were suppressed to allow for an evil agenda fomented upon a naïve world by the Church. The truth of this fiction, as claimed by the author, will supposedly set us free. While The Da Vinci Code now fills the bestseller shelves, it will soon be in the remaindered discount book stacks before being lost amidst the paper sea of forgotten fiction. Meanwhile, Dostoevsky’s masterpiece will remain.

Brown is partially correct. Da Vinci’s painting contains a greater, though not hidden message. If his painting is simply that of a delusional teacher with gullible followers eating a meal before Jesus’ arrest, then the code tells us that all is meaningless. But the context of Da Vinci’s world, the context of Christendom, was that in this Last Supper, Jesus is not just the main guest, but He is Himself becoming the First Supper. He is preparing to offer His body and blood as the Passover meal. He is the Lamb of God to be slain for sinners. The next meal would be celebrating the newly inaugurated New Covenant. Christ is at the center of the painting, because in Him all things are held together.

Friday, October 8

Meaty Grace Redeux

Priotities being what they are, I feel compelled to report that I have gotten more e-mails, more IMs, and more posts on various discussion pages and web rings about my BBQ posting this past week than any other single blog during the past three years! >

Que Sera Sera Citizenship>

Politics is important. But it is not all-important. That is not just a modern phenomenon. It has always been a fact of life. Many who live and die by the electoral sword will certainly be shocked to discover that most of the grand-glorious headline-making events in the political realm today will go down in the annals of time as mere backdrops to the real drama of everyday banalities. But it is so.>

As much emphasis as is placed on campaigns, primaries, caucuses, conventions, elections, statutes, administrations, surveys, polls, trends, and policies these days, most of us know full well that the import of fellow workers, next door neighbors, close friends, and family members is actually far greater. Despite all the hype, hoopla, and hysteria of sensational turns-of-events, the affairs of ordinary people who tend their gardens and raise their children and perfect their trades and mind their businesses and serve in their communities and worship their Savior are, in the end, more important. Just like they always have been. Just like they always will be.>

That is not to say that the upcoming election is not important. It most assuredly is. Indeed, it may well be one of the most important elections in the last half century or more. It is sure to have enormous implications for our families and our future. I want folks to take this election seriously. I want folks to vote.>

But this election is, after all, just an election. The doings and undoings of a government need not be the doings and undoings of a culture.>

That is the great lesson of history. It is simply that ordinary people doing ordinary things are ultimately who and what determine the outcome of human events--not princes or populists issuing decrees. It is that laborers and workmen, cousins and acquaintances can upend the expectations of the brilliant and the glamorous, the expert and the meticulous. It is that simple folks doing mundane chores can literally change the course of history--because they are the stuff of which providential history is made. They are who and what make the world go round. As G.K. Chesterton has aptly observed, "The greatest political storm flutters only a fringe of humanity.">

Thus, what many presume to be electoral apathy may actually merely electoral ambivalence. It may not be so much that the American people believe that politics is insignificant. It is just a recognition that in the end, there are any number of things in life that are more significant.>

Most of us would have to agree with the astute political axiom of commentator George Will, “Almost nothing is as important as almost everything in Washington is made to appear. And the importance of a Washington event is apt to be inversely proportional to the attention it receives.”>

Eugene McCarthy, once the darling of the New Left, also said it well, “Being in politics is like being a football coach; you have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important.”>

Intuitively, we know that is true. Thus, Alexis de Tocqueville was somewhat off the mark when he asserted that, “The very essence of democratic government consists in the absolute sovereignty of the majority: for there is nothing in democratic states which is capable of resisting it.”>

Instead, we have to confess with the pundit, John Reston, that all politics is actually “based on the indifference of the majority.” According to political analyst E. J. Dionne, “Americans view politics with boredom and detachment. For most of us, politics is increasingly abstract, a spectator sport barely worth watching.” He says that since the average voter “believes that politics will do little to improve his life or that of his community, he votes defensively,” if at all.>

As odd as it may seem, that kind of robust detachment and nonchalant insouciance is actually close to what the Founding Fathers originally intended. They feared on-going political passions and thus tried to construct a system that minimized the impact of factions, parties, and activists. Citizens of the Republic were expected to turn out at the polls to vote for men of good character and broad vision--and then pretty much forget about politics until the next election.>

Gouvenor Morris--who actually wrote the first draft of the Constitution and was instrumental in its acceptance--said, “The Constitution is not an instrument for government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government--lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”>

Similarly, Patrick Henry stated, “Liberty necessitates the diminutization of political ambition and concern. Liberty necessitates concentration on other matters than mere civil governance. Rather, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, freemen must think on these things.>

Suspicious of professional politicians and unfettered lobbyists as well as the inevitable corruptions of courtly patronage and special interests, the Founders established a system of severe checks and balances designed to de-politicize the arena of statecraft and its attendant statesmanship.>

Though there was disagreement between Federalists and Anti-Federalists about how much “energy,” or “lack thereof,” government ought to exercise, there was universal agreement about what John DeWitt called the “peripheral importance of institutional action to the actual liberties of daily life.” Thus the Founders worked together to insure that the republican confederation of states was free from ideological or partisan strife.>

Though they were not entirely successful, for much of our history American life has been marked by the distinct conviction that what goes on next door is of greater immediate concern than what goes on in Washington. Voter registration and turnout, for instance, have always been significantly lower here than in other free societies. On average, only slightly more than half of the registered voters in the United States actually make it to the polls on election day.>

Belgium, Australia, Italy, Austria, Sweden, and Iceland all average over ninety percent participation, while Canada, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Israel, Greece, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway each see over seventy percent. Although there was a brief and dramatic decline in what political scientists call the “metapolitics of participation” following the presidential election of 1896, voter turnout percentages have otherwise remained remarkably constant throughout our history. Americans have rarely roused themselves sufficiently to get too terribly excited about their electoral choices. They generally have found something better to do than vote.>

The last four national elections offered no exceptions. Though the media mandarins hailed record turnouts and the massive numbers, the actual percentage of eligible voters who cast their ballots remained virtually unchanged from years past--a variation of plus or minus three points hardly constitute a surging trend or a clarion cry from the electorate.>

If anything, they indicates the profound national boredom with the whole affair. Thus, after the 1996 election, syndicated columnist Jane Lawrence was hardly exaggerating when she wrote, “Most Americans yawned their way through what turned out to be an unpleasant exercise in political obfuscation. Perhaps the reason they care more about PTA meetings, zoning hearings, and Rotary luncheons is that in the end, those things actually matter more. It is hard, after all to get enthusiastic about a choice between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum--or to discern what difference such a choice might make.>

Not that any of this entirely justifies our tenured ambivalence. The fact is, at a time when the Islamic terrorism threatens the very fabric of our civilization and activist intrusions into our families and communities have grown to almost incomprehensible Babylonian proportions, our que sera sera citizenship has offered the radical ideologues in the media, in the courts, and in the bureaucracy tacit approval to lead us ever further down the road to ruin. And so, with Pied Piper efficiency and aplomb, they have.>

During similar times of distress in our nation’s history--following the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian eras, immediately after Reconstruction and the Great War, and most recently on the heels of the New Deal and Great Society episodes--Americans have stirred themselves momentarily from their laissez faire political lethargy to rekindle the fires of freedom. In the face of impending disaster, the collapse of moral resolve, the encroachment of abusive power, and the abnegation of liberty, they committed their lives and their fortunes to the process of political restoration. They proved that one of the great ironies of the American system is that there are times when politics must be treated as a matter of some-consequence so that it ceases to be treated as a matter of total-consequence.>

Despite the persistent evidence that we are now living in just such a time of clear and present danger, American disinterest in politics has only ossified and hardened with the passing of time. We have yet to rally. In fact, our belligerent ambivalence over the destructive antics of politics-as-usual may very well be the defining feature of our day.>

Wednesday, October 6

Flip Flop

I know it's not just campaign rhetoric; I have heard it myself now. John Kerry has more positions on every issue than Baskins and Robbins has flavors! Hear it for yourself at this amazing website.

Monday, October 4

Ike Alike

Once again, my good friend Ben House has applied his historical knowledge to current issues in a fashion that reminds us all of the value of true Moral Philosophy. His most recent essay on Ike Jr. and Scary Kerry is quite enlightening:

Presidential Candidate John Kerry boasted in his first debate that General John Eisenhower, the son of President Eisenhower, had endorsed him. Having seen his support slipping among military veterans and even among women voters, this endorsement must have given an inner sense of global warming to Kerry.

President Eisenhower is something of an Ike-con to older Republicans. He symbolized a great success, a pinnacle, a bit of light in midst of political darkness. After all, Ike was the only bright spot at the Presidential level during the seventy-two years between Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. (This would be the standard judgment, not mine. I find much to admire in Calvin Coolidge and even think some good things can be said of Taft, Harding, Hoover, Ford, and even Nixon.)

General John Eisenhower has not just rested on the laurels of his famous father, has established his reputation as a writer of military histories. He has also written about his father in a time when sound historical revision has been sympathetic to the strengths of the Eisenhower Administrations. John Eisenhower’s family name and credentials, his near identical face and expressions inherited from his father, and his scholarly talents give him some weight and reputation. Hence the swift boat captain’s name-dropping in the debate.

Eisenhower the younger has written an article somewhere out there in Internet-land explaining why after fifty years of being a Republican and the son of a Republican president, he changed his party registration to independent and will vote for the globalistic coalition builder to be America’s commander in chief.

Perhaps the younger Ike’s endorsement reveals a family character flaw. His father really was an outstanding man. His colleagues, like George Marshall and Douglas McArthur, recognized his gifts and strengths. Ike brilliantly assembled and led the Allied coalition across Europe during World War II. He amazingly held together a band of egotistical, stubborn, prima donnas, who we remember as famous generals; the most famous pair being the American General George Patton and the British General Bernard Montgomery. His organizational work in leading the Normandy invasion puts Ike in that small class of the world’s greatest generals, like Alexander, Hannibal, and Napoleon, and also into that even smaller band of successful great generals, like Washington and Wellington.

But General Eisenhower is responsible for one of the most costly, shortsighted errors during World War II. At the point when the Allied armies could have easily captured Berlin, Eisenhower diverted the troops. His decision and his alone kept the British and Americans out of Berlin and let the Russians raise the Hammer and Sickle over Berlin. Eisenhower’s rationale was that Berlin had ceased to be a military target. He focused on defeating the old men and boys of the broken Wermacht instead of the capturing the capital city.

Short term, Ike was right. Bagging the German army was needed to win the war at hand. Berlin did not have the military resources or industrial capacity to affect the war. The capture of the industry rich Ruhr pocket yielded much greater rewards. Short term, in terms of World War II, in terms of defeating Hitler’s Third Reich, Ike was right.

But World War II in Europe was, for all practical purposes, over. The Nazi armies were at that juncture either dead or in Allied prison camps or in a state of disintegrating disorder. The glory days of the blitzkrieg were long gone. What Eisenhower never figured out while commanding from his many desks was the political and strategic positioning needed for the next phase of the conflict. Ike was not alone; President Roosevelt was foolishly oblivious to the upcoming Cold War also. Churchill saw it long before his “Iron Curtain” speech; Gen. Patton figured it out quickly; President Truman caught on quite quickly, as well.

The capture of Berlin by the Russians gave a great psychological and geographical advantage to the Russians. The opening shots of the Cold War took place in the streets of Berlin as the Communists wrested control of that city. The ideology of Communism bested her sister ideology of Nazism. Red shirts replaced brown shirts. The hammer and sickle replaced the swastika. A generation and a half of conflict, later symbolized by the Berlin Wall, began with the ball in the Soviet court.

It must be a family problem. John suffers the same faulty vision, the same reactionary thinking, and the same inability to see. He has what President Bush referred to as a September 10th mentality. No doubt, like John Kerry, John Eisenhower lives in a dream world of coalitions. Such thinking goes back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries when seven different coalitions were organized to defeat Napoleon. Coalitions were successful in winning (and causing) World War I. The grandest time of the coalition was World War II, when the Big Three and a host of allied countries banded together to rid the world of Fascism, Nazism, and Japanese Militarism, which subsequently made it safe for Communism. By the end of the war, a last great dream of Franklin Roosevelt came to fruition with the establishment of the United Nations, a body devoted to coalitions.

This same United Nations later passed a resolution and approved the fielding of a U.N. army in Korea during the war fought there. It was a coalition, but the United States, not the other United Nations, bore the brunt of the fighting and, of course, the casualties. But even the United Nations coalition had a few missing players. The Soviet Union boycotted the resolution vote and instead supported the communist North Korean government.

More coalitions promised to save the world. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was a grand idea. This coalition would protect the Free World. This coalition would guarantee that the Iron Curtain would be kept in place and not moved westward. It was opposed by another coalition, the Communist Bloc nations of Eastern Europe. And even though the western European countries had a combined population greater than the U.S. and a combined wealth greater than the U.S., it was American troops, American missiles, and American naval and air forces located in Europe that made the coalition work. Not in the wildest imagination did anyone expect Belgium and the Netherlands to play the key roles in stopping Soviet Tiger tanks. The Russian Bear faced the American Eagle; the rest of the players on our side were mere songbirds.

The last supposedly great coalition was former President George H.W. Bush’s New World Order, assembled in the early 90s to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Many nations were represented, but the U.S. again shouldered the overwhelming bulk of the task. The objective the coalition reached was limited—a third world army was driven out of a small postage-stamp country. Saddam Hussein suffered a tactical setback, not a strategic defeat at the hands of this New World Order.

All of that was before September 11, 2001. Many American (and most European) leaders and thinkers are as blind to the nature of this new war as the 1930s American Communist party members were to Stalinism. Even President Bush and company fall short when they describe the war as one against terrorists who hate America. The terrorism that caused 9-11 was not simply caused by a group of real hateful scamps. The terrorism is ideological, or philosophical, or to be more direct, religious. The Islamic Worldview is at the heart of the problem. A whole library can be cited to prove this point; my book of choice is George Grant’s Blood of the Moon.

We will grant that there are peaceful Mohammedans who reject the violent Islamic worldview. Just as there are pietistic Christians who do not see the worldview dominion mandate of Christianity, so there are Muslims who are less than consistent. The 9-11 terrorists, the Chechnya terrorists, Saddam Hussein, the Iranian terrorists, and others are united in a religious brotherhood. Just as Calvinists join with Roman Catholics and charismatics on many issues, so different Islamic groups are allied in their brotherhood of death. Psalm 2 describes the bonds of unity of those opposed to Christian civilization.

President Bush understands something of the nature of the problem; that is, the real nature of the real problem. He sees the links between Hussein and Bin Laden. He knows that we do not need love letters between the two to see the link. There is something in that west Texas upbringing and that New Birth experience that has given President Bush a vision of the problem. To my surprise, British Prime Minister Tony Blair of the Liberal Party, who is a theologically liberal churchgoer, sees a glimmer of the same truth. This war is for Christendom. The United States stands virtually alone in having a remnant of a theological consciousness. The United States stands virtually alone in having both an advanced capitalist economy and an evangelical church. The United States is the only superpower and the coalition is that of our fifty states. Other countries might and should join us, but most lack the theological vision to see. Does anyone take comfort in having France, Germany, and Saudi Arabia standing side-by-side with us? Russia had institutionalized terror in its Communist regime for seven decades; they will not see the issue apart from a great spiritual awakening. Summits and coalitions are dead and gone. Prince Metternich and Woodrow Wilson are dead and gone.

This is a new war. John Eisenhower, like his father, would have us abandon the goal of capturing a major stronghold. The younger Ike, like the elder, would put us at a supreme disadvantage at this stage of the war. The older Ike had such power and influence so that his mistaken judgment cost the Free World dearly. The younger Ike has little such power and influence. Our hope is that John Kerry never has the chance to cost us the next Berlin.

Friday, October 1

Meaty Grace

I have confessed it before; I'll confess it again: I have a particular weakness for barbecue. I love all kinds of barbeque. I appreciate all the regional differences in sauces and rubs--from the mustard and vinegar sauces of the Southeast to the ketchup and molasses sauces of the Midwest. I've eaten at Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City, at Sonny's in Atlanta, at Red Bryan's in Dallas, at Stroud's in Nashville, at Rendezvous in Memphis, at Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, and at Bar-B-Q Baron's in Midland. I've had shredded pork in Knoxville, pit-roast in Richmond, honey-backs in Charlotte, pollo loco in Miami, spiedie's in New York, and charred cabritto in Santa Fe. Just two weeks ago I had the great joy of finally getting down to Decatur, Alabama to taste Big Bob Gibson’s famed white sauce on grilled chicken. Wow! I've even had the opportunity to sample Chen's Mongolian barbecue in London, Ferrot's Canadian ribs in Ottawa, and al-Herrat’s smoked lamb in Amman. I am an equal opportunity barbeque eater!

But my favorite--by far--is Texas-style brisket. I love the smoky, succulent beef. I love the spare fixings. And I love the make-you-jump-up-and-shout sauces.

Living in Tennessee for more than a decade has meant that I have had to import brisket from Salt Lick in Austin or Rudy’s in San Antonio--or wait until I travel there. I do a good bit of grilling and smoking in my own back yard--but there is only so much I have been able to do to without a good steady supply of mesquite wood or the right cuts of beef.

Oh sure, there have always been a couple of places here that will condescend to smoke a bit of beef from time to time. There are even a few national chains that have loudly announced to the world that Texas-style barbecue had finally arrived in Nashville. But, I have been persistently, constantly disappointed. Why eat badly done, imitation Texas brisket when I can eat really good, authentic Southern pulled pork or Tennessee dry ribs?

But that awful conundrum has finally been resolved! There is a new barbecue place in town! And it is worth the wait. Judge Bean’s is the real deal! Right here in Middle Tennessee! I couldn’t be more delighted. The little hole-in-the-wall place near the state fairgrounds on Wedgewood even serves such rare delicacies as Texas Sushi (sausage stuffed into a jalapeño and wrapped in brisket) and brisket tacos (with corn tortillas--just like God intended)! When my friend, Jim Smith, and I ventured into the cedar plank-lined environs, we even heard the pleasant strains of Bob Wills and Lyle Lovett over the sound system! Now there is one less reason for ever contemplating having to move!

And there are those who actually try to argue against the ideas of sovereign grace! Ha!